Start Point: Bonneville Shoreline Trail – Emigration trailhead, 4900 feet
End Point: Dry Creek Canyon, 5050 feet
Trail Distance: 7.8 miles (round trip)
Trail Time: 1 hour
Skill Level: Beginner/Intermediate
Best Season: Spring/Fall
The Bonneville Shoreline Trail is among the most popular mountain biking routes in the Salt Lake Valley. Quick access from the city, lofty views, and enough variety to please mountain bikers of all levels means the Bonneville Shoreline sees its fair amount of traffic. Throw in tons of trail runners and hikers and you’ve got a bona-fide mecca for outdoorsy folks looking for a quick getaway before or after work. But if you’re a beginner mountain biker, even the flat and smooth singletrack here can be intimidating. That’s why I send newbies to ride the Shoreline Trail’s section between Emigration Canyon and Dry Creek. This stretch features miles of easy-going, flat dirt roads, coupled with a few hills to get the heart rate going, and enough technical side-trails to make any beginner get enough practice to take their riding to the next level.
Getting There: From Foothill Blvd in Salt Lake City, drive east on Sunnyside Avenue (800 South). Pass the zoo and the entrance to This is the Place Heritage Park, then locate the trailhead on the north side of the road just before you enter Emigration Canyon. There is a small parking lot by a chain link fence.
The Ride: From the Emigration Canyon trailhead, the trails is immediately steep. This is not good for a warmup. I like to go right at the immediate fork after passing the chain link fence because that hill is short and quickly leads to more mellow terrain. The path levels out then has one more super steep hill (no shame in walking this one) before becoming fast and flowy with decent views of lower Emigration Canyon. After half-a-mile, the trail goes up another hill, then switchbacks left at a fork (right becomes extremely steep and is recommended only for the most fit mountain bikers.) Continue on the main, wide path in a northerly direction.
About a mile into the ride, you’ll come to another fork. This is the start of the first spur trail. For a more technical ride, go right. This area heads east and dips down a steep embankment then parallels the main road before meeting back up with it in a quarter mile. For an easy way, stay left and cruise the wide road.
In 1.5 miles, you’ll reach another spur trail on the right. This one is even more technical as it is rocky and dives into a drainage before requiring a steep ascent over a rock shelf to get back out. It’s a good test piece for intermediate riders, but again, can be avoided by staying left on the main trail. However, by doing so you’ll miss nicer views and a fun set of switchbacks above the new Natural History Museum, so I recommend taking the spur trail, even if you have to dismount for the technical section.
You reach the museum at mile 2.25. Once there, slow down and watch for pedestrians and children as the trail passes by the main entrance on manicured dirt. You’ll cross the road that goes up to Red Butte Garden, then descend to Red Butte Creek. This whole area is generally crowded so it’s best to watch your speed and be courteous to those on foot. At Red Butte Creek, the trail intersects with a paved road at the University of Utah that winds up into Red Butte Canyon. Go right on this road (east) and immediately locate the dirt road on your left. Turn here and head north as you should now be back on the Bonneville Shoreline Trail.
This last section of the ride stays above the University of Utah Hospital and the Huntsman Cancer Institute. Like the rest of the ride, there are variations that you can take. Again, at the first fork at mile 2.90, you come to a decision. A narrow trail heads up the hill on the right, and if you choose that option, you’ll encounter a steep hill covered in loose rocks that will get your heart pounding. The reward is a fast and flat section followed by a fun descent on intermediate switchbacks down to the mouth of Dry Creek Canyon. If you choose left, you’ll ride the easy road to its terminus at Dry Creek.
The whole ride is just under four miles, one-way. To return, retrace your route back to the car at Emigration Canyon, or make a different variation by choosing different spur trails on your way back. Either way you slice it, the Bonneville Shoreline Trail from Emigration Canyon to Dry Creek is a playground where beginners can gain confidence, intermediates can improve their skills, and experts can get in a quick workout right in the city.