Now, here is a nice trail on the western end of scenic (you better believe) Hwy. 12, climbing through the red rocks to the Paunsaugunt Plateau beyond. The canyon features a visitor center, a nice Forest Service campground on the trail (with showers!) and a lot of ATV and mountain bike trails in the hills. Then, of course, there is Bryce National Park up on the plateau and the wonders of the Colorado Plateau beyond and an endless supply of RVs climbing the grade.
You really should do Hwy. 12 at least once. You have not lived until you climb over the shoulder of the Aquarius Plateau at 9,000’ in the middle of a thunderstorm. You’re not under it; you’re in it. When not thundering up there, the views out to Canyonlands are superb.
Now, here is a nice, aerobic workout disguised as a paved trail leading up Red Canyon to the plateau above. It has lovely scenery, lots of red rocks (Claron Formation limestone – old lake bottoms), the wind sighing in the pines, thunderheads building over yonder, and a definite upward tendency.
The trail runs 8 miles from Thunder Mountain Trailhead at the bottom to the sudden end out on the plateau. Elevation gain is 1018’ (Google Earth elevation profiles). The segment to the Fremont ATV Trailhead – the logical end of the canyon ride – is about five miles.
Poor TrailBear was pushing his bike at some points, while trying to find enough O2 to breath. Oh, 7, 777’? And TB is from where? The sea coast? Oh, never mind. He vows to return again, this time seated comfortably in his new Scorpion FS trike with 81 gears, grinning and spinning up those slopes. (He better. It’s hard to walk a trike.)
Of course, there is the fun flip side: Dowhill time! See TrailBear coming down those slopes he huffed up, hitting a max of 29.7 mph, honking his rat horn to warn anyone below. Happily, the trail builders kept the turns open enough that TB did not have to brake. Now, that was fun.
FACILITIES AND RATINGS...
Give the trail a 4* for pavement, a 3* for facilities and a 5* for scenery. There are vault toilets at either end of the ride and in the middle if you know where to find it (far side of road, Red Canyon Trailhead, no signs). Pit stops are at Thunder Mountain TH, the Visitor Center, the campground, Red Canyon TH, Fremont ATV TH and Pines Rest Area. Water is at the Visitor Center, campground and Pines. The Smart Move is to do the trail riding in the morning, keeping a wary eye on the clouds. Thunderstorms usually mature in the afternoon.
Enjoy. Begin at the beginning. Begin at the…
THUNDER MOUNTAIN TRAILHEAD, GE: N37.74375 W112.32968
Here at the edge of the National Forest boundary is a trailhead, vault toilet and parking for the mountain bike and ATV trails in this area. Here is the bottom end of the Red Canyon Trail – it’s the paved trail heading uphill, along the highway. In fact, for some miles it’s tucked between the wash and the road.
BTW – Greenhorn note: Camping in a western wash is a fine way to meet a flash flood for your final YouTube Moment. The visitor center has some candid pix of folks camping in this wash. They also have pix of a flash flood in this wash in 2011. Connect the dots. Duh!
RED CANYON CAMPGROUND, GE: N37.74400 W112.31061
This is a rather nice USFS campground. It is just across the wash from the trail and featuring showers. Showers in a USFS campground are very rare. TB can only bring one other USFS CG to mind with showers – Diamond Lake in Oregon, N. of Crater Lake NP. Diamond Lake has seven miles of campsites.
RED CANYON TRAILHEAD, GE: N37.74487 W112.30169
This is hidden by the lack of directional signs. It is across the highway from the trail and mostly used by horse trailers. Parking, vault toilet, and access to hiking trails in the canyon there.
THE TUNNELS, GE: N37.74099 W112.29992
The highway runs through two tunnels in the limestone fins in short order here. Worth a photo or two.
THE BIKE BRIDGE, GE: N37.73545 W112.28682
Wave farewell to the highway you were following. Now the trail swings south into the hills and heads even more uphill in a series of curves. Some nice grades ahead.
THE FREMONT ATV TRAILHEAD, GE: N37.71907 W112.25666
This is the logical end point for the canyon ride. Located 0.3 miles from the edge of the plateau, it has lots of parking and a vault toilet. For the most fun, shuttle the bike(s) up here and do the canyon in the downhill mode. If you want to go on, the trail parallels the road for another 3.3 miles to end suddenly in the middle of Elsewhere. However, you can backtrack from there about 0.4 miles to …
THE PINES REST AREA, GE: N37.70834 W112.20556
On the far side of the road and 0.4 miles short of the trail end, the Pines Rest Area features lots of parking, flush toilets, water, covered picnic tables and views. This is a good place to stage if you are doing the whole trail and not just the steep parts.
Looking over his shoulder for thunder storms.