As one of the most popular hikes in Salt Lake City during the summer, it is not surprising that Bells Canyon is also a great place to enjoy in the snow. It is only a short distance before you start getting some pretty amazing views on this trail, and seeing Bells covered in snow is quite the sight. While winter doesn't see the crowds that summer brings, the trail can still be pretty well trafficked, even in sub-freezing temps. Besides being on the lower end of avalanche danger, it is close to town and does not have much of an elevation gain. Being on the benches of the Wasatch rather than up-canyon keeps you from having to wait in line with the people going to the resorts. There is even a chance you could come across some deer, moose or porcupine while on the trail as well.
From the parking lot the trail gets most of its elevation gain out of the way in the first third of the trek. Other than a small climb near the reservoir, it is pretty much a flat journey. As you head around the frozen reservoir the snow tends to be a bit thicker and less traveled. There is a great lookout up a hill on the right if you start out counter-clockwise around the lake. From there you get some spectacular views of the city and of the canyon all at once. As you head around on the eastern end of the trail you will see a water regulation station and that lets you know you are halfway around the lake. If the trail is not packed down it is easy to get off course; just remember the lake is to your west, Bells Canyon is up on the east, and the trailhead is to the northwest of the lake. It is a small enough area to go off trail, but be careful and keep your bearings.
When the trail is sufficiently packed down, microspikes with poles may be a better option than snowshoes. Bringing both is suggested, along with gaiters to keep snow out of your shoes and basic gear such as a first aid kit, food, water, and extra layers. This hike is not very long, but there is no point taking chances in winter. Remember to use the buddy system or to let people know where you are headed. This area is not at high risk for avalanche danger, but always check your conditions at the Utah Avalanche Center. While it isn't absolutely necessary to complete this route in the summer before venturing out in winter conditions, a little orientation in warmer weather is much safer and highly recommended.
Winter backcountry adventures can be dangerous outdoor activities that pose significant risks as conditions affecting safety (i.e. weather, snowpack stability, avalanche hazard) are constantly changing. Prior to engaging in these activities each individual should get the proper training to make safe decisions and be equipped to use avalanche safety resources and tools. Please visit our Backcountry Skiing and Avalanche Safety post to learn more.