Park City, Utah. Elevation: 7,000’. Population: 8,457’
Welcome to the once and always quaint mountain town that put Utah on the map. Before the 2002 Olympics, Park City was just another tiny mountain town. But since then, it’s consistently rated one of the best ski destinations in the US, rivaling Aspen, Jackson, Telluride, Mt. Hood, Tahoe, and Mammoth.
What is it that makes Park City so special? For some, it’s the standard of luxury that has come to be associated with this small resort town. For others, it’s as simple as one word: access.
Park City puts you within walking distance of the biggest ski resort in the country. And if you’re willing to drive, there are another eight resorts in driving distance, all with world-class powder skiing.
But it’s not all about winter sports here. During the summer, the ski resorts stay busy, shuttling downhill mountain bikers up for endless laps in the sun. And you’re right between Utah’s two most celebrated mountain ranges, the fabled Wasatch and Uinta Mountains.
So what’s your taste profile like? Park City is a year-round buffet for adventure sports. Here’s how to make the most of a trip to the biggest “little ski town” in America, as told by a true-blue Utah lifer.
Local Adventure Vibe
The vibe in Park City is almost like something out of a 1980s ski movie. The local color is a mix of the extremely wealthy and the extremely dirtbag.
On a winter stroll through town, you’re equally likely to see world champion freestyle skiers getting footage for an urban skiing video, or an A-list celebrity shopping for a high-end cowboy hat.
The downtown area is similar to Jackson Hole or Telluride, with a highly curated rustic sensibility. Luxury shops selling art and clothing litter the main drag. But there are also well-loved, dingy dive bars to pop into. It’s a culture that exists in polar extremes.
As for things to do, the list is never-ending. The biggest event of the year is the Sundance Film Festival, held every January. It’s an opportunity to step into the film world and see some of the best independent films of the past year.
During Sundance, Park City buzzes with activity. The whole town becomes a red carpet, and there is a nonstop parade of diversions to enjoy. Movies, music, skiing, wine tasting, yoga retreats, rooftop parties. You name it, we’ve got it.
And the events don’t stop after the festival. Local haunts like The Egyptian Theater host movies, live music, and plays on a constant basis.
Park City Mountain Resort (PCMR) hosts silver sky nights, music, aprés ski events, and even night tours up the resort .
The Park City Trail Series holds trail races annually, ranging from 5k to half marathon. But if that’s not quite enough spice for you, check out the Cirque Series. This hardcore bunch holds high-intensity trail races all around the Wasatch.
Cyclists should check out the Park City Point 2 Point, a burly endurance race covering 78 miles. And the fun don’t stop there. Check out Park City Mountain Bike for more events than you can handle.
Suffice it to say there’s always something going on here. The hills are broad and full of adventure, and town is full of diversions for your aprés enjoyment and rest days.
Uniquely Park City
Park City is a place where you can have your cake, and eat it too. There’s no need for complicated travel plans. It’s easy to get there, and even easier to access the fun stuff from town.
In the winter, you could choose to ski at any of nine different resorts. Or, you could go backcountry skiing right out your back door. Heading up to the Park City ridgeline, you can tour to around 11,000 feet. Then, you could ski the greatest snow on earth down all 4,000 feet, right back to your AirBnB.
In the summer, you could bike all day, or you could drive a half hour and hike into the High Uintas. If neither of those options tickle your fancy, you could head south about a half hour and spend the day floating the Provo River.
And if none of those options grab you, you could just spend the day in town window shopping and brewery hopping. The world is your oyster.
Another factor that sets Park City apart is just how accessible it is. Town is located just over a half hour from Salt Lake City International Airport, which services every other major city in the country.
If you live on the West Coast, you could leave your house after breakfast and be at PCMR in time to ski a half day. No joke. It’s really that simple. This ease of access is what draws weekenders from all over the country. Visiting Park City takes the headache out of planning a ski trip.
Food & Drink
One of the biggest benefits to visiting Park City is the amount of great food and libations in town. Whether you’re in the mood for Mexican, Japanese, Mediterranean, Italian, seafood, or highly cultivated western American fare, you’ll find what you’re after in Park City.
Nothing beats hot noodles in winter weather. Hana Ramen is the best spot to slurp noodles in a blizzard. Not spicy enough? Check out Dos Olas for authentic Mexican selections.
But you could just as easily shake it up with some lobster in a bun. Freshies Lobster is an unbeatable way to wind down after a hard summer day adventuring. Nosh is the local Mediterranean hotspot, with plates to go.
If you’re just after a little aprés after a hard day skiing, don’t fret. It’s not all high-priced cocktails and fancy fare in Park City. Wasatch Brewery is a local favorite. I highly recommend the Snow Bank amber lager, or the Wasatch witbier.
Another killer option for suds is Squatters Brewery. Squatters likes ‘em strong. Hop Rising DIPA is one of the best IPAs in Utah. If that’s a little too bitter for you, I recommend Hell’s Keep golden ale.
Lastly, no trip to Park City would be complete without a pilgrimage to High West Distillery. High West is known far and wide for their whiskeys, particularly the double rye and their signature bourbon. If you get a chance, shell out for a taster of the Midnight Winter’s Dram.
Places to Stay
And now we come to the all-important issue: where to stay. This is, of course, dependent on the season. In the winter, your options will be limited. Of course, if you’re visiting in the summer, your options are wide open. Park City is surrounded by Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, which is full of established campsites.
Just south of Park City, you can spend the night on the shore of Jordanelle Reservoir. Another 20 minutes in the car, and you can be in the High Uintas, home of Utah’s tallest mountain.
Everybody knows the best spots take a little driving. If you want to be more secluded, head deeper into the Uintas to the Mirror Lake area.
Alright, now that we’ve covered all the logistical stuff, let’s get to the fun part. These are the adventures that bring people from all over the world to enjoy the Wasatch Mountains.
It would be impossible to separate Park City from skiing culture. It’s the training ground that produces the US’s professional skiers.
The 2002 Winter Olympics cemented Utah as a major ski destination. Since then, huge changes have come over Park City.
The most relevant of those changes was when Park City Mountain Resort and Canyons Resort merged, becoming the biggest ski resort in the country.
To put it in perspective, Park City’s area measures just shy of 20 square miles. Park City Mountain Resort measures 7,300 acres, or 11.4 square miles. This mountain is more than half the size of a city. It’s enormous.
But what does that mean for you, the skier? It means more space, more powder, and more terrain to explore.
Experts at PCMR will want to head straight for the Jupiter ridgeline. This is where some of the mountain’s most technical terrain sits. The far right side of the map also holds some pretty special areas. Ninety-nine 90 lift and Super Condor both grant access to some pretty fantastic lines.
Intermediates will find fun tree skiing all over the mountain. The Park City side of the Wasatch range is forested with broad swaths of aspen trees that are an absolute blast to ride in.
Beginners could spend a whole year just traversing the lower mountain and exploring the hundreds, if not thousands, of named runs.
Freestyle skiers and boarders will love how much freestyle terrain there is at PCMR. The Park City Mountain Village base area services five different terrain parks full of world-class features.
PCMR is just scratching the surface, though really. There are a bucketload of resorts within spitting distance of PCMR.
The closest to Park City is Deer Valley. Deer Valley is just on the south end of Park City. Its niche is a more curated, luxurious skiing experience. And in this case, I mean skiing only. Deer Valley is one of the few remaining no-snowboarders-allowed resorts in America.
There’s some pretty good riding to be had here, too. Empire lift is a very popular spot for technical steeps (and usually deeps, too).
But personally, my favorite spot at Deer Valley has always been Sultan Express. There is some unbeatable tree skiing to be had in this area, and it usually stays untracked for longer than other parts of the mountain.
If you’re willing to hop in the car, you can easily drive to Sundance, Alta (where the finest of the fine powder lives), Snowbird, Brighton (my home mountain and personal favorite), Solitude (home of the IKON pass), and Snowbasin(the closest resort to the airport).
It would take a novel to explain what’s so special about skiing in the Wasatch. But as a proud Utahn, I’m not skittish about gloating that we actually do have the “Greatest Snow on Earth,” just like the license plates say.
We’ve got terrain to suit all tastes, and each of our resorts has a slightly different flavor. It would take a lifetime to see it all, but there are plenty of folks out there trying anyway.
If you’re a downhill maniac, PCMR turns into a shangri-la of lift-serviced single track in the summer. You can access a ton of mountain biking trails from either Canyons Village area or the Park City Mountain Base area.
There really is something for everyone here. Beginners and intermediates can take an easy cruise down the hill, enjoying the scenery. Experts will also have a blast catching big air on jumps and carving steep berms.
Just be aware, many of the trails at PCMR are multi-use, so be conscientious and watch for foot traffic on the trail.
If you’re not trying to pay for lift access, don’t sweat it. Just head north about 10 minutes to Round Valley. This network has got it all, with a ton of very flowy single track that makes for a great cruise on hot summer days. Round Valley Loop is a surefire winner.
Another five minutes north puts you in the Jeremy Ranch area. Flying Dog Loop is a prime example of what this area is like. It’s a lot more open terrain than you’ll see at PCMR, with trails that wind through long valleys of wildflowers and sagebrush.
If you’re hungry for some more distance, you can head west over Guardsman’s Pass to the west slope of the Wasatch. Check out the Park City Epic, a 25.6 mile voyage that climbs straight up 3,500 feet in a stretch before zooming straight back down.
Another hardcore circuit is the Great Western Wonder. This is a high-elevation crusher that spans just under 32 miles of ridgeline from the base of Mt. Timpanogos to Park City.
You know the drill. Where there’s a wealth of wide-open space, there’s great hiking and camping. Park City is absolutely surrounded by National Forest land, creating a ton of opportunities for adventures on foot.
There are really no wrong answers around Park City. Head west straight up into the high country of the Wasatch and you’ll be floored by the peaks and lakes. Head east, and you’ll get a little more space to yourself in the rolling high country of the Uintas.
If you want something quick and rewarding, drive over Guardsman’s Pass Road. Then hike roughly southwest to Bloods Lake. This is strictly “type A” fun, just easy trails with a big pay off.
If you want to spend a day bagging a peak, check out the Pfeifferhorn. This is the eighth highest peak in the Wasatch. It’s a bit of a burner on the way up, but so, so very worth it. In one humble Utahn’s opinion, it’s the best hike in the Wasatch range.
There’s a much easier variation of this trail that stops at Gloria Falls, a perfect option for families or less fit folks that still want to experience some amazing sights.
I’d be remiss not to mention Lake Blanche here, too. It’s the most photographed lake in the state, and as soon as you see it, you’ll get why.
Another Wasatch classic is Mount Timpanogos. This peak absolutely dominates the skyline over Utah Valley. Approaching from the east, you’ll have about 14 miles round trip and 4,875 feet of gain to kill. No small task, and not for the faint of heart. But trust me, it’s well worth the effort.
There are a few quick overnight backpacks in the Wasatch range, but the good stuff is in the Uintas.
If you’re working with an overnight time frame and just want to get a feel for the range, check out Notch Mountain to Trial Lake. It’s about 12 miles with constant water access. You’ll have to set up a shuttle too, or you could just hitch it back to the car. This is a good one for the early (or late) season. It gets pretty buggy come mid-summer.
Another quick and easy route is Red Castle. It’s almost a perfectly straight line and about as little vertical as you can get in the Uintas. Water access is great and there are plenty of camping spots along the way.
Top it off with a spectacular payoff: the Red Castle itself. This mountain is an inexplicable gem tucked deep in the range. It has so many summits that the jury’s still out on which one is actually the “mountain” itself. It’s also shockingly steep, and incredibly beautiful from every angle.
If you get a wild hair, you could always go after Kings Peak, too. This is Utah’s tallest mountain, standing 13,528 feet tall. It’s not exactly technical. In fact, if you approach from Henry’s Fork, you could tackle it in an overnighter, easily.
But the big kahuna of the Uintas is the Highline Trail. This thing has a mythical status among locals. It traverses the high ridgeline of the entire range, covering over 100 miles and gaining a total of over 18,000 feet along the way. It’s a proper through-hike for those with true grit.
There’s a ton of technical rock climbing in the Wasatch Mountains.
You can tackle some serious granite in Little Cottonwood Canyon (known to locals as just LCC). It’s not exactly on par with Yosemite, but there is a ton of killer crack climbing and even some solid multi-pitch to be had here. Bring a trad rack and a whole bunch of tape.
It’s not all trad in LCC though. There’s a ton of bouldering in the canyon as well. The canyon bottom is littered in tough boulders. Lots of cool, overhung problems in the V3-V7 range.
And new problems crop up all the time. LCC attracts a lot of pros looking to push grades. Grand Illusion, for example, is a monster V16 cave that was only established in 2020 by Nathaniel Coleman.
Here are a couple other notable spots in Park City neighborhood:
- Lone Peak Cirque, home to Utah’s only true alpine climbing
- Wasatch Back, right outside Park City, with some interesting conglomerate
- Ferguson Canyon, perfect for beating the heat in the middle of the summer
These are all well and good, great spots to climb hard. But some of my favorite climbs in the Wasatch are of a different breed entirely. I want to highlight just two classic Utah climbs here. Both are rated fairly easy, but have a lot of exhilarating exposure.
The first is the West Slabs of Mount Olympus. This face is visible from everywhere in the Salt Lake Valley. It’s a stunning slab rising about 2,000 vertical feet in a single stretch. It’s by no means challenging climbing, but it’s a heck of a lot of fun.
The second is the South Ridge of Mt. Superior. Similar to the West Slabs, this route is only rated low 5th class. But it’s an absolutely stunning knife ridge that seems to just go, and go, and go.
From the top, you’ll see past Alta and Snowbird to Timpanogos and beyond. An unbeatable adventure for those who climb purely for the thrill of it.
Have Your Cake, Eat It Too
Park City’s a pretty magic place. Where else could you walk to the largest ski resort in America, ski back to your condo, and then walk to a world-class restaurant?
Where else can you get the best of both worlds – high society, and the rugged majesty of natural wilderness? It’s truly a unique place, with enough entertainment, exploration, and adventure to satisfy for a lifetime.