The Wasatch Range is a mountain range that stretches about from the Utah- Idaho border, south through central Utah in the western United States. It is generally considered the western edge of the greater Rocky Mountains, and the eastern edge of the Great Basin region. The northern extension of the Wasatch Range, the Bear River Mountains, extends just into Idaho, constituting all of the Wasatch Range in that state.
According to the Utah History Encyclopedia, Wasatch in Ute means "mountain pass" or "low pass over high range.
Since the earliest days of settlement, the majority of Utah's population has chosen to settle along the range's western front, where numerous river drainages exit the mountains. The mountains were a vital source of water, timber, and granite for early settlers. Today, 85% of Utah's population lives within of the Wasatch Range, mainly in the valleys just to the west. This concentration is known as the Wasatch Front and has a population of just over 2,000,000 residents. Salt Lake City lies between the Wasatch Range and the Great Salt Lake.
At , Mount Nebo, a triple peak rising above Nephi, Utah at the southern end of the range, is the highest peak of the Wasatch. In many places the mountains rise immediately from the valley's base elevation of to well over 11,752 feet (3,582 m), producing steep inclines. Other notable peaks include Mount Timpanogos, a massive peak which looms over much of southern Salt Lake County and northern Utah County and is especially prominent from Provo; Lone Peak, the Twin Peaks, and Mount Olympus, which overlook the Salt Lake Valley; and Ben Lomond just north of Ogden, Utah.
Since they top out just below , Wasatch peaks are not especially high compared to the Colorado Rockies or even the Uinta Mountains, the other main portion of the Rocky Mountains in Utah. However, they are sculpted by glaciers, yielding notably rugged, sweeping upland scenery comparing well with other prominent ranges of western North America. They also receive heavy falls of snow, in many places over per year. This great snowfall, with its runoff, made possible the Mormon success story here, leading to a prosperous urban strip of some 25 cities along nearly of mountain frontage. The Wasatch Range is home to a high concentration of ski areas, with 11 stretching from Sundance in northern Utah County to Powder Mountain and Wolf Mountain northeast of Ogden. There is also 1 ski resort in the Bear River Mountains (Beaver Mountain). Park City alone is bordered by 3 ski resorts. Due to the low relative humidity in wintertime, along with the added lake-effect from the Great Salt Lake, the snow has a dry, powdery texture which most of the local ski resorts market as "the Greatest Snow on Earth". The high concentration of ski resorts located in close proximity to a major urban area, as well as the famed light, powdery snow that's often considered good for skiing, were prime reasons for Salt Lake City's hosting of the 2002 Winter Olympics.
Several of the Wasatch canyons in the Lone Peak area, most notably Little Cottonwood Canyon, have a number of high-quality granite outcroppings, and make up a popular climbing area such as the Pfeifferhorn. Further north, Big Cottonwood Canyon features tricky climbing on quartzite.
The densely-vegetated narrow canyons of the Wasatch Range, such as Big Cottonwood Canyon and Little Cottonwood Canyon are heavily visited; on September 25, 2005, 1,200 automobiles entered Little Cottonwood within one hour. The canyons are located within of downtown Salt Lake City and the year-round paved roadways can reach higher in elevation above the city within a short distance. Dirt roads readily drivable in passenger cars with moderate clearance stretch up from Park City, Heber, and Big Cottonwood Canyon. These reach about above sea level and provide impressive long-range high country views.
Mount Nebo, the highest peak of the Wasatch, is located at the southern edge of the range. This is the southern edge of the Rocky Mountains in Utah as well. The Colorado Plateau comes to its northwest corner here as it meets the southern end of the Rocky Mountains. Immediately west of these two, the Great Basin, which is the northern region of the Basin and Range Province, begins and stretches westward across western Utah and Nevada until it reaches the Sierra Nevada near the Nevada/California border.
The northern Wasatch Range is punctuated by a series of mountain valleys. While the western side of the range drops sharply to the floors of the Wasatch Front valleys, the eastern side of the range is gentler, allowing for the construction of several ski resorts. The Cottonwoods, a particularly rugged and dense area just east of the Salt Lake Valley, shelters small mountain coves that harbor four world-famous ski resorts (Alta, Brighton, Solitude, and Snowbird). The eastern slopes of the Cottonwoods drop to the Snyderville Basin, which contains Park City and its three neighboring ski resorts. Much of the eastern side of the range from north of Salt Lake City to the Bear River Mountains is especially gentle in comparison to the rest of the range. The range widens significantly east of Ogden, sheltering a high mountain valley known as the Ogden Valley. Three more ski resorts lie here, as well as several small towns (such as Huntsville, Liberty, and Eden). North of this, the Wellsville Mountains branch off from the northwest of the range, continuing a line of mountains paralleling the I-15 corridor. This range is noted for being exceptionally thin and steep. However, U.S. 89/U.S. 91 is maintained as a four-lane highway along its entire length through the range at Wellsville Canyon east of Brigham City. The Cache Valley, created by the Bear River, is flanked on the west by the Wellsville Mountains and the east by the much denser and higher Bear River Mountains. The northwestern Cache Valley is flanked by the Bannock Range in Idaho.
The southeastern portion of the range across Wasatch County transforms into the relatively flat, windswept Wasatch Plateau at an elevation of approximately to . At its southeastern edge, just north of Helper, it runs into the Book Cliffs. Further north, the Heber Valley and Weber River Valley separate the Wasatch Range from the Uinta Mountains, while the Bear River Valley and Bear Lake Valley separate it from lower mountain ranges that mark the western edge of the Green River Basin.
Throughout the length of the Wasatch Range, it is traversed by just 7 highways (as well as several rugged mountain roads and unpaved trails). The two most prominent are I-80 through Parley's Canyon east of Salt Lake City, and I-84 through the Weber River valley east of Ogden. They meet near the ghost town of Echo on the eastern slopes of the range and continue northeast as I-80. Other highways through the range include U.S. 6/U.S. 89 through Spanish Fork Canyon, U.S. 189 through Provo Canyon, Utah State Route 39 extending east from Huntsville (a route which is closed in winter), U.S. 89 through Logan Canyon, and along Idaho State Route 36 near the northern end of the range.
Outdoor enthusiasts can also find world class rock climbing and mountaineering on the towering granite and quartzite peaks and in many of the surrounding canyons. Winter recreation includes excellent ski touring & ski mountaineering.
Alpine lakes and streams offer somewhat over-worked fishing opportunities. The Wasatch Mountain Club calenders regular activities allowing one to experience the Wasatch Range. The Utah Native Plant Society regularly conducts walks from spring until fall along the foothills of the Central Wasatch Front and in adjoining canyons as the seasons progress. A particularly spectacular location for wildflowers in the late summer is Albion Basin at the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon.