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Wandering the West

Sometimes you can be right next door to a place, or drive right by it regularly, and not stop to explore it. For thirty years I’ve known that Wasatch Mountain State Park was just over the top of Flagstaff from Park City, and occasionally I’ve stopped by the visitor center for a quick peek, but I haven’t given it fuller attention until recent years.

Wasatch, at the edge of the town of Midway near Heber City, is where you’d end up if you ducked the rope along Stein’s Way at Deer Valley and let gravity carry you south. At 6,000 feet you’d level out at the Wasatch Mountain State Park Lakes Course. The 18-hole course is one of four yes, four 18-hole layouts at the state park, which, quite logically, is most famous for its golf.

The Lakes Course is the oldest 18 holes of mountain beauty wrapped around 10 lakes, Snake Creek, and lush fairways lined with mature trees. Head farther up Snake Creek Canyon and you’re at the more challenging (if only for the elevation gains) Mountain Course.

What many people don’t know is that, through land exchanges going back a half century, the state of Utah acquired almost all the land between the Park City ridgeline and Provo Canyon for a massive state park of almost 22,000 acres. Only Antelope Island State Park in the Great Salt Lake is larger.

At its southern end, at Soldier Hollow the 2002 Olympic cross-country ski and biathlon venue two newer, more open golf courses await. The Gold and Silver courses, set among rolling terrain, are lacking in trees but heavy on native low bush vegetation.

The four courses alone keep Wasatch busy, but there’s much more for the non-golfer too like hiking trails, the newest of which anyone can tackle. The Huber Grove trail begins at the visitor center and winds up an easy mile to the Huber family homestead and apple orchard. Some of the old trees remain, and produce small red apples in late summer. The Hubers were among the Swiss converts to Mormonism who settled the Heber Valley partly because it reminded them of the mountain paradise they left behind. The Hubers’ creamery and farmhouse are still standing as well.

More challenging trails also take off from the visitor center and head up into the hills for views of the Heber Valley and the back of the Wasatch in Snake Creek Canyon. Try the Visitor Center Trail, the Crow’s Nest Trail or the Spring Pond Trail. The Crow’s Nest is the most ambitious.

At Soldier Hollow, take a mountain bike or horse out on the cross-country ski trails used by the Olympians of 2002. You can sign up for bike biathlons, where you race a mountain bike, pull into the shooting range with your heart beating wildly, and see how well you do shooting .22s on the target range.

If your kids are under 12, they can fish in the stocked visitor center pond while you have just as much fun watching their excitement at catching a tiny trout.

Cap your day in historic Midway, with a wood-fired pizza and ice-cold beer at Café Galleria. Or order some of the best Mexican food north of Guadalajara at the Tarahumara Restaurant with its many flavors at the salsa bar. If you want a getaway that feels like a getaway, stay overnight at the Blue Boar Inn across from the visitor center.

The park is just a half hour’s bumpy drive over from Deer Valley’s Flagstaff to the visitor center, or a smoother half hour drive on U.S. Highway 40 and River Road. Sometimes a great weekend is not a long drive across the state, but up and over the hill.

Writer, filmmaker and author Larry Warren has made the West his beat for the past three decades. He is the general manager of KPCW.

THE VITALS: Park City to Wasatch State Park: 22 miles

Website: http://www.stateparks.utah.gov

Insider tip: If you want the quieter side of Wasatch State Park, hike or snowshoe the trails next winter on a full-moon night.


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