About this Itinerary
Big Rock Candy Mountain is one of the most recognizable geological sites in central Utah. More than 22 million years ago, volcanoes in the area erupted leaving volcanic rock 3,000 feet thick and full of iron minerals that produced vibrant yellow, red, and orange colors that created a candy ribbon effect. The name of the mountain was taken from the eponymous song popular in 1928, which locals had jokingly taken to referring to the mountain by, and which eventually stuck. Bike at the base of this geological wonder as you follow the Sevier River through a spectacularly beautiful landscape on the 16-mile Candy Mountain Express (CME).
Located at the southern end of the trail, stay at the Big Rock Candy Mountain Resort. This property is a destination on its own and from the grounds guests can depart on organized excursions such as whitewater rafting trips, zip lining, float trips, and ATV rides. Its location makes it an ideal base from which to bike the CME, as well as to explore other parts of central Utah. The resort offers several different lodging options. Stay in a riverside cabin with a private deck; a traditional motel room; camp in the campground; park at the RV Park, or for something truly unique, bunk in an authentic railway caboose in one of the four restored train cars that comprise caboose village. Onsite find a restaurant serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as a convenience store/gift shop and an ice cream/candy store. Note, however, that bike rentals are not available at the resort or in the area.
The southern end of the Candy Mountain Express is located just across the river from the resort. Our itinerary departs from here since it is easily accessible; from this direction there is a gradual descent towards Elsinore, meaning that the ascent will be on the return trip. This is not a significant grade, but novice cyclists may want to tackle the itinerary in reverse. Keep this in mind before you set out and take into consideration the day’s temperature and wind conditions. Also be sure to start off with plenty of liquids. If you do decide to start from Elsinore and make your way south to the resort, there is no parking at the trailhead in Elsinore. It is possible, however, to find on street parking without much trouble.
The beginning of the trail passes through Sevier Canyon before descending to follow alongside the Sevier River. Look at the grey rock spires that line the trail in this area. This is tuff, created from volcanic ash and pumice that came from the volcanic explosion millions of years ago. Keep your eyes peeled to spot old mudflows beneath the ash and see where the tuff meets the rock layers underneath, an interesting observation that will give you an appreciation of the age of these sections. The trail contains a number of nature and history signs that explains some of what you will observe. Take time to stop and read these to gain a better understanding of the age and composition of the terrain that surrounds you in the canyon, as well as interesting details about pioneers who traveled through and settled the area.
The corridor the CME follows was once a small section of the Marysvale Branch of the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad. This route snaked through the Sevier Valley and hauled gold and ore from the many mines in the area, as well as transporting passengers. See a remnant of the railway soon after setting out from the resort. Easily accessible from the trail, but closed off to would-be explorers, find the Eagle Rock Tunnel. Completed in 1896 and more than 200 feet long, this rather primitive looking tunnel, goes through the mountain. Stop to take a closer look at this piece of old railway history.
North of the town of Sevier (which you will likely not notice you had passed, but where you will find a trailhead and restroom), the CME follows alongside the Sevier Highway. While this may not sound enticing, I-70 siphons off all the fast moving traffic and this is really more of a local road. While you will see cars passing nearby, the scenery is still amazing and the route is separated from the road. In the town of Joseph, stop for a cool drink, snack, or a sandwich at the Flying ‘U’Country Store located trailside in the center of town. This small shop is a hub of the town, and sells a little bit of everything.
Another six miles along you will reach the end of the trail in Elsinore. Continue on the road one block to the intersection with Main Street where you will find a few options for lunch. At the corner is a Dairy Queen where you can grab a burger, hot dog, smoothie, or ice cream. Farther down Main Street is Cowboy Corral, a historical diner serving burgers and a variety of sandwiches, and The Icebox, a tiny sandwich shop serving burritos, burgers, and sandwiches. After a hearty lunch, return south on the trail towards Big Rock Candy Mountain Resort.
Dinner options around the Big Rock Candy Mountain Resort are somewhat limited. As noted, there is a restaurant on the grounds of the resort which serves basic fare such as burgers, sandwiches, and a variety of hot dishes. It is not gourmet cuisine, but it is convenient and serves its purpose. The nearby town of Marysvale has a few additional options. Find Hoover’s Cafe along Highway 89. This casual and cozy restaurant has an eclectic decor featuring items that reflect the region’s mining past. Stop by for a burger, salad, crab legs, or enjoy the prime rib. At Tomatoes Pizza, one of the only pizza places in the area, grab a NY-style pizza, salad, or panini sandwich.
The opportunities for outdoor exploration in this region are endless and the Big Rock Candy Mountain Resort is the perfect place to get started. Experience the canyon from the water on a white water rafting excursion along the Sevier River. Accompanied by a professional guide, raft class II and III rapids on a two-hour excursion. Tours depart from the resort and are suitable for all ages and abilities. Be prepared to get wet during the rafting trip and also plan to stop to enjoy a refreshing swim in the clear waters. If being on the water sounds appealing, but navigating rapids is not your cup of tea, enjoy a more leisurely excursion on a float trip. Guests may choose to float via kayak, tube, or raft, and drift three miles on calm waters from a drop-off point to the pull-out at the resort. This excursion is unguided and takes approximately two hours, but you may go at your own pace.
Another exciting activity available at the resort is a variety of zip line and ropes courses. There are different courses to fit various interests, ages, and abilities. Enjoy the stunning canyon views as you sail through the air on the zip line or test your skill on a challenging ropes course. These activities are perfect for small groups and with a number of starting times, it is easy to schedule around other excursions you may have planned. For the true outdoor enthusiast, take part in the Bear Grylls Survival Academy. This four-hour course teaches outdoor survival skills to small groups using ropes courses and a variety of other activities. If you’ve ever wanted to learn skills to help you survive in the desert, such as fire lighting, shelter building, improvised first aid, knife skills, and rope work, this is the class for you!
Located near the resort, find the Paiute ATV Trail, rated one of the Top 5 ATV trail systems in the country. Whether you are a beginner or experienced ATV or UTV rider, this trail provides the perfect opportunity for backcountry exploration. The trail is over 900 miles long and passes through towns and over mountain ranges, and provides an exciting opportunity to truly immerse yourself in the desert landscape. Paiute ATV Rentals offers a variety of single and double ATV and UTV rental options and will deliver the vehicle to the resort for departure from the property, if you book in advance. Given the extensive trail network, it is highly recommended that riders purchase a detailed map of the Paiute Trail before setting out in the backcountry. Maps are available at the rental shop.
While in the area, visit the Fremont Indian State Park and Museum, located just a few miles north of the resort near the Sevier trailhead. This area was once home to the largest known community of Fremont Native Americans. At the park, take a guided tour for a glimpse of rock art and structures they created, watch a film, view artifacts and exhibits, and participate in hands-on activities. Learn about the importance of Clear Creek Canyon, where the tribe traveled seasonally to hunt and gather seeds and pine nuts; hear how explorer Jedediah Smith came through the canyon in 1826, and how it was transformed for pioneer travel including becoming a toll route that charged 25 cents per wagon; and explore exhibits that chronicle the discovery of gold in the 1890s, which led to the creation of the rail line whose corridor the CME now follows.
Located about 35 miles away, visit historical Cove Fort. Built in 1867, the fort was designed to offer protection and refreshment for travelers. The building is constructed from the local lava rock and is 100 square feet, 18.5 feet high and 4 feet thick at its base. Tour the fort and see the many rooms including the kitchen, telegraph office, and stage and post office.
Farther afield, find Bryce Canyon National Park. Located about 70 miles away, the park
offers many miles of hiking trails set amidst the hauntingly beautiful rock spires known as ‘hoodoos.’Hike the trails, participate on a ranger-led educational program, or enjoy a horseback ride as you descend in to the canyon (which is actually not a canyon but the eastern escarpment of the Paunsaguant Plateau) to really get a sense of the scale and beauty of the park.