The Historic Rail Trail, perhaps Park City's most well-known non-motorized route, runs along an old Union Pacific railroad track that dates back to the 1880s. During the heyday of silver mining, coal from the mines in nearby Coalville was transported to Park City to fuel the pumps clearing water from the underground mines. In turn, product from the mines was sent out to Echo where it met the transcontinental Union Pacific line. As the mining era faded, the Union Pacific stopped using the line and in 1989 the company collaborated with the Division of Parks and Recreation and A&K Railroad Materials to transform the abandoned railroad corridor into a non-motorized recreation trail. In 1992 the Historic Union Pacific Rail Trail State Park was dedicated, claiming its spot as the first non-motorized rail trail in Utah.
Today, the Rail Trail welcomes bikers, hikers, runners, cross-country skiers, horseback riders, and fishers year round. From Park City it winds through wetland meadows, farmland, the Silver Creek Canyon, along the Weber River, and onto the quaint towns of Wanship and Coalville, finally terminating at the Echo Reservoir. The trail is managed by local non-profit organization Mountain Trails Foundation.
Distance: 28 miles (one-way)
Elevation: 6900’ - 5280’ if starting in Park City
Estimate biking time: 3 - 4 hours
Route: Parking and access is available in Park City; along Silver Creek Drive (Exit 2, East off US 40); in Wanship; in Coalville and at the Echo Reservoir (detailed map, here). The multiple access points, make it easy to leave shuttle cars at various trailheads, choose specific trail sections, or make it an out-and-back trip. Along the route, you'll find sixteen historic plaques, highlighting everything from early Mormon settlers to old mills and the excavation of Ice Age mammoths.
The upper end of the Rail Trail can be accessed from Park City, just behind Park City Plaza on Bonanza Drive (a large sign posted at the beginning of the trail). Here, the Rail Trail connects to the Poison Creek Trail, a paved greenway into Old Town. The first portion of the Rail Trail leading out of Park City is paved with asphalt and is perfect for a quick pleasure cruise, even with the youngest riders in tow. While other sections of the trail offer more solitude, expect to be sharing the road with bikers (and tricycles), joggers, strollers, and dogs as you pass by wetlands, sagebrush, and Gambel oak leading out of town.
Around mile three, the Rail Trail crosses Hwy 248 at which point the it transitions from asphalt to a soft, gravel surface and heads out towards Promontory. Here the route becomes less trafficked, passing by the farmlands surrounding Park City. (Although it's relatively smooth riding and could be done on a road bike, we suggest using a bike with thicker tires or mountain bike if you are riding on the unpaved parts of the trail).
Shortly after Promontory (~mile 6), the Rail Trail intersects with the I-80 and enters Silver Creek Canyon. Suddenly the scenery shifts from farmlands to rocky formations climbing up the canyon walls, the trail gently descending along the way. Because the trail runs beside and even between the lanes of the I-80 in this section, the noise and pollution from passing vehicles can be bothersome. As the scenery transitions, keep your eyes peeled for local wildlife. It's not uncommon to see fox, bald eagles, herons, moose, deer, marmots, and beavers close to the trail.
Exiting Silver Creek Canyon, the Rail Trail continues on past the small town of Wanship, following the course of the Weber River through farmland. In the seven miles between Wanship and Coalville, you'll also see plenty of cottonwood trees, choke cherry, wild rose, and wild currant. Hugging the edge of Coalville, the Rail Trail heads into its final five mile stretch along the shoreline of the Echo Reservoir. If you're looking for a shorter ride with plenty of family recreation opportunities, this area is ideal. You can cruise around on the mellow portion of the Rail Trail, taking a pitstop to eat at one of the many picnic areas or popping down to the water for a swim. The Echo Reservoir offers a number of other recreational activities, including boating, fishing, water skiing, and camping.
The Rail Trail is open year round during daylight hours, but the best time to hit the trail is between April and November when the snow is clear.
There will be several large UDOT projects affecting the Rail Trail this summer and next. Trail closures are expected and information will be posted via the Utah State Parks website as it becomes available. Currently, the trail is snow free, and ready for fun!