IMPROVE YOUR MIND, BODY AND SOUL – Mountain Trails Foundation
The idea of meditation often conjures the notion of sitting cross-legged, eyes closed, surrounded by silence or soft music. But for many of us who are drawn to the mountains that surround Park City, taking that mindfulness to the trails is as natural as lacing up our hiking boots.
Park City’s trail system comprises approximately 400 miles of continuous, non-motorized recreational trails that span across two world-class mountains and an additional 8,000 acres of preserved open space. The summer months offer trail access for bikers, hikers and trail runners, all of whom take advantage of the cool mountain air, historic points of interest and ease of access. Yet, despite its popularity, our extensive trail system delivers ample opportunity for solitude and reconnection with nature.
“The trails system is central to Park City,” Mountain Trails Foundation Executive Director Lora Smith said. “As I look down the path at where growth is taking our town, I see trails as our future. Trails are a place where longtime Parkites, newcomers and visitors are all welcome. Trails are the place where we gather to find peace and adventure.”
Spending time in nature has been known to have healing and restorative powers, increasing a sense of well-being, helping to alleviate stress, promoting creativity, and engaging the senses. Practicing mindfulness while hiking can be easy, enjoyable and surprisingly effective. So, the next time you head out for a hike, consider making it a mindful one.
TIPS FOR A MINDFUL HIKE
Take a beat: It’s one of the oldest clichés in the book, but really, make sure you “stop and smell the roses.” Most of us rarely pause between activities, and as a result, can carry over the stress and tension of a previous meeting, conversation or train of thought into what we are about to do—even if it’s supposed to be relaxing. Before setting off on your hike, take a minute to allow yourself to come into the present moment, letting go of any thoughts or concerns that might be on your mind.
Connect with your breath: Hiking to a destination as fast as you can is moving through nature, while a mindful hike encourages a mindset of moving with nature. When we are moving through nature, we certainly can’t smell any roses while focusing on the ground in front of us, negotiating the terrain as efficiently as possible. But when we move with nature, we can connect with our surroundings, taking in the sights, sounds, smells and beauty as deeply as possible. Our breath is a good guide to keep us from going too fast and being mindful of our current state. Mindful breathing is one of the most basic meditation practices and requires you only to focus on your inhale and exhale. Use your breath to anchor yourself in the present moment, letting go of worry about the past or the future.
Engage your senses: Bringing conscious awareness to your senses not only helps to focus on the present but also can deepen your connection to your surroundings. As you look, listen, touch, taste and smell, notice how the body begins to relax and the mind starts to settle. Consciously engage your sense of sight by turning around slowly and deliberately, taking in the 360-degree view as you do. Perhaps, take a moment to pause and close your eyes to better tune into the sounds around you. Notice the whir of the wind in the trees, birds chirping, voices of other hikers in the distance. Breathe in. What do you smell? Take in the physical sensations as well: the warmth of the sun or the breeze on your skin, the interesting texture of the trees; or how the rocks feel under your feet. If you do stop to eat or drink, notice that food simply tastes better when you’re out in nature.
Tune in: Now that your physical awareness is heightened, your breath and pace established, turn your attention to your emotions. Do you feel calm and at ease, and if not, what emotions come to the surface? Memories can often catch our attention, conjuring feelings and disrupting our ability to maintain focus on the present. The key is to identify those feelings and allow them to be present without distracting us, letting them fade naturally into the background.
PARK CITY TRAILS PERFECT FOR MINDFUL HIKING
McPolin Farm Nature Trail: This family-friendly hike encourages mindfulness throughout this exploration of Park City’s wildlife and vegetation, set against the iconic backdrop of the historic McPolin Farm. The approximately two-mile loop starts at the parking lot located on the east side of Highway 224, where you’ll head west to make your way through a colorfully painted pedestrian tunnel before crossing a bridge leading to the barn structures and meadows. Follow the paved path as it meanders over a gurgling brook and around the barn, then stay to the right and continue slightly uphill to an intersection where you’ll take a right onto the paved Farm Trail. The Nature Trail trailhead will be .15 mile down on the left side, and the trail winds through lush aspen groves, passing 11 interpretive signs and several shady benches, perfect for mindful moments. The single-track connects back to the paved Farm Trail, where you’ll take a right to loop back to the McPolin Barn.
Run-A-Muk: Bring your dog along without having to worry about cars, bikes or bolting at Run-A-Muk, located below the Utah Olympic Park and featuring gorgeous views of the ski jumps and the Swaner Nature Preserve. Run-A-Muk boasts two miles of well-maintained trail and 43 acres of enclosed sage-covered hills, easily accessible either via the Millennium Trail (south of Whole Foods and just north of Bear Cub Drive) or the well-marked parking lots on either side of Olympic Parkway. The easy terrain offers several choices for distances, a small aspen grove and some meandering streams, but be sure to bring water for you and your dog during warmer weather, as the streams can run dry and there is little shade.
Union Pacific Rail Trail: The Union Pacific Rail Trail isn’t just a trail, it’s also a state park that winds along nearly 30 miles through Park City and its surrounding communities. Anything non-motorized is fair game on this wide and well-kept trail, which is mostly gravel, but three miles of the trail—the stretch that runs through downtown Park City—are paved. This gorgeous trail system was created after the Union Pacific abandoned the rail network in 1989, and the state park was dedicated in 1992, becoming the first non-motorized rail trail in Utah. Historical markers along the trail mark the routes of early Mormon settlers, the intersection with the Lincoln Highway, the excavation site of Ice Age woolly mammoths, and even the ill-fated Donner Party, offering a journey through Park City history.
PICK UP THE PACE
Get introspection while also logging some miles by elevating your mindful hiking practice to trail running. Two popular local race series, the Park City Trail Series and the Triple Trail Challenge, offer a variety of opportunities throughout the summer, each with bragging rights, fun giveaways, and awards on the line.
Perfect as an introduction to trail running or as a race for training buddies, the Park City Trail Series (pctrailseries.com) features a different distance race each month. The series is staged on Park City’s Round Valley Trails and kicks off with a 5K on June 4, followed by a 10K on July 9, a 10-Miler on August 6 and finishes with a half-marathon on September 10. The courses are approachable for new trail runners yet fast and enjoyable for more experienced participants.
For the ultimate summer challenge, test your mettle in the Triple Trail Challenge (runttc.com), which includes the Round Valley Half- Marathon (June 11), Jupiter Peak Steeplechase (July 16) and the Mid-Mountain Marathon (August 20). The half-marathon, considered a “reality check” for the series’ final two races, traverses the rolling, high-desert terrain of Round Valley and features several long and steady climbs followed by fast downhills.
The Jupiter Peak Steeplechase draws elite athletes and weekend warriors alike to this 16-mile test, which begins at Park City Mountain Resort and ascends to Jupiter Peak at nearly 10,000 feet. The race route follows an elevation profile that resembles an inverted “V,” with more than 3,000 feet of gain, and runners finish near the Park City Golf Club at Silver Star Cafe.
Voted best trail marathon in Utah, the Mid-Mountain Marathon features intermittent technical sections, a few sustained climbs and fast downhills. Runners start mid-mountain at Deer Valley’s Silver Lake Lodge and wind along the Wasatch Back on mostly shaded single-track trails, down through the Utah Olympic Park trail system before finishing at the bottom of the ski jumps.
Salt Lake Running Company (saltlakerunning.com) organizes both events, and registration details and complete information can be found online.
With an abundance of different routes and access in and around Park City, a beautiful escape is just outside your door. For a complete list of trails, updated conditions, and information visit the Mountain Trails website: MountainTrails.org.