Pausaugunt/Casto Canyon – Oct. 2009

Oct. 1-3, 2009

Several years ago our family visited Bryce Canyon and rode a portion of the Paunsaugunt ATV trail system.  At the Tropic Reservoir trailhead we met Paul Bradley and his family.  We have had the pleasure of doing many family rides with the Bradley’s since that time.  Since our children were young at that time, we were only able to ride a small portion of the main loop.  We returned a few years later, with the Bradley’s, and made another attempt.  This attempt was thwarted by fallen trees and snow.  We wanted to try once more, so here is our report.

Thursday Oct. 1: Coyote Hollow & King Creek Loop

The beautiful fall weather came to an abrupt halt the day before our fall recess trip.  On Wednesday much of the state received significant rain and the higher elevations received some snow.  Luckily, southern Utah remained fairly dry – but the temperatures plummeted.

We left home at about 9:00 AM and watched the temperature on our car thermometer as we drove south.  The temperature hovered around 44º almost all the way to Panguitch.  We stopped for lunch at a rest stop near the mouth of Red Canyon and debated what to do.  Should we ride in the cold?  Or should we go sight seeing in Bryce Canyon?

After lunch we made a quick visit at the new Red Canyon visitor’s center.  Afterwards we decided to go ahead and ride.  If it were too cold, we would turn back.  We arrived at the trailhead at the top of Red Canyon and were ready to ride just prior to 3:00 PM.  The temperature had climbed to 50º, but there was a wind chill that made it feel colder.  The sun felt warm, but the wind felt cold.

As we were ready to leave, a group of about six Polaris RZRs came to the parking area – just finishing their days ride.  We never saw another sole on the entire ride.  It was like having our own private ATV trail!

We started our ride going south through Coyote Hollow.  This was a fun trail!  The trail had twists and turns as it made its way through the forest.  It was a beautiful trail – nice scenery, fun banked turns, and not very hard.  In the following photo we are at junction P-1 on the map shown in Figure 3, with Coyote Hollow in the background.

Coyote Hollow junction

The remainder of the ride lacked the tight twists and turns of Coyote Hollow, but we got to ride it again on the way back to the car.  But the rest of the ride was still very fun.  In fact this ride is now on the top of my “family favorites” trail list.  Most of the roads were extremely smooth so we could ride very fast – sometimes over 40 mph.  There were enough turns to keep things interesting, and an occasional bump for Jason and I to get a little “air”.  The total loop was about 36 miles long and we completed in almost exactly 2 hours of riding time.

The trail goes through Johnson Bench and Ahlstrom Hollow.  At junction P-3 we could have returned to the car for a one hour ride, but we opted to include the King Creek Loop in our ride.  We rode up Blue Fly Creek to King Creek, with a wonderful view of the surrounding terrain.

Just past the scenic view, we encountered our first fallen tree of the trip.  This tree was about 18” in diameter, and it looks like it had just fallen in the storm the day before.  It looked like only one ATV had tried to ride around the tree, so the terrain hadn’t yet been damaged.

We decided to try and clear a path in order to prevent further damage.  I tied a rope to Kim’s ATV and tried to drag the tree off the trail.  I spun my wheels and broke my rope.  After a few more attempts, it was clear that this wasn’t going to work.  So we pulled out our hand saw – which I purchased after we encountered fallen trees on our last trip down here.  Jason and I took turns sawing away at the tree.  Luckily, one half of the tree was rotten, so it was fairly easy to cut.  But we found that the tree was too thick to cut where we first wanted to, and progressively worked our way to a thinner section.  We eventually cleared a path wide enough for an ATV to pass.  This took about one hour, making the total trip a 3 hour event.

Cutting through a fallen tree

Once we arrived at Tropic Reservoir, we rode the southern end of the Fremont ATV trail back to the car.

This ride was fun, fast, smooth, and very scenic.  We rode through beautiful forests and meadows.  This section does not include the red rock vistas of the main Paunsaugunt loop, but it was scenic none-the-less.  There are also many side trails that would be fun to explore some day when we have more time.

Coyote Hollow / King Creek loop

Friday Oct. 2: Pausaugunt Loop

Bryce Canyon is on the eastern rim of the Pausaugunt Plateau.  The area immediately west of Bryce Canyon is open to motorized travel and there is a fairly extensive network of ATV trails.  The main loop parallels the road through Bryce Canyon on the east, and follows the rim of the Plateau around the south and western sides.  We were able to ride this entire loop in single day – but it was a long and tiring day.  The loop totals about 70 miles.  About 2/3 of the loop is relatively easy (not quite as easy as Coyote Hollow and King Creek).  Most of the remainder of the loop is intermediate, with two short sections that I would rate as semi-advanced.

There are numerous Jeep roads that bisect the loop, so it is possible to do a ride of virtually any length.  Easy rides can be had by staying on the northern end of the loop.

We rode the loop clockwise (see Figure 14).  We started at Tropic Reservoir and rode south on the “East Side Connector” trail.  This trail parallels the East Fork gravel road traveled by cars and campers.  This connector trail gives a means of completing the loop without dealing with high speed vehicles on the main road.  The connector is also more enjoyable than the main road – it basically follows the contours of the mountains, providing a fun ATV trail.

Autumn colors along the East Side Connector

The trail gets a little more difficult south of Podunk Creek.  Some sections have fairly deep ruts and it gets a little rockier.  There are also numerous downed trees all through this section.  This is where we hit the tree roadblock on our last visit to the area.  The soil is fairly sandy in spots, which may be why so many trees topple in the wind.  We had to move several trees off the path between Podunk and Crawford’s Pass, but they were all small and easily moved.

Crawford’s Pass has a nice staging area and restroom.

Crawford’s Pass

Beyond Crawford’s Pass the trail gets significantly rockier, but it isn’t particularly difficult.  The road climbs in elevation and you start to encounter the beautiful views of the Pink Cliffs, rivaled only by the views in nearby Bryce Canyon.

The Pinks Cliffs (and us)

There is an alternate route from Crawford’s Pass called the “Under The Rim Trail”.  We did not have time to explore this route, but I suspect it is more challenging than the main trail.

A side spur leads to a nice view at “Powell’s Point”.  You can literally see for miles in a sweeping view from the east to the west.  Apparently John Wesley Powell climbed to this point and chopped down three trees and built a survey marker.  The trees have been replaced by modern survey markers, but the chopped tree trunks still remain.  We found one that may have been from Powell, but we didn’t see the other two.

Southern view from Powell Point

As we continued west we came to junction P-18 where we turned off the main road on to an ATV trail.  This drops down in to a valley and then has a very steep climb up the other side.  This is perhaps the most difficult section of the trail.  The trail consists primarily of 3” to 4” loose rocks with very tight switchback turns and tight squeezes between pine trees.  On a dirt bike you really had to stay alert and have good balance to negotiate each of the tight turns.  I think it was a little easier for Kim with her low-range gearing and 4WD.  I suspect a 2WD ATV could make the climb without trouble, although low-range gearing would be helpful.  After reaching the summit, the trail joins another old Jeep road as it descends to the trailhead at the end of Straight Canyon.  This trailhead has a staging area but no restrooms.  I suspect these southern trailheads are primarily used by equestrian sportsmen.

The ride through the Swapp Canyon area was rather enjoyable with its tight turns and twists through the forest.  The rocks thin as we move north, making the ride easier and faster.

One of many scenic sections of the trail

We encountered several more downed trees in this area, most of which we could move or cut through with our hand saw.  We did, however, encounter one stretch with 3 large trees within a 20’ span.  These were too large to cut through, so we had to blaze a bypass trail around them.

Some of the trees we couldn’t remove

Jason cutting through one of many trees that we did clear

The section between junction P-16 and P-14 is another advanced section.  It had large boulders and deep ruts, making it challenging for both bikers and ATV riders.  Jason crashed in this section and bent his exhaust pipe.  Kim didn’t crash, but she didn’t like this section due to the deep ruts.

From P-14 north the trail is pretty easy and fast, with the exception of one “ATV only” section that is of intermediate difficulty.  It is “ATV only” because the trail is too narrow for UTVs (side-by-sides).

The ride took us about 6.5 hours to complete, which includes stops for lunch, snacks, viewpoints, and tree removal.  With just the three of us (me, Kim, and Jason) we were able to make really good time and finished before it got too late or cold.  We had the entire trail system to ourselves.  We only saw one hunter on an ATV in the morning.  There were a few campers scattered here and there, but we saw no sign of other trail riders.

One of many meadows

More autumn colors

Pausaugunt loop

Saturday Oct. 3: Casto Canyon & the Fremon ATV Trail

Casto Canyon is a beautiful ATV trail through red rock hoodoos and spires.  We have ridden this trail twice before and wanted to ride it again.  But to add some variety, we decided to explore another section of the Fremont ATV trail.  The Fremont ATV trail goes from Tropic Reservoir on the south to Circleville on the north.  On Thursday we rode the section from Tropic Reservoir to Highway 12, so today we wanted to ride from Highway 12 to Casto Canyon.

We parked at the main turnoff to Casto Canyon just west of Red Canyon on Highway 12.  Rather than drive to the mouth of Casto, we parked near the road at the staging area and rode our bikes/ATVs in the 3 miles to the canyon.  I thought we might encounter some tour groups on this ride, but once again we had the place almost to ourselves.

The ride up Casto Canyon is fun and scenic.  It is hard to enjoy the scenery without stopping because the trail has so many twists and turns.  It frequently crosses the dry stream bed, which provides the more challenging aspect of the ride due to the boulders.

Typical scenery in Casto Canyon

ATVs are not allowed in the upper portion of Casto Canyon (but mountain bikes are allowed), so the trail turns north and heads up Barney Cove.  The Barney Cove trail is slightly more technical than Casto, but not too hard.  It is steeper as it climbs out of the canyon and it has some really fun banked turns.

The spur ride out to Petersen Point is one of my all-time favorites.  The trail is fairly flat and fast with fun curves through the trees.  This section reminds me of the speeders in the Star Wars movie.  This is a confidence booster trail.  At the end you are treated to a nice view of the Panguich area.

The view towards Limekiln Canyon

Jason and Dee at Petersen Point

Last time we were here we rode north on the Fremont Trail and then down Limekiln Canyon to make the ride a loop.  Limekiln was not nearly as fun as Casto, so we opted to ride back down the way we came.  We did, however, ride south on the Fremont trail almost to Highway 12.  The first 4 miles were kind of rocky, but not terrible.  Just a rough ride and not nearly as fun as other trails we have ridden this weekend.  Once we got to upper Casto Canyon the road joined a more major dirt road, so the ride was somewhat easier as we went further south.  The ride through Mud Spring Bench was fast and fun, but then the road joins a major gravel road at Tom’s Best Spring Road, so we stopped there.

Somewhere along the Fremont ATV trail

To add some variety we came back via a side detour through Horse Bench.  This was a nasty, bumpy trail.  It wasn’t super hard, but it wasn’t much fun.  It was rough and bumpy for the bikes, and the ruts were truck width apart, making it challenging for Kim on her ATV.  Horse Bench and this portion of the Fremont Trail are not worth doing again.

The ride back down Barney Cove and Casto was fun and fast.  About one mile from the mouth of Casto we met our first oncoming traffic.  A couple of teenagers were on an ATV riding up the canyon.  It looked like they were alone, so we pressed on.  Jason was in the lead.  I think he was tired of eating my dust.  I let him get ahead of me far enough so that I didn’t have to eat his dust.

At one point the trail crosses the wash and makes a sharp right turn and climbs the bank out of the wash.  A large mound of dirt blocks your view of the trail.  I wondered if there would be other ATVs coming up the trail, so I looked beyond the mound and everything looked clear.  So I crossed the wash and made the sharp right turn – and surprise!  There was an oncoming ATV coming down the embankment.  I swerved further to the right and just barely missed a head-on collision.  We didn’t see each other until we were about 5’ apart.  Luckily we both reacted correctly and we both swerved to our right.

The trail has cut a rut through the bank 4’ or 5’ deep at this point.  I turned in to the right wall of the trail and almost laid the bike down against the hillside.  The ATV driver turned to his right, which caused his ATV to roll right on top of my front tire.  At this point I had both feet on the ground holding my bike upright.  The ATV driver had one leg pinned between my bike and his ATV which was on its side.  Luckily neither of us got hurt and he was able to push the ATV back up.  I was then able to back down the bank so that he could maneuver his ATV to stable position.  We each apologized and wished each other well and then continued on our way.

It turns out that Jason passed this oncoming ATV just past the blind corner.  He gave them the “2 more coming” hand signal and they responded with a look-alike “peace sign”.  Clearly, they, like many ATV riders, don’t know the hand signals.

It was a close call but no one was hurt and no damage was done.  We then headed back to the car and drove in to Panguitch and checked in to our low budget motel for one more nights stay before returning home.

Casto Canyon – Fremont ATV trail

In summary, this was an excellent family ride.  The trails were very fun and scenic.  Even the hardest sections were not terrible.  There are plenty of options for rides of any length in varied terrain of open meadows, aspen, pines, and red rock spires.  We also saw deer, fox (I think), and large herds of antelope.  This is a “must do” ride, and it is not too well known, so it doesn’t seem to ever be very crowded.  Just remember to take your hand saw 😉


About gardinerfamilyadventures

A really great family!
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