Epic Ride: Wasatch Traverse

As I left work Friday afternoon, I stated, “I’m going to take Monday off and take a three-day weekend…” I’ve had enough of the glow of my monitor and decided that the planned weekend adventure would take three days to finish.

No more than five miles from my office passes a route I’ve wanted to ride since moving to Utah 10 years prior. Much of the route is defined by The Great Western Trail, a network of loosely connected trails extending the length of the Wasatch Front and beyond. Over two million people call the Wasatch Front home. By most standards, it is a thriving metropolis. It had always intrigued me that a backcountry route of substantial length could exist in such close proximity to that many people.

Wasatch Traverse Great Western Trail

For weeks, Chad and I had been plotting our route. Searching for and creating GPS tracks and then stitching them together, we planned a route to follow the Great Western Trail, where possible. If we stuck to the route, we estimated we’d ride 135 miles, 125 of those miles were to be ridden on dirt, almost all of which was singletrack. We had originally planned two days to complete the route, but because we didn’t know what it would hold, we made a last-minute change to a 3 day plan. Would it be overgrown? Maybe much of it would be too steep and loose to ride? We had done all the research we could but still couldn’t find an answer to these questions, so we’d find out on our own.

We decided to start at Aspen Grove, just East of Provo and a stone’s throw away from Sundance Ski Resort. On the fringe of a Designated Wilderness Area, it’s as close to Mt. Timpanogos as bikes are allowed. Our goal was to summit Ben Lomond Peak, north of Ogden, doing our best to hit the most prominent peaks at the ends of the Salt Lake Valley (like bookends to an awesome adventure.)

We had two rules:  Ride a route that kept us on trail as much as possible.  No vehicle transport is allowed along the route.  What follows is a day-by-day report of the route and what we found, felt, and experienced along the way…

Day 1: Aspen Grove to Big Mountain Pass – 55 Miles, 10,500’ climbing

“Wow, what a nice place to start!” exclaimed Tricia, our shuttle driver, as we rolled up to the trailhead. She was right. Straight in front of us was the broad eastern face of Mount Timpanogos. The sight of snow on the upper slopes had me worried. Would our late June start allow enough time for the snow to melt from the higher elevations we would pass through? We would soon find out. We started up the trail, planning to meet Trisha for lunch at Brighton Ski Resort 25 miles later.

The first few miles showed us a steady but ridable climb. We found ourselves gliding through high mountain meadows on our way to Ridge Trail 157, the views constantly changing and becoming more frequent. To our right, we could see Heber City, and occasionally to our Left, the city Provo. Always in sight behind us was Mt. Timpanogos.

Wasatch Traverse Day 1

Following a loose, steep, yet short descent, we started up the last pitch to Sunrise Pass above Brighton Ski Resort. This is where we would cross over to Big Cottonwood Canyon from American Fork Canyon. The trail was primarily loose and steep, requiring us to hike a bike up many stretches. Along this steep pitch was the first of the snow we would hit, it wasn’t enough to stop us, but did make the route finding a bit of a challenge.

Big Climb on Wasatch Traverse

We reached the pass about an hour after starting up the last pitch. The view and perspective were stunning. The weather here was cool, even though it was approaching 95 degrees on the valley floor. Things were going very well, despite running about an hour behind schedule.

It was here that we intersected Catherine’s Pass Trail and after a short break to soak in the moment, we started our descent to the base of Brighton Ski Resort. This is a pretty technical descent, but mostly ridable on a good trail bike…in our case, it was made a bit slower by patches of snow and heavy foot traffic on a Saturday. But it was enjoyable nonetheless, and we were anxious to rendezvous for lunch.
We were met by not only our Tricia but my wife and kids as well. They had made the drive up to greet us. After eating a gourmet lunch, we started up toward Guardsman Pass to the Crest Connector Trail. Once on the Crest Trail, we enjoyed a sweeping single track that trended down for miles and views of both Park City and the Cottonwood Canyons.

We connected with Tricia once again at Jeremy Ranch, and after some snacks, we headed down the Jeremy Ranch Road for a few miles before turning left up Mormon Trail. This trail was a pleasant surprise, a steady climb through moderately technical terrain that was all ridable. Along the way we were forced to wait for a moose as he meandered across the trail and up the side of the valley.

Tricia surprised us with boxes of fresh french fries she had picked up on her way through town.
Tricia surprised us with boxes of fresh, salty hand-cut french fries she had picked up on her way through town.

We met and camped just down the road from Big Mountain for the night.  Cheers and Beers were in order as we watched the sunset over Salt Lake City in the distance. It had been an excellent day of riding some of the most beautiful singletrack we had ever seen. And although we were so close to a metro area, we felt isolated.

Day 2: Big Mountain Pass to Ogden – 55 Miles, 8,500’ climbing

Day 2 Route
The unknown. This was the day that we were most worried about before the ride. The section of trail that was hard to find GPS tracks and reports for. Armed with a 15 year old mountain bike trail book, we had determined that it MAY be steep and overgrown, but at least it would be passable as a through route. We started the first brutally steep pitch and tired legs begged for mercy; we were on our way into the unknown.

It all started out well, the trail was passable and even enjoyable. There were short sections of hike a bike that were steep and loose, but the views were amazing. To our right, the town of Morgan, and to our left, occasional glimpses of Salt Lake City. The weather was cool.

Then we hit the nearly invisible intersection that takes the Great Western Trail away from the Big Mountain Trail. We actually rode right past it. It was so overgrown that it was barely visible through the thick brush.

“I think we’re off route!” Chad exclaimed from behind. Thankfully he had uploaded our planned route onto his GPS unit before leaving, and it saved us from taking a huge detour.

Wasatch Traverse Day 2

We returned to the intersection we had missed and started into the brush. After hiking a steep 1/2 mile descent through thick brush, then about 3/4 mile up the other side of a ravine, we found ourselves back on what appeared to be a rarely used ATV Trail…a sign for the Great Western Trail confirmed we were on the right path.

The next few miles combined rarely used ATV trail and backcountry single track with sweeping views in every direction. Chad whooped and hollered as we ripped down a high alpine descent toward a dirt road known as Skyline Drive. Skyline Drive traverses a few miles of the ridgeline above the cities of Farmington and Woods Cross. Views of The Great Salt Lake far below were spectacular, and we had a good time. As we got closer to Farmington Canyon, ATV traffic picked up, and as we descended to Farmington, it got warmer and warmer. We still had miles to go, and we were beginning to get concerned that the heat and sun exposure once we got to Farmington could cut our day short.

We met Tricia for what was once again a fantastic lunch as we sat in the shade of a tree at a Park in Farmington. The contrast in temperatures from the Great Western Trail high atop the ridgeline to the valley was shocking…at this point, I realized I was not looking forward to the next few hours as we were to ride along fragments of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail in 95-degree heat and direct sunshine.

We started off after lunch and, to be honest struggled to find the best route without riding the road. Unexpected property lines forced us to double back in certain locations. There were sections of great trail along this portion of the route, but it broke up so much that it made it challenging to find a thorough route.

This all changed once we passed under I-84 in South Ogden and started up Beus Canyon Trail. This section was getting close to home and on trails we’ve ridden hundreds of times. Despite having ridden 45 miles and thousands of feet of climbing on the day, our legs were coming back to us. We bobbed and weaved down the well-designed and maintained single track as we approached my backyard, where we would meet some friends and cook out to recharge for the third big day. A fitting end to a challenging day.

Day 3: Ogden to North Fork Park, via Ben Lomond Peak – 30 miles, 5,500’ climbing

Wasatch Traverse Route

I must say that I feel fortunate to live along this spectacular route. We woke up early, enjoyed some fresh brewed coffee and breakfast, then headed out from the backyard and on our way. After 5 minutes of riding, the Ben Lomond summit was directly viewed. It was close, but it towered 5,000 feet above us. Despite being the shortest day, we know that the fatigue of the two days prior could make this the most physically challenging of the three days.

We started the continuous grade up to the North Ogden Divide and the Ben Lomond Trail a few miles into the ride. It took its toll on us, and despite being able to ride the entire route for the day, progress was slow. “Yeah, I’m not feeling my best today…” Chad stated as we stopped for a snack at North Ogden Divide. I concurred. We admitted that ascending back into the cool, high-altitude air we had enjoyed for most of the first two days was welcoming. We settled into a comfortable pace and took many pictures, knowing the end of our journey was near.

Wasatch Traverse Day 3

We’ve ridden from Ogden to Ben Lomond Peak many times, and every time, I’m reminded why this is my favorite ride from Ogden. After many miles of fairly loose trail, we crested the ridgeline…from here, you can observe the Wasatch Front all the way to Salt Lake City, 60 miles south. The trail levels out and is fast and flowy. The air is cool. Like many others, we were greeted by a herd of mountain goats as we neared the summit.

The first couple of miles back to North Fork Park on the Ben Lomond trail are simply amazing, and it is sweeping and beautiful. As we approached the park, the hundred-year-old Cutler Ridge trail became steep, loose, and heavily rutted. It was challenging, especially at our level of fatigue.

We popped out at the trailhead to see the van…the ride was done, we had completed a route from Aspen Grove to North Fork Park. All while riding under 15 miles of road. The day again finished with a beer and a high five.

Parting Thoughts

We had ridden 140 miles and climbed 25,000 feet when all was said and done. It turns out we did need three days to complete the route at a relaxed pace.

Wasatch Traverse Day Ben Lomond

Views along the entire route were incredible, and we discovered trails we would like to go back to ride in the future. It is an amazing route and well worth the effort.

Do we think you should take on this route? Yes, we recommend it, but it’s ultimately up to you. We have posted the detailed route and notes here so that you can create your own Wasatch Traverse mountain bike adventure.

For more photo inspiration, hit up the Wasatch Traverse Photo Bomb here!


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