The Weber Pathways Rail Trail offers something very different from most other trails in Weber County.
Unlike the steep canyon trails or narrow singletracks of the mountains, it’s wide and flat, with easy going all the way. It was originally built in 1971 by the Union Pacific Railroad to haul salt and other materials from Great Salt Lake.
After the UP and Southern Pacific merged in the 1990s, the line became redundant, and the tracks were abandoned and taken up. In 2000, Weber Pathways raised money to buy the corridor, which is 10 miles long and includes 231 acres of wildlife habitat.
Today most of the trail is owned and maintained by Weber County, with the western three miles being part of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources’ Harold Crane Waterfowl Management Area. The trail extends from Box Elder County, running south and west near Plain City out into the marshes and salt flats of Great Salt Lake. This year, Weber Pathways purchased an additional three-fourths of a mile of corridor, which will allow the trail to go under I-15 and eventually connect with the Bonneville Shoreline Trail to the east.
Although the Rail Trail is 10 miles long, very few people hike or ride the whole thing in one go. It’s best approached as a trail that contains several sections, each suitable for a shorter hike. The most popular section for equestrians and others is the stretch between the County Line Trailhead and 3900 West, a distance of three miles round-trip. This area has the most trees and shade, relatively speaking, as well as some pleasant views of farmland and pastures, with Mount Ogden in the distance.
Another enjoyable hike on the Rail Trail is to start at the Harold Crane Trailhead and go west into the Waterfowl Management Area. This stretch of the trail, six miles round-trip if you go all the way out to the end, has only one tree along its whole length, but what it lacks in shade it makes up in broad-ranging views of the marshlands and the chance to see ducks, geese, pelicans, avocets and other birds. Note: this section is closed from March 1 to Sept. 1 in order to protect the nesting habitat. During hunting season, it’s open to waterfowl shooting.
The Rail Trail is open to pedestrians, horses and bicycles, although bikes are not recommended because of loose ballast rock (a legacy of the railroad tracks) towards the western end and a severe puncture vine infestation toward the eastern end. Mosquitoes here can be truly horrible during the summer months and into the early fall, especially in the western marshlands, although there seem to be fewer of them this summer with the very dry weather we’ve had.
Perhaps the best time to explore the Rail Trail is in winter, when there are no mosquitoes at all, and you can often have the trail all to yourself. What little snow falls rarely lasts long or piles up very deep, so it’s not much of a cross-country ski trail, but it makes for an easy winter hike. With panoramic views of the entire Wasatch Range and not a sound but the crunch of snow under your feet, it’s an exhilarating experience.
Directions: To get to the County Line Trailhead, start by Smith and Edwards on 1900 West and go straight west on 4000 North for 1.4 miles. The trailhead is on the left. To get to the Harold Crane Trailhead, take 12th Street west out to 6700 West. Turn north and go four miles all the way to the end of the road.
Geoff Ellis is a landscape architect and trail enthusiast who has been involved with Weber Pathways since 1997. Take a Hike is coordinated by the Ogden Trails Network. It appears monthly in Xplore and online at www.xploreutah.net.
Rail Trail facts
- Difficulty: Easy
- Hike Time: 1-2 hours for a typical hike on part of the trail
- Distance: 10 miles total
- Elevation gain: 20 feet total
- Trailhead restrooms: No
- Dogs allowed: Yes
- Bikes allowed: Yes
- Horses allowed: Yes
- Kid friendly: Yes