Hidden Beauty in the Concrete Jungle: Salt Lake’s Jordan River Parkway

Concealed from the public eye by manifold columns of industrial developments, lies a preserved slice of the Salt Lake Valley wasteland: strange, beautiful and ripe for exploration. I stumbled upon this sublime place while cycling to see the Jordan River Parkway to its endpoint, though found myself halted and mesmerized by the fervent vitality of this hidden oddity.

According to postings scattered around the area, this isolated landscape was initially purchased by Salt Lake County in the early 1970s in deplorable condition, having previously been used as agricultural grazing land. After its cooperative community restoration in 2008, the area was cleared of invasive plant species and revitalized, thereafter dubbed the Redwood Nature Area. Encompassing 63 acres of restored natural wetlands, the Redwood Nature Area now serves as an asylum for many species of wildlife and is a habitual stop for migratory birds. More incredible still is that this flourishing arboreal landscape is merely a single pit stop along an extensive network of riverside wetlands, all connected by the winding Jordan River Parkway.

Constantly meandering parallel to the Jordan River, the Parkway spans over 50 miles of paved asphalt and cuts through Utah, Davis and Salt Lake counties. By bike, the extensive trail provides unmitigated access to major settlements between Utah Lake and, in its connection to the Legacy Parkway Trail, the shores of the Great Salt Lake.

For the Salt Lake Valley’s burgeoning cycling culture, the Jordan River Parkway is a safe and beautiful alternative to navigating the perilous urban landscape within our growing inner-city communities.

Adventurous cyclists exploring the Redwood Nature Area must be conscious of the goat heads: sharp, multi-pointed clusters that grow along invasive puncture vines adapted to dry climates. Due to its close proximity to the river, the Parkway is riddled with these tube-deflating monstrosities. Since avoidance is difficult, if not impossible, I recommend bringing along a hand-pump and patching kit in preparation for the likely misfortune of a flat tire, particularly if you are anticipating a longer journey.



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Solitude in Fields of Stone

Veiled in obscurity and far off the beaten path, the City of Rocks National Reserve — named by emigrants of centuries past “the Silent City” — is a peerless backcountry landscape of towering granite spires, alien geological forms, and burgeoning plant and animal life. This anomalous location encompasses an isolated stretch of protected southern Idaho desert, and at a mere three-hour drive from Salt Lake City, is a sublime place of solitude for your Fall Break escape.

The reserve’s ubiquitous granite monoliths have amassed considerable recognition within the climbing community, and for good reason. This relatively compact expanse contains over 600 established routes, varying dramatically in height and technicality with routes ranging from 30 to 600 ft., the City of Rocks accommodates any level of climbing experience, offering climbs rated at a casual 5.6 to extreme 5.14s for the intrepid madman. A few of the most popular routes are the Theater of Shadows on Steinfell’s Dome, Columbian Crack on Elephant Rock, and Bloody Fingers on Breadloaves. For curious adventurers seeking to engage in the sport for the first time, the reserve’s visitor center offers introductory climbing lessons, equipment included.

Nearly 22 miles of winding hiking trails traverse this otherworldly expanse, enabling access to omniscient overlooks, geological anomalies, and secluded backcountry. Trails vary from the brief and casual Window Arch Trail, Bath Rock Trail, and Creekside Towers Trail, to the longer, strenuous Geological Interpretive Trail, Flaming Rock Trail, and North Fork Circle Creek for more challenging excursions. You may even wander off the beaten path to parts unknown, though ensure that you’re conscious and considerate of your surroundings and the delicate ecosystem in your exploration.

The City of Rocks, as well as the neighboring Castle Rocks State Park, has designated multiple encompassing paths exclusively for mountain biking, including the road from Circle Creek Overlook to the base of the monumental Stripe Rock, and many other landmark access routes that are restricted to motorized vehicles. Rangers at the adjacent state park urge cyclists to explore the five-mile Castle Rocks Trail, which encircles the entire area, providing unmitigated access to many beautiful and abstract forms.

The City of Rocks cannot be fully experienced in a single day — camping is a must. Fortunately for penury-stricken college students, transient residence under the juniper trees, granite spires, and starlit sky can be obtained cheaply. For designated camping plots, which in many areas are nestled among overarching boulders and flourishing arboreal growths, the nightly fee is $12.72. A free, designated backcountry camping area is located within Indian Grove. A signed permit is required and can be obtained at the ranger station or online. Camping at the neighboring Castle Rocks State Park is priced at $23.32 per night but includes additional accomodations like fresh water pumps, 30-amp electrical hook-ups, and paved parking spots.

For a spell of momentary respite in seclusion and access to world-class scrambles along ancient granite monoliths, consider an excursion to the City of Rocks for your Fall Break meditation.

Photo by Dalton Rees

Photo by Dalton Rees


DAY 1: Leave early to catch a camping spot and stop by the visitor center to pick up a trail guide. Familiarize yourself with the Silent City, stopping by the remarkable Window Arch, Bath Rock, and Creekside Towers. Bring your camera, this photogenic oddity demands it.

DAY 2: Take on the Geological Interpretive Trail or the 6.3 mile North Fork Circle Creek Trail. Neighboring Castle Rocks State Park yields access to sublime natural features along the Backyard Boulders Trail and Castle Rocks Trail. If you’ve developed an incurable itch for technical climbing, take on some of the classic trad routes.

DAY 3:  Grab a mountain bike and explore some of the encompassing sightseeing routes like Elephant Rock to the Nematode, and beyond to the Bread Loaves along the Tea Kettle Trail. Otherwise, finish your day on a climb or a hike and return home.


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140 Ways to Climb Maple Canyon

Maple Canyon is one of the most unique climbing destinations in Utah. The texture of the cobblestone rock is like no other place in the state. Just two hours south of Salt Lake, it’s the perfect destination for a weekend stay. With a variety of climbs and numerous locations to explore throughout the canyon, it is a great place to test your ability as a climber.

Climbers can camp near the crags in the huge canyon, but campsites need to be reserved in advance before the end of the season in October. This is the perfect spot for large groups, and amenities like single-family sites, walk-in tent sites, and picnic tables with fire pits make it easy to plan last minute. Ephraim is about 15 minutes south of the canyon, and is great place to stock up on food and supplies before spending time at the crag.

The main attraction of Maple Canyon is the 140 climbing routes ranging from 5.4 up to 5.14. The best places to start would be on Pipeline or Orangutan Wall. Pipeline has a great selection of short but steep routes while Orangutan has a variety of longer climbs. The best time of the year to go is during the summer months and the beginning of the fall. In October and November, it can get cold at night, but this is one of the best times of the year to be outside in Utah as the leaves begin to change and the days aren’t unbearably hot. The majority of the climbs offered in the canyon are single pitch sport routes, but there are a couple of multi-pitch routes. If you don’t get there before the snow comes, don’t sweat it. Maple Canyon also has a variety of ice climbing routes. The best times of the year for ice climbing range from December to the beginning of March. Keep in mind that you will have to skin up or hike to the climbing route as the campsites are closed down during the winter months. The majority of the ice climbs are single pitch, but there are a couple of multi-pitch climbs as well.

Photo courtesy of Lindsay Daniels

Photo courtesy of Lindsay Daniels

If you’re not big into climbing, Maple Canyon itself is stunning enough to go camping for a couple nights to experience its cobblestone cliffs. There are campfire rings, wildlife viewing areas, biking, horseback riding, as well as a couple hikes to explore throughout the canyon. There are three hikes to choose from that range from three to five mile loops branching out from the center of the canyon that feature small caves and waterfalls through the Box Canyon hiking trail. The Maple Canyon Loop trail will be great during the fall season to see the leaves changing because the trail takes you through and out above the canyon and overlooks the valley below.

Whether you are a seasoned climber who has traveled all over the world for climbing or someone who is just looking for a vacation from the Salt Lake Valley, Maple Canyon is definitely a location for your list. Its close proximity to Salt Lake will keep you coming back multiple times a year to experience all that the canyon has to offer.

DIY Trip

DAY 1: The first day is spent packing and getting to Ephraim, Utah, which is the nearest town to Maple Canyon. Pick up all the supplies you need for your stay and anything you might have left at home. You can leave later in the day since the drive only takes a couple hours. Next, make your way back towards the canyon and your campsite.

DAY 2: Today is spent climbing many of the crags the canyon has to offer. I recommend starting out at Orangutan Wall or going to Pipeline.

DAY 3: Today will be a break from climbing and a day spent exploring the rest of the canyon. I recommend hiking on the Maple Canyon Loop. This hike is 5 miles long, so be sure to take your time. There is no need to rush!

DAY 4: Today is spent rock climbing in Box Canyon. These climbs are longer but they offer a couple more challenging aspects such as large overhangs. Plus, the approach through Box Canyon is something you can’t pass up. Today can either be your last day in the canyon, or the next day. It depends on your stamina and how long you are able to keep climbing.

Photos courtesy of Lindsay Daniels


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Seeking Adventure in San Rafael Swell

A kaleidoscope of red rock, the San Rafael Swell in Southern Utah is a destination you have to see. Approximately three hours south of Salt Lake City near Cleveland, Utah sits a vast playground of hiking and mountain biking.

When approaching from Cleveland, you will drive through plains as far as the eye can see. Looking east, the plateau in the distance towers above the flat plains and ranch corrals. The dirt road to get to the Swell meanders through the country like a snake.

There is a turnoff to stop and see the Wedge Overlook, which I highly recommend seeing. Imagine a miniature Grand Canyon and there you have it, the aptly nick-named “Little Grand Canyon.” Standing at the top of a majestic overlook, see canyons weaving in and out. On your way to the campsite located 100 yards from the historic bridge crossing the San Rafael River, you’ll drive down Buckhorn Wash. As you descend deeper into the Swell, the canyon walls narrow in on you and grow in magnitude.  Stay on the Buckhorn Wash dirt road for approximately 27 miles until Swinging Bridge Campground. Watch for debris from flash floods on the road.

One of the best sites to stop and visit while driving to the campsite is the Indian Buckhorn Wash Pictograph Panel, approximately 4.1 miles from the campground.  The pictographs are over 2,000 years old and you can make out a few animal shapes resembling a sheep or a horse (or whatever your imagination conjures up).

San Rafael Swell Camping Trip, Photo by Kiffer Creveling

San Rafael Swell Camping Trip, Photo by Kiffer Creveling

Continuing on your journey to the campsite just past the San Rafael River, you will cross one of the only suspension bridges in Utah, now a registered historic place.

There are endless places to hike and bike in the San Rafael Swell. The Mountain bike trail to Mexican Mountain parallels the San Rafael River and is very popular. On the southernmost part of the Swell, you have two of the most popular destinations: Little Wild Horse Canyon and Goblin Valley eighty miles south on Buckhorn Draw Road and I-70. Little Wild Horse Canyon, an eight-mile loop with approximately 800 feet of elevation change, will entice you. There are some passages that are so narrow you will have to hold your pack above your head to pass through. The wind is chilly when you are walking through the deep crevasse, but when you are in the open spots, it is essential to have plenty of water and sun protection.

Near the campsite,  there are a few fun canyons to explore. Each has its own special beauty with natural bridges, forming arches, and desert life. The most popular canyons are Calf, Pine, and Cow canyon. After an hour of hiking up Calf Canyon, you will reach the ‘Double Caves.’  There are cacti, jack rabbits, lizards, desert toads, scorpions, and more.  At night see the entire galaxy light up the sky and shooting stars visible after the moon sets. The Milky Way will be prominently located across the horizon.  You will never want to leave because of how beautiful it is.

DAY 1: Drive South to the Wedge Overlook and proceed to Swinging Bridge Campground. Stop to see the Indian Pictographs.

DAY 2: Drive back up Buckhorn Draw Road to Calf Canyon and hike to see “Double Caves.” Head back to the campground to enjoy burgers and relax.

DAY 3: Drive south to get to Goblin Valley and Little Wild Horse Canyon. The hike will take approximately five hours depending on how hot it is outside. Camp at Goblin Valley for your last night to enjoy the Goblins at night.

DAY 4: Drive back home to Salt Lake City from I-70 to I-15.

Camping in the San Rafael Swell, Photo by Kiffer Creveling

Camping in the San Rafael Swell, Photo by Kiffer Creveling


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Dead Horse Point: Views to Die For

Thirty-two miles outside of Moab lies Dead Horse Point State Park. This small but mighty state park rises 2,000 feet above the Colorado River and provides incredibly awe-inspiring views of the deep canyons, towering rocks, and buttes of the Canyonlands. The park is nicely situated: 30 minutes from Arches National Park and 10 minutes from Canyonlands National Park. Visiting Dead Horse Point is a great way to enjoy the landscape of these nearby national parks without the crowds of tourists.

Dead Horse Point is a certified “International Dark Sky Park,” and the wide open desert sky makes for great stargazing, as well as beautiful sunsets and sunrises.

There are eight different hikes to choose from and they range from easy to moderate. Dead Horse is ADA-accessible and family-friendly park, plus biking is allowed and park rangers provide guided tours on the weekend.

The legend of how Dead Horse Point got its unusual name is an interesting but sad tale. During the 19th century, ranchers in that area took advantage of the dried brush and branches to create a natural corral for their horses. Unfortunately, at one point many horses died due to exposure and the scarcity of water.

The entrance fee for the park is $10 per vehicle and the visitor center is open year round from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. The campground has 21 sites and one group site. These fill up quickly so if you want to camp inside the park, make sure to make a reservation. The campgrounds are $30 each.

There are bathrooms, water, RV, hook-ups, and a dump station but, no showers. Each campsite has a sheltered picnic table with built-in cabinets for locking up food overnight.

Along the road into Dead Horse, there are two BLM campsites called Cowboy and Horsethief. Cowboy has seven sites at $10 a night, and Horsethief has 56 sites at $15 a night. These sites all have bathrooms, picnic tables, charcoal grills, and fire pits.

If you’d like to camp in style, consider staying in one of the two yurts. These will set you back $99 a night but the amenities make up for the cost. Sleeping for six, electricity, a fireplace and a propane grill are provided for guests. Just don’t forget to pack bedding, utensils, and food. Another huge perk of the yurts: air conditioning. During the height of a Utah summer in the desert it’s a blessing.

Dead Horse Point is ideal for a weekend trip, and this is a great park for enjoying all year round.

Photo by Esther Aboussou

Photo by Esther Aboussou


DAY 1:

After you’ve set up your campsite, take a drive up to Dead Horse Point overlook. From the point, you can look down on the Colorado River and experience the beauty of what millions of years have done to change the land. Layers and layers of sandstone and leftover sediment have turned this once water-filled area into a magnificent desert peninsula. After spending time here, settle in by the fire to enjoy the sunset and do a little star-gazing.

DAY 2:

On your second day at the park, I recommend getting up bright and early to hike the rim trails. Both the east and west rim trails are moderate hikes and are a great way to see Dead Horse from different angles. There are many great spots to stop and take pictures along the trails.

After an afternoon lunch break, head to the Intrepid bike trail. There are three loops of this trail that equal 16.6 miles. It starts at the visitor center and the terrain is suitable for mountain bikers of all levels.

DAY 3:

Before you pack up and head out, make sure to wake up early so you can catch the sunrise as it hits the red Kayenta sandstone. Just outside of the visitor center is the Pony Expresso coffee shop, open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Grab a bite to eat here and take the time to enjoy the view of the amphitheater situated just behind the visitor center. If you’ve brought a furry friend along feel free to take him for a walk on the nearby basin overlook trail. All the trails in the park, except for the mountain bike loops, allow dogs.


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