In sharp comparison with its bustling urban neighbor, Salt Lake City, Tooele County (pronounced too-will-uh) is a wide-open, starkly beautiful expanse. Its mountain trails are quieter, its rock climbs are less frequented, and its views diverge from the classic alpine of the nearby Wasatch. Here you’ll find craggy limestone peaks, salt flats so vast you can see the curvature of the earth at the horizon, and mountain biking trails in full view of the otherworldly shoreline of the Great Salt Lake.
The landscape in Tooele County makes it a perfect spot for camping, hiking, fishing, climbing, and biking. Choose from these options when it comes time for your day of adventure in Tooele.
If you’re fond of hiking, take some time to explore the area’s high desert trails in the Stansbury Mountains. The most notable peak in this range is the 11,031-foot Deseret Peak. Sitting at the top of this summit is an incredible way to behold the wildly varying landscape below: salt flats, range land, nearby ridgelines, the faraway peaks of the Wasatch, and the immense Great Salt Lake.
The Deseret Peak hike is about 8.5 miles roundtrip and starts at the Loop Campground in South Willow Canyon outside Grantsville. You can access several other worthy trails from this campground as well, but if you’ve set your sights on Deseret Peak, follow its trail up through aspen groves, meadows, evergreen forests, and finally a rocky snowfield near the summit (which usually melts by late-summer). You’ll gain over 3,500 feet of elevation over the course of the hike, so plan for a big workout and bring lots of water, clothing layers, and snacks. Some hikers descend the way they came, but you can also drop down the Pockets Fork-Dry Lake Fork Trail to make your hike a loop and take in more of the mountain’s scenery.
Another highlight of the Stansbury mountains is the 23.3-mile Stansbury Front Trail, which starts at the Boy Scout Campground also located in South Willow Canyon. The full Stansbury Front Trail is a point-to-point odyssey loved by many backpackers, horseback riders, hikers, mountain bikers, and dirt bikers. You don’t have to commit to the entire thing to get a taste of it, just jump onto the signed trail and enjoy a fantastic up-and-down rollercoaster ride through drainages and up ridgelines. The trail is worth exploring in its entirety, but a half-day or full-day ramble is a great start.
At the northernmost reaches of the Stansbury range sits one of its more interesting trails, the 16-mile Stansbury Island Trail. It’s an advanced mountain bike ride, and serves well as a hike for those who don’t fancy technical biking. Stansbury Island is technically an island in the Great Salt Lake, though an expanse of salt flats connects the island completely with the mainland and the area is not always entirely surrounded by water in low-water years. Whatever the water levels, hiking and biking on this terrain feels like visiting another planet. Quartzite and limestone boulders cover the terrain, and salt formations and shallow saltwater stretch away below you. The singletrack trail includes an 800-foot climb to the top of the island’s mountain, and you can make it a loop using the island’s dirt roads.
Ironically, one of Tooele County’s greatest hiking adventures is completely flat. The Bonneville Salt Flats, hard-packed salt remnants from the ancient Great Salt Lake, don’t offer much by way of established trails, but it’s a must-do to spend a few hours exploring the expanse. Sunset is an amazing time to visit and photographers have a heyday in this area. Check out the hashtag #saltflats on Instagram, and you’ll see why.
The fun doesn’t stop at the hiking and biking trails; in Tooele County, you can get vertical too by visiting one of the area’s excellent climbing crags. When the Wasatch to the east are chock-full with climbers awaiting their turn to jump on a route, head to the Narrows of South Willow Canyon, the limestone of the Valley of Zion, and the boulders of Unit 13. You’ll find wide-open spaces, plenty of routes for all, and fascinating high-desert scenery to boot.
The Narrows of South Willow Canyon offer dozens of sport routes of varying difficulty, with most falling in the advanced/expert range, around 5.10 up to 5.14. Those looking to take it a tad easier can find an extensive range of 5.9s and moderate 5.10s in the Valley of Zion–some of these come with killer views of the Great Salt Lake and its sprawling flats below. Skip the drive back to town, and snag a camping spot in South Willow Canyon or grab a primitive camp spot on BLM land.
Whatever your day’s adventure itinerary, you’re likely to be famished afterward, but fortunately, Grantsville and Tooele offer down-home, unfussy dining. The Vista Linda Mexican Restaurant is an absolute favorite of locals, and outdoorsy folk agree. Nothing compares to a giant enchilada platter after a day spent burning calories. The Bonneville Brewery is also a delicious local watering hole with a solid beer menu and plenty of food for hungry climbers, hikers, bikers, and adventurers.
Written by RootsRated Media for Utah Office of Tourism.