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Even before the Olympics, locals knew this was more than a powder-skier’s paradise. The 11,000-foot Wasatch Range serves up the fastest and finest wilderness escapes of any big U.S. city–period–with a menu of superb hiking, climbing, mountain biking, even paragliding. And it’s all 20 minutes or less from downtown. Boulder? Eugene? Here, they’ve never heard of ’em.
For a quick nature fix, trek up wild City Creek Canyon, a riparian nature corridor only seconds–literally–from Utah’s statehouse. Start just west of the Bonneville Boulevard turnoff to City Creek gate, where a hiker-biker trail parallels the canyon road to its west. Hike upcanyon through Gambel’s oak and open meadow 3.2 miles to the water treatment plant, or take one of the numerous spurs for steeper, shorter climbs west to the ridgeline. Owls, peregrine falcons, and even cougars are commonly seen. (801) 483-6705
Salt Lake is tough on road cyclists, but more than makes up for that with its volume of mountain biking possibilities. For starters, head south to the shaded Little Cottonwood Creek Trail, a 7-mile, 1,300-vertical-foot out-and-back that begins near the digital road sign in Little Cottonwood Canyon and turns around at a secluded stone ruin. Get maps at www.utahmountainbiking.com/trails; rent bikes at Wasatch Touring ($25 a day; www.wasatchtouring.com).
The bouldering and short top-rope routes of Pete’s Rock are easy to spot: The knobby, 90-foot escarpment near 5500 South on Wasatch Boulevard has painted numbers along its base, a legacy from WWII army training. A western exposure keeps Pete’s snow-free in winter; warm up on the finger-crimping traverse along the bottom of the main buttress. Climbing is easier on the left or right margins (5.5 to 5.8) and harder in the center (5.9 to 5.11).