makelessnoise via Flickr
Sure, you can fight the crowds for the chance to hear Lee Greenwood, accompanied by car alarms and crying children, declare once again that “he’s proud to be an American,” but my patriotic fervor generally wanes when I must defend a patch of grass—that one with the perfect view—from would-be squatters that just happen to be American citizens.
Rather than invite miniature civil wars to break out beneath the booming bursts of the local fireworks show, why not take the time you would’ve spent stuck in traffic to rise above it all? The Wasatch Front has a multitude of overlooks and summits with spectacular, and relatively unobstructed, views of the glittering mayhem below, so I picked a few of my favorites. All you’ll need to enjoy them is a headlamp and some water.
Salt Lake Overlook via Desolation Trail
This is a moderate trail that’s a little less than 5 miles roundtrip. The trailhead can be found just past the Millcreek Inn. You’ll traverse switchbacks for a majority of the hike, but the grade is gentle and smooth with intermittent rocky sections that are easy to negotiate. The only real concern on this hike is accidentally taking a road less traveled and getting off course. Just ignore Robert Frost’s advice at the switchback corners by taking the well-worn path and you’ll be on the right track to the top—an area marked by a bloom of white boulders and rock fins . . . and one of the best views of the valley.
Ferguson Canyon to Big Cottonwood Canyon Overlook
Tucked away in a Cottonwood Heights neighborhood, Ferguson is a favorite for rock climbers and day hikers alike. The 4-mile out-n-back takes roughly 3 hours to complete if you’re coming down in the dark, so start around 8 o’clock to ensure you’re in position when the cannons go off. You’ll briefly parallel the mountain range before turning up into the shaded seclusion of Ferguson Canyon. Once there, you’ll scramble beside marshmallow walls and mossy waterfalls before ascending the ferny slope of the canyon wall. You’ll top out among the scrub oak and dust more typical of the cityside range and reach the obvious overlook after a few sturdy switchbacks.
Ensign Peak is a short, easy trail that starts above and behind the Utah Capitol building. It’s well-maintained and simple to follow, but it’s important to stay on the established trail to facilitate re-vegetation efforts in the area. Given what an easy hike this is, there’s likely to be more people than usual during a typical night hike, but it’s unlikely to be overcrowded. Finally, don’t let the ease of this trail fool you about the view. After all, it was from this peak that our founders decided that “this is the right place.”