Looming above the glittering sprawl of Salt Lake City lies the Wasatch Mountain Range, home to one of the highest quality water sources in the nation and a protected watershed area of 190 square miles.
It can take less than 24 hours for a drop of water in the Wasatch to reach a faucet in Salt Lake City!
Over 50% of the drinking water consumed by residents of Salt Lake City comes directly from the protected watersheds. Salt Lake City is quite unique in that its population resides so close to its watershed source waters.
In many cities and towns in the mountain west, water must travel tens or hundreds of miles through aqueducts and pipes to reach population centers. Outdoor recreation is a vital way of life along the populous Wasatch Front.
Visitors and residents alike should understand and respect the watershed rules to safeguard both the quality of our water and minimize negative impacts to our mountain habitats.
Protect our delicious water by using restrooms. Backcountry users without access to toilets or outhouses must bury their solid waste at least six feet deep and over 200 feet from any water source or trail. Please do not relieve yourself near a lake or stream. It may be tempting to enjoy the view, but first consider our tap water and the sensitive organisms that call this ecosystem home!
Camping is permitted in campgrounds and backcountry camping is allowed on Forest Service property in Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons (unless otherwise posted). Backcountry campers must camp at least ½ mile from any road and over 200 feet from any water source or trail. Backcountry camping is not permitted in City Creek, Emigration, Parley’s Canyon, Lambs and Dell Canyons. See our post about family camping for more tips.
With so many people visiting the Wasatch watershed areas, practice Leave No Trace principles when heading for the hills. If you pack it in, pack it out; never leave trash in or around the watershed and never pick wildflowers or remove plants. Please resist the urge to roll around in the beautiful flowers for the perfect Instagram pic. These are critical food sources for pollinators and ruining a bed of wildflowers for one picture isn’t kind to the visitors who arrive after you. Cutting switchbacks in trails and trampling sensitive alpine vegetation greatly contributes to erosion and can add sediment to the water near riverbanks and shorelines.
Utah is often plagued by drought and only you can prevent forest fires. Know that campfires are permitted in developed campgrounds with fire rings when burn bans are not in effect. Backcountry fires are permitted on Forest Service property in Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons (unless posted) and must be ½ mile from any road and at least 200 feet away from any water source or trail. To minimize impact and the construction of fire rings, it is recommended to use backpacking stoves instead of campfires. Backcountry fires are not permitted in City Creek, Emigration, Parleys, Lambs, and Dell Canyons. If current conditions are dry, seasonal restrictions on fire use may be in place. Always know before you go and never use or deploy fireworks in the watershed.
Domestic animals, including dogs, horses, and pack animals, are not permitted in protected watersheds. This is because their waste can end up directly in your drinking water. (Search & Rescue Avalanche dogs and permitted service dogs are exempt - check local regulations). Dog waste contains bacteria and parasites that can make drinking water unsafe. The cleaner the source water is when it reaches treatment facilities, the lesser potential for these harmful organisms to contaminate your drinking water. As it decays, pet waste can compromise wildlife habitat and harm the ecological health of the organisms living in mountain lakes and streams. Do it for the fishes! More on hiking with dogs here.
It can be frustrating to leave the pooch behind when you visit our beautiful watersheds, but there are plenty of places to recreate with your four-legged friend(s). As always, please clean up after your dog to keep the trails safe and beautiful for everyone. Please don't leave any bags behind!
Off-road and cross-country travel by motorized vehicles is prohibited on trails that are not specifically designated for this use.
Observing these few simple rules will ensure the people of Salt Lake have safe and high-quality drinking water. It doesn't take much to shred the shed, so please be respectful and cognizant of the rules. Fines are given to those found breaking watershed rules, so take the time to educate yourself, your friends, and your family to enjoy the Wasatch. Let's preserve it's beauty and integrity for all.