Mountain Biking on the Pioneer Trail

June 28, 2008

If you are a Salt Lake resident, there is one trail that you ought to be flogging every Saturday morning: the Pioneer Trail in East Canyon. This trail is extremely accessible but the great thing about it is that you get some great climbing that isn't brutal, and is shady most of the way. Perfect way to work those thighs without crushing your lungs. The trail is called by a couple of different names: The Great Western Trail, and the Mormon Pioneer Trail. But most just refer to it as the Pioneer Trail. The part I'm referring to is really just a short section of the total Pioneer Trail, but it's the most enjoyable part in my opinion. To get to it, either go over Emigration Canyon towards East Canyon, or up Parley's on I-80 and take the East Canyon exit and head North. Go past the Little Dell reservoir about a mile after the road straightens towards the North, and you'll see a small parking area on the East side of the road with what appears to be a small restroom shack and trailheads on either side of the rode (both East and West). You'll want to park on the East side of the road, but cross and enter the trailhead on the West side of the road. The ride begins with a quick climb almost immediately, and then levels out to some buffed singletrack through 5-foot deep grasses with small aspens lining either side of the trail. Straight ahead is a view of some mountain peaks, and you have a good semi-ridge-like ride until you drop down into a car-camping campground under mature tree coverage. Weave through the campgrounds and you'll pick up the trail on the other side and cross a short wooden bridge to join back up with the singletrack. At this point the trail starts a constant moderate climb up a canyon, running parallel to a small stream that is just surrounded by lush green coverage. There are lots of tall, shady trees so the climb is extremely pleasant and isn't anything like some other popular climbs such as "Puke Hill" on the Wasatch Crest Trail. This climb continues for a long stretch (sorry I haven't taken a trip computer with me so I can't give you specifics) with a set of switchbacks before crossing the road gain. The whole time it is very smooth, non-dusty singletrack with lots of shade running parallel to the stream. After you cross the road, it begins a more aggressive ascent. This climb is marked with some sizable roots and rocks that you'll have to manage just when your legs may be reaching a bit of a limit (at least, mine are always hitting their limit at this point). But again -- at least it's shady. But I must admit -- I have yet to make the full climb without dismounting for the last 100 yards or so. But I keep hitting the trail, hoping to make it past that last section each time. Once it levels out, you'll cross a footbridge over the stream (where beavers have felled several aspen trees, or are working on them --- see the pics I've attached here of a few aspens with beaver markings on them). Right after the footbridge you'll start into a series of spaced switchbacks under high shade coverage, where you'll gain the last of your elevation. While it is steep and has some tight switchbacks to maneuver, you will probably not have to dismount for the entire climb making it a great way to give your legs their final workout before turning around for the ride down. At the top of the trail you'll re-join with the road, and you have expansive views down the canyon and out over the entire Salt Lake Valley towards the Oquirrh Mountains. You also have a view towards the peaks on the south side of Parley's Canyon (which are still holding plenty of snow in the higher elevations!). After taking in the views and smelling the purple wildflowers, it's time to turn around and blaze straight down for a non-technical but very enjoyable singletrack downhill. The switchbacks are particularly fun, because you can lock up the back tire and skid it around the turn. It's just like the cartoon "Cars" --- turn right to go left. But be careful! This trail can become quite popular so let out a few yells when coming up on a blind turn so you don't plow down a troop of boy scouts. When you wrap up, dunk your head in the ice cold stream and hop in the car for the very short ride home. Accessible, shady, good workout, and beautiful views. On top of that, the singletrack is smooth and not full of gravel -- just silt-like dirt that holds. It will become one of your favorite quick rides, if you are a Salt Lake City resident. Enjoy!

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