Mt. Olympus boggles the mind for two reasons: first, it is almost incomprehensibly steep; second, it is incredibly popular. Peak-baggers and scramblers looking for a good rush or families looking to educate their children about the effects of altitude will find a lot to like in this short, action-packed advanced-level hike which rockets from the ancient shoreline of Lake Bonneville at just below 5000 ft. elevation to nearly 9000 ft. in a hair over three (3!) miles. Most of that elevation happens very quickly in the latter half of the climb. If you get to the top, Olympus will win your heart: it is a very, very steep trail through very wild land capped by a very, very fun scramble – the kind that kids play-act on the playground – and the view of Salt Lake City and the Wasatch crest from the summit afterward will absolutely stun what’s left of you. And it starts right from the edge of Holladay and the urban Wasatch Front.
The bottom half of the Mt. Olympus Trail faces to the west and supports only a few shade-bearing trees. Since the trail is both exposed and steep, hikers should pay attention to when they start. Spring (after the snow melts) and fall figure as the best times for hiking at any time of day, while summer hikers should limit their attempts to the early morning or to the late evening and night. Intermittent streams can slake the thirst (and heat exhaustion) until the snowmelt ceases to run in the late summer and early fall, though hikers shouldn’t bet their hike on water being either available or potable without filtration (many people bring their dogs on this hike). Trail runners and skiers pack down the trail during the winter, so those (fool)hardy enough can scale the peak pretty much year-round, though thanks to the grade of the slope, avalanches can be a concern.
While hikers and runners must exercise some caution, Mt. Olympus quickly proves to the prepared hiker why it is widely considered a must-do trail in Salt Lake City. It is a wilderness area overlooking one of the major metropolitan centers of the West; it is a short trail that nonetheless gets you all the way to the top of the Wasatch Range; and it is incredibly fun in terms of sheer climbing-over-big-things physicality. It’s just (steep, exhausting, broiling) fun.
Access the trailhead from a raised parking lot just off Wasatch Boulevard, east of Holladay. If you come early enough in the morning (before 8:00 AM), you’ll be able to find a parking spot in this lot. If you come during peak hiking hours, however, you will likely have to park on Wasatch Boulevard past a long line of cars. Another reason to come early in the morning is the sun exposure. The first two miles of the trail are lined with low-growing vegetation like wild onions, sparse evergreens, and Gambel Oaks, leaving hikers vulnerable to sunburn and heat exhaustion during the hottest hours of the day. This portion of the trail merges with the Bonneville Shoreline Trail at several points. These divergences are clearly marked with brown metal posts indicating which trail is which (Bonneville will generally look like the easier route, while Olympus keeps taking you straight up the side of the mountain).
Given the proximity to the freeway, you’ll be able to see and hear rushing cars for the first mile and a half. If you hike this trail in late spring or early summer, that rushing sound will transition to water flowing as you approach the latter half of the hike. This is when you’ll begin to see and smell blooming Chokecherry trees with their white, cylindrical flower arrangements. Later in the season, these trees will bear red fruit. As the name suggests, you’ll want to abstain from eating them.
The most difficult portion of the hike begins around mile three. After getting through the steep forested section ripe with periwinkle Waterleaf wildflowers, you’ll get to what seems like the end: an open, flat area with yellow Glacier Lilies growing from the newly melted snow. There will be a brown wooden sign that says “Trail” pointing toward the direction from which you came. Don’t turn around just yet. Follow the blurred trail forward and left over several fallen trees (which could easily be mistaken as trail markers) to a wall of boulders. Scramble your way up this wall in whatever fashion you find most suitable. This section may be difficult for those who suffer from a fear of heights. The views from the very top, however, will reward your effort and courage. Look east toward expansive, rugged mountain tops high enough to maintain white, winter snow. To your west, you will view the valley from which you came.
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