Every time I travel to a different place for work, I always look for something unique to do or see during my off hours. I look for a place that not everyone knows about, or isn’t often visited.
We are fortunate in Tooele Valley to have one such place nearby. It stands out as truly remarkable in Utah, if not the world. That place is the “Oquirrh Overlook.”
The Oquirrh Overlook is atop West Mountain’s 9,020 foot-high summit. The summit was planed off and turned into an observation area. Pikes Peak in Colorado and other high perches are amazing, but I would argue that this unique perch can hang with the best of them.
To get there follow state Route 36 to the center of Tooele and turn east on Vine Street. This will become Middle Canyon Road a few miles ahead. At that point, you will come to a trailhead and parking lot on the left with interpretive signs that talk about the road to the summit. This parking area is located on the corner of Vine Street and Droubay Road across the street from the Oquirrh Hills Golf Course club house.
This is a good place to stop and get your bearings. The sign board tells you the areas in Middle Canyon that can be used for various activities, like camping, ATV riding, motorcycles, horseback riding and hiking. Pay close attention to areas you can visit because much of the canyon is principally owned by Rio Tinto. Please familiarize yourself and respect the rights of private property owners.
Middle canyon is a beautiful, deep cut canyon that is densely covered with mixed fir and aspen forest on the canyon’s north facing slopes. The many and varied trees and meadows along the canyon bottom provide lush habitat for mule deer, which you are practically guaranteed to encounter along this road.
The powers that be have really cleaned this canyon up as of late, blocking off numerous side trails with jersey barricades and somewhat developing other picnic and camping areas with tables, fire pits and garbage cans. There is a self-pay station and the cost for camping is $10 per night per campsite. When you consider that a movie in town is almost double that price, it is a steal to get away from town to a forest place that is so close and enjoy nature.
The paved road up the canyon ends at the White Pine Fork camping/picnic area. From this point various trails head south up a side canyon into a beautiful bowl below a 10,321 foot-high peak. I call this White Pine Peak as it is unnamed on maps and it is one of the most beautiful mountains around when viewed from high on the Oquirrh Overlook Road after a late spring or early summer snow, or when the leaves are turning in autumn.
Continue up the canyon and you will cross a tiny trickle of a stream coming out of the dense forests that cover Butterfield Peaks and then the road will switch back steeply several times up to the pass that divides Middle and Butterfield Canyons. Though the road is steep, it is well maintained and almost any vehicle can make it if you are careful and go slow.
At the pass you have amazing views down into Butterfield Canyon and across the southern end of Salt Lake Valley to 11,253 foot-high Lone Peak in the Wasatch Mountains. To the southeast the 11,441 foot-high cone of North Mount Timpanogos seems to rise from the forest even though it is miles away across the valley.
At this pass the elevation is approximately 7,400 feet-high and the forest on the south side of the pass is thick, mature and well developed, consisting of aspen, Douglas Fir and White Fir. This place is always a cool retreat from the heat of the valley in summer. As always, pay attention to property ownership signs and if places are posted “No Tresspassing” — stay out.
If you keep heading east you will descend Butterfield Canyon via a good but narrow and sometimes scary road, and you will arrive in the Herriman/Riverton area of Salt Lake Valley. To get to the Oquirrh Overlook head north on the well-maintained gravel road that climbs an additional 1,500 feet to the top of West Mountain and the overlook. As you drive along this road the views of White Pine Mountain, Middle Canyon and the other high peaks of the Oquirrhs get better with every turn of the switchbacks. Take your time, stop in places — always making sure to set your park brake.
The turns along this road can be rutted, bumpy and a little rough, but if care is taken almost any vehicle can make it. The road switchbacks several times and then goes around the mountain to the north facing aspect for a short stretch. This is a cool, shaded, wooded place that comes as a surprise when you round the corner after all the barren switchbacks that are covered with chokecherry, mountain mahogany and gambel oak.
At last you reach the top of the peak and the view is one that is really hard to explain. Each time I visit there, I am stunned as I get out of my vehicle and look directly down thousands of feet into one of the modern wonders of the world — the Bingham Canyon Kennecott Copper mine. Not too long ago, there was a mammoth landslide that did lots of damage displacing an entire mountain in a matter of seconds. You wouldn’t know it looking at the area today as dozens of 300 ton haul trucks and gigantic shovels keep chewing away at the mountain and digging the pit deeper 24/7 and 365 days a year.
Turn and face south and you will see the amazing high peaks of the Oquirrh Mountains. Lowe Peak and its 10,589 foot-high summit is my favorite as it rises above forested ridges and sub peaks in a profound point. Salt Lake Valley is spread out before you as is the entire Wasatch Front. To the north the jumbled peaks of the Oquirrhs lie in succession and to the west the Great Salt Lake and its islands are on full display. This is an incredible view. It is something that I would seek out if I was a first time or repeat visitor to any area in this Country.
The Oquirrh Overlook is a gem right in Tooele’s backyard. Pack a lunch, your camera and possibly a lawn chair and drive up to the top of the mountain and take in the stunning view. Though it only takes a couple of hours, these peaks and their forests will refresh your soul. As Dr. Suess stated, “Today is your day, your mountain is waiting, so get on your way.”
Jessop grew up exploring the mountains and deserts of Utah. He has a bachelor’s degree in Geography from the University of Utah, and has traveled to all 50 states, U.S. Territories and a dozen foreign countries. He, his wife and daughter live in Stansbury Park. Follow him on FB (JD Jessop) for more hikes and travels.