Wasatch-Cache National Forest Overview
|Wasatch-Cache National Forest (John Wang/Digital Vision/Getty)|
All backroom deals aside, Salt Lake City won the right to host the 2002 Winter Olympics on the drawing power of the recreational paradise found in the mountains of Wasatch-Cache National Forest. The forest encompasses the northern and central ramparts of the toothy Wasatch Range, which form the abrupt eastern boundary to the bone-dry Great Basin Desert.
In fact, the bulging population of the Wasatch Front region, extending from Logan south to Provo, would not be here without the water supply the Wasatch Range provides via springs and its annual inundation of snow.
It's that snow that sends winter sports devotees into flights of fancy. Waist-high piles of powder snow fall regularly throughout the cold months, accumulating an average of 500 inches each winter. There are more than half a dozen major alpine resorts on Wasatch-Cache land, including Alta, arguably the holiest of holies to die-hard powderhounds. And in the national forest's voluminous backyard are the even higher Uinta Mountains, one of the most prime backcountry and heli-ski playgrounds in the Lower 48 states.
Wasatch-Cache's winter recreation may get more national attention, but Salt Lake-area locals might well pick summer as their favorite time to be up in the mountains. Right outside their backdoors is an endless array of high-country wilderness hiking; a spider's web of world-class fat-tire biking; unsung but very satisfying trout fishing; and more than 300 sport-climbing routes in Logan Canyon. And the deeper recesses of the Wasatch, Uinta, and Stansbury Mountains (a western fragment of the national forest, west of Tooele) backcountrythe domain of elk, eagles, and bighorn sheepall are an easy shot from the Salt Lake Valley.
Ski into the "White Room"
Any skier or snowboarder who's never navigated the planks through airy, chest-deep powder hasn't really lived. To look down on the beautiful blank slate of an untracked bowl, then push off and float from turn to turn down the hill, the powder whispering and billowing around you—it's a pure, sublime, and unrivalled high; it's the reason we keep shelling out dough for overpriced gear and lift tickets. And Utah's Wasatch Range is the best place in the world to get a fix—time and again each winter, these jagged peaks receive gargantuan dumpings of bottomless fluff. There are ski hills for every stripe of snow-rider here: Old-school pow hounds will love Alta's monastic focus on skiing; families will love Beaver Mountain and The Canyons; Snowbird allows boarders a dose of the same superlight snow that Alta gets; Park City is the spot for night owls; Deer Valley is as upscale as ski resorts get; and Powder Mountain, Solitude, and Snowbasin are nearly always free of liftlines and on-slope traffic jams.
Mountain Bike the Wasatch Front
Although the slickrock country of southern Utah may get more national acclaim, the Wasatch Front's mountain-biking potential is formidable. In the Wasatch Mountains, the Wasatch Crest Trail, Mount Timpanogos Trail, and Mueller Park Trail are all fabulous options. Most of these trails traverse a surface of hard-packed dirt, and all offer stunning views over the Salt Lake Basin. The Crest Trail passes through aspen forests, wide-open wildflower basins, and steep, tricky sections requiring the full range of bike handling skills. Another can't-miss Wasatch ride is the six-mile out-and-back to Dog Lake on the Big Water Trail. There are also many great fat-tire trails in the Uinta Mountains to the east, off of UT 150. Just keep in mind that in both the Wasatch and Uinta high country, snows can linger into June and return in September.
Hike the High Country
With all that spectacular alpine country forming the eastern rim of the Wasatch Front population centers, it's no surprise that this is a hiker's paradise. Weekend day hikers will find destinations like Mt. Olympus, Lone Peak, Timpanogos, Mt. Naomi, and Mt. Nebo just a short shot away. And farther east, the High Uintas rival any Rocky Mountain district as a wilderness backpacking destination; there are innumerable alpine lakes; old, rounded peaks; broad wildflower meadows; and endless tracts of evergreen and aspen forest. There are a thousand miles of hiking trails in this forest, many of them spectacular; however, if we had to set our sights on a particular spot to spend a day, week, or the rest of our lives in, we'd head for Naturalist Basin in the High Uintas, a jigsaw puzzle of wildflower dotted meadows and icy lakes set entirely above 10,000 feet.
Fish the Blacksmith Fork
The Beehive State doesn't have many large rivers but it is long on secluded lakes and fertile streams. And though Salt Lake anglers may want to keep this a secret, there are a slew of blue-ribbon trout streams and high-country lakes within a few hours' drive from Salt Lake City. Options out of the city range from a big brown trout river like the Provo, hundreds of high country lakes in the Uinta Mountains, and many miles of wilderness streams. One of the finest choices is the Blacksmith Fork, which holds mostly wild brown trout with some cutthroat and rainbow trout. This canyon stream offers about 20 miles of fly-fishing water above Hyrum, and, because the road is not a main thoroughfare, gets very little traffic and few anglers. The water is pretty, and you'll want to fish dries. But if you want to consistently reach trout, especially bigger browns, fish with nymphs and streamers.
Scale the Walls in Logan Canyon
Logan Canyon, in the northern quarter of Wasatch-Cache along U.S. 89, is northern Utah's premier sport-climbing area. There are more than 300 bolted face climbs and a slew of naturally protected crack climbs. Set at 4,500 feet, the canyon is climbable throughout most of the year—the weather's mild, and there's little humidity or rain. On days where the temperature's leaning sharply toward one end of the scale, the canyon's west-east orientation makes it possible to climb in the cool shade or warm sun. There's plenty of limestone and quartzite vertical and overhangs here, and climbs from 5.7 to 5.14 have been established.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication