Long rides. They’re what a certain breed of mountain biker lives for. Getting on your bike and pedaling until you’ve had your fill. Legs burning from the built-up lactic acid. Shoulders cramping from clutching the brakes. Throat parched because the water bladder has long since run dry. If this sounds like your idea of fun, here’s a collection of single-track challenges that should get your imagination cranking.
Old Ephraim’s Grave – Logan Mountains
It takes a special bear to have a monument at his gravesite. Old Ephraim, Utah’s last grizzly, certainly fits the description. The 10-foot tall, 1,100 pound bruin is a Northern Utah legend, and was the largest bear ever documented in the lower 48 states. Old Ephraim roamed southern Idaho and the Bear River Range from 1911 until he was killed on August 22nd, 1923. He was a notorious sheep killer and his reputation eventually led to his demise at the hands of sheep herder Frank Clark. According to Clark’s account, it took seven rounds from his rifle to kill the huge silvertip. Chasing down a $25 reward, the Logan Boy Scouts dug up the bear’s skull and sent it to the Smithsonian Institute. The Smithsonian verified the skull was from a grizzly and the specimen’s immense size. The Boy Scouts left a pile of stones over Old Ephraim’s Grave and in 1966 an 11-foot high 9,000-pound stone monument was erected to mark the site.
The gravestone is planted firmly in the middle of nowhere 20 miles east of Logan. In addition to once offering excellent grizzly bear habitat, the gently rolling mountains and hollows surrounding the gravesite are great mountain biking terrain. Old Ephraim’s grave is a great excuse to pedal through these aspen-blanketed hills and wildflower flecked meadows.
The 15-mile loop ride is equal parts singletrack and dirt road. From the trailhead, head up the Right Fork of the Logan River for 0.6 mile and then continue up the Willow Creek Trail for another 3.5 miles. This initial section of gently rising tread is the type of climb that makes you appreciate the uphill part of mountain biking as much as the descent. A lush, aspen forest provides intermittent shade as the narrow ribbon of dirt slowly rises out of the limestone-accented canyon.
At Mud Flat, the singletrack joins (turn right) a dirt road that continues upward for a monotonous 1,000 vertical feet to the top of Long Hollow. Distract yourself with the best vistas of the ride! During the climb you’ll look northeast of the 9,029 foot Temple Peak. Turn right at the top of the hollow to drop down fast doubletrack to Ephraim’s Grave.
From the monument the road climbs again on a steady incline. Turn right at trail sign for Steel Hollow. The Steel Hollow trail is narrow, fast, and fun! Enjoy what you’ve earned! Turn left when you hit the Right Fork of Logan River to complete the loop.
Ben Lomond – Ogden Mountains
Ben Lomond is the crown jewel of the Northern Wasatch and one of the most recognized peaks along the Wasatch Front. It’s claim to fame: the peak was the inspiration for the Paramount Pictures logo. Or so the story goes. It’s hard for me to make out the resemblance, but Paramount’s founder William Hodkinson grew up in Ogden and sketched the peak from his memory on a napkin during an early business meeting to create the logo.
There’s no question though that mountain biking Ben Lomond is a classic fat tire adventure. The ride is a stiff physical challenge with considerable rewards. Ben Lomond is a popular destination, yet still retains a wild feel. This is the only mountain bike ride I know of where you’re likely to see mountain goats and moose on the same trail.
The route I’m recommending combines two trails, the Ben Lomond Trail and the Northern Skyline Trail for 13 miles of uninterrupted single-track. The Ben Lomond Trail climbs the peak from its gentler east side, gaining 3,000 feet in elevation over 6 miles. The Northern Skyline Trail – the descent for this route – switchbacks down the peak’s southern flank and ends at the North Ogden Canyon Trailhead. Between the climb and descent the trail ridge runs north to south along the exposed crest of the Ben Lomond massif. This middle section of single-track is hallowed ground, hard-earned but worth every calorie burned. Views stretch out over Ogden to Willard Bay to the west, and across the Ogden Valley to Pineview Reservoir in the east. Throw in the option to top out on Ben Lomond’s 9,712 foot summit, and you’ve got a ride you won’t soon forget.
This ride can be done in either direction, but I prefer climbing Ben Lomond from the Ben Lomond Trailhead at North Fork Park. Even though the trail climbs at a steep, 10 percent grade, the tread is smoother with fewer rocks and switchbacks than the relentless ascent up the Northern Skyline Trail. The east facing slopes of the Ben Lomond Trail tend to be more shaded than the south facing slopes above the North Ogden Trailhead. This ride requires a car shuttle between the two trailheads.
Put it in granny gear and enjoy this meandering climb. Look for moose among the Gambel oak and Rocky Mountain maple trees above the trailhead. The single-track climbs continuously and the forest quickly gives way to patches of stunted aspens and spruce trees. You’ll reach a junction with the Cutler Springs Trail at 5 miles, turn left here and continue to the top of the ridgeline. Nearing the top of the ridge, the trail splits again. If you’d like to summit Ben Lomond, leave your bike and hike the steep switchbacks the final 1,000 feet to the summit. If not, turn your wheels left onto the Northern Skyline Trail and cruise south along the ridge. The next 5 miles are mountain biking bliss. Roll across the exposed terrain and try to keep your eyes on the trail because the scenery will be pulling them away in every direction. This ridge is also where you’re likely to spot Ben Lomond’s resident herd of mountain goats. From the ridgeline, it’s all downhill to the North Ogden Trailhead.
Park City to Salt Lake Link-up – Central Wasatch
A central Wasatch mega-ride through some of the busiest mountains in the country. Here’s the route: Armstrong (Park City), to Mid Mountain (Park City), to Pinecone Ridge (Park City), to Wasatch Crest (Big Cottonwood Canyon), to Big Water (Mill Creek Canyon), to Pipeline (Mill Creek Canyon). Note: this ride should only be done on even-numbered days of the month when mountain biking is allowed on Mill Creek Canyon Trails.
Sometimes, living near the Wasatch we take this unique range for granted. Here’s a trail link-up that will remind you just how special it is! Starting in Park City, this east-to-west traverse follows single-track nearly the entire way. By starting at higher elevation in Park City, this ride minimizes climbing and maximizes the downhill. Still, you’ll climb more than 3,100 vertical feet and descend over 5,000. If you ride it all, you’ll cruise 30 miles on single-track. A car shuttle is mandatory.
Armstrong Trail, starting near the parking lot for Park City Mountain Resort is as smooth of a trail as you’ll climb, anywhere. The trail is designated for uphill traffic, which helps keep the buffed tread free from ruts and makes this busy bike super-highway safe. Turn left and take a quick breather on Mid-Mountain Trail before branching right to climb again on the Pinecone Ridge Trail. The grade stiffens a bit, and continues steadily towards the junction at Puke Hill with the Wasatch Crest Trail. With the majority of the climbing behind you, traverse west along the Crest Trail, enjoying the awesome views across to the granite bowls of Brighton and Solitude’s Honeycomb Canyon.
Above Desolation Lake, there’s a trail junction. Choose the right fork to continue towards Mill Creek Canyon and the Big Water Trail. (If you’re riding on an odd-numbered day of the month, go left and descend down the Mill D North Fork into Big Cottonwood Canyon. Run your shuttle appropriately.) Reaching the parking lot at the base of the Big Water Trail, ride a short section of pavement to the Elbow Fork Trailhead on the right side of the road, where you’ll be able to jump on the Pipeline Trail, which descends to Rattlesnake Gulch Trailhead near the entrance to Mill Creek Canyon.
Ridge Trail 157 – American Fork Canyon
What Ridge Trail 157 lacks in a creative name, it makes up for in trail quality. There’s a lot to like about this trail, including superlative scenery, challenging riding and a plethora of options. Spread out your Wasatch map and you quickly notice that Ridge Trail 157 looks at the east side of some the Wasatch’s most inspiring peaks. The south end of the trail starts at the Summit Trailhead near Mt. Timpanogos and the route loosely follows the Great Western Trail along an exposed ridgeline north for 11 miles to Pole Line Pass. Drink in the views of Timpanogos, Box Elder, and Mineral Basin. The singletrack you’ll cover on the ride ranges from buffed perfection, to steep, rocky and treacherous. While you’ll be able to stay in the saddle for much of the ride, even the most experienced bikers will find themselves pushing their bike from time to time.
There are so many ways to ride this trail it’s silly to suggest that one is best. But, if you’d like to ride the whole trail in one shot, here’s a good way to tackle it. Start at the trails north end at Pole Line Pass and ride south “downhill” to the Summit Trailhead. This requires a car shuttle between the two trailheads.
From Pole Line Pass you’ll descend to Sandy Baker Pass. From the pass the trail skirts around the west side of Mill Canyon Peak. Joining the ridgeline again, the trail drops through a nasty 1.5 mile section of steep, rocky hell. On the downhill, this section is scary, but mostly rideable. Coming the other way, it’s a real bear. After a four-way intersection, the trail returns to single-track, and the riding improves considerably. Mt. Timpanogos dominates the skyline as you progress onto the southern half of the trail. The riding becomes a series of short climbs and descents, testing your weary legs. The Summit Trailhead is an anticlimactic finish to an otherwise brilliant adventure.
Blackhawk Trail – Southern Wasatch
The Blackhawk Trail remembers a bloody chapter in Utah history. The trail is named after one of the war leaders of the native Ute Nation, Chief Noouch, who was called Black Hawk by Brigham Young. He led the Ute tribe in the Black Hawk War that lasted from 1865-1872.
Tensions between Mormon settlers and the natives had been building for years but on April 9th, 1865 they boiled over into violence. Indians and frontiersmen met in Manti to settle a dispute over killed cattle. At the meeting an intoxicated Mormon named John Lowry pulled a Ute chief from his horse. Black Hawk and the other Ute’s at the meeting were deeply insulted by the incident and vowed to retaliate. Over the next several days Black Hawk and other Ute’s killed five white settlers and drove hundreds of cattle into the surrounding mountains. This began a 19th century guerrilla war. Over the next year Black Hawk and his supporters continued their raids, stealing more than 2,000 cattle and killing 25 whites. Settlers built forts and abandoned settlements in fear of being attacked. In the fall of 1867 Black Hawk signed a peace treaty with the Mormons. But skirmishes continued until federal troops were eventually brought to Utah in 1872.
You may feel as if you’re chasing a band of elusive Indians aimlessly through the mountains riding the long and desolate Blackhawk Trail. Located on the Nebo Loop Scenic Byway, the trail meanders through open meadows and stands of aspen in the southern Wasatch Range. There are far more elk tracks on the trail than tire tracks, and the sparse traffic helps contribute to a wilderness feel that’s hard to find on most popular Wasatch rides.
Start this 18-mile loop at the Loafer Mountain Trailhead and quickly take a right turn onto the narrow track heading uphill 0.1 mile from the trailhead. Climb steadily through a series of meadows broken by clumps of quaking aspen. After about 1.5 miles the rocky single-track descends to the east offering distant views of the Wasatch Plateau. Follow signs for the Blackhawk Campground as the trail rolls up and down, crossing a series of muddy springs. Make sure to look back occasionally to appreciate the views of Loafer Mountain to the north.
Climbing northwest out of Blackhawk Campground the trail gets really wild. A short descent is followed by a sustained climb – and the feeling that maybe you’ve strayed from the path. At the 9 mile mark, turn right on the pavement for the full loop or continue straight across the road and down the Tie Fork Trail for a shorter – all singletrack route. Climb, again, up the paved road to the overlook – where you’ll get fleeting glimpse of Mt. Nebo, at 11,928 feet. Then it’s back down to a right turn onto the Santaquin Canyon Road (Forest Road 14). After one mile on the dirt road take a right onto Rocks Springs Trail. Here you’ll find the best singletrack on the ride, with fast downhill runs through open meadows. There’s one more climb to the top of Done Ridge. Follow signs for the Jones Ranch Trail, guiding you almost all the way back to the trailhead. When you hit pavement again, turn right for a half-mile glide back to your car.
Mytoge Mountain – Fishlake National Forest
The Mytoge Mountain Trail offers a high elevation trail on the Sevier Plateau in central Utah. The 26-mile loop ride climbs to the summit of the 10,095 Mytoge Mountain, and circles Fish Lake. One of Utah’s only large natural mountain lakes, Fish Lake is known among anglers for its record setting Mackinaw trout. The aspen forests around the lake are also noteworthy. A quaking aspen stand named Pando is thought to be the largest living organism on the planet.
This trail offers riders a little bit of everything. From easy shoreline riding, to a stiff climb up Mytoge Mountain, to a technical descent on eastern edge of the loop. Park at the Doctor Creek Trailhead at the west end of the lake.
Coyote Canyon Loop – Heber
This is the latest addition to the huge collection of trails on the back side of the Wasatch. Just completed in June of 2013, the Coyote Canyon Loop circles through the foothills above the southeast end of the Jordanelle Reservoir. Views look across the reservoir at Wasatch Mountain State Park and southward to Mt. Timpanogos. There’s a “short” 20-mile version of the loop and a 24 mile option with just less than 3,000 vertical feet in elevation gain. An abundance of switchbacks keeps the grade very reasonable despite the hefty elevation gain.
Topping out at 7,550 feet, this is a good early season ride. Ranging from sagebrush at the lower elevations, to Gambel oak to groves of Rocky Mountain maple and aspen up high, you’ll pass several different plant communities along the loop. Expect the exposed terrain to be hot during mid-summer.
Diamond Fork to Strawberry Ridge – Southern Wasatch
Better known among hot spring fanatics than mountain bikers, Diamond Fork, (also called Fifth Water) offers a rare opportunity to combine a long single-track ride with a picturesque soak a natural hot spring. The 25-mile ride gains about 3,800 feet of elevation to climb to the top of Strawberry Ridge. Riders will enjoy expansive views from the top of the ridge of the Wasatch Range, from the distant peaks of Little Cottonwood Canyon to the north the much closer Mt. Nebo. Consider doing this ride on a weekday if it’s possible, because the soaking pools at Fifth Water are busy on the weekends. When the timing is right and the natural tubs are uncrowded, it’s hard to beat an extended soak for your weary legs before descending the final few miles back to the car. Take a map along for navigation to avoid taking a wrong turn at one of the many trail junctions.