There is no denying that Utah is a mountain biking mecca, and northwestern Utah—specifically Tooele County (pronounced too-will-uh)—is packed with many hidden gems that bolster the state’s well-earned reputation. Surrounded by vast geological features, including the Great Salt Lake, the Bonneville Salt Flats, and the Stansbury Mountains, Tooele County is uniquely suited to adventurers. And, it has a history of exploration: The Pony Express route, emblematic of the American West, passed through the area, and the county’s alien-looking salt flats are home to numerous land speed records. While you won’t likely be breaking any land speed records along the many amazing routes in Tooele, the riding is worth a visit all the same.
At 7,000 acres, Tooele County is the second-largest county in Utah, and the Tooele County Trails Committee is continually working to survey all open and available bike trails in order to add them to the system; it’s a work in progress. Still, you can find trail maps on their website, and print maps are available for purchase in numerous bike shops in the Wasatch Front area.
Stansbury Island Trail
Stansbury Island was named for Captain Stansbury, a civil engineer who ventured to Utah in the mid-19th century with the Army Corps of Topographical Engineers to survey the Salt Lake and Utah Valleys and the Great Salt Lake. Stansbury Island is the second-largest island in the Great Salt Lake, beaten out only by Antelope Island. The 16-mile Stansbury Island Trail is a technical-yet-fun ride that is generally accessible year-round even when the Stansbury Mountains are under feet of snow.
The trail begins with an immediate climb of a few hundred feet, then gains the terrace that used to be the shoreline of the prehistoric Lake Bonneville. There are some steep drops and gravelly surfaces so be prepared for some technical riding. Make a stop two miles from the start of the trail to check out the "Hall of Fame," where you can see the many high-water marks of ancient Lake Bonneville preserved on the hillside.
Serengeti Trail System
The Oquirrh Wave/Serengeti Trail System, nestled in the foothills of the Oquirrh Mountains, is a suitable ride for beginning and intermediate mountain bikers. There’s just under seven miles of riding on doubletrack and gravel roads, and a full loop will net you about 1,000 feet of elevation gain. With tough climbs and sharp turns, the trails are certainly challenging, but not overly technical. Pause occasionally to appreciate views of the Great Salt Lake, Tooele Valley, and, across the valley, the Stansbury Mountains. The trail system is generally snow-free between March and November. Keep an eye open to see some ancient petroglyphs along the ride.
Pony Express Trail
The 40-mile Pony Express trail is one of the best rides to experience the area’s history. The Pony Express ran from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California, between 1860 and 1861, and the route through northwestern Utah is commemorated with a gravel path. The ride begins at Five-Mile Pass and concludes at a restored Pony Express Station at Simpson Springs, where there’s also a campground. Besides a long climb up to Lookout Pass, the trail is otherwise mostly flat. Along the ride, bikers pass several Pony Express markers and waypoints. Because it’s such a long trail in a remote area with no water along the way, locals recommend having some kind of vehicle support if you’re planning to ride the entire length of the trail. You’ll need a shuttle regardless, since the trail is 40 miles one-way.
Stansbury Front Trail
Ready for a challenge? Head to the 25-mile Stansbury Front Trail between Grantsville and Big Hollow, which runs right alongside the Deseret Peak Wilderness Area boundary. The trail offers sweeping views of the Stansbury Mountains and, on a clear day, the Great Salt Lake. No motorized vehicles are allowed on this technical trail, which gains nearly 8,000 feet in elevation over 10 mountain passes, along ridgelines, and through canyons. It’s possible to do the whole thing in one go, but if you’re not up for all that climbing, there are access and bailout points at four canyons on the route: Davenport, North Willow, South Willow, and Hickman. If you’re taking on the entire Stansbury Front Trail, the recommended riding direction is north to south.
Middle Canyon Trails
Just a few miles southeast of Tooele City in the Oquirrh Mountains, Middle Canyon Road offers access to several excellent mountain biking trails. The north-to-south range was once a major copper mining destination (it’s thought to have been more productive than the areas that sparked the silver and gold rushes in California, Nevada, and the Klondike combined). The strenuous ride to the summit of West Mountain (9,070 feet) is a lung-busting 19 miles round trip. There are tons of switchbacks along the way, but the route rewards hardy bikers with sweeping views of the valley below as well as the Stansbury Mountains in the distance. Middle Canyon Road also offers access to the singletrack White Pine Trail, which traverses the flanks of the 9,370-foot Butterfield Peak on its way to White Pine Canyon. If you’re lucky, you may even see one of the range’s resident bald eagles.
Left Hand Fork
Considered one of Tooele County’s blue ribbon singletrack trails, Left Hand Fork is a challenge. The ride in the Oquirrh Mountains is just under seven miles, and you’ll gain nearly 1,700 feet of vert. The trail, which is often used by equestrians as well, winds through groves of aspen and pine trees on its way to Bear Trap Pass, the division between the trail’s namesake and Settlement Canyon. The descent from the pass to Camp Wapiti is a fast one, and you’ll encounter grades of between six and 10 percent (grades on this ride top out at around 15 percent, so there will be mandatory hike-a-bike for some). A good warm-up for this ride is the Dark Trail to Sawmill Flats. Both trails are accessible via Settlement Canyon Road in southern Tooele.
Written by Emma Walker for RootsRated Media in partnership with Utah Office of Tourism.