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September 25, 2010

Southern Utah: Thunder Mountain

Filed under: 2010, MTB Travel, Southern Utah — anotherheader @ 4:23 pm

Becky moves past a photogenic rock formation on Thunder Mountains Trail

A folder labeled “BC 2010” on my MacBook collects pictures and other documental paraphernalia from our endless summer mountain biking trip.  At first the title of the folder seemed sufficient for the summer’s trip.  We’d be in British Columbia, with a short trip back and forth from home.  Or so it seemed.  At the end of our stay in British Columbia, we spun the virtual bottle and decided to extend our trip into late September with a biking visit to some of our favorite Southern Utah trails.  The BC 2010 folder still collects the pictures but its title clearly hasn’t held up.  At least the “2010” portion of the folder label is correct.  That could change too, I guess, particularly if the virtual bottle reappears.  Underemployed people can be so irresponsible.

Thunder Mountain Trail: It's good enough to lick

From Nelson it took us several stops and two weeks to get to Utah.  Our visits to three National Parks—Waterton-Glacier, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton–would crack a few line items off The List.  The extra time gave Becky’s bruised body a chance to recover and reset for Utah’s trails.

The first ride of our Utah stop was Thunder Mountain Trail near Bryce Canyon National Park.  Not that that was the original plan.  Seasonal campground closures in the Cedar City area sparked the last minute reemergence of the virtual spinning bottle and another itinerary reshuffle.  It was just as well.  Thunder Mountain ranks as one of our favorite trails.  This year’s ride would be my fourth time on the trail and Becky’s second.

Leaving our overnight spot in the Provo Walmart’s parking lot, we reached the Red Canyon Campground in the early afternoon.  We found a spot, made camp, and got ready for a late afternoon ride.

Even on the remote Thunder Mountain Trail, mountain biking paparazzi remains an issue

Thunder Mountain Trail is accessed from the Coyote Hollow Trailhead.  In theory you can ride the trail as a shuttle drop.  In practice few riders do this.  A shuttle is really not needed.  Most riders start at the scenic turnout at the base of the canyon and take advantage of the beautiful paved bike path that climbs up the spectacular Red Canyon to the steppe plain at the top.  It used to be that you could tell bike riders to climb the paved path until it ends and then take the gravel road (labeled Fremont ATV Trail) to the right.  This no longer works as the bike path has been extended and now continues towards Bryce Canyon National Park.  We learned this when we tried to direct Ross to the bike path end as a mid-ride meeting point.  It was a good thing that Ross trusted his GPS coordinates.

Ross spliting the rocks

For Becky and myself, the ride started from the campground a short distance from the beginning of Red Canyon.  The paved bike path passes near our camp spot and heads up the canyon.  On the bikes, the tarmac ribbon to the top passes quickly.  After collecting Ross, we covered the final 2.1 miles on the gravel forest road to the Coyote Hollow Trailhead.

Ross rolls through the forested upper portion of Thunder Mountain Trail

Thunder Mountain Trail starts as a rolling forested track that traverses several drainages.  It is a nice enough section of trail but few riders share their pictures of this portion of the ride.  The scenery that starts as you crest the final ridge makes you quickly forget all trail that came before.  Before you is a classic red rock scene.  Somehow it looks familiar.  Did I see this in a John Wayne movie or does it just look like the amusement ride with a similar name at Disneyland?  Either way, it always looks too good to be true.  It looks too good to be real.

Indeed, the biggest risk on the Thunder Mountain Trail is being distracted by the views.  The tread itself is not particularly challenging.  Loose rock in some of the switchbacks is the chief challenge.

Thunder Mountain Trail passes too fast with good flow.  Still, with our late start, we reached the end at the scenic turnout along U-12 as the sun was setting.  Red Canyon’s rock walls were glowing with impossibly intense shades of red as we pedaled the short way up the canyon bike path to our camp.  Before long we were back to the Airstream contemplating grilled buffalo and lamb for dinner.

There's nothing like the red rock glow

Our ride was a reminder.  Thunder Mountain Trail is indeed a classic bike trail.  It is hard to think of a trail that a greater cross section of mountain bikers will enjoy.  As we travel around many people we meet tell us that we “must ride” this trail or that trail.  Perhaps the “must ride” expression is overworked.  But “must ride” does apply to the Red Canyon-Thunder Mountain loop.  You must ride Thunder Mountain Trail before you die.

You can find out more about Thunder Mountain Trail at  For more information about Thunder Mountain and other trails in the area check out the US Forest Service website.

With such a scenic loop, there are more pictures to be found on Picasa.

Full Moon Fever

1 Comment »

  1. […] the heat for a ride at higher altitudes where the air is cooler. Riding high in Brian Head or Thunder Mountain are the only sane options in the area on hot summer days. Even then, I wouldn’t drive from […]

    Pingback by Brian Head: Dark Hollow and Bunker Creek « Another Header — October 10, 2010 @ 9:58 pm

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