Located just west of Salt Lake City, Tooele County is one of Utah’s most diverse areas, including the Great Salt Lake and Bonneville Salt Flats. While it may be best known for its expansive desert landscape, there’s still plenty of green space to explore—and lots of outdoor experiences that are perfect for the kids. Families looking for grand adventure—or simply a fun day outside—will find plenty to love in this scenic region. Here are some of the best bets for a family getaway.
Don’t let those iconic desert landscapes fool you—Tooele County offers a variety of lakes and streams that offer excellent fishing opportunities. The county’s three reservoirs, Settlement Canyon, Grantsville, and Vernon, are each stocked with trout every year. While not stocked, the mountain creeks also have their fair share of fish waiting to be caught. Where should you start? Some good options for anglers include the stream in South Willow Canyon and the spring-fed Clover Creek, which is just east of Johnson Pass in the southern Stansbury Mountains. Horseshoe Springs in Skull Valley is known as a good place to catch largemouth bass and carp. The wetlands in this area are also a great spot for birdwatching. Take short hike with the kids and you’re sure to spot something special.
2. Bike or Hike the Dark Trail Loop in Settlement Canyon
While perhaps too tough for the youngest of kids, the 3.5-mile Dark Trail Loop in Settlement Canyon is an ideal trail for novice riders and hikers. It hugs the canyon floor, and it gains only about 300 feet of elevation along the way. The singletrack trail will take you through a grove of cottonwood trees, and it remains interesting throughout the length of the trail. New mountain bikers can practice their skills without working much in the way to technical riding. Or simply walk the trail (or part of it) for a rewarding day hike.
3. See the Bonneville Salt Flats
One of the country’s most unique landscape, the Bonneville Salt Flats covers more than 30,000 acres near Wendover, located on the Utah/Nevada border. The flats are so expansive and flat, you can actually see the curvature of the earth. This geographic anomaly is actually the remains of Lake Bonneville, which once covered the region. While this mesmerizing region is fun to explore any time, it’s also known among motorsports enthusiasts as the fastest place on earth. You have several opportunities to see racing, including Speed Week in the third week of August, and the Utah Salt Flats Racing Association’s World of Speed in September.
4. Camping at Settlement Canyon
If you want to spend the night outside, you don’t have to travel far from Tooele to reach Legion Park in Settlement Canyon. This area is knowns for great family tent or RV camping near the shore of a fish-stocked reservoir. You’ll find picnic tables, fire rings, restrooms, and playground—and RV sites have full hookups. Open from May to October, take advantage of the numerous hiking trails, which offer something for all ability levels.
5. Look for Birds
The Great Salt Lake is one of the most important sites in the country for bird migration—and the remote Fish Springs National Wildlife refuge is a great place to see it happening. It features five major warm springs that feed a 10,000-acre marsh, which will draw as many as 6,000 wintering birds. A great way to start exploring is by driving the "Raptor Loop," which follows Highway 36 the length of Tooele Valley. From there you’ll go through Rush Valley on Highway 73 before heading around to Lehi. Look closely to hopefully see owls, hawks, eagles, prairie falcons and ospreys, just to name a few.
6. Boat on the Great Salt Lake
Tooele County is one of the best access points to the Great Salt Lake. At 75 miles long and 28 miles wide, the lake is a big draw for sailors thanks to its dense salty waters and gentle waves. In the summer, this inland sea becomes clear and warm, and it’s the perfect spot to learn to sail or simply enjoy a ride on the lake. Visit the Great Salt Lake Marina off Interstate 80 and sign up for a sunset dinner cruise, charter a sailboat, take a jet boat tour, or rent a kayak or paddleboard.
7. Learn Utah’s History
The history of settlement in Tooele County dates back 11,000 years to early Native Americans who lived in Danger Cave near Wendover. The area is filled with places to learn more about the people who would come to thrive under often harsh conditions. Some options for families to explore include the Benson Grist Mill, located in Stansbury Park, which was built in 1854 and served Mormon settlers until the early 1900s. The free Tooele Valley Railroad Museum—within walking distance of downtown Tooele City—provides information on the county’s mining past in an old railroad station. You can ride Engine #11, which hauled workers to a smelter above Tooele Valley until its 1963 retirement.
8. Visit Wild Horses
Tooele County is home to the largest wild horse herds in Utah, and you can see hundreds of horses that roam the plains. Today’s horses are the descendants of escaped ranch and U.S. Army horses from the 1800s, and they now graze along the edges of the Onaqui Mountains and Cedar Mountains. The best place to spot these horses is on the old Pony Express Road from Lookout Pass to Simpson Springs, which is south of Johnson Pass. Come in the early summer to see when the young horses are still part of the familial herds. Just remember that these horses are wild and potentially dangerous. Keep your distance.
9. Hike the Tooele Valley Overlook Trail
For a family-friendly hike that won’t take all day—and finish with amazing views—you can’t beat the Tooele Valley Overlook. There you’ll find stunning panoramic views of Tooele Valley, the Stansbury Mountains, the Great Salt Lake, and Stansbury Island—and you’ll only need to conquer 385 feet of climbing. Start at the Oquirrh Mountain Trailhead. It’s a little over two and half miles to the summit, where you can also see Lake Bonneville’s high water marks on the Oquirrh Mountains lower slopes.
10. Tooele Festivals
Plan a trip to Tooele to take advantage of one of the area’s festivals. The best known is the Tooele County Fair, which runs at the end of July and features contests, rides, a livestock show, demolition derby, skydiving, fireworks, rodeos and more. Enjoy the wide variety of food and live music each day. Fans of the Disney movie Tangled will certainly enjoy the Lantern Festival, in which thousands of visitors come together with lanterns for release. Here, too, you’ll enjoy music, dancing, s’mores, and more.
Written by Jesse Weber for RootsRated Media in partnership with Utah Office of Tourism.