“Hiking? Meh,” said no dog, ever.
With their every woof, yip, and whine, our dogs crave their next jaunts on the trails. Their delight in hiking makes them great motivators for owners like us to get out for regular exercise too. And although Salt Lake City, with its surrounding mountains and vast trail network would seem to be a slam-dunk for our canine companions, watershed rules can complicate plans.
In an effort to preserve our mountain streams in their pristine (and deliciously drinkable) state, Salt Lake places unique restrictions on dogs in its major canyons, Big and Little Cottonwood. It makes sense from a practical standpoint: the clean water flowing from these canyons needs only light treatment to crank out some of the finest-tasting drinking water around. By contrast, the water coming from the dog-friendly canyons has a much higher bacterial content and needs heavier treatment to make it safe for drinking. (Blame it on the doggie deposits that never get cleaned up by owners).
Many dog owners find these restrictions to be a total drag; but they don’t realize that there are lots of wonderful, convenient trails they can still enjoy. So here’s a quick hit list of trails that lie within just a few minutes of town. Your muscles will thank you, your lungs will rejoice, your eyes will feast upon the views, and most importantly, your furry best friend will have the best day ever (until the next time you go hiking).
All hikes are out-and-back unless noted otherwise. These descriptions are general overviews; a proper topo map is always advisable.
1. Neff’s Canyon
Distance: Approx. 3 miles each way
Nestled on the north flank of Mount Olympus, Neff's Canyon can be a bit of a treasure-hunt to find. Its trailhead lies high in the Olympus Cove neighborhood overlooking the city. But let your Google Map guide you, and you’ll soon be rewarded. The actual trail is an interwoven network of pathways that diverge, crisscross, and reconnect. Try starting through the meadow directly south of the parking lot — after passing through a fairy-grove of low-lying trees, you'll arrive at a stream crossing where dogs are compelled to jump in, splash around, and slurp.
After the crossing, two main pathways run parallel uphill into the canyon — pick either; they eventually converge. Every step you continue up the trail offers more and more rewarding views. If you have time, continue the full three miles to a high meadow cirque where the canyon tops out. Here, the scene is distinctly alpine, with quivering aspens and majestic ridgelines.
2. Grandeur Peak
Distance: 3.4 miles each way
When you’re short on time but want a dog-approved workout with a big, rewarding view, look to Grandeur Peak. The trailhead lies about two miles up Millcreek Canyon Road. Park at the Church Fork Trailhead and walk up through a few picnic sites until the paved pathway gives way to a dirt trail.
In a few quick minutes, you intersect the Pipeline Trail. But keep going straight along the stream and work your way upward. The trail remains distinct and clear, ascending 2,400 feet until you finally get to a saddle overlooking Salt Lake City. Hang a left to work your way up the last remaining feet to the summit of Grandeur.
3. Dog Lake
Distance: About 2 miles each way
Dog Lake is not only stunningly beautiful, but it also almost feels like you’re cheating the watershed rules. The lake can be accessed via Big Cottonwood Canyon, where dogs aren't allowed, but it can also be accessed from Millcreek Canyon, where dogs are more than welcome. At the top of Millcreek Canyon Road, park and head eastward along the marked Little Water Trail toward Dog Lake.
You’ll stay close to a canyon stream much of the way — a definite delight for splashy canines. After passing through some lovely meadows and working up a little altitude, you’ll finally arrive at Dog Lake. It’s an excellent picnic spot and perfect place for a dripping-wet game of fetch.
4. Kilyon Canyon
Distance: 2 miles each way
This mellow stream-side hike at the top of Emigration Canyon is where canines go to have a field day — it makes the dog park’s swimming hole look like small potatoes. Just drive to the top of Emigration, and when the road takes a sharp fishhook to the right to go over the East Canyon pass, keep going straight up the narrow residential lane. Continue ahead through the houses until you reach the end of the gravelly road. Then, leash up your posse and let the romp begin.
A winding trail goes slightly uphill through the gentle rolling slopes of Kilyon Canyon, following a meandering stream that’s absolutely perfect for frolicking. Continue onward through the meadows and tree groves until the trail forks about half a mile up and bear left. After about two miles, the trail fades and gives way to the canyon’s upper slopes.
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate/Difficult
Distance: 2-10+ miles
Technically part of Park City’s extensive trail system, Glenwild is perched in the hills alongside Kimball Junction — a straight 20-minute shot from Salt Lake City. Just get off I-80 at Kimball Junction, hop on the frontage road that runs parallel to I-80 on the north and turn off at Glenwild Drive. A trailhead awaits a quarter-mile up the road.
As you’ll see on the trail map at the parking lot, you have a world of options. (You can snap a pic of the trail overview/distances and keep it on your phone for reference). Either head due east for a quick switchbacking workout, or go west for a mellower route that sticks closer to the stream. Either way, you’ll ultimately end up ascending a bit of elevation and looping back down to where you started — distance options range from 2 to 10 miles depending on which turnoffs you select. Along the way, you’ll enjoy views of the Park City and Deer Valley ski slopes in the distance.
6. City Creek
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Distance: 1-12 miles
With the dog-friendly Memory Grove Park situated at its base, City Creek Canyon is well-established yet somehow just perfect enough to feel like an insider’s secret among the city crowd. Just a few blocks from the buzzing core of downtown Salt Lake lies this secluded, gentle canyon road that rises 3,500 feet in elevation over the course of several miles. And for the entire length, the road (and the trail that parallels it) runs alongside the City Creek stream.
Just enter Memory Grove in Google Maps, park your car at the gate, and head upward. Dogs and their people will enjoy the canyon’s peaceful solitude punctuated by moments of camaraderie among passing walkers.
7. Bonneville Shoreline
Distance: 1-7+ miles
Last but certainly not least, Bonneville Shoreline offers unrivaled views of downtown Salt Lake to the North, the Great Salt Lake to the west, and towering Mount Olympus in the south. Access the trail from either the Hogle Zoo area or the Jewish Community Center by the University of Utah hospital and amble between the two.
While this trail section doesn’t offer much water-play for doggies (except a brief crossing of the Red Butte Canyon stream at its mid-point), it makes up for that in accessibility, terrain options, and views. This stretch of the Bonneville Shoreline is a choose-your-own-adventure escapade. Nearly any offshoot trail you choose will eventually meet back up with the main trail; the question is, how much wandering do you (and your furry friend) want to do?