Tooele County (pronounced too-will-uh) is the gem of northwestern Utah, and that goes double if you’re an outdoor adventurer. The county encompasses nearly 7,000 square miles, including parts of 12 mountain ranges, the Deseret Peak Wilderness, the Bonneville Salt Flats, and the Cedar Mountain Wilderness. With dozens of miles of mountain and lakeside trails open to hiking, trail running, and biking, plus road cycling routes and sport climbing, you’ll be hard-pressed to leave Tooele once you get a taste. And, it’s all easily accessible, situated 25 minutes from the Salt Lake City airport. Here are seven reasons why Tooele County is perfect for your next vacation.
1. Fascinating History
You’d be hard pressed to find an area more typical of the American West than Tooele County. The county is home to 10 museums and nearly 60 historical attractions and monuments, and once you start to learn more about the area’s history, it’s not hard to see why. Not only was the county smack-dab in the middle of the Pony Express route—in fact, you can ride a bike along the 40-mile gravel path that commemorates the historical route—but it’s also where the first transcontinental telephone line was completed in 1914. Today, you can hike and bike to many of the area’s most interesting monuments, including the Benson Gristmill (the area’s boom-days centerpiece until the 1940s, and the start of a great 14-mile road biking loop). There’s also the Iosepa Cemetery, which memorializes settlers from a Hawaiian colony in the early 1900s. The cemetery sits at the trailhead for a hike up Salt Mountain.
2. Otherwordly Hiking
Until the end of the last ice age, Lake Bonneville covered about two-thirds of modern-day Utah and was about 1,000 feet deep in what’s now Tooele County. When the lake began to recede, it left behind a 46-square-mile plane of salt-covered desert floor, which today makes for an otherworldly landscape to explore. Frontier explorers began crossing the salt flats in the early 19th century, and by the mid-20th century, land speed records were being challenged and tested on the salt flats on a regular basis. While you may not break any records (it gets toasty out there), the Bonneville Salt Flats’ 30,000 acres provide plenty of space to hike and explore.
3. Amazing Biking
Whether you prefer fat or skinny tires, there’s excellent biking in Tooele County. Mountain bikers will relish a chance to hit up the Serengeti Trail System in the Oquirrh Mountains or the local favorite, Left Hand Fork. The former has grades of up to 15%, so while it’s a blast, it’s not for the faint of heart. The Stansbury Front Trail, the unofficial tour of the Stansbury Range, is also open to mountain bikers. Road cycling enthusiasts won’t want to miss the 50-mile Mormon Trail Loop, a Tooele County classic. It’s mostly on lightly-trafficked roads and provides killer views of the Oquirrh and Stansbury mountains.
4. Idyllic Camping
Thanks to its proximity to copious amounts of public land, Tooele County has many camping options, both developed and primitive. The Loop Campground is a convenient spot if you’re headed to climb Deseret peak as it also serves as the hike’s trailhead. There are also campgrounds in Ophir Canyon and the Upper Narrows, and, if you’ve got a trailer or RV then Vernon and Grantsville reservoirs are good spots. For fewer amenities and more solitude, dispersed camping is allowed on BLM land in the area, including at Lookout and Five Mile Passes, White Rocks in Skull Valley, and in the Silver Mountain Range at the Bonneville Salt Flats.
5. Serious Trail Running
Ready to get in some serious vert? Tooele County has you covered. The Stansbury Front Trail makes a great long day if you’re training for a marathon or ultra. At 23 miles and nearly 8,000 feet of elevation gain point-to-point, it’s a big undertaking. It’s also possible to run the trail up Deseret Peak, the county’s (and the Stansbury Range’s) 11,031-foot high point, though most folks will be hiking a few sections of the steep, 7.5-mile round-trip trail. The Oquirrh Mountains across the county are another local favorite destination for trail runners; there’s even an annual trail race (half-marathon, 10k, and 5k distances) up Middle Canyon and Anaconda Road.
6. Limestone Sport Climbing
The Stansbury Mountains are best known for the tough hike up Deseret Peak, but there’s plenty of vertical climbing, too. South Willow Canyon, easily accessible from Grantsville, is home to more than three dozen established sport climbs, mostly 5.10 and harder. Most routes are in the Upper Narrows section of the canyon; they’re hard and high-quality. The crag stays shady even in the height of summer and if you visit midweek and you’ll likely have the crag to yourself (be sure to bring a stick clip!) There’s also some slightly less developed sport climbing in the Valley of Zion area, near Dugway—mostly in the 5.8 to 5.10 range—as well as some choose-your-own-adventure bouldering on Stansbury Island.
7. Lakefront Views
There’s something disorienting about seeing an enormous lake in the middle of the desert. In that sense, the Great Salt Lake never ceases to amaze, and Stansbury Island (the second-largest on the lake, at 11 miles long by 4.5 miles wide) is the perfect viewing point. While you can catch views of the lake from all over Tooele County, the 16-mile Stansbury Island Trail is the best way to get up close and personal. The gravel trail, lined with Claret Cup Cactus, is open to hikers, equestrians, and mountain bikers, and you can scramble up on some of the rock outcroppings for a broader view. If you’re lucky, you may even spot some petroglyphs.
Written by Emma Walker for RootsRated Media in partnership with Utah Office of Tourism.