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The Red Canyon Bicycle Trail (a National Recreation Trail), running for more than 8 paved miles, is appropriately named. This must-do path travels through scenic red canyons in an area referred to as "Little Bryce," after the nearby Bryce Canyon National Park.
The trail offers a non-motorized alternative to the busy State Route (Scenic Byway) 12, both winding through the Red Canyon in Utah's Dixie National Forest to a high mountain plateau. Surrounding the trail are towering cliffs and scattered pine forest.
For a longer trek, trail-goers can connect with the rustic Thunder Mountain Trail on the path's western tip. Access to campgrounds is also available.
Parking is available on the trail's western end off SR 12 at the Thunder Mountain Trailhead or Red Canyon Visitor Center.
My friends and I enjoy riding the paved trails around our hometown on the weekends and we also enjoy a little camping. In my search to find a way to combine these two passions, I found Red Canyon Campground here on traillink.com. Reading the reviews helped me get a feel for what to expect, so we found a weekend and headed up for a bike-centric camping break from the summer heat.
We arrived after lunch on Friday and had plenty of spacious spots to choose from. We found the perfect one with plenty of shade, trees spaced ideally for hammocks, and lots of room to spread out our three tents. All the spaces here are first come first serve, and by sundown there was only one spot left.
The next morning we geared up and started out on our ride. What we anticipated was to be a 8-ish mile, slightly uphill, paved trail away from the cars passing on the scenic byway. This ride was that and so much more in every aspect!
Our group of six consisted of casual to active bike riders on a variety of bike styles and gear. The first four miles leaving the campground and heading east are a little tougher than I expected. Those four miles gradually increase in incline difficulty and weave through a scenic forest and red rock vistas. Once we were able to finally crest the last half mile of fairly steep hill, the trail opens up to a long, straight portion of easy rolling hills with views of pastures extending to mountains far off into the distance. The beauty of the landscape makes exerting to get up that first four mile section of hill climbing completely worth the effort!
We passed a gas station/ convenience store before we asked another rider how far the trail went, as we seemed to be past the 8-ish miles we were expecting. We found out this trail had been extended in recent years to reach all the way to Inspiration Point inside Bryce Canyon National Park. Taking this full trail from the Red Canyon Campground to Inspiration Point would put the route at 16.5 miles one way. We decided that was a little further than we wanted to go on that day, but we continued on to touch the “Welcome to Bryce Canyon City” sign which made our end-to-end ride at 10.5 miles one way.
One the way back, the long rolling hills section was slightly more uphill than I had thought it was, but nothing that was too challenging. By the time we reached the last four miles, now a steep downhill section, I discovered that the cracks in the trail that I barely noticed slowly making my way up the hill, were jarring and abusive when flying down the hill. Those of us with skinny butts and even skinnier tires got spanked pretty good because of the the multiple and unavoidable cracks.
Other than some maintenance that seems long overdue to make this trail smooth and comfortable, the ride was challenging but not impossible, stunning in scenery, and made for a fun and unforgettable experience for our rag tag group of bicycle enthusiasts. We absolutely loved the spacious campground with clean bathrooms and the super friendly campground hosts!
We will absolutely be coming back next camping season to do this one again and encourage anyone who is considering a biking/camping trip to put Red Canyon Campground on your list of must do’s!!
What a great ride. Lots of breaks in the asphalt that are large and actually hurt. The way down was fast and the bumps were horrible. However, this is a great trail and I’ll continue riding it. It is beautiful.
I started at Thunder Mountain Trailhead and worked my way east. It was a gradual uphill the entire ride all the way to end of the canyon. I thought the section of trail not inside the canyon was pretty meh but the rest of the canyon was pretty scenic and well maintained. I would recommend doing the 1st five miles only and then just turn around unless you just really have a hankering to ride a few extra miles of boring prairie.
I started this trail just outside Bryce Canyon National Park at Ruby's RV park and campground. You can catch the trail just across the street and head north to the intersection of Hwy 63 and N 100 E. You ride on the sidewalk for a bit, but then you can see the trail pick up again at this intersection, across the street. It goes north for a bit and then heads west at the Cowboy Ranch House and Bryce Canyon resort. For about a total of 8.5 miles the trail is flat or rolling hills. After that, for about 5 more miles it is downhill to Thunder Mountain trailhead. If you don't want to ride the 5 miles back uphill, stop at the Red Canyon trailhead. The 5 miles back from Thunder Mountain trailhead are certainly a challenge, but not too bad. The views are awesome, and the trail surface is really good - just a few bumps in places. As others have said, the trail continues from where I started, into Bryce Canyon National Park. I did not ride this section.
May 8 2017 We actually picked up the Red Canyon trail close to the end and rode it all the way in to Bryce Canyon NP. There is a short gap in front of Ruby's outside the park where you have to share the road. The shared multi-use path picks up at the shuttle bus parking lot and goes up through Dixie NF before entering the NP. Its a wonderful trail that winds past the Visitor Center, past the Lodge, Sunrise and Sunset viewpoints and ends at Inspiration Point. Its all nice smooth asphalt. There is a park sign on the trail to stop and take your picture. A few small hills that if you arent in good shape can make you huff and puff due to the 7700' elevation. The ride down is a joy with serpentine curves through the ponderosa pine. Lots of Utah prarie dogs scurrying across the path which are an endangered and protected species. Take a bike lock since bikes arent allowed on the Rim Trail.
Started the nicely paved trail on the west end at Thunder Mountain TH. Made the climb up past the two tunnels and turned around at the small bridge. Thought we were getting close to the top but could see the trail continued to climb. The climb isn't difficult (unless not used to the elevation) but seems to be fairly steady. On return down the trail stopped at the Red Canyon Visitor Center. They have some nice interpretative signs showing a variety of trails in the area with an elevation graphic. The visitor center is only about 1/2 mile from western starting point. Might want to stop there first. Plus you can get your photo with Smokey Bear taken. As my title states, pretty hard to beat this scenery.
I began my ride sort of in the middle of the trail near the OHV parking lot for the Fremont trail, just across from Tom's Best Spring Road. I had read other reviews that said going from east to west would be best but I wanted to see how far east the trail went. Good news! It goes all the way in to Bryce Canyon City and into the park to Inspiration Point. I didn't ride all the way into the park as I had other plans for the day so turned around at Ruby's Inn and headed west. The trail rolls across the meadow with some fun hills to coast down and then you get your workout pedaling up the next rise.
Once back to where I started, the trail begins it's descent into Red Rock Canyon. Absolutely beautiful and what a great way to enjoy the scenery. I was really glad I was going in that direction, I only had my Tern folding bicycle with 7 gears and it would have been challenging to ride from west to east.
A must if you are in the area. If you are staying at one of the local hotels or campgrounds, take advantage of the trail and ride in to the park. Gives you an opportunity to see the pronghorn and mule deer in the forest that you might not see from the road. And you don't have to wait for a parking spot.
I have lived here in southern Utah for 6 years and this is the first time today that I rode the trail. Part of my reluctance was the fact that the trail ends basically "no where" and you then have to either turn around or get onto Hwy 12. Well, I was very surprised when I got to the end of the old trail and found an entirely new section continuing on! The sign saying "pavement ends" is still in place, but its obviously wrong. I continued on for another 3 miles until the intersection of Hwy 12 with Hwy 63 which takes you into Bryce Canyon NP. I could see that the path goes on, so my belief is that it continues onto the park! Very nice!
Challenging uphills going west to east but that becomes a screaming downhill going back.
We rode this trail in mid October 2015 on the way to Bryce Canyon. The scenery was amazing! The contrast between the Orange-Red rock formations and the BLUE sky was crazy-gorgeous! The trails were newly paved and perfect. The only issue we had were that the path was quite hilly in places. Between the grade and altitude (we came from east coast...Ha) we only rode about 12 miles round trip. We started at the west side and rode east....the return ride was easier. However, even though we could have had a longer ride if we had continued on toward Bryce, we did enjoy what was probably the most scenic portion of the trail!
How about a trail that lets you ride through awesome red rock country. The trail is gently uphill for a heading towards Bryce Canyon National Park. Not to be missed. Rode on June 14, 2014.
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.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST...
TrailBear was last out this way in 2008, riding a folding Dahon Speed 7 - Gutterbunny '08. He is still looking for his pictures of the trail. He found enough pix of the red rocks. The rocks, BTW, are the Claron formation - a lake bottom formation you can see in various places on the Colorado Plateau. (TB likes old rocks.)
A PLACE TO PLAY AT BRYCE'S FRONT DOOR...
Heading for Bryce National Park?
Stop short in Red Canyon. Why?
A good Forest Service campground.
A nice Class I blacktop bike trail.
Lots of pines for shade.
Red rocks. Lot of red rocks.
A stream - in season.
Mountain bike trails.
Besides, the campgrounds in Bryce are probably full. Camp here and watch the Winnebagos grumbling up the grade.
The Red Rock Canyon Bike Trail is an enjoyable climb from the mouth of the canyon up to the Paunsangunt Plateau. It follows Rt 12 up the canyon with the road on one side and a stream bed on the other.
The average grade is under 4%. The length is 8 miles it you take the trail up onto the plateau and 5 miles if you stop at the Fremont ATV Trail entrance where there is a small parking lot. This road leads into the Coyote Hollow Trailhead on the Thunder Mountain Trail (MTB).
The bottom of the trail is the Thunder Mountain Trailhead. Ride Red Canyon or ride Thunder Mountain? Best have mountain biking skills for the latter. Check out the vid:
The next stop up trail is the pit stop. Across the highway is a very nice USFS visitor center with water, restrooms, displays, maps, the whole Nine Yards. It was also a nice shelter in a thunderstorm - they do those here, usually in the afternoon. If the height of the cloud is greater than the distance from ground to cloud base by 9 AM, storms will develop early. Usually when you are the greatest distance from your car.
Might want to ride early and be snuggled up somewhere dry after lunch. The storms are interesting if you are somewhere dry and comfortable. Caught out on the trail, they seem to have a lot less charm.
If you want some mountain biking, the recommended route is to ride up Red Canyon, then over to Coyote Hollow, down the Thunder Mt. Trail and back to your car at the Thunder Mt. Traihead - the start of the Red Canyon Bike Trail.
Riding up the canyon in the cool of the morning, having a snack on top and then enjoying the descent (you earned it), is TrailBear's method of doing the trail. He also cheated and staged out of his creekside campsite instead of starting at the bottom
Which ever way you go, it's a fun ride.
Watching those towering cumulus clouds tower even more. Did I bring the rain jacket?
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