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Mormon Pioneer Trail is a hike straight out of history

Brigham Young, the Donner Party and the Pony Express all used the trail to get to the Salt Lake Valley.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The hike along the West section of the Mormon Pioneer Trail from Affleck Park to Big Mountain Pass offers canyon views, numerous wildflowers, ample shade and requires a will to share the trail due to its popularity with mountain bikers.

Stepping foot upon the Mormon Pioneer Trail, there’s a lot to take in — and not just in terms of scenery.

The view down East Canyon of the Wasatch Mountains is beautiful, especially when the wildflowers are in bloom or the trees are beginning to turn orange and yellow. Even more worth pondering, however, is the history of the trail itself. The general route of the Mormon Pioneer Trail was cut by the Donner Party on its ill-fated route to California. A year later, Brigham Young followed it into the Salt Lake valley. It has also served as a path for the Overland Stage, the Pony Express and gold miners headed west.

Now mountain bikers and hikers have replaced the horses and oxen, which, along with dogs, can no longer tread the path that is part of the Salt Lake City watershed.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The hike along the West section of the Mormon Pioneer Trail from Affleck Park to Big Mountain Pass offers canyon views, numerous wildflowers, ample shade and requires a will to share the trail due to its popularity with mountain bikers.

This 5.2-mile out-and-back hike is unusual in that it starts at the high point and descends (which means an uphill climb back to your car at the end). It can be extended by 3.8 miles, one way, to Little Dell Reservoir, or shortened by two miles by turning around where the trail ends at Highway 65.

The Hike: From the parking lot, find the sign to the Great Western Trail/Mormon Pioneer Trail and begin walking toward the valley. It’s a relatively level single-track trail at first, but it quickly begins a switchback descent through shade trees. After about a mile, you’ll cross a wooden bridge over what is a mostly dry creek. The trail can end about .5 miles later at a gate hindering access to Highway 65. Or, cross the highway and pick up the trail for an easy downhill mile to Affleck Park campground, which has vault toilets. Return the way you came.

Getting there: Take I-80 East or Emigration Canyon to Highway 65 through East Canyon. The trail begins from the parking lot on the southeast side of the road at the top of Big Mountain Pass. Note: UDOT closes Highway 65 for the winter, usually November through May or June.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The hike along the West section of the Mormon Pioneer Trail from Affleck Park to Big Mountain Pass offers canyon views, numerous wildflowers, ample shade and requires a will to share the trail due to its popularity with mountain bikers.

Region: Wasatch Canyons

Destination: Affleck Park campground

Distance: 5.2 miles

Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes

Elevation Gain: 1,179 feet

Dog Allowed: No

Restrooms: Yes

Biking: Yes

Difficulty: 2.5

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