Escape the city's summer sizzle with a high-canyon hike and dinner outdoors
The Salt Lake City asphalt is as soft as marshmallows under my feet, and I haven't felt a natural breeze in weeks. The dog days of summer have definitely arrived. Instead of melting into a plastic chair by a concrete pool, I grab some friends and escape to the cool canyons to the east of the city for an afternoon hike to one of many mountain lakes and waterfalls. And forget peanut butter sandwiches. After the hike we dine in style―alfresco, of course―at a nearby restaurant.
Mill Creek Canyon, Big Water to Dog Lake. This heart-pumping hike is more about the 5-mile round-trip journey than the sight of tiny Dog Lake at the top of the trail. The fairy-tale forest and warbling birds will take your mind off the 1,200-foot elevation gain. From Wasatch Blvd. and 3800 South in Salt Lake City, take Millcreek Canyon Rd. 9.1 miles east (up the canyon) to the parking lot for Lower Big Water Trail.
Log Haven. Five miles back down the canyon from the trailhead, a patio table awaits amid waterfalls, pines, and wildflowers. The eclectic menu at this century-old home includes pan-seared scallops tossed with capellini in fresh pesto with a roasted pepper jus; tack on a warm oven-dried tomato and pine nut salad if you're extra hungry. 5:30-9 daily; reservations recommended. 4 miles up Millcreek Canyon Rd. from the canyon mouth; (801) 272-8255.
Big Cottonwood Canyon, Doughnut Falls. The very air in this canyon of rushing water, ski resorts, and abandoned silver mines is refreshing. Kids love the easy 1.5-mile round trip to the cascading stream that pours through a "doughnut hole" in a natural cave. Most of the hike is gentle and shady, but the final scramble to the falls requires some dexterity. From the canyon mouth, take State 190 9.3 miles east (up the canyon) to Cardiff Fork, on the right. Trailhead is in the parking lot past Jordan Pines picnic area.
Silver Fork Lodge. Dinner is just another 2 miles up the canyon from Doughnut Falls in a 1947 log building that was once a general store. The menu is all-American: You can't go wrong with baby back ribs or a juicy hamburger on the deck. 8-9:30 Sun-Thu, 8-10 Fri-Sat. About 11 miles east of the canyon mouth on State 190; (888) 649-9551 or (801) 533-9977.