By Darren Alff
An up-scale resort town nestled in the mountains 33 miles east of the state capital, Park City, Utah is the home to three world-class ski resorts, the world-famous Sundance Film Festival, hundreds of mouth-watering restaurants, awe-inspiring real estate, and more than 300 miles of scenic bicycle trails designed for beginners, intermediates and advanced cyclists alike.
Park City Cycling Route #1: The Rail Trail (Beginner)
During its heyday, Park City was once a booming mining town, where millions of dollars worth of silver were extracted from the earth beneath the city’s current ski resorts. At the time, train cars filled with ore arrived in and departed from the city on what is today refereed to as “The Rail Trail” – a paved and gravel bike path that was once the main railway line that connected Park City’s tiny mining town to the rest of the world.
The Rail Trail starts in downtown Park City (near White Pine Touring) and travels northeast for approximately 30 miles to the city of Echo, where it ends at the intersection of the Union Pacific Railroad tracks, which are still in use to this day.
The Park City rail trail is an easy downhill graded bicycle path than can be enjoyed by cyclists of all ages and skill levels. Beginning in the Prospector Square area of Park City, the paved asphalt trail is wide and smooth, fairly flat, and has a few gentle turns through magnificent aspens and maples, under which lie hundreds of tall wildflowers.
About two miles down the start of the path, the pavement turns to gravel and you'll take a slow, but gradual turn to the north. From here, you'll pass through a number of large steel cattle gates and might even see a cow, llama, or donkey along the way. Thirty minutes into your ride, you'll reach the overpass of the I-80 freeway, which makes for a good turn around location if you don't want to ride the entire 30 miles all the way to Coalville.
For those wishing to continue however, you'll find yourself cycling next to a small stream nestled between the two divisions of the I-80. Mule deer, beaver, skunk and moose can be spotted in this region. Follow the downhill path to the northeast for another 30 minutes before reaching the tiny town of Wanship, where an old barn that contains a collection of antique carriages and other western memorabilia can be found.
The city of Wanship makes for another good turn around location for those wishing to return to Park City in a reasonable amount of time. Or you can continue on the dirt and gravel trail for another 40 minutes or so, while cycling through flat open farmland, with big blue skies and magnificent rolling mountains off to each side, before reaching the charming little town of Coalville.
Park City Cycling Route #2: Guardsman Pass to Midway (Intermediate)
Grab your bike and head to Park City's Main Street transit center. From there, hop of the free bus to “Empire Pass” and get off at the traffic circle outside the massive Montage mountain resort. From there, continue three-quarters of the way around the traffic circle and continue up the road on your bicycle to the top of Guardsman Pass. It's a steep uphill climb for about 1.5 miles, but once you reach the top, you'll be rewarded with breathtaking views and a 15-mile downhill ride along the gravel 224 to the Swiss-inspired city of Midway.
Along the way you will be engulfed in a forest of aspen trees and treated to breathtaking views of the Heber Valley below. It's a steep downhill ride the entire way to Midway, so make sure your brakes are in good working order before attempting this particular route.
If you want to make a pit-stop along the way, be sure to check out the Midway Reservoir – a small lake located on the left-hand side of the road, about half-way down the mountain (the perfect spot for a mid-day picnic).
The downhill ride from Guardsman Pass to Midway should only take about an hour (or slightly longer if you stop to enjoy the scenery along the way). Once you arrive in Midway, cycle past the state campground, golf course, and fairgrounds until you get to Midway's Main Street, which makes for a great location to grab lunch at one of the city's many restaurants or eat outside at one of the city's numerous public parks.
To get back to Park City you'll need to either ride back up the hill the same way you came (not recommended), ride along US 40, or have a friend in a vehicle transport you back to the city.
Park City Cycling Route #3: The Mid-Mountain Trail (Advanced)
While some cyclists like to call it the “Eight Thousand Foot Trail,” its official name is the “Mid-Mountain Trail”.
The Mid Mountain Trail is Park City's most famous mountain bike path, which is an awesome single-track ride that rocks up and down at the 8,000-foot elevation level and traverses more than 22 miles through the mountains above Park City.
While you certainly don't have to cycle the entire length of the Mid-Mountain Trail, you can tackle some of the larger and more interesting sections of this famous mountain biking track by taking the free bus from the Park City transit center up to Deer Valley's Silver Lake Village. From there, ask for the “Mid-Mountain Trailhead”, which is located just off to the right of the resort center.
Once you've found the start of the trail, follow the signs and slowly cycle your way across and down the mountain. Along the way, you’ll be treated to some of the most breathtaking views in all of Utah. Surrounded by aspens, you’ll zip along the fun and windy single-track trail, making your way through meadows of wildflowers and passing by beautiful mountain ponds.
After some time on the trail, you'll leave the Deer Valley resort area and pass into Park City Mountain Resort, where you can choose to continue on the Mid-Mountain Trail for several more miles or make your way downhill to the Park City resort center.
If you choose to continue on the Mid-Mountain Trail, you'll ride another 10 miles or so before reaching the Canyons ski resort. Here again, you'll be given the option of heading down the mountain on one of the resort's many off-shooting trails, or continuing north toward the residential area of Park City known as Pinebrook.
If you choose to ride the length of the entire Mid-Mountain Trail, be prepared to spend pretty much the entire day on the mountain. Even though the route covers only 22 total miles, the rocky, uneven terrain can be extremely strenuous and challenging. Pack lots of water, snacks, and sunscreen.
Maps are available at Park City bicycle shops and at the Chamber Visitor’s Center.
Darren Alff is a 6-year resident of Park City and the creator of the popular bicycle touring website – www.bicycletouringpro.com.