When you think of Park City, Utah, you’re more likely to think of snow than sun. It’s understandable given the town’s rich pedigree and Olympic history, but there’s another half of the year that, until not long ago, was a local’s secret. A time where the crowds all but fade away and an alpine utopia rises from the melt on the mountain. Snow-covered trails are cleared, the surroundings are swathed in vibrant color, and a giant playground emerges for any lover of the outdoors. We’re talking about the summer and fall, of course. And when coupled with its lauded winters, it becomes obvious why Park City was awarded Outside Magazine’s Best Town In America in 2013. It’s the perfect destination to escape to for a long weekend, and we’d love to tell you why.
Location: Rob’s Trail
Even though Park City has a reputation as a first-class ski town, like its brethren in Whistler, the late spring thaw reveals one of the most expansive trail networks in the world. Unlike Whistler, however, Park City has been given the only Gold-level rating by the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA). And what this amounts to is over 450 miles of interconnected trails that host the full gamut of activities, from trail running to hiking to backpacking to, of course, mountain biking. Even better, the network caters to all skill levels of the aforementioned. Granted, you’re going to need some strong lungs to be active at the 7k’ base altitude.
In town, you’ll find that many of the trails are shared use, meaning that you shouldn’t be surprised to see fellow runners, riders, dogs (PC’s adopted name is Bark City), or the occasional horse all on the same ribbon of singletrack. For runners and hikers, however, there are plenty of options where you won’t have to worry about downhill traffic barreling down the mountain. Take the relatively new Armstrong Trail for example. It’s the product of a land grant, and as part of the conditions, it’s closed to downhill bike traffic. And as an eight-mile out-and-back with 1300′ of vertical gains and a stunning view of the town below, it provides more than enough runway to satisfy trail runners and hikers who’re looking for a moderate challenge. Park City also plays host to a number of “locals” or “neighborhood” trails, but don’t write these off as mere walking paths. Their trailheads are situated off of neighborhood streets, and aren’t always obvious, but the rewards are vast and diverse. Trails like Rob’s Trail, Sweeney’s Switchbacks, Crescent Mine Grade, Daly Canyon, and Rossi Hill serve up quiet tranquility, flora diversity, and a wide array of moderate to challenging terrain. And more importantly, their mountain biking CV marks them as connecting trails at best, so you’ll seldom have to break your stride to let a rider pass.
If you’re looking for a more intermediate, family-friendly location for a hike, run, or dog walk, there’s always Round Valley. Like most of Park City’s trails, Round Valley is maintained by the community and the Mountain Trails Foundation, and with a majority of its hills being south-facing and at a “lower” elevation, it’s also the locals’ first area to play outside in the springtime. And once the snow melts along the Wasatch Back in the early summer, it’s all but abandoned by mountain bikers. So the valley’s vast network of trails becomes a destination for day hikers, runners, and anyone looking to cut their teeth in mountain or cyclocross riding. Primarily situated in patches of scrub oak, the valley’s ideal for early morning or evening wildlife sightings of moose, elk, and deer, while incredible views of the Wasatch Back are easily obtainable from any of its many vantage points. Keep in mind, however, that the area doesn’t offer much in the shade department, so be mindful when it comes to packing water and sunblock.
For mountain bikers, Park City delivers riding for all skill levels. All three ski resorts provide lift access in the summer for anyone with a gravity-minded riding style, plus go-big-or-go-home downhill tracks that rival anything on the World Cup circuit. For the rest of us, rides can range from all-day epics, like the Crest Trail or Mid Mountain, to short, intermediate loops. Typically, you’ll have to do a solid chunk of climbing before you hit PC’s notoriously flowy descents, but with two cars in a group, shuttling is made easy by parking at a resort and driving up Guardsman Pass with the bikes in tow. It’s also worth noting that Park City buses are free to all, so accessing the Purple line from Main Street to the Montage in Deer Valley is always an option in the summertime. And if you’re feeling particularly savvy, there’s a gypsy cab minivan that performs shuttles from the 7-11 on Park Avenue for around $10 a head.
So no matter what you’re looking to do on the trail, you’re going to find it in Park City. Stewardship and respect for these areas is a personal matter for Parkites, so make sure to be responsible and check the conditions before you head out.
Location: Olympic Legacy Park- Psicobloc
While Salt Lake City stamped its name on the 2002 Winter Olympics, Park City played host to the majority of the action. And nothing stands as more of a monument to the past Games than the Utah Olympic Legacy Park. Its pair of massive ski jumps greets most travelers as they exit the 80 to come into town, and as a launching pad for summer activities, the location stands without rival. There are plenty of family-friendly activities, like zip lines, rope and skills courses, bobsledding, and our favorite, Psicobloc. Situated above a deep pool, Psicobloc provides a form of solo wall climbing with routes that vary from kid-friendly to expert. The brainchild of climbing legend, Chris Sharma, the curved, at times inverted, wall extends 55-feet above the water and requires climbers to have a diverse climbing background, from bouldering to sport, in order reach the top. And until September, the wall is open to the public for a small fee, while breathtaking, world-class competitions occur in August for spectators. It’s an exciting new take on a classic form of climbing, and the water landing and lack of required rope skills make it the perfect foray into climbing for anyone looking to give it a shot.
Of course, Park City activities aren’t limited to the Olympic Park. Throughout the summer, you’ll find a host of events and races, ranging from bike races, like Point To Point, Tour de Suds, Tour de Park City, and the Tour of Utah, to running competitions, like Running with Ed, Mid Mountain Marathon, and the Ragnar Relay. And for non-athletic goings-on, the city is a veritable playground for artists and foodies alike, with events ranging from weekly free concerts and movies in the park, Arts Fest, Park Silly Sunday market, and Savor the Summit. There’s always something happening, and if you’re willing to brave a little traffic, there’s no better place in Utah to experience the Fourth of July than on Main Street.
Location: Park City Main Street
If you want to go back in time about 80 years, there’s no better place to go than historic Main Street. The city is extremely diligent, to put it nicely, about maintaining the original structures of the city, and nowhere represents this more fully than downtown. Take a stroll from the bottom of the hill, or take the free trolley, and you’ll feel like you’re in the Old West—only blacksmith stations and livery stables are now high-end retail and art galleries. Granted, much of the street is comprised of your boilerplate tourist shops, but there are some authentic gems, like Dolly’s Bookstore (go in and pet the cats), Burns Cowboy Shop, the Crosby Collection, and the Southwestern Trading Company. For art and jewelry, you have plenty of options, with mind blowing photography at the Fatali Gallery and stunning modern art at Gallery MAR. And if you’re interested in learning more about the area’s history, the Park City Museum offers a cheap, hour-long dive into the mining background of the area. Honestly, it’s pretty cool, and the old jail cells in the basement are a riot for kids.
After the restaurants close, Main Street takes a sharp turn in the nightlife direction, with plenty of bars to turn loose at. Establishments have come and gone through the years, or just changed names, but the old favorites are easily the No Name Saloon and Cisero’s. But if you’re in need of a quieter setting, or you prefer to hangout with the locals, stay at the bottom of the hill and kickback on the patios of either the Cabin or Collies.
The China Bridge parking garage provides free parking throughout the day, but if you’re attending an event like Park Silly or Arts Fest, consider parking out of town at the Eccles Center and taking a free city bus into town—you’ll be thanking yourself later. Park City didn’t earn the name “No Park City” without a good reason.
Location: High West Distillery
Park City is home to three world-class ski resorts, and accordingly, it’s home to some world-class dining. But when you think of the ruggedness of the mountain and its mining history, more than fondue and tapas come to mind. Tapping into this vision of rustic Utah’s roots is the High West Distillery just off of Main Street in downtown. The exterior alone is one of the most common photo attractions in the area, displaying old, weather-beaten signage from the building’s original incarnation, a livery and garage station. It’s comprised of a main lodge that’s connected to an ever-growing series of historic homes that have been converted into social dining and drinking areas, and drinking there is a plenty. High West’s whiskey and vodka have won multiple international awards, and the bar plays off of the quality of its spirits splendidly. Mint juleps, old fashioned, straight-up—just ask a bartender what’s good, and you’re sure to get a carefully crafted, game-changing drink that you’ll be sure to try and recreate at home.
For the menu, High West serves a blend of modern small and large plates with a rustic background that they call “western-inspired.” It’s commonly in flux due to what’s in season, but the list always provides an authentic experience that can range from various cuts of beef, local trout, to elk steaks. The desserts share in this, with wild berries like huckleberry commonly making their way onto the cart. And while the focus is on handcrafted victuals and a carnivore’s delight, there are some exceptional vegetarian and virgin options to keep the masses happy. So if you’re looking to have an unduplicated experience, this is the place to be. Keep in mind that it’s not uncommon for the main dining space to be reserved for private parties or events, so checking seating availability before a visit is highly advisable.
Now, a spendy meal is awesome every now and again, but filling the gaps between too tired to make food at home and dropping half a paycheck is Park City’s specialty. After all, the backbone of the service industry in town is underpaid and hungry, and there are plenty of businesses off of Main Street that cater to the budget conscious. For vegans, vegetarians, and general food lovers alike, there are options like Squatters Roadhouse Grill and Pub, Este Pizza, Good Karma, and El Chubasco—all of which are local favorites. There are also plenty of new establishments that serve middle-priced food and drinks, like Billy Blanco’s and the Boneyard Saloon and Kitchen. And if you’re looking to keep it cheap and tasty, it’s hard to beat Alberto’s, Teriyaki Grill, or Backdoor Deli. Basically, you’re always going to be surrounded by food, and in the off-season, lines are short and the daily specials are stellar. You can’t go wrong.
No matter how long you’re in Park City, there’s always a trail you haven’t been on, a sight you’ve never seen, or taste you haven’t savored, so it’s best to get there and experience it for yourself. See you on the trails.