Just 30 minutes west of Salt Lake City, Tooele County, Utah, is home to some of the state’s most dramatic and diverse landscapes. You’ll find peaks rising above 11,000 feet, an inland sea, scenic valleys, and the Bonneville Salt Flats, a unique expansion of salt unlike anything else in the U.S. At nearly 7,000 square miles, Tooele County is huge—about the size of the state of New Jersey—and offers visitors lots of room to explore. For hikers, Tooele County (pronounced too-will-uh) offers a wide variety of scenic options, including high peaks, canyons, and desert landscapes—often with few crowds. Here are 10 of the top day hikes in the region to get you started.
1. Deseret Peak Trail
The 11,031-foot Deseret Peak, part of the Stansbury Mountains, is the county’s signature hike. At the summit, you’ll find a 360-degree view of Tooele County, and may have views as far as the Wasatch Front to the east. This loop trail, which is located at the top of South Willow Canyon, features a near four-mile trip up to the top, followed by a challenging descent of roughly the same distance. The trail will take you through groves of large aspens, meadows of wildflowers, fir trees, and snowfields before you navigate a rocky ridge to the summit. Look out for herds of deer and golden eagles along the way.
2. South Willow Lake Trail
At 10,685 feet, South Medina Peak is the second highest peak in the Stansbury Mountain Range, and you can access it from the Loop Campground Trailhead just like the Deseret Peak Trail. After crossing a stream .8 miles from the trailhead, join the South Willow Lake Trail branching off to the northwest. You’ll find an excellent view of Deseret Peak Cirque, and along the way you can enjoy a ridge filled with wildflowers, located to the north. Continue climbing and you’ll reach the Pockets Forks Trail junction, where you’ll reach a high saddle with views of Big Creek canyon and Skull Valley. This is a great hike in the spring when the wildflowers are in bloom.
3. Davenport Canyon Trail
The Davenport Canyon Trail gives you access to three recreational areas: Davenport Canyon, North Willow Canyon, and the Stansbury Front Trail. Both Davenport and North Willow canyons go deep into the Stansbury Mountains and provide an excellent out-and-back experience. This loop trail—a combination of both gravel road and singletrack—starts at about 5,800 feet and climbs to about 6,400 feet over about a mile. From there you follow the ridgeline slightly downhill for the next mile and a half, before descending to your starting point over the final mile. The total distance of 4.25 miles makes this trail moderately challenging, but not too difficult for serious hikers.
4. Stansbury Front Trail
This 24-mile trail is one of the region’s standouts. Taking on the entire trail is beyond a day hike, as it climbs and descends 10 canyons and mountain passes, and features nearly 8,000 vertical feet of climbing. But you can take on sections of the trail at a time and create your own (still challenging!) day hike. The north trailhead starts in West Canyon, while the south trailhead is in Big Hollow. You also can find trail access in Davenport, North Willow, South Willow, and Hickman canyons. The recommended route is to go north to south, and while there are plenty of moderate sections of the hike, there are some technical and advanced sections as well, with limited water availability.
5. Copper Pit Overlook Trail
This 9.8-mile loop, with an additional out-and-back spur, is located seven miles southeast of Tooele. What you’ll remember from this one is the payoff at the end—a spectacular view of the world's largest open-pit copper mine at Bingham Canyon. To the east, expect to find views of more than 100 miles of the Wasatch Range, while to the west unfolds the basin and range of the West Desert. It’s best to hike in the fall, when the maples and aspens are in color.
6. Left Hand Fork Trail
The Left Hand Fork Trail in Settlement Canyon features some of the best singletrack hiking in the county. The trail’s upper portion will take you through aspen and pine groves before you reach a high saddle named Bear Trap Pass, where the trail splits into the Left Hand Fork and Settlement Canyon trails. You can access the trail after the Settlement Canyon entrance gate on Settlement Canyon Road. Proceed southeast on the paved road for .67 mile to the entrance of Left Hand Fork. You’ll reach an altitude of about 7,000 feet on this out-and-back trail.
7. Jacob City Loop
The Jacob City Loop Trail is one of Tooele County’s highest multi-purpose trails and highlights what was once a lively mining community that got its start in the 1870s. This nearly 20-mile loop consists of mostly gravel, rock, and dirt roads, that can become narrow at times. Start at the Jacob City Loop Trailhead and proceed southeast through sagebrush and stands of cedar. Expect the hard climbing to begin just a quarter mile after the trailhead with 12 percent to 15 percent gradients. For day hikes, choose an out-and-back distance that works for you. You’ll want to be on the lookout for the first valley overlook, which comes 1.92 miles from the trailhead. A bit further down the trail at 2.67 miles is an excellent view of Tooele and Rush Valley. A turnaround here makes for a good 5-plus mile excursion.
8. Pony Express Trail
One of Tooele’s claims to fame is that it was part of the famous Pony Express Trail, which ran nearly 2,000 miles between St. Joseph, Missouri, and Sacramento, California from 1860 to 1861. It crossed the Great Salt Lake Desert in one of the most difficult sections of the trail, which today is a combination of asphalt and gravel roads. It’s a mostly flat route, except for the gradual climb to Lookout Pass. You will pass several Pony Express Trail markers and monuments along the route, but no water is available, and a support vehicle is recommended for this isolated stretch of American history.
9. Tooele Valley Overlook
Not every hike has to be extreme: The Tooele Valley Overlook features stunning panoramic views of Tooele Valley, the Stansbury Mountains, the Great Salt Lake, and Stansbury Island—yet it only features 385 feet of climbing. The trail begins at the Oquirrh Mountain Trailhead. You’ll begin with an easy grade of three percent and increase to six percent at 1.5 miles before a false summit at 1.8 miles. Keep going for another .9 miles for an awe-inspiring view of the valley. You can also see Lake Bonneville’s high water marks on the Oquirrh Mountain’s lower slopes.
10. Stansbury Island Trail
Stansbury Island is part of the southern shoreline of the Great Salt Lake. While the name may be inaccurate (it’s actually a peninsula), the island’s 16-mile trail is a great way to explore the unique region. The Stansbury Island Interpretive Trail is on the peninsula’s west side and provides access to the ancient Lake Bonneville, which dominated Utah’s landscape for thousands of years. Its deep water left unmistakable wave marks and escarpments on rugged slopes of the peninsula. Hop on the trail seven miles north of Interstate 80 on Solar Road, where you’ll find a metal sign for the "Stansbury Island Interpretive Trail." Stay on the trail, as it crosses several sections of private property. The trail can easily be broken up into manageable sections for day hikes.
Written by Jeff Banowetz for RootsRated Media in partnership with Utah Office of Tourism.