City Creek Trail, an extension of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail System, gives you something precious in the foothills: shade. After a quick ascent on loose conglomerate in the pleasant shadows of tall oaks and cottonwoods, the trail winds along the prehistoric shoreline of Lake Bonneville above the high-priced neighborhoods of Ensign Peak. City Creek Trail is accessible to beginners year-round, depending on snowfall and daytime temperatures. The mountain lions, mule deer, rattlesnakes (galore), coyotes, and eagles along the trail give hikers both thrills and reasons for caution: this is wild land within sight of the Utah State Capitol Building. The traverse after the switchbacks is gentle in terms of elevation but very exposed during the summer. But the shade at the beginning of the trail, the sheer proximity of the hike to hotels and residences, its beautiful views, flora, fauna, and, of course, shade, recommend the hike for anyone looking to pass a few pleasant hours.
This route follows the switchbacks up the mountain toward Bountiful, UT, though hikers looking to stay low can instead hang right at the beginning of the switchbacks to stay in City Creek Canyon. Dogs are allowed on all these trails, though anyone climbing the switchbacks should be aware that the route is popular with local mountain bikers (who tend to be more polite than the tourists one finds in Park City and Moab since they aren’t on a timeline). Once on the bench, hikers can traverse to the radio towers at the point of the mountain between the cities of Salt Lake and North Salt Lake and an incredible view of the Great Salt Lake itself, or descend to Ensign Peak and the Ensign Peak Trail.
Unique among many trails in the Wasatch, parking for the trail is both plentiful and accessible, either along Bonneville Boulevard or in one of the two separate parking lots at the mouth of City Creek Canyon. There are seasonally-available bathrooms, running water for pets, and people at the guardhouse just up the road from the trailhead.
First thing’s first: Don’t hold yourself back from hiking on account of the time of day. City Creek Trail (the City Creek section of the larger Bonneville Shoreline System) is fun pretty much year-round and all day. Early morning and nighttime users will need to be more aware of coyotes, bears, and mountain lions, but the trail is easy enough that you can hike it at night in midwinter and in the afternoon in midsummer.
Park either on Bonneville Boulevard or in the parking lot up by the guardhouse in City Creek Canyon itself. If you park at the guardhouse, water and bathrooms are available there on a seasonal basis. Either way, the trailhead is on the west side of the road where the canyon road meets Bonneville Blvd.
The first mile-and-a-quarter of the trail really recommends the hike in the summer. The ascent above the City Creek Canyon road first traverses along the slope and then steepens into a forest of oaks and cottonwoods, providing you with shade rarely found in the foothills. The traverse is less shaded but climbs gradually. Be aware throughout the trail for bikers descending at speed, as this is a popular route for locals. Water runs along the trail for stretches as it winds upward through the trees. Be on the lookout here for deer, rattlesnakes, and mountain lions. Eagles and red tail hawks also live in the trees at the bottom of the trail. Just before the shoreline bench, the trail sharply tips upward, and at the mile-and-a-quarter mark, leaves the trees to traverse the bench itself.
Here, the rattlesnakes and wildflowers are many. Bull snakes, gopher snakes, and the occasional, strange rubber boa are also possible sightings early in the morning. Tarantulas too will often sluggishly cruise along the hardpack trail during the cooler times of day. The bench curves around the foothills and below you, you will be able to see the Salt Lake Valley stretched out to the Traverse Mountains in the distance. Just below you rest some of the largest estates in Salt Lake City. As you walk along the bench, the trail gradually carries you upward. Scrub oak, Navajo paintbrush, fireweed, and the dreaded myrtle spurge dominate here.
The trail steepens again at 1.7 miles just before meeting a spur that leads south and downward to Ensign Peak. Two switchbacks alert you that you’ve nearly reached the top. At 2 miles, the trail flattens into a series of rolling dives into the drainages above Capitol Hill. At the bottom of each drainage, oak cover provides shade which falls away as you climb out. Gravel segments appear and lengthen and the trail becomes generally looser. The final mile to the towers consists of these rolling dives. Coyotes here are numerous, as are snakes and mule deer. If you are hiking with a small dog, keep it close.
Finally, when you reach a “T” intersection with a gravel road, you’ve reached the end of the trail. You can either head left and down toward the new connector trail to Ensign Peak, the Hells Canyon Trail, and the neighborhood, or head right and upward toward Bountiful and the Radio Towers. The final climb to the Radio Towers is less than a half mile and affords a beautiful view of Davis County to the north, as well as Salt Lake City to the south. Or, of course, you can turn back and be assured that it’s downhill all the way. The views up City Creek Canyon itself just before the switchbacks usher you back into the woods are, in this author’s humble opinion, some of the best in Utah and by themselves well justify the work spent to see them.
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