Tooele County (pronounced too-will-uh) is chock-full of quintessential American West vibes. Utah’s second-largest county, just west of Salt Lake City, is covered in vast swaths of arid desert and was once a part of the Pony Express route. The county, whose name likely comes from an Aztec word for the marshy bulrush plant ("tule"), was established and organized in the mid-19th century. It’s home to the Bonneville Salt Flats, where land speed records have frequently been set and subsequently broken. (The otherworldly salt flats, crusted with thick, mineral-rich salt, are worth a visit all on their own.) But don’t let the dry landscape fool you, there’s plenty of mountain adventure to be had in Tooele County, too. Whether you’re interested in hiking, trail running, mountain biking, taking vehicles off-road, riding horses—or simply enjoying majestic views—the mountains in Tooele County make for some amazing adventures. Here are five great day trips to help you explore the region.
1. Deseret Peak
The highest point in both Tooele County and in the Stansbury Mountains, the 11,031-foot Deseret Peak is the fourth-most prominent peak in Utah. It’s visible from across the Great Salt Lake, and, best of all, offers much more solitude than the often crowded hikes of the Wasatch Range to the east. Because the peak is in a designated wilderness area, it’s hikers, runners, and horseback riders only on this trail—no mountain bikes or ATV/OHV vehicles are permitted. The route up Deseret Peak is accessible from the Loop Campground, five miles south of Grantsville. The Class I South Willow Creek route is the standard ascent; hikers can descend via the same route or, for a slightly longer loop, via the Pockets Fork-Dry Lake Fork Trail (also Class I). In either case, it’s around 7.5 miles through thick conifer forests sprinkled with quaking aspen. The hike transitions at treeline to a rocky trail and opens up just in time for beautiful panoramic views. The best hiking and most predictable weather are between Memorial Day and late October. Keep your eyes peeled for a resident herd of wild horses in nearby Big Creek Canyon.
2. South Willow Peak
Also known as South Medina Peak, South Willow clocks in as Tooele County’s second-highest peak at 10,685 feet. It’s also accessed via the trailhead at Loop Campground, and ambitious hikers can tag this summit, North Willow (10,521 feet), and Deseret in one long day. The Class II route branches off from the Deseret trail just over three-quarters of a mile from the trailhead, then crosses Dry Fork for phenomenal views of the striking Deseret Peak Cirque. From the high saddle just below the South Willow summit, keep an eye out for views of Big Creek Canyon and Skull Valley. There’s no bad time during the summit months to visit, as the views remain gorgeous throughout, but mid-summer offers unique opportunities for hiking through gorgeous, wildflower-filled meadows on the way to the summit. Motorized activities aren’t allowed on the trails, but hunting is (check local regulations for seasons and permitting information).
3. Stansbury Front Trail
This strenuous route is worth the effort for its unparalleled views of the Tooele Valley and the rugged Stansbury Mountains, not to mention the Great Salt Lake. The point-to-point trail is more than 23 miles long, stretching from West Canyon to Big Hollow, but one of the most straightforward and rewarding sections is the four-mile stretch between the Median Flat Trailhead (about 11 miles from Grantsville) and Box Elder Pass. Mountain bikers are welcome here, and the point-to-point is indeed a challenge. Over the full length of the trail, you’ll crest three ridgelines, including up and over the Martin Fork drainage (and springs) and culminating in a 700-foot climb up to the stunning alpine zone of Box Elder Pass. It’s about an eight-mile day if you go all the way to Box Elder and back; it’s closer to six miles round-trip and 2,000 feet of elevation gain from the ridgeline before, which affords stunning views of Box Elder.
4. Stansbury Island Trail
Who says you can’t experience island life in Utah? Fun fact: A colony of Hawaiians sprung up in Tooele County in the early 20th century. Though they’d mostly closed up shop by 1917, there’s still some island hiking to be had, although it’s nothing like the tropics. At just over 11 miles long and 4.5 miles wide, Stansbury Island is considered the second-largest island in the Great Salt Lake (after Antelope Island), although it’s technically more of a peninsula since a gravel road connects it to the shoreline proper. With five high points, including Castle Rock (6,647 feet), there’s a surprising amount of potential elevation gain on this hike.
The trail begins at the Stansbury Island Interpretive Trailhead; the out-and-back trail can be made into up to a 16-mile day. For the most part, the trail follows the "bathtub ring," the highwater mark of the ancient Lake Bonneville. Intrepid explorers may come across petroglyphs or any number of wildlife species, including lizards, jackrabbits, wild turkey, hawks, and deer. Visit in May to the see the Claret Cup Cactus in full bloom. Horses and mountain bikes are allowed on the gravel two-lane trail, along with ATVs and OHVs.
5. Salt Mountain
This quiet peak in Skull Valley, in the western foothills of the Stansbury Range, sees few visitors considering its proximity to Tooele. Salt Mountain’s 6,048-foot summit offers sweeping views of the Stansbury, Cedar, and Lakeside mountains, plus Lone Rock and the rest of Skull Valley. Thanks to its slightly lower elevation, the summit is often accessible earlier in the season than other nearby peaks. The hike begins in the parking lot for the fascinating Iosepa Cemetery (it’s worth exploring), about 15 miles south of 1-80. The route follows a sandy gully to the base of the peak’s west ridge. From there, it’s a Class I hike past the "story rock" petroglyph. You’ll get plenty of bang for your buck on this climb: the trail gains 1,600 feet of elevation in just under a mile and a quarter. Hikers can bag both the taller southern summit and the northern high point; they’re connected by a wide, quarter-mile-long ridgeline. Looking for a follow-up activity? Check out nearby Horseshoe Springs, a great bass fishing spot. It’s right across from the Skull Valley OHV campground.
Written by Emma Walker for RootsRated Media in partnership with Utah Office of Tourism.