September 25, 2012 posted by

Great Road Rides: Salt Lake City

80 miles, 3 iconic climbs, epic scenery, and not a single stop light; it just can’t get much better.

I’ve ridden my bike all over the world and this is one of the better rides I’ve done. If you have a free day in SLC, some fitness (8’000-ish feet of climbing), and prefer roads over trails, this is the one. The only caveat is that you have to be willing to get your precious road bike dirty a couple of times. Otherwise, it’s pure Nirvana.

The ride begins at Blue Star Coffee in Canyon Rim (in SLC at 23rd and the 80). They have fresh juice, roast their own beans, and make fantastic bagel sandwiches. It’s also the home of Wasatch Bike Support so not only can you fuel up you can pick up supplies and maybe squeeze in a last-minute tune (don’t tell Tyson or Chris I said they’d have time to tune you bike on the spot but they probably will if it’s nothing major). They carry Hammer, Honey Stinger, and assorted other foods for your ride.

Begin heading east on the frontage road. Turn left on a small path by the baseball field to access the bike path through Parley’s Historic Nature Park. Ride through the park, over the 215, and turn left (north) on the bike path junction.

The bike path delivers you onto Foothill Blvd for your only foray into traffic, which lasts less than a minute. At the light (you see a few lights but always have a right turn), turn right and immediately left, following bike path signs. Ride north through a neighborhood, then climb up through a golf course. Make a left at the top of the hill and descend to Sunnyside Dr (Emigration Canyon Rd).

Climb Emigration Canyon. It’s a fairly easy 7-mile (approx. 1,500’) climb leading to a nice summit, aka Little Mountain. Emigration usually has some traffic but it has a great bike lane, is usually busy with cyclists, and almost always very pleasant.

Descend off the back to East Canyon. Turn left. Climb Big Mountain. This one’s a bit stiffer, feels more isolated, and offers an outstanding summit.

Drop off the back of Big. Now the ride feels remote as you’re looking at open space as far as you can see. If it all looks familiar, it’s because the Tour of Utah rides it (in reverse) most years.

at the summit of big. weather can be a little spotty at times.

Near the bottom of the descent look for a right turn (might be a sign to Jeremy Ranch, which comes and goes) on a dirt road and get ready to Paris-Roubaix out for a few miles. Training tires/wheels (with plenty of air to avoid pinch flats) recommended.

When the road becomes tarmac again you’re in Jeremy Ranch. At the gas station, turn left on the frontage road (more scenic than it sounds). Take this past the next junction (hwy 224 and I-80) for another half a mile and turn right, go under the 80, and immediately left onto Highland Dr. Hop onto the bike path and follow it along Highland to Silver Creek Rd. Turn left and cross the 40, then right onto the frontage road (again, much nicer than it sounds).

If you need fuel there’s a gas station here with a pretty decent restaurant inside.

Take the frontage road to the next junction. Turn left (away from Park City) and in about a quarter mile turn right onto the bike path. Follow this into Park City.

When you hit White Pine Touring (bike shop if you need anything) you have a choice to make. It’s faster to jump on the road here but I prefer to stay on the bike path and cruise up through Old Town. Stay alert for a small sign saying “Deer Valley” which takes you through a tunnel and off of the bike path at the round-a-bout (there’s only one), where you take Deer Valley Dr (not Marcac) uphill. On the streets you’d go left at White Pine. Left at the light (ugh, a light you might have to wait for!), and left at the roundabout.

Just before the ski area turn right onto Royal Street. Take this iconic climb (for locals anyway–it’s a perfect climb: winding, scenic, great tarmac, not too steep) to just before its end (at Silver Lake) and take the short descent down Guardsman Connector to Marsac and keep climbing.

Your first really steep pitch just before Empire Lodge, a taste of things to come. If you need water, supplies, or a bathroom you’ll want to stop here. Empire Lodge is very bike friendly all summer but closes in Sept. Fuel up as, even though you’ve only got a few hard miles left, you’re about to earn your ride.

You can bail from here, ride down the main route through Park City, Jeremy Ranch, Summit Park (a short climb), descend Parley’s Canyon (on I-80), and get back to SLC with hardly any energy expenditure. But if you’ve come this far you might as well dig a little and earn your beer.

Leaving Empire the ride is different. So far, even though there’s been a lot of climbing (probably 50 miles and 6,000′), it’s been pretty civil. The road now, for the first time all day, is seriously steep. At the top of Deer Valley (only a mile or so), you have a brief descent, and then start heading up Guardsman’s Pass road. Get ready to rumble.

view to the east

NOTE: the next paragraph is now in the name of lore, this section has been paved. It’s not nice pavement, and it’s still steep, but much easier to ride than it once was. Some might even say it improves things. Not me. The road quickly turns to dirt. Steep dirt. Steep, slightly gravelly dirt. And not all that compact (varies with the season). Some sections are smooth. Others not. It will force you to pick lines and, for some reason, there always seems to be more traffic than you want, which is none, because it both kicks up dust and reduces your ability to choose the best line. It’s only a couple of miles but it takes fitness, technique, and mainly the desire to do it. But hang in there because you’re about to be rewarded with a 20-mile, 5,000′ descent–well worth a bit o’ toiling about.

view to the west

Enjoy the descent of Big Cottonwood canyon. Yee-haw. If you’re parched, cold, or hungry you pass Silver Fork Lodge a few miles off the top. They have both local coffee and beer, a lots of assorted diner-style food.

At the bottom of Big, turn right at the light and then make another right at the next light at Wasatch Blvd. Follow Wasatch a couple of miles and turn right just before an obviously up hill on Fortuna Dr. You can finish your ride on Wasatch but we’re avoiding stop lights in the name of aesthetics so…

Climb Fortuna (steep for half a mile) and then descend it to Jupiter. Go left and take the first right and then the first left (both come quickly). You should be on Hale St that will hit Parkview shortly. Go left and down to the Mill Creek junction (4 way stop). Go straight through the stop and turn right on Wasatch. Turn right at the light, which winds around left. At the end of Wasatch Blvd is the bike path you started on. Take this down to the right fork, go back across the freeway (215) and through Parley’s to finish at Blue Star. Then hope George has got his beer license sorted out.


  • Road bike season ended like 3 months ago. I have hair on my legs to prove it.J

  • World Championships were 3 days ago. Where were you?

  • That doesn't sound so bad for a bunch of fags in nut-huggers. But I'm with Josh. It's Hippie Bike Season.

  • Sandbagged me on Blue Star.

  • No, sir. That wouldn't be legal.

  • I must admit I'm not on the civilized bike much these days. Maybe only a handful of times this year. But this ride was so good that I hardly missed the trails.

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