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View west up the canyon, overlooking a beaver pond.

Mormon Trail
(Little Emigration Canyon)

This single-track trail follows the path of the Donner Party, Pony Express, and Mormon pioneers from East Canyon up to Big Mountain Pass overlooking Emigration Canyon. The trail is 4.6 miles long, for a 9.2 mile out-and-back bike trip. Vertical rise is 1400 feet, to an altitude of 7400 feet at the pass. 

A beaver dam interrupts the creek, right where the trail crosses it. Photo August 23, 1999 by Bruce Argyle

Technical difficulty is intermediate overall, but there are multiple rocky, tricky creek crossings that can be challenging. At the top of the pass, it links to the Mormon Pioneer Trail.

The trail starts at the pioneer camp site just off the East Canyon road. (Cross the narrow footbridge to the other side of East Canyon Creek.) After meandering through willows, the trail climbs gradually up the side of a small creek. Initial altitude is 6000 feet, which means the lower portion of the trail can be a mite warm in the middle of the day.

View up the trail at the lower altitudes. Photo August 23, 1999 by Bruce Argyle

View over the Doc's handlebars.

The trail climbs up Little Emigration Canyon, from sage and cottonwood to spruce and aspen. Along the trail, Mule's Ear blossoms in early summer, giving way to sticky geranium and daisy.
Bee looking for nectar on a thistle. This is one of the few places where the original pioneer trail can still be followed. It's a moving experience to follow the footprints of Utah's pioneers, erasing them with bike tire tracks.

In July of 1847, the Mormon pioneers struggled up this canyon. It wasn't an easy ride, considering that rear suspension hadn't been invented yet. Brigham Young, ill with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, rode in a Burley behind Porter Rockwell's Rockhopper.*

Bumblebee on Norway Thistle. August 23, 1999

It always bothered Brigham that his famous bodyguard never covered his long flowing hair with a helmet. "Now, Brother Porter, I know Brother Joseph promised you that no bullet could harm you. But I don't remember him saying anything about a slab of quartzite not cracking your skull."

The trail usually clears of snow in May, but wet spots and high creek-flow make the ride IF-y until late June. Snow covers the trail by November.

The trail features multiple creek crossings, some with large rocks, tricky roots, and steep banks. Most are just fun little dips like this one. Photo August 23, 1999 by Bruce Argyle

The trail dips through the creek.

Daisies dot the sides of the trail. At the top of the canyon, Brigham Young first saw the Salt Lake Valley. "This is the Place? Drive on. To California." he said. (Historians have abridged his words somewhat.)

Brigham Young's group entered the valley via Emigration Canyon on July 24, 1847. Unfortunately, they had no way of knowing that July 24 is the day of the big Pioneer Day parade. Blundering into downtown, they were trampled to death by the Budweiser Clydesdales.

Daisies. Photo August 23, 1999 by Bruce Argyle

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Another interesting bit of Utah history: Brigham Young's group wasn't the first. Parley P. Pratt led an earlier group down another canyon south of Emigration Canyon. Although it started out smooth, they got into some gnarly technical rock at the bottom of the canyon, and Parley made a big-time Endo. To rub it in, his companions decided to name the canyon after him. "Hey, let's all go bike in Parley's Canyon. Ha, ha, snort."

The trail ends at highway U-65 at the ridge line. There's a historical marker here. GPS N 40 49.687' W 111 39.244'. The Great Western Trail can be seen heading south from the historical marker, and north across the road.

NOTE: dogs are NOT allowed west of the summit!

Jackie checks out the historical marker. FYI: dogs aren't even allowed in the parking area on the ridgeline. Obviously, this is a composite photo, totally faked. August 23, 1999 by Bruce Argyle.

The Great Western Trail is on the other side of this monument.

Heading downhill across the parking area, the Mormon Pioneer Trail (Donner Trail) heads down towards Parley's Canyon. At the summit, you can link to the rides on the Great Western Trail -- the Lookout Peak - Big Mountain Loop and the Bald Mountain Loop.

Jackie plays along East Canyon Creek. Getting there: Take I-80 eastbound from Salt Lake. Just after Parley's Summit, take the Jeremy Ranch exit and turn north (left) under the freeway. Turn left at the first stop sign, then take the next right (Jeremy Ranch Drive). Continue until the road turns sharply around to the right, where you'll see the dirt East Canyon Road branching off to the left.

At the trailhead, the East Canyon Creek bends around banks of willows. Photo August 23, 1999 by Bruce Argyle

Drive four miles up the dirt road until you see the parking area for the trail (and picnic tables and a bathroom) on your left. GPS N 40 48.944' W 111 35.080'. (Some bikers have a shuttle drop them off at the summit on U-65, then meet them in Jeremy Ranch.)

Riding resources:
Single-page riding guide

GPX track files (R-click and "Save as..."):
     Course GPX Mormon Trail    Multi-track area file
Lodging, camping, shops:
     Links to Park City area resources
     Northern SLC resources

Mormon Trail Map

*Historical footnote: These details were obtained from "A Biker's View of Utah History," an unpublished work that will, no doubt, remain so.