Just North of Town

 

Beyond the Iron Curtain of refinery smokestacks in North Salt Lake, there lies ample opportunity for mountain bikers to explore developing trail systems and escape the crowded core of the central Wasatch.  The drive to Davis County is often performed by commuters searching for a paycheck rather than by bikers with an eye for adventure.  Creating more attractive trails and riding options for the increasing number of bikers in the Valley is becoming a topic that many communities are openly discussing.  With tourism being a leading driver of our economy in Utah, various municipalities and organizations are focusing their efforts on promoting the natural environs and their proximity to urban life.  This tactic is well employed by ski areas and marketing agencies that aim to garner the interest of snow sliders with campaigns like “The Greatest Snow on Earth” and “Silicon Slopes.” The harsh reality is that our state’s boast of 500 inches of powder per season is becoming less true year after year.  My reluctance to admit that fact is two-fold; I am employed for half the year in the ski industry, and I moved across the country over a decade ago when those marketing promises were fulfilled.  Discovering new ways to satiate my desire for gravity-induced thrills goes from climbing, to whitewater kayaking, and now into mountain biking.  While I am occasionally driven to tacky granite and rapid rivers, hero dirt is what I aspire to find these days.  The simplicity of circles turning circles just has greater appeal than the thought of drowning or anchor failure.  So, it is off to Davis County with my carbon-appointed steed, some good friends, and a cooler of beer.

 

Antelope Island

Rambling across the causeway into a cobalt sky as trails of virga drift over the Great Salt Lake, I feel at peace in the back of the truck.  Escaping from the confines of suburbia is the primary goal and pedaling amongst the tall prairie grasses and bounding wildlife is an added bonus. Starting from White Rock Bay is our preferred ascent route to the Split Rock and Elephant Head zone on the western shore.  The cool afternoon air welcomes our group as we ascend to the lower ramparts of Frary Peak.  Bone Road Trail is a gradual two and a half-mile access road that can be brutal on hot days, but it is actually quite pleasant with moderate temps and some cloud cover. Reaching the upper plateau, we rip over to Split Rock Loop and enjoy dynamic views of the GSL and the stormy Stansbury Mountains off to the southwest.  Loads of early season precipitation turns the island a lush shade of green and the riding is more akin to what you’d expect on the foggy shores of Ireland.  The sun dips low on the horizon as we amble over to Elephant Head and ride atop the precipitous cliffs that rise straight out of the lake.  This section of trail is a bit more technical and serves as a quick out and back over roughly three miles.  While the weather and timing didn’t coalesce for more riding on this particular day, the best way to return to the car is with a five-mile detour on over to the White Rock Loop via the Junction Trail.  There you’ll find herds of bison chewing their cud and giving riders looks of indifference form their timeless, sunken eyes.

A full afternoon is needed to adequately cover the biking trails of Antelope Island.  Riders must pay the reasonable fee at the guard station ($10 State Park Entrance Fee) and should prepare for quickly changing weather, scores of wildlife, intermittent swarms of sand flies, and incredible views. With the unadulterated beauty of this place, it’s a wonder there aren’t more riders.  The trails are well marked, the dirt is often in great condition, and there is an abundance of creature features waiting to welcome you.

 

Mueller Park

Traversing across the five boroughs of south Davis County, riders climb into the lush foothills of the Wasatch Front.  The antithesis of Antelope Island is the venerable Mueller Park.  Forest canopy covers most of the trail and crowds are all but certain.  For good reason, this is one of the most frequented trails in all of Davis County. Amongst the family photos and picnickers of the lower trail, riders are met with a composition of dirt that reaches perfection more times than not.  Buff, loamy, brown pow, and hero are all adjectives describing the trail that I have heard erupt from riders as they finish a ride and crack a cold one. There are two ways to ride this particular trail depending on your skill, fitness, and time allotment. Either as an out and back from Mueller Park, or as a loop incorporating the North Canyon Trail and some pavement riding.  Rolling up on a cloudy Monday afternoon, our group finds a near empty lot on the Mueller side of the ridge.  The initial grade is well received and gets us in the rhythm. Climbing for a bit through the aspens keeps us wondering what is around the next bend.  We find a transition to some open terrain and take in the views of the valley as we pass Elephant Rock and wander higher into the canyon.  The afternoon light filters through the shimmering leaves and provides a wonderful contrast of greens, yellows, and whites.  Wildflowers crop up at regular intervals and deliver dashes of red, purple, and orange to the hillside.  It feels like we are far into the mountains, even though it is less than seven miles to the highest point. Rudy’s Flat is a small clearing at the top of the trail and represents the decision point for your next move.  We elect to descend back down the earthen roller coaster of Mueller, but we will be back to tag the North Canyon Trail on our next visit. The rousing descent offers up the chance to practice carving through turns and feeling the flow of every contour the trail covers.  However, as stated before, there are many trail users and extreme caution must be employed to avoid a scuffle or an injury.  Don’t be a jerk and all will be right with the universe.  Whether as an afternoon aspiration or a quick hitter before work, this trail deserves all its accolades. It will continue to get better with age and could become an important backbone to future options as more riders will necessitate more trail infrastructure.

Wild Rose

Figuring out how to get to the trailhead is the most difficult part of this excursion.  Deep in the suburban empire of the North Salt Lake benches lies this gem of a trail network.  Five-star views of the entire county await riders after only a mile of meandering up to the first lookout.  This microcosm of intertwining routes provides several short climbs and a handful of thrilling descents.  The trails all convene at the Wild Rose Park and are well marked with excellent signage and aerial photographs.  It is impossible to get lost, but you may not always know where you are.  Our journey begins on the Wild Rose Loop and climbs up to the start of the first flow trail.  Diving into the first set of rollers and berms requires focus and measured speed.  Tight and loose corners roll down the hillside into a small gully and pour into a fast and flowy section.  Just as we hit our rhythm, we are back at the trailhead.  For the next revolution, we elect to take the Wild Rose Shortcut and punch our way up to the Chukar Loop.  This puts our pulse near redline but we are on top in short order, ready to descend again.  There are several tighter switchbacks that plunge into an even narrower canyon and careful navigation is critical. Now the trail mellows out and roars through the canopy with small rollers and well-planned corners.  At the junction of the Lower Downhill, we ascend higher to the farthest look out to the south.  Technically this is the end of the road.  However, there is a bit more elevation to gain with some hike-a-bike and its back on some double track along the county ridgeline.  The meadows roll on to the east and astounding landscapes unfold before us.  Approaching thunderheads force our descent and its down into the forest once more. This time we choose the Lower DH trail and rip through bobsled-like turns ahead of the lightning.  Cornering with speed up one wall and down the other is quite exhilarating.  As the rain sets in, we seek shelter at the park pavilion and cheers to our good fortune. The trifecta of Davis County complete, we turn our attention to additional options that will offer more exploration and excitement in the coming months.

While our travels only represent a segment of the trail options in Davis County, they are a great starting point for a multitude of riders of various skill levels to enjoy. It is also worth venturing up to the East Mountain Wilderness Park Loop to work on your technical skills with the family in tow.  Biker’s Edge of Kaysville aided in the development of this area and it is a snapshot of what future bike park development could look like in the future. “Our goal is to have two to three more bike parks in our community in the next couple years. We also understand that local high school students need more places to practice.  And we want to meet the desires of locals and visitors to have more mountain biking opportunities, since it’s such a growing recreation sector,” says Davis County Tourism and Events Coordinator, Haley Rodgers.

If you find yourself riding the trails this August, be sure to check out the Tour of Utah as it rolls through.  This stage is a rider favorite as it cruises along the shores of Antelope Island and then high into the foothills above Hill Air Force Base before finishing in Layton Commons.  Stay tuned to UAJ as we continue to search out new trails and experiences for the two-wheeled enthusiast.

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