Go Shoe: A Guide to Snowshoeing Around Salt Lake City

Karen Neoh
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It’s as simple as walking: cushy, crunchy, snow-angel-y walking. That’s how snowshoeing contrasts with nearly every other winter sport in terms of mechanics. Plus, downhill skiing, snowboarding, and cross-country skiing all require a heftier financial commitment for equipment, lessons, and passes.

Snowshoeing,  however, is about as simple as it gets. Take it from the floppy-eared snowshoe rabbits in the Wasatch: All you need is oversized feet to stay afloat in the fluff, and you’re good to go. So strap some snowshoes onto your go-to winter boots, bundle up, and find a nice spot for powder-tromping.

Snowshoes are inexpensive to rent, too, (just $10/day from the University of Utah’s Outdoor Rec Center), and no lessons are needed. Ski poles are optional, though you might find them helpful if you feel a little unstable with your footing. And it’s impossible to get lost if you just follow your own tracks back. So yes, showshoeing wins the award for Chillest Winter Sport Ever.

And while it’s mellow and accessible skills-wise, snowshoeing also burns tons of calories—especially if you’re going uphill or traveling through soft snow.

Naturally, some places are better than others for snowshoe exploration. Fortunately, there is no shortage of primetime snowshoeing just outside Salt Lake’s immediate environs.

As always, if you’re venturing into the backcountry on anything snow-covered that is on or adjacent to a slope, be avy-savvy. A quick Know Before You Go course from the Utah Avalanche Center can help you distinguish between safe zones and places where you’d want to be geared up and careful with route choices.

The main routes below are, for the most part, far from avalanche hazards. But if you wander far off the beaten path, you might be entering terrain capable of sliding. That’s why a little avalanche safety education can go a long way: It helps you discern the difference between super-safe and rather risky.

1. Millcreek Canyon

Tom Bracken

Millcreek is a quick go-to right outside of town. The snowpacked road beyond the winter closure gate is an easy option for walks on hardpacked snow, but if you prefer to walk on the road’s powdery periphery, you can enjoy a soft-snow workout. To really up the ante and have a proper hike, venture up Elbow Fork and continue to Mt. Aire, or go up Porter Fork to Baker Pass and Gobbler’s Knob.

2. Guardsman Pass Road

Guardsman Pass is just as splendid in winter as it is in summer—but in winter, the road is closed off to car traffic. It gets packed down by skiers, snowshoers, and even snowmobilers, and makes for an easy two-mile walk to the top of the pass dividing Big Cottonwood Canyon and Summit County.

This pass makes a fine endpoint, although if you want to venture into the wooded ridgelines extending from the top, you can enhance your workout and take in views even more incredible than you have already.

3. Solitude Nordic Center

Solitude Nordic Center encompasses some of the most pleasant and accessible snowshoe-specific trails in the Wasatch. The only downside is that technically you’re supposed to have an $18 day pass to use the trail system, which is interwoven with Solitude’s cross-country ski course.

But if you’re willing to pony up, you get a marked trail system with plenty of room to roam through the rolling slopes and flats nestled between Brighton and Solitude. Start at the Nordic Center and hike downhill to the Solitude Village, then enjoy lunch at slopeside Honeycomb Grill and get a free shuttle ride back to where you started.

4. Donut Falls

Erica Matsumori

Donut Falls is a classic little hike, and for good reason. It’s very short, family-friendly, and ends at a magical grotto with a waterfall coming through a hole in its roof. In the winter, the cave is even more interesting. Icicles line the opening of the cave and you need to wriggle through its narrow opening to stand in the waterfall grotto within.

Getting there is easy: Park at the wide Cardiff Fork parking area about ten miles up Big Cottonwood Canyon Road. Walk up the gated road that forks off the main canyon road to the south. You’ll wind through a neighborhood of cabins, then ultimately reach the Cardiff Fork stream, which the Donut Falls trail parallels.

Donut Falls is a must-do, but if you want a longer workout and more people-free terrain, retrace your steps to a fork in the trail that veers off to the right and follows the summer 4x4 road all the way up Cardiff Fork. You can go up Cardiff for miles, and every step of the way, it gets prettier.

5. Mill D

Mill D is very popular with snowshoers, which makes all the sense in the world—it’s easy, accessible, free, and delivers gorgeous views of Cardiff Fork and Mt. Kessler behind you. You can ascend all the way to two popular summer destinations: Dog Lake and Destination Lake, which look just as pretty cloaked in snow as they do when carpeted with wildflowers.

The only downside to Mill D is that it’s just as popular with backcountry skiers and snowboarders as it is with snowshoers, so you’ll be sharing the trail with people skinning up alongside you (which is fine) and flying down past you (which can be disconcerting). For maximum peace, you’ll want to go on the fringes of the touring day, either at dawn or early evening, skipping the mid-afternoon rush of people returning from their exploits in Powder Park and Tom’s Hill.

6. Bell’s Canyon

Beth Lopez

This exquisite gem is easily accessible right off Wasatch Boulevard, just south of the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon. Snow coverage might be very light at the bottom due to the trailhead’s low elevation, so wear boots you can walk in and strap your snowshoes to your daypack. Soon, you’ll pass the lower Bell’s Canyon reservoir, then continue onward into this stunning side-canyon that descends from Lone Peak and drops all the way down to the Wasatch Boulevard neighborhood.

Soon, you’ll be above the snow line and can snowshoe up. This rather steep trail winds up the heart of Bell’s Canyon and offers rewarding views of the city behind you. The upper Bell’s Canyon reservoir is a long trek up, but if you make it, you won’t be disappointed.

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