Trail of the Month: August 2003
Historic Union Pacific Rail Trail State Park, Utah
There is no better way to take in the western charms of Park City, Utah, than from the Historic Union Pacific Rail Trail. Equestrians, runners and cross-country skiers flock to the trail year-round, but it is the mountain bikers who get the best deal: The rail-trail is an exciting venue for high-altitude riding.
Starting in Park City at the base of the Wasatch Mountains, the 28-mile trail parallels Interstate 80 from a distance, slicing through dusty ranchland and capturing big-sky views before coursing along a river and heading north to Echo Reservoir. Folks nod and wave at their neighbors as leisurely strollers mix with bicyclists, inline skaters and runners along the paved, one-mile stretch of trail in Park City. Soon the pavement ends and a strip of packed road surface extends across marshy bogs with waving wetland grasses alongside the trail.
When the rail-trail passes under Interstate 40, the scenery quickly turns from suburban to rural. Weeds by the trail radiate brilliant yellows and pinks against a backdrop of dusty aspen and mountain laurel. Grazing cattle peer nonchalantly over every livestock fence. An equestrian tie-up, snack kiosk and restrooms rise out of the sage meadows at mile five, marking the Promontory Trailhead and a 13.5-mile mountain biking loop. Approximately two miles farther along, the trail crosses under Interstate 80, then coasts gradually downhill for the next 10 miles. Boulders on one side of the trail, and Silver Creek on the other, shelter the trail from adjacent roads.
Some twists and turns near the bottom of the slope signal your arrival in the tiny town of Wanship. Here the trail zips through backyards and across the rushing Weber River on the trail's longest wooden plank bridge. Be on the lookout for a few street crossings. Also note the remnants of antique cars now holding up the riverbanks, a sign of the old ranching community that used to dominate this area. Outside Wanship is solid ranchland where horse pastures and vistas of distant farms mark the remaining 10 miles as the river winds away and rejoins the trail to Echo Reservoir. The reservoir's public beaches are accessible only by walking around the vast lake, but those beaches, as well as the boat rentals, food service and campsites, make the reservoir popular throughout the summer months.
But don't stop there. Head back to Park City, which is the launching point for 250 miles of trails, all of them ready for your next back-country hiking, biking or cross-country skiing adventure.