Trails 101

Part of our mission is to build community trail know-how, to help people use trails responsibly today and participate in shaping an enjoyable and sustainable trail system for tomorrow.

Trail etiquette

As more and more people discover the beauty of Utah County's trails, it becomes increasingly important that we all share the trails well with the rest of our community and strive to take care of trails for the future. Here are some common-sense guidelines:

  • Avoid the Mud: This is currently a major issue with our trails, especially while the snow is melting during the spring. If you leave a track, you are damaging the trail. This is not "their" problem; all types of users can ruin our trails. A good rule of thumb is if the ground is even slightly damp down at the trailhead, it is probably very muddy up above. Do not just walk or ride around a muddy spot, as this just creates a wider muddy trail. During the spring, it is best to stick to the dry trails in the desert or the valley bottom, or adventure up in the high country where the ground is still frozen.
  • Leash the Hounds: Almost all trails in Utah County are open to pets (except in Timpanogos Cave NM), but require you to keep them on a leash and to pack out their waste. This is a courtesy to other trail users (especially horses), but it also protects the environment, especially wildlife who will be scared off their habitat (often permanently) by dogs.
  • Know the Rules: Because our trails are owned and managed by a variety of agencies (federal, state, local, private), they do not all have the same rules and regulations. Don't assume the rules are what you would like them to be ("nobody told me I couldn't ride my dirt bike on the sidewalk"), but take the time to know what you can do on each trail. UVTA and other organizations are working to improve signage at trailheads and along trails, but the lack of a sign doesn't mean there are no rules.
  • Yield: Many trails are not wide enough for users to pass each other. In most cases, the person who could more easily hurt the other should yield. So, downhill yields to uphill, bikes yield to hikers, both yield to horses, and motor vehicles yield to all others. "Yielding" does not necessarily mean that dirt bikes have to leave the trail, just that they are more responsible for being aware of other users and finding a way to pass safely. However, just like when you're driving, it is always safer for you to yield than to expect someone else to.
  • Stay on the Trail: it is easy to think that your shortcut does not really do any damage. Well, a thousand other people probably think the same thing, and that's how we get a maze of unsustainable trails. This is especially important in Utah's arid landscapes, where plants are very fragile.
  • Leave the Wildlife Alone: Viewing birds, big game, and other wildlife is one of the main reasons we enjoy our local trails so much. However, we can easily have a negative impact on them; many animals will avoid prime habitat once they have learned that people are common there. Rather than thinking of your impact as the width of the trail, think of it like a "bubble" that follows you around, pushing everything away from you. The louder or faster you are, the bigger the bubble. On a mountain bike, you are often pushing wildlife away much further than you can even see.
  • Make Yourself Known: Many of our trails have issues with visibility, making it easy to encounter someone by surprise. More than a matter of common courtesy, this can be a serious safety issue, especially with fast-moving bikes and horses. Casual talking, friendly greetings, and bells on bikes can make the trails safer and more enjoyable for everyone.

Lastly, please respect your fellow trail users as members of a single outdoors community. Most of our trails are open to all types of users: hikers, runners, mountain bikers, horseback riders, and sometimes motorized vehicles. They have as much right to the land as you do. We have found that all of these user groups have their wise stewards and their bad actors in similar proportions, so it is very rare that something is exclusively "their" problem.

Thank you for helping us make Utah Valley a better place to get outdoors!

The ABCs of trail land management

We want to help more of our community be involved in improving our local trail system. But improving the trails can be more complex than having a good idea or grabbing tools to implement our own ideas; there are rules to follow. The foothills are a patchwork quilt of federal, state, county, city, and private land, and each has different land management rules. With all the rules, technical terms, and abbreviations, conversations about land management can be confusing. We've provided this glossary to explain some basics.

  • BLM: The Bureau of Land Managment (BLM) manages thousands of acres of land in the western part of the county as part of its West Desert District. This includes much of Lake Mountain, West Mountain, the Oquirrh Mountains, and the Tintic Mountans. Historically, as the General Land Office, it was responsible for trying to sell federal land to the public, but once it was left with land it could not get rid of, it changed its mission and name in 1946 to manage this land for the public good, including environmental conservation and recreation uses among other activities. Currently, the BLM does not actively designate or manage any specific trails in Utah County, although it is working with Eagle Mountain on a plan for trails on Lake Mountain.
  • Conservation Easement: In Utah, it is possible for the right to build on a parcel to be owned separately from owning the land itself. For many open private lands, including farmland, owners have created a conservation easement by selling the development rights to a government agency or a non-profit conservation organization such as the Trust for Public Land while continuing to own and use the land. This is one mechanism for opening up private property to public recreation.
  • DWR: The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources manages wildlife species across the state, especially overseeing hunting and fishing regulations. They also own and manage 193 Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) to conserve critical wildlife habitat range.
  • E-bikes: Electronic bikes are quickly increasing in popularity, forcing land managers to consider how best to manage their access and use on our trails. The greatest challenge is their variety: while "Class I" e-bikes have small pedal-assist motors and function almost identically to traditional mountain bikes, others are becoming increasingly powerful to where they have the same impact (on the trail, the environment, and other trail users) as motorcycles. The US Forest Service and Utah DWR currently classify all e-bikes as motorized vehicles, so they are only allowed on trails that allow dirt bikes. Other agencies, such as the BLM and local governments, can be more flexible; some cities now allow Class I e-bikes on all mountain bike trails, while others do not. It is helpful to know what class you own, because retail outlets often don't advertise that.
  • Easement: A legal document by which a land owner allows someone else to access their property for a specified purpose (which the "someone else" usually purchases for a fee). These are common in Utah for infrastructure such as power lines, roads, and pipelines, but there are also "public recreation" easements that allow trails to be built on private property.
  • Eminent Domain is the power of a government agency to purchase access to private property (possibly by force but with adequate compensation) for a public purpose, such as a road. This may be in the form of an easement or outright purchase. Currently, Utah law does not allow cities or other agencies to exercise eminent domain to build recreational trails.
  • Funding Trails: For many (federal, state, and local) government agencies, their operating budget is insufficient to keep up with the rapidly increasing demand for trails and related facilities. A number of external funding sources are available, such as private corporate and foundation donors, the Utah Outdoor Recreation Grants, and the federal Recreational Trails Program. UVTA is actively working on various projects to acquire funding to improve our trails, but we can always use your help!
  • National Forest: The Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest owns and manages most of the mountainous land east of Utah Valley, through the Pleasant Grove and Spanish Fork Ranger Districts. The US Forest Service has a multiple use mission, including preservation and conservation, recreation, hunting, grazing, mining, and timber. In Utah County, the Forest Service includes hundreds of miles of long-established trails, and newly designated trails in the "front country." As with any federal agency, there are regulations governing their management practices, such as adding new trails (see NEPA).
  • National Monument: The Timpanogos Cave National Monument is the only place in Utah County owned and operated by the National Park Service (NPS). NPS lands are generally more carefully conserved than other federal lands; for example, mountain bikes are not allowed on the trails in Timp Cave NM.
  • NEPA: The 1970 National Environmental Policy Act sets forth the procedures that ensure that activities on federal lands (including the BLM, National Monument, and National Forest lands in Utah County) have minimal negative impacts on the natural and human environment. Any proposal for a new trail on federal land must go through a NEPA process, in which scientists and managers evaluate the plan on the ground to ensure that the trails will not significantly damage the natural landscape, wildlife, or archaeological sites. The NEPA process also ensures that the public has an opportunity to comment on a proposal. Activities on land owned by the State of Utah, Utah County, cities, or private entities do not have to conform to NEPA, but they may have similar requirements.
  • Private Property: In Utah, as in most of the United States, non-government land owners have the right to control access to their property as they see fit, so it is illegal to trespass on private property (and moreso, to build trails on private property) if the owner wishes to restrict access. Fortunately, many private land owners in our foothills do not actively fence, sign, or otherwise restrict recreational use of their land, but this is at their discretion. Utah law states that land owners are not liable for any damages the public incurs recreating on their property, so you can't sue a landowner if you get injured biking on their land. UVTA uses this and other laws to encourage land owners to allow more access across private property, but please always respect land owners by staying on existing trails and leaving everything else alone; many formerly open lands in our area are now closed because one person vandalized or stole or built something.
  • SITLA: The Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration owns and manages over 3 million acres of land in Utah, including several large parcels in western Utah County. It was granted most of these lands from the federal government when Utah became a state in 1896, and has since acquired others through trades with federal agencies. SITLA's sole mission in managing these lands is to earn revenue for the public school system, so it does not generally approve of trail systems or other public recreation facilities without a lease or other form of compensation.
  • Social Trails: Many of our local trails, including some very popular ones such as Squaw Peak and Y Mountain Summit, are not part of any officially managed trail system, but were created independently without land owner approval. Some are long-established routes that UVTA and other organizations are trying to legitimize by working with the land owners to add them to official networks with a management plan. Others are being actively built by individuals who may or may not know that it is illegal to build a trail on any land without the express permission of the land owner (whether a government agency or a private owner). In some cases, such as in a national forest, this can result in a fine of several thousand dollars. If you have a great idea for a new trail, please talk to us or the land owner and "build it the right way."
  • Wilderness Area: Federal lands that are officially designated to preserve the natural landscape over any human impact, usually on BLM, National Forest, or National Park lands. Three wilderness areas have been designated in Utah County: Lone Peak Wilderness, Mount Timpanogos Wilderness, and Mount Nebo Wilderness. Trails in these areas only allow non-mechanized travel on foot or horse, not bikes or other vehicles.
  • WMA: A Wildlife Management Area is a large parcel of land owned and managed by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. Most were purchased in the mid-20th Century using hunting license fees (not general taxes), and are still managed this way. Their primary purpose is to conserve critical wildlife habitat, especially foothills areas used by big game (especially deer, elk, and bighorn sheep) for winter habitat and calving. They do not have a multi-use mission like national forests, so there is no general mechanism for managing trails and recreation. In fact, the Timpanogos WMA above Orem is one of the first to include recreational trails in its management plan. In addition to this, there are three other WMAs in Utah Valley: Hobble Creek WMA above Springville and Mapleton, Loafer Mountain WMA above Spanish Fork and Woodland Hills, and Santaquin WMA south of Santaquin. There are also several WMAs in Spanish Fork Canyon.