It’s no secret that Utah encompasses a grip of thrilling mountain bike trails, thanks to the vast diversity of topography in the state. Glaciers, wind, and water etched this landscape for eons to sculpt the terrain where we’ve built our trails. Sandstone slickrock in Moab, tricky technical slabs along Gooseberry Mesa, and flowing singletrack in Northern Utah provide a well-rounded diet for any mountain biker with a hearty appetite.
Though it would be difficult to designate Utah’s best mountain bike trail, the Wasatch Crest Trail is undeniably one of the most memorable rides in the Salt Lake area and Wasatch mountain range.
The Wasatch Crest Trail delivers a heaping dose of expansive views, big descents, one noteworthy climb, technical rock gardens, and sections of blissful flow through aspens and evergreens. This intermediate/advanced trail comes highly recommended to all mountain biking visitors and residents who crave a thrill at high altitude and want to test their skills.
Salt Lake’s most iconic bike ride is a bit like one of those choose-your-own-adventure novels you read as a kid. The trail runs along the aesthetic northern ridge of Big Cottonwood Canyon. Riders can opt to start and finish the ride along several different routes. Those in Park City can start right from Old Town, pedaling up the Park City Armstrong Trail to the Mid Mountain Trail to Pine Cone Ridge. Others may opt to patronize one of the many shuttle services or park a car at the top of Guardsman Pass near Solitude and Brighton ski resorts. A classic combo is to stitch together a 13-mile shuttled ride from Guardsman Pass into Millcreek Canyon (but keep in mind that cyclists may only access upper Millcreek Canyon on even-numbered days). This is the route I recommend for a memorable day in the Wasatch. Let’s go!
Take a moment to catch your breath before kicking off on Scott’s Bypass Trail from Guardsman Pass. After all, you’re above 9,700 feet in elevation and the views are about to knock you off your saddle. Sinuous singletrack winds for about 1.5 miles, leading bikers through a series of banked turns, aspen groves, a short climb, and a brief descent through an evergreen stand. Enjoy the breeze as the most challenging section of the Wasatch Crest Trail draws near, the aptly named: Puke Hill.
Plan to be on the trail for a minimum of 2 hours, knowing most folks complete the Guardsman to Millcreek option in 3-4 hours.
The trail is typically good to go June through October, though on heavy snow years, the trail may not melt out until July. After the first couple of snowstorms in September or October, the trail is typically impassible.
Keep your ears open in the early season before you ride, (Check the hashtag #WasatchCrestTrail on Instagram,) as there may still be a good amount of snow or downfall along the trail. It is recommended to wait until the trail is dry and free of snow in order to prevent ruts from forming and preserve the trail.
Ride the Crest at least twice a year, once for wildflower watching and again for leaf peeping. The colors of the aspens in autumn will blow you away!
The Wasatch Crest offers cool relief from Salt Lake’s often scorching summer days. Much of the trail is above 9,000 feet in elevation and I’ve been caught pining for an extra layer or rain shell more times than I care to admit. Don’t let Utah’s cerulean blue skies fool you!
If you’re visiting Utah, take lots of snack breaks and be sure to bring ample water and start your ride hydrated. Since the bulk of this ride traverses high elevations, the altitude will take a toll on your energy levels!
Don’t forget to apply sunscreen and take a spare bottle. The sun up here can really scorch.
Weekends can be quite busy on the Wasatch Crest, plan on getting an early start. Alternatively, give the trail a ride in mid-afternoon or try an early evening ride—just don’t forget bike lights!
Take a small tool kit and a couple of extra tubes and a bike pump as there is no way to hail a ride along the trail!
Leave a cooler with cold drinks in the car to await your return. You won’t regret it!