Exploring Utah's Paunsaugunt Plateau (Utah Xpost)
This was the first bike stop on my UT/CO 2012 Tour. I had been wanting to explore the area for some time and finally got the chance. Here is what I found:
Pink cliffs visible from camp
A bit of singletrack just a 1/4mi up the road
Cool rock window
Looking down towards the valley, camp is just out of sight on the right
I guess this is Chimney Rock?
You can see a bit of the reservoir in the background.
The trail is very little used, and between grade and loose-ness is tough to ride in places.
All roads lead to Thunder Mountain
Views from here on will be more familiar to everyone
Hoodoos come into view
I was a bit worried the trail would be wet from recent rains but should not have been, it was dry as can be
Up to the ridge line
I tried self timer shots here on last years trip but they did not work out. The gorillapod makes things so easy! It also helps my new camera can do a 10 shot burst with the 10 second delay, not just the single shot my old one was capable of.
The shot I couldn't get right last year.
The end comes so soon
A self timer would have been awesome here but for the shadows
So, up to this point some are probably thinking, yeah whatever just another Thunder Mtn report. If you're fortunate, you have maybe explored the other side of Red Canyon on the Losee/Cassidee loop. But as I was about to find out there is a whole "other world" out there which very few know exists. But it is right there for the taking, if you have ever seen this sign just before the funnest part of Thunder Mtn near the bottom.
Grandview Trail, what's that? Is a question that has bugged me for several years. I think it was 2009 when we first rode Thunder, and I saw the sign. Never looked much into it until after last year's trip when I saw it again, and it got me digging. I asked at the Red Canyon Visitor Center a year ago and they knew little about it, just that it had been built by a former district ranger who was an equestrian and it probably wouldn't be good for bikes, a lot of steep ups and downs they said. Unfortunately, searching online at the time turned up very little else - one equestrian ride report, one trail runner report, and one endurance bike race report that mentioned going just 20 miles in 20 hours due to massive deadfall. Not encouraging. In the weeks leading up to this year's trip I searched again. I found a newer report from this year's Dixie 211 race which mentioned herculean tree clearing efforts on a nearby trail. I also found a good map on the USFS site. Having found no good maps previously, this was enough to give me the confidence to go for it. An apparent lack of reliable water sources meant I would not bikepack it, but rather ride it in sections. The first section I would try is the start of the trail, from its intersection with Thunder Mountain, on up to where it meets Road 601 for around 13mi. On the way to Thunder Mountain I would also check out the Chimney Creek Trail and Kings Creek Trail, near the King Creek Campground and Tropic Reservoir.
Some gentle climbing to start. I still had absolutely no idea what to expect from this trail so every rideable part seemed like a huge bonus
Then some fun scenic descent
Some contouring on orange dirt
Some nice views off the plateau to the west
The trail starts to get rougher, more raw
After a brief section where it is badly eroded, another where it is hidden completely in slash from forest service burn piles, and another where I lose it in grassy meadows, it becomes nice again (for a short distance)
More grassy meadow. Trail is just outside the pic on the right
It goes through a lot of cow pasture too and can be rough in spots
The climbing at the end was tough, I did some hike a bike and got a bit lost on some cow trails. But just look for a trail continuing on from the end of each meadow close to where the map shows it, and you will be fine. I was pretty stoked with this first section. While hard to follow in places the trail was actually pretty decent, had some good views, no trees down, and mostly rideable. All that was left was to climb up over the ridge and then bomb back to camp on 5 mi of dirt road.
Looking back from where I had come, the trail traverses below these cliffs then climbs up some canyons to get to Rd 601.
Total for the day was 40.7mi, and 5,290ft climbing/descending. Elev range was 7,300 to 9,100ft.
Last edited by evdog; 11-12-2012 at 10:40 PM.
Reason: update photo links
The Plateau is pretty big, something like 10-12mi wide and 30mi long with Bryce Canyon National Park forming its east side. Grandview Trail runs for 78mi all the way around it from Hwy 12 in Red Canyon, eventually ending at dirt roads that will bring you back to Hwy 12 at Cannonville. The plateau is full of dirt roads and ATV trails but also has a number of non-motorized trails that are worth checking out.
For Day 2 I wanted to check out a longer stretch of Grandview around the southern end. One of the reasons this trail does not get ridden much, aside from the fact no one knows about it, is that it is hard to get to. Any ride on Grandview will require a long dirt road segment or long point to point shuttle to close the loop. This day would be no different, with close to 14mi of meandering dirt road and ATV trail before getting on the singletrack. I re-positioned camp in the morning to put me closer to the trails I wanted to ride.
All was not lost however, as even the dirt roads are scenic with little traffic. In fact, I saw only one person all day today who was camped off one of these roads.
Climbing to the ridge line about to get serious
But the views are worth it
First miles of the trail were right along the top of the cliffs, similar to Virgin River Rim trail but you are even closer and ride the top for much longer.
Views seem to get better around every turn
Singletrack is not bad either. Seemed like every time it went into the trees though, things were about to get steep. It was mostly rideable, but definitely tough in spots. You can see here the bench is wide enough for ATVs, and there seems to be a bit of a double indentation. No evidence of any recent ATV use so I wonder if this was not old ATV trail re-designated to non-motorized use.
But each climb was worth it as it brought more views
Looking south, unfortunately the contrast between sunlight and shadows was really messing with the exposure of most of my shots
Looking back to the ridgeline I just traversed. Right after this shot the trail takes a steep turn downhill on a section that couldn't decide if it was dirt road, singletrack, or heinous rocky singletrack. It drops you right off the plateau and onto rough and sandy road 4062. You are far out there at this point and if anything went seriously wrong here your best option might be to navigate dirt roads down toward Hwy 89 and hitch back to your starting point.
More water sources appear as you get below tree line. I don't know how reliable these would be through summer. This ride was only 4 days or so post-rain.
Climbing up to another ridge
Getting around to the south facing part of the plateau the forest and the terrain changes. You are lower down and more into oak forest, and there is a lot more sand. This section was brutal, totally unrideable. Fortunately it was only 100 yards long, but there were a few other stretches like this.
Near one cattle tank I startled some deer, close to 20 total in several groups
Great views open up to the south of the Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument
The trail wraps around a few final outcrops before it will finally climb back up to the top of the plateau
This means its time for me to hit the couple miles of road 087 back to camp. Fortunately this was all downhill, and I was able to make it down just in time without lights
Another 20.5mi of Grandview in the bank. Despite a few crappy spots todays section was pretty rideable. Only one tree down that I recall, and tread that was in pretty good shape. And some awesome views. The only evidence of use was a single set of recent footprints.
Stats for the loop: 37.3mi, 4,670ft. Elev 7,400 to 9,230ft.
Last edited by evdog; 11-12-2012 at 10:25 PM.
For Day 3 I planned to continue where the prior day left off. I pedalled 2.5mi back up Rd 087 and then dropped down the singletrack off the plateau.
View before dropping down
There is a short spur trail to a lookout which I rode over to
And then it was on. The trail near the end of yesterdays ride was pretty rough with a lot of short washouts at water crossings. This continued today
The trail was also encroached on more by brush and had a few downed trees, though not many
Open areas tended to be somewhat sandy. Mostly they were still rideable though there was some death sand like I had seen previously
The cliffs are not as impressive, but views are still good
The trail contours for miles along ridgelines and in and out of canyons
Washed out crossing
A few of the canyons had some tough climbs out, like this one coming up
The sections with southern exposure also tended to be overgrown with small oak trees.
It wasn't fast riding but it was manageable. Soon enough I hit the intersection with Crawford Pass trail, which I've heard has excellent views below pink cliffs.
I picked this up for luck
There were a few washed out crossings like on Grandview but those were short HAB's. Otherwise the trail didn't climb or descend a lot
At the end of Crawford I turned down Rd 092 for a couple miles. It sucked descending on road but was the best way to hit the next section of trail. I ran into a couple kids on ATVs checking out this scene:
At the bottom the road runs into a gated ranch, just after it is crossed by Grandview Tr. I turned right and headed up Grandview through Pipeline Canyon. It was a pretty raw section and definitely sees more cattle than any other user. It was fairly rideable despite some sand, until I got into the trees. Massive deadfall had been cut out but it was still a tough grind.
I climbed back up to Crawford Pass Tr which I followed to its crossing of Rd 203. I climbed up some painful switchbacks and then opted for more pain to check out the Pink Cliffs Viewpoint at 9,400. I think it was worth it.
On the way back down I rode through a stand of trees turning red in addition to yellow. Nice....
A bit more fire road took me to Mill Creek Trail. I hadn't paid much attention to the map and thought this was ATV trail, but it was non-motorized singletrack, a happy ending to the ride.
Except for a handful of downed trees. It dumped me back on 087 less than half mile from camp.
Another 12miles of Grandview.
Stats for the day: 28.8mi; 4,327 ft gain/loss; elev range 7,460 to 9,400.
Of the three days so far this was my least favorite. It had the most sand and was the most overgrown. Brush had not really been a problem on Days 1 and 2. It was passable, but I would ride Day 2 again if limited by time.
Last edited by evdog; 11-12-2012 at 10:27 PM.
Day 4. I decided to ride the section which remained between what I rode on Days 1 and 2. Short, but I had some fishing I wanted to do afterwards as well as a drive up to Salt Lake City. I drove down to where Grandview meets Rd 601 and did a road ride from there to todays start of the singletrack.
Visitor appears while getting ready. I also meet a couple runners, one of whom tells me the trail section I'm about to check out is part awesome, part nasty - or did he say non-existant?
9.5miles of road, ATV track and singletrack will get me back to the top. Lookout
Singletrack section is nice, things are looking up
I ride some more nice stuff
More views, this one from where the main singletrack starts.
The maps I have are a bit confusing for this area. One shows the trail segment I'm about to ride as the Grandview Trail but its continuation as another trail (Camp Eli to Big Hollow Trail). My other map does not label it, and shows Grandview taking off part way down as another trail. Hmmm.... Regardless, I start down the trail. It starts off with a short fun descent.
Then it gets ugly. Steep sections down lead to steep sections up (HAB)
And more HAB. Entire sections pretty much obliterated by cattle. In this area there are sections where multiple cow trails diverge or merge into the trail and its difficult to follow the proper route.
Finally I get higher to some nicer trail
Nice, that is, until it drops down again. Then it goes from rough to bad to ugly to almost impassable. This was all HAB down, and tough steep HAB at that.
After that steep HAB the trail is rideable again, but tough. It is steep with a big rain rut down the middle, and I narrowly avoid a couple yard sales. The rough stuff ends at the creek, where the trail also more or less ends. This is apparently the spot where the trail runner lost the trail - Big Hollow Trail. I see a faint trail crossing the stream and know from the map that the trail parallels the stream just on its north bank. There are several corridors which could be trail but all seem to dead end in deadfall or brush. I simply move among them and continue on, and eventually end up on what appears to be real trail. It is only 1/2 mile from the stream to where the trail makes a hard left, so I keep going. The trail pops into this meadow and promptly disappears again.
I soon find it contouring the base of the hill to the left, and follow it up and over a pass. Some HAB, but mostly rideable, and then some nice flowing trail for a while.
The trail soon dumps me out into a big meadow with a cattle pond that I recognized from day 1, so it is an easy connection up to Rd 601 and back to my truck from there. I drive back down to Tropic Reservoir to check out a water source I had read about.
I am sure I am not the only one who is thinking what I am thinking, when this comes into view
Found the Tropic spring, roadside off Rd 087 at the south end of Tropic Reservoir. It is fenced off and signed, you can't miss it.
Its not really clear which parts of the singletrack I rode are Grandview, so I am going to call the whole section from Rd 106 to Rd 601 Grandview. This was around 7 miles.
Stats for the day. 16.5mi, 3,605ft gain/loss. Elev range: 7,920 to 9,400. By far the shortest, but probably the hardest day. If you do ride this section I would do it sout to north as I did. Just beware you will be dropping into a deep canyon that you will have to climb out of, and it is much HAB regardless which way you go. I can't say that I would be interested to ride this again unless it was part of a through ride.
In total, I did roughly 53miles of Grandview Trail over 4 days. There was a ton more fire road to connect each day's lap. A through ride appears very doable though you will have to pay close attention to water sources especially in drier times of the year. I asked the trail runner if he had done the last section of Grandview which I have not gotten to, from Rd 092 to the eastern terminus, 25mi. He said he has done it recently, and it is like much of the other southern exposed sections - sandy, grown over with oak, dry, and hot due to exposure and being at lower elevation. I would like to check this out at some point but it is a painfully long shuttle and there is no reasonable loop option because Bryce Canyon NP (no bikes) blocks any loop opportunity unless you want to ride around 25mi to get back to Tropic Reservoir, maybe 40mi if you need to get back to the south end of Rd 087. Some point I would like to bike pack the whole thing, we'll see....
While I did not ride the entire trail I am calling this exploration a huge success. The plateau is large and I saw a good part of it (I did a separate day hiking Bryce canyon too). The 25miles I did not get to I am not going to lose any sleep over given its reported condition.
Last edited by evdog; 11-12-2012 at 10:28 PM.
Thanks for taking the time to post all of this--super way to see that part of Utah.
I did two tours through much of the Paunsagunt a few years back, but with the benefit of GPS tracks from someone (a rider) that had scouted there for months, maybe years to learn the best routes for bikes.
When you have a minute, you might recognize some of the spots from my writeups.
Dixie 311. Dixie Vid.
I definitely recognized a lot of them from yours.
Last edited by mikesee; 11-02-2012 at 12:20 AM.
Another great report evdog. What map are you using? Looks like the Grand View trail could be an epic bike route with some trail maintenance and some bike traffic to beat it in a bit more.
Originally Posted by evdog
Zion is one of my favorite places and have had a few of those back country hikes on my list as well..... and Gooseberry is always fun. Let me know when you go.
Fascinating landscape. Thanks for sharing
You sir, have entirely too much fun. Great stuff and great adventure. Thanks for the stoke!
Incredible pics!! Living in Florida has it's benefits, but for mtb'ing, it sucks.
Awesome report and pictures! Thanks for sharing!!
Great scenery! There's no way I could hike Angel's landing, too scary for me.
I'll have to pull out a map and take a look at this again when I have more time.
Since when did Need have anything to do with this?
Best ride report ever! Thanks.
nice! the "pause-and-grunt" plateau. You should come out for the dixie 200 next year, you already got a scouting mission in
All my memories of Thunder Mountain came flooding back - thanks! My compliments for your efforts to chronical the rides, as you put me in the moment.
Will trade for some chicken.
Great adventure man. Thanks for sharing all the backcountry riding. I love that area of Utah, wish I could get there more often. Zion is my favorite NP for sure, just heartbreakingly beautiful and some world class riding in the area.
Great trip, thanks for the pics! I spend all my vacation time in SW Utah, going in both early spring and late fall. Mostly Zion, but my first trip that was all dayhikes included Bryce, and I took my dad there this April(along with Valley of Fire and Red Rock in NV).
Nice pics-they're great under snow, as well. That's Angel's Landing rising to the left in my avatar
Thanks for the memory trip....
We stayed at a great vacation rental in Virgin this summer immediately accross the street from the JEM trailhead. My boys and I had an amazing time riding the JEM, Hurricane Ridge & Gooseberry.
The riding was so much fun we did not stop for pics. However, we took plenty at Zion.
I almost always go before the start, and at the end, of tourist season, and while I've met people coming and going have been alone on top of Angel's Landing every time I've gone up there. Once I get past the main canyon, above Angel's Landing on the West Rim Trail, or past the turnoff from East Rim Trail to Observation Point, there aren't so many people.
Originally Posted by evdog
If you're not familiar, one of, if not THE, best sites you will find for info on hiking in Zion is:
Joe's Guide to Zion National Park - Welcome!
He's a photographer, and the site is fantastic.Has route descriptions, maps, and lots of incredible pics. I use it to plan my trips.
My favorite overnight hikes are:
-(Kolob Canyons)La Verkin Creek Trail to Beartrap Canyon with a side hike to Kolob Arch
-(West Rim-requires a shuttle or two vehicles)West Rim Trail to the Grotto, which also takes you by Angel's Landing
-(East Rim)East Rim Trail from Weeping Rock up through Echo Canyon to the plateau, by Stave Spring to camp on the edge of Deertrap Mountain. A side trip to Hidden Canyon and checking out the accessible portions of Echo's slot system makes it even more fun.
Check out the report on Parunuweap Canyon/The Barracks for somewhere to go during the season that there might not be many other people. I had to cancel my fall trip this year, but that was high on my list.
btw, that waterfall that forms the upper Emerald Pool that you have a pic of-my first trip out there was in the first week of March 2010, and I got to see the spray turning to snow on the way down. Pretty cool!
Thanks for sharing. If you do this again please remember my name
It's always a pleasure to read a trip that reminds one of what a fantastic world in which we live