Salt Lake vs Park City | Where to Live for the Best Outdoor Adventures | Mountain Biking + Downhill MTB (Part 3)

Trying to compare the opportunities to go mountain biking in Salt Lake City versus Park City! Either way, there are endless opportunities, but there is a clear winner here!

People that live in Salt Lake City believe that Park City is just another suburb of Salt Lake. The locals that live in Park City know that’s simply not true. And so it goes, the endless debate (and rivalry) on which town/city is better to live in. Either Park City, where the mountains are at your fingertips because you live in the mountains, or Salt Lake City that sits right at the foot of the beautiful Wasatch Front Mountains. And through this series of posts, I hope to help those that are looking to move out west to Utah, on which place they will find the best outdoor adventures. Spoiler alert, no matter which place you choose, I can all but guarantee you won’t regret it! I moved out to Utah in 2018, first lived in downtown Salt Lake City, then moved up to Park City, where I have been ever since.
For the purpose of this debate, I am associating Big Cottonwood Canyon, Little Cottonwood Canyon, and Millcreek Canyon as a part of Salt Lake City (since everyone else does).

Salt Lake

The city simply has a lack of mountain biking and access to good trails for riding. The terrain, though seemingly perfect for mountain biking, is actually quite the opposite. It’s a lot of steep climbs, mellow traversing trails that follow the topology, and some steep descents. There is really only one trail system accessible from Salt Lake City, and that is up behind the University of Utah. There you can access a portion of the traversing trail called the Bonneville Shoreline Trail (BST) and eventually hook up to the higher elevation trails and down the infamous Bobsled Trail which is a bucket list trail for an good rider. Millcreek has an out and back blue trail called Pipeline which will have you trying to ride around hikers and runners most days.

Fortunately, there are a handful of decent trails in the Cottonwood resorts. Solitude has a XC trail that wraps around its resort, but you never feel like the climb pays off in the end. Alta has a similar trail system that takes you up to the base of Devil’s Castle, but no real technical features. Snowbird, on the other hand, has one of the most scenic descents in all of Utah on the Big Mountain Trail. A must for every mountain biker’s summer riding list, after taking the Tram up to the top, you’re greeted with a 6 mile, 2,425ft descent, on loose, mountainous terrain to the bottom of the resort.

Riding Trails in the Salt Lake Area

I’d be remiss to not include the amazing riding in Corner Canyon, down in Draper, which is the furthest extent of the Greater Salt Lake Area. This riding system is split into a few areas, but all are nearly perfectly built and maintained. The highlights here are Jacobs Ladder and the Rush Trail, which is always my go-to, early season trails to get the fire started. There are jump trails like Vertigo and Levitate that are setup perfectly to lap over and over again. And for some gnarly, off-camber riding, check out the Maple Hallow DH trails that really test your reactions and skill.

Overall, yes, you can access some kind of riding trail from most parts of the Salt Lake area, but as I alluded to before, the terrain is generally too steep to put in a lot of good trail systems, or connect the existing ones. It’s disappointing, because there is so much open land from the valley that looks like it would be some impressive riding!

Park City

Similar to the prowess of the Cottonwood Canyons have in regards to Skiing, the Park City side has some of the best mountain biking in the world! In such a small area, Park City has at least 9 distinctively different trail systems, to which I’ve written extensively about (Click Here). The trail systems are Park City Mountain Resort (PCMR), Deer Valley Resort, Deer Valley Bike Park, Canyons Resort, Woodward Bike Park, Round Valley, Glen Wild, Prospector Trails, and the Utah Olympic Park. Each of these vary in their difficulty, steepness, terrain, features, and of course, their style.

Riding Trails just on the PCMR side of town

The best cross-country style riding trails are found a handful of places, with moderate amount of climbs, and long, endless trails to keep pedaling. You can loop the Round Valley Trails like Rambler for rides among the scrub brush in the center of town. Glen Wild trails are perfect for early and late season riding, and home to the infamous 16 mile Flying Dog loop! Other mellow trails can be found at the bottom of the Utah Olympic Park and within the Prospector Trails, perfect for the casual few mile laps without getting into technical terrain and getting overly worked.

The best epic ride is going to be the Wasatch Crest Trail, where you can shuttle your start up to Guardsman Pass, or pedal your bike all the way up the 3,000ft from PCMR. Once up to the ridgeline, your gifted to a panoramic view of the Wasatch Mountains, on both the Park City and Cottonwood sides. The ride cruises down technical features, like the spine, and eventually drops you into either Millcreek Canyon or down to Canyons Resort or even the Utah Olympic Park. This ride is iconic, world class, and will always have a small crowd each weekend at the top of puke hill at the unofficial start of the Crest.

The best downhill and technical riding is going to be up in the high alpine of PCMR on trails like Black Forest, Evil Empire, and Red Bull. Similar to these, Canyons has Insurgent, and Deer Valley Resort has NCS, Devo, and Undertow. All of these trails are steep, technically difficult, and pass through various terrain from rocky alpine, loamy pine forest, to dusty aspen groves. These trails will test your reactions, as well as your bike’s travel and brakes, over-and-over again after each turn. Some of these trails are miles long, and descend thousands of feet, giving you a burn you’ve never experienced before.

The best jumps and freestyle trails are going to be found at the Deer Valley Bike Park, Woodward Bike Park, and Trailside Bike Park. Varying in sizes and trail length, these parks have massive wooden features, drops, berms, and jumps that range from a curb to the size of a small house like the ones on Tsunami. I love terrain parks for their perfectly manicured berms to carry trail speed over all the features. Plus these trails, especially the progression park at Trailside, are the best way to hone your skills that will get tested on all of the other trails in Park City.

Overall, Park City, though being a “ski-town” is really a mountain biking town. It has more mountain biking trails that are accessible from any place in town, than anywhere I’ve ever visited. You can, from your doorstep, go out for an epic 40-70mile ride, cross over multiple trail systems, and be back to your house without ever crossing a single road. Weeknight lift laps from PCMR are perfect for those looking to get rowdy after work, and of course the hundreds of miles of trails have something for everyone!

Winner Is: Park City

Flat out, the riding for every discipline, XC, Enduro, Trail, Downhill, and Free Ride are all world class here in Park City.

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