Rallying through the signature wallride at Trailside Bike Park with the rest of Park City's 400 miles of trails in the background. Jon Grinney photo.
The speed is getting faster now as I head down Park City’s Spiro trail. The red snake of the trail whips in wild arcs ahead, requiring exacting concentration despite the fact that water is now streaming out the side of my eye sockets. I dip my bars into a sharp corner, trying to hang on to this giddy pace, and hear the machine gun-paced “Whap! Whap! Whap!” as leaves on the inside of the corner slap my hands. It’s an exposure to pure cheek-flapping trail speed that's only registered a handful of times in my years on a bike.
When I pop out a few minutes later on Three Kings Drive, barely three blocks from the house I’m staying at and where this whole ride started, I'm a bit overwhelmed. I grew up riding your average backwoods trail system, with an unmarked dirt lot off some quiet road leading to a smattering of rarely-marked trails. I grew up assuming towns were not supposed to be organized around your weird hobby, and that biking took place only in the dark, woody fringes.
The free Empire Pass bus loaded with riders heads up to Deer Valley. JANS sports photo.
Yet here, in Park City, my ride started with a spin of a few blocks to the Empire Pass bus, where I caught a free, taxpayer-funded shuttle ride 1,200 vertical feet up the canyon to an intersection with the Mid-Mountain Trail, which traverses 20 miles of the mountains above Park City, holding a steady 8,000 foot elevation while intersecting with a new trail at least every five minutes. I crossed under chairlifts at Deer Valley and Park City Mountain Resort that, for $40 or $25 respectively, will ferry you all day up to the top of the area’s endless trail network, cutting out the climbing we’ve already halved by taking the bus.
Had I not blasted down CMG to Spiro to fun-hog a couple thousand vertical feet of gravity-fed singletrack down into town, I could have stayed on Mid-Mountain all the way to The Canyons and hopped on another lift to hack my way down that ski area’s growing purpose-built bike park, with options from beginner flow to Double Down’s pro-sized step gap jumps. Or you could pedal up and return on the infamous Wasatch Crest trail and ride the rim of the range with epic views pouring down into Big Cottonwood Canyon–with options to continue for several more canyon’s worth of riding–or keep hammering to the end of Mid-Mountain, drop into Kimball Junction, cross under the highway, and hop into the Glenwild network of flow trails.
Instead, I opt for lunch and a nap, then hop on another free bus to Trailside Bike Park, Park City’s free, public bike park. Then more options: return on the bus, or ride the Round Valley cross-country network back to town. You get the idea.
Park City and the Dream of a Mountain Bike Town
White Pine Touring's Scott House chases TGR's Jon Grinney through the woods. Ryan Dunfee photo.
If there is one reason to visit Park City with your bike, it’s to witness in person how committed to mountain biking a region could possibly, in some unfathomable dream, be. You’re not supposed to feel this welcome and this supported; that shit is for the tourists whose sole exercise consists of marching up and down Main Street hunting for knick knacks and dumb t-shirts about black diamonds. So it’s understandable that hard-core riders might appear a bit standoff-ish at the concept of riding in what can feel like the Disneyland of the American mountain bike world. It’s a place that feels so custom-built for bikers–with 400 miles of improbably interconnected singletrack, free shuttle buses, full-time trail builders, cheap lift-supported riding, a free dirt jump park and a separate free bike park, a growing paid one at The Canyons, and those free little bike-fixing stations here, there and everywhere–that you’re not even sure what to think of it.
If there’s anything around here that’s made me a Park City evangelist, it’s the Trailside Bike Park. Bordering a school, sports field, and a skate park, Trailside’s pump tracks, jump lines, and flow trails litter the grade of a low sagebrush hill, the top of which betrays an epic view of the entirety of Park City’s mountains and ski terrain. From the summit, you can deliver yourself to flow-state bliss hammering the transitions and wallrides of one of two excellently-built slopestyle flow trails, the more recently-built of which sports fast, deep berms that sling you into hips that transition you back and forth across the fall line. The undulations in speed drop you off wood drops and ramps into butter-smooth transitions, ripping through an adult playground that requires a quick five-minute pedal to lap. It’s addicting enough that by the time you’re finished and ready to pedal back into town, you’ve forgotten you’ve just crushed yourself for two hours in the high-desert sun, and are now a burnt pile of lactic shit. Pack some bananas, and keep the schedule for the free bus handy.
Every single intersection you reach will have a very clean trail marker. Every one. Ryan Dunfee photo.
Those who hate on Park City for being nothing more than buff dirt highways will find it cute that the builders put in an “all-mountain” line littered with man-made boulder fields and awkward drops to flat, but if you’re the kind of soccer mom who’d prefer to drop the kid off at one place long enough that they develop into a sport-specific wünderkid while you devour Fifty Shades of Gray in the car, Trailside is a god-given venue. Just ask the dozens upon dozens of kids who, ripping the beginner pump tracks, jump lines, and flow trails on Strider bikes or beginner mountain bikes, will undoubtedly make up a considerable percentage of 2025’s pro ranks.
Hitting one of the lower wallrides at Trailside Bike Park. Jon Grinney photo.
This all didn’t happen at once. Park City’s been steadily building up to its current 400 miles of interconnected trails since 1992, when the city’s Mountain Trails Foundation was founded and extremely forward-thinking town officials started pushing developers to dedicate a portion of every property to new trail. Fast forward twenty years, and the city is America’s only IMBA Gold-Level Ride Center –which basically means they have the most cohesive trail network in the country–and hosts multiple professional trail building crews that spend all summer chipping away at fresh trail while maintaining an astounding and extremely well-marked network of singletrack.
Trail Riding Must Rides
Scott House rails a berm in the Round Valley network of Park City's trails. Ryan Dunfee photo.
At the end of the day, Park City really is custom-built for trail bikes, so if that’s what you ride, this should hop pretty high on your bucket list. The simplest way to get the most of your time in Park City is to dump your car and hop on the Empire Pass Bus up to Deer Valley, pedal up into Mid-Mountain Trail, and take turns above and below it trying out different trails. Mid-Mountain is the trail network’s de facto highway and can get crowded, so you’ll want to peel off and explore. Funner options like T&G, Empire Link, and Mojave will break off as you make a clockwise loop, so take advantage as you’ll definitely be missing out if you stay on Mid-Mountain the whole time.
One of the advantages of a Park City trip is that much of the trail system is buff and low-tech, meaning that fit but less advanced riders will still have an absolute blast. More advanced riders will make it fun by taking advantages of the copious opportunities to open the throttle, or by taking off for some of the area’s techier options, like Fire SwamP, Devo, NCS, or Thieves Forest. But for more specific recommendations, we asked a longtime local, Scott House of White Pine Touring and Park City Mountain Biking:
Shadow Lake Loop, counter clockwise. It’s a grunt of a climb to reach the single track but it’s worth it. Short but sweet, the Shadow Lake Loop is just great trail. It has a good mix of rocky sections and buff trail with some great corners and it is fast. Not to mention there is a sweet lake on your left the whole time.
Jim Harris rails tacky dirt in the north-facing woods around Park City. Ryan Dunfee photo.
Sweeney’s Switchbacks. Sweeney’s is some of the older trail in Park City and has plenty of rock and root moves in it. A challenging climb or fun descent.
Empire Link, Mid-Mountain to Daily Canyon. Empire Link was built more recently and has some incredible grade reversals and corners. It’s the perfect grade for letting off the brakes and finding your flow. There are a couple spots to keep you on your toes as well.
Middle and Lower Fire Swamp. Fun, techy, steep, singletrack with good flow.
Wasatch Crest. Incredible views and an awesome mix of buff single track and techy rock sections. A couple of stout climbs with some awesome descents. This is a must ride for anyone with an intermediate skill set and up; intermediates will walk a few sections but advanced riders will be stoked.
While the Park City experience might be heaven for interconnected, convenient jaunts out of and back into town, there’s plenty of backcountry epics on tap to get you way out there. Riding from Park City to Sundance Resort via Brighton Resort, Catherine’s, Sunset Pass, Dry Fork, Snake Creek and the Great Western Trail is a long option, along with rides like Bench Creek to Little South Fork in the Uintas. 2 nd Water to the Great Western Trail to 5 th Water is also pretty out there, but it’s about 1:30 drive from Park City in Spanish Fork Canyon.
Dancing on the wallride at the bottom of Rally Cat at The Canyons. Ryan Dunfee photo.
You might have forgotten, but in the heyday of the NORBA race series, Deer Valley was one of the centers of the American downhill scene, with Missy Giove and Shaun Palmer racking up wins on the ski area’s old-school, handcut singletrack. Many of those old fall-line trails are still around, and Deer Valley itself is even reinvesting in the bike park game this summer, but much of Park City’s downhill options cater more towards boosting jumps than rattling down steep tech.
If you take the Empire Pass shuttle, you’re bound to share it with people in full faces shuttling the downhill trails, some illegal, that drop off from the parking lot at Deer Valley back into town. Trailside, too, offers two slopestyle flow trails that should keep downhillers busy for an afternoon, with the advanced line built last year featuring some proper gaps and features, but much of the current downhill scene in Park City centers around The Canyons.
Park City fixture and pro Eric Porter slinks through a corner on Ricochet at The Canyons. Ryan Dunfee photo.
A $37 full-day pass gets you access to a gondola and two fixed-grip chairs that access roughly a dozen trails highlighted by jumpy flow trails like the intermediate Wild Mouse and more advanced Rally Cat and Double Down, a trail built with GoPro that opened last year and which has the biggest gaps you’re going to clear in the area. Make the time, though, to get some laps on Richocet into Holly’s, whose hand-built feel, awesome corners, and constant grade reversals have you blasting air without peering your pants into BMX-style gap jumps.
The Canyons spins the lifts from mid-June through the beginning of September, and their newer builds have brought them and Deer Valley into the top five Rocky Mountain bike parks, as voted by MTBParks.com’s users this spring .
WHAT TO BRING
White Pine Touring has all the gear you'll need, high-quality rental bikes, and a great guide staff to give you the lay of the land. Ryan Dunfee photo.
As was mentioned before, Park City is heaven for anyone who rides a bike with six inches or less of travel–that bike will take you through 99% of the area’s trails without any problem. One of the key advantages of a place like Park City, though, is that it’s as easy to get to to bike as Salt Lake’s skiing is in the winter. That means that if you’re coming in on a plane, you can leave your bike at home, skip the rental car, take a shuttle to Park City, grab a solid rental bike from White Pine Touring , and have a long weekend filled with enough riding to convince yourself you took a whole week off.
Given the dizzying amount of trails available, it’d be a great idea to let the guys at White Pine know what kind of riding you’re looking for an indulge in a three-hour tour, the cost of which includes a full rental package, to get the lay of the land and sap as much beta out of your guide as possible so you can make the most of your time on your own without having to do a ton of game-planning beforehand.
Whether you bring your bike or not, bring a hydration pack with a shitload of water–Park City is mostly a high desert, and you'll be surprised how hard you'll get whacked by the sun and heat while you're out.
WHERE TO STAY, WHERE TO EAT
Be sure to hit up the free concerts The Canyons puts on every week. The Canyons photo.
To simplify your stay and negate the rental car (or need to drive), your best bet is to hook up with Park City Lodging and get something within striking distance of Park City’s enviable, fully-walkable downtown. PCL is offering a pretty good package if you book three nights , which gets you two lift tickets to Deer Valley’s bike park and two bike rentals.
As far as food goes, options abound, including, somehow, Park City’s own hospital for cheap, good lunch. Other classics include The Junction, Handle, and Sammy’s Bistro, although you’ll be tempted to walk into High West Distillery’s bustling spot right next to Town Lift and wait several hours to get a table. Whether you join the wait list or not, get several bottles of the Rendezvous Rye and then shed a tear when you run out and no one stocks their whiskey where you live.
WHY YOU SHOULD GO
Jim Harris airs through one of the stupid fun corners on Richochet at The Canyons. Ryan Dunfee photo.
There’s not many places in the world where you could roll tires down as many miles of trails in just a few days as in Park City, and the degree to which the town, transit, ski areas, and private landowners have worked together to provide an experience where mountain biking clearly comes first is simply unprecedented. It’ll give you dreams of civic engagement you’ve never entertained before, imagining how your hometown could be a mountain bike mecca if only there were lifts servicing bikes going in every direction, free shuttles, consistent signage, multiple full-time trail crews, and just a few hundred miles of singletrack that seem to link up one after the other. It’s got us here in the lowly IMBA Bronze Ride Center of the Tetons with a bit of a chip on our shoulder.
Win This Trip!
Win a fully-guided mountain bike trip to Park City! White Pine Touring photo.
Now that we've got you stoked on the idea of mountain biking in Park City, you've actually got a chance to win a badass bike trip to Park City yourself. Post a trip report from any adventure you've taking–biking, skiing, climbing, hiking, whatever–in The Stash or the TGR Forums and you'll have a chance to win 3 nights of lodging in downtown Park City for two and two full days of mountain bike guiding, including a high-end bike rental, from White Pine Touring. Check out the full details of the trip report contest here.
From The Column: The Bucket List
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