Oct. 30, 2014
Center Trail (#09) is a popular dirt bike single track trail in the Diamond Fork area just west of Strawberry Ridge. It consists of five major sections, as shown on this map:
Bob and Ron (a former work colleague) where planning on riding Center Trail before winter set in, so I decided to take the day off work and join them. We began our ride near the Tie Fork rest stop in Spanish Fork Canyon. It was a very cold 20ºF when we pulled into the parking area. My fingers were freezing as we started our ride, but the early morning sun was quickly warming things up. It wasn’t too long until we were shedding layers.
What better way to start off a cold morning ride than do about five deep stream crossings. I was surprised how deep these crossings were this late in the year. I suspect they could be very challenging during spring runoff.
A few miles up Tie Fork the dirt road ends and the Tie Fork single track (#23) begins. This single track quickly climbs up the mountainside to the Unicorn Ridge road (#42).
The trail is fairly narrow and has some sections of steep side hill with some exposure. There are a few switchbacks and a few rocky climbs, but most of the trail is fairly easy as long as you pay attention. There are, however, a few hidden root clumps or rocks that like to snag your toes as you ride by. One in particular has snagged me all three times I have ridden this trail – regardless of which direction I ride.
The southern end of Center Trail begins at Unicorn Ridge immediately across the road from the top of Tie Fork. This first section of the trail is perhaps the easiest. This year some of the trail suffered some erosion, so it is a little more challenging than usual. You can ride at a good pace through this section, but pay attention when approaching some of the catch ponds or might miss a turn and get yourself wet. For photos and video of this section, check out my October 2014 Diamond Fork trip report.
This section ends at the intersection with road #501. You turn left and follow the road for a few hundred yards, then turn left again onto the 2nd Water Trail. This trail then splits; left goes down 2nd Water while right ascends a rocky section of trail letting you know you are now beginning the more advanced portion of Center Trail.
After completing the climb, the trail mellows out. Most of the trail is pretty easy as it winds through Aspen trees, Pine trees, or meadows. Being late in the year, much of the trail was covered in fallen Aspen leaves.
The 3rd Water crossing is the hardest part of the trail. There is a steep and rocky descent down to the stream bottom. I remembered this section from my ride here about 15 years ago with my two oldest sons. We were coming the other way and had a difficult time making it up this hill. My younger son flipped over backwards, which he didn’t enjoy.
After crossing the streambed you begin a steep rocky climb out the other side. The climb has two switchback turns, so it is difficult to maintain your momentum. I got stuck twice through this section.
I really enjoyed the trail from 3rd Water Ridge to 5th Water. There were a few rocky spots, but most of the trail was smooth flowing trail where you could relax and enjoy the ride.
Just before reaching 5th Water you find an old aircraft fuel tank sitting just off the trail. One wonders how in the world it got there.
The crossing at 5th Water was quite muddy this time. The ride up and down 5th Water is pretty fun, and I have done it several times in the past.
To continue on Center Trail you turn left and go down 5th Water a ways. There are a couple of rocky sections with some steep side hill exposure that warrant caution.
From 5th Water (#15) to 5th Water Ridge (#14) the trail is intermediate difficulty, with a few rocky sections and some low lying logs.
5th Water Ridge is also a fun ride, but our objective for this ride was to ride Center Trail end-to-end and back. So, we turned left at the junction and began the descent down towards 6th Water. The first time I rode this section of the trail I thought it was really hard since it had a lot of exposed tree roots and ruts. But now I find it really enjoyable.
There is one section where you feel like you are riding through a tree graveyard due to all of the old fallen trees.
We came across a recent tree fall that was up in the air, making it difficult to get over. We could have bushwhacked our way around, but we elected to stay on the trail and practice crossing tall logs.
There is one really steep climb on this section, which includes one switchback turn. When I rode this section 15 years ago everyone in our group struggled to get up this section. This year all we all made it without incident.
We stopped for lunch at the West Portal on 6th Water. It took us almost exactly 3 hours to ride from Tie Fork to 6th Water, covering 22 miles. (Keep in mind that we ride slower than most people.)
We wanted to continue on and ride the northernmost leg of Center Trail, but we did not have enough time. We will have to come back and try again someday.
After a brief rest we started back. We didn’t stop as often on the way back, so we made a little better time, but we did get pretty tired by the end.
We had to cross the fallen tree again. All three of us fell over attempting to cross this tree.
As I was getting tired, I worried about the rocky sections at 3rd Water, but to my surprise, the trail was significantly easier going north-to-south. When I finished the climb I wasn’t totally sure that we had indeed made the climb that I had been worrying about.
We rode quickly back across the southern section of Center Trail and began back down Tie Fork.
Once again I snagged my toe a few times on hidden rocks or root clumps. I even snagged my toe on one of the switchback turns, which pulled me over with my leg pinned under the bike. And of course, I was riding in the back so there was no one to help. My upper body was wedged in some oak brush, so it was difficult to move. Being old and not very limber, it took me a while to wiggle free. It was actually quite comical.
We returned to Bob’s truck in less than 3 hours with no injuries except a little bit of pride. This was one of the most enjoyable rides of the year with almost 44 miles of mountain single track.
A storm moved into the area two days later and brought the first snow to the mountains. So this was likely our last mountain ride of the year. But it was a great way to end the season!