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It's hard to resist the urge to get outdoors in the spring, but mud season hiking comes with a few precautions. 

Image: Michaela Wagner 

Editor's note: Today marks this first in the summer-long series of hiking recommends I'll post every Tuesday until the snow flies. If you have any comments, corrections, or suggestions, please drop me a line at mwagner@parkcitymagazine.com.

Warmer, sunnier days and snow retreating quickly off the peaks has most of us itching to hit the trails for a good hike. Mud season hiking, however, isn't appropriate or advisable on every trail in the area. There are definitely trails you can walk on now, but make sure you choose something appropriately dry before you venture out. Here's the lowdown on how to pick a hiking trail in the spring. 

Elevation, Mud, and Melting Snow

We all love climbing to the highest peaks to gaze down on the valley, but spring is not the best time for this. Higher elevations are still buried under plenty of snow, though it has begun to melt in some areas. The melting snow and spring rains means trail sections at higher elevations are going to stay muddy and wet for quite a while still. Even if you don't care about getting dirty in the mud, it's important to stick to dry trails at lower elevations to preserve our great playground. Trails are particularly fragile this time of year due to the changing conditions. Hikers tramping up and down on saturated ground or going off trail to avoid muddy puddles can cause soil erosion, damage trails, and the hurt surrounding vegetation, leaving roots and rocks exposed. If you do happen to run into muddy sections on a trail, turn around and find a different place to hike or bike rather than risk destroying the trail and our environment. 

So where should you go? We recommend checking out the wonderful trails at lower elevations, dirt roads, and recreation paths in Round Valley, Lost Prospector/Solamere, and lower Glenwild.

What to Wear

While summer in Park City and the surrounding canyons is predictably warm, spring can be less certain. Make sure you dress yourself and your kids (if they're tagging along) for the conditions you'll encounter. While it may be sunny and seventy at your house when you leave, the weather could easily change. If you're heading up any canyons, remember it's likely going to get much cooler as you hike up and dive into the shade of the trees. Layers are your best option so you can take them on and off as necessary. Make sure you also have the appropriate hiking boots/shoes that will keep your feet dry. Even at lower elevations, you may still run into streams or rivers trickling crossing the trails.

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Mud season hiking rules apply to bikers too. Stay where it's dry and don't ride your bike off trail.

Where to Check Trail Conditions

Some of the most popular and well-known trails here in Park City and in frequented hiking areas on the other side of the Wasatch in the Cottonwood Canyons are at higher elevations. Rather than trying to tackle these in the spring, when they're practically guaranteed to be waterlogged, take some time to do a bit of research to find a better option. There are a lot more hikes around than you may realize. 

We also recommend utilizing the resources put out by some wonderful local organizations. Mountain Trails, a local non-profit dedicated to maintaining and protecting trails in the area, puts out regular updates to trail conditions and offers a variety of interactive maps to help you find the perfect hike. South Summit Trails monitors trails in southern Summit County; you can find reports on conditions and updates via their Facebook page. Finally, check the trail conditions updates from Basin Recreation. They'll tell you which trails are accessible and ready for action and which ones are absolutely off limits or approached with wariness this time of year.

We know the shoulder season is a tough time of year for outdoor lovers, but just be patient. You'll have plenty of time to conquer all the trails and highest elevations in the upcoming months. Stay safe, be responsible trail user, and have fun out there!

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