The Bunker Creek Trail is an epic downhill at Brian
Head. The trail begins atop Brian Head Peak at 11,300 feet, and heads east
to Panguitch Lake 3000 feet below. The trail can be done by intermediate
riders with a shuttle for the return trip.
Bunker Creek was severely affected by the
summer 2017 forest fire. The right fork has been re-opened in summer 2018
after some new digging. It's ready to ride.
View from the ridgeline, about 3 miles
down from Brian Head Peak. Review ride July 19, 2001 by Bruce
Argyle. Last updated July 30, 2018.
The trail is 11.6 miles long, and is best done with a shuttle vehicle. The
bike shops in Brian Head provide shuttle service for (2018 rate) $25 per
rider, which includes the trip up to the Peak, then picking you up at Panguitch
Lake after the ride.
You can also loop via Highway 143, a 28-mile sufferfest with 3400 feet of
climbing. The singletrack can be done as a 16-mile round trip out-and-back
with around 2800 feet of climbing overall. Note that grunting uphill at this
altitude is brutal.
View over the parking area on Brian
Head Peak, looking northeast.
Brian Head Peak is formed of a light-colored soft volcanic rock, deposited
during last 20 million years. The bright pink cliffs of Cedar Breaks are formed
of Claron-formation limestone from about 40 million years ago during the
Tertiary Era. This limestone was deposited at the bottom of a large fresh-water
lake, before the plateau area was uplifted away from the valleys of the Great
Threading the needle through volcanic tuff.
Occasionally, there's a little bit of gentle climbing to
roll over a small ridge, but in general it's a downhill cruise that's
fast, furious, and fairly straight. Technically, it's not tough, but there
are a couple of sections (just above the Sidney Valley Road, and Bunker
Creek's Left Fork) where there are loose and slightly rough downhill
View to the north at 11,000
feet, heading east along the high ridge.
The first few miles on ridgeline, coming down from Brian
Head Peak, is unlike any other ride. You're cruising through a world of
odd rocks, tiny flowering alpine phlox, mosses, and stunted spruce trees. There are some fun rock rollovers and drops
on the edge of the trail, if you look for them.
first fork you'll encounter is at 1.5 miles, where the Dark
Hollow trail forks left and Lowder Ponds
forks right. As you drop off the ridge, wide meadows alternate with dense spruce
Heading towards the Lowder Ponds fork. The dead trees
are courtesy of a bark beetle. (Stay tuned for the fire scar!)
After crossing the Sidney Valley road, the terrain changes
to aspen and spruce forest, with small meadows. The turns are gentle, so
there's not much tree-dodging.
Bunker Creek's Left Fork (turning right at mile 4.4) is steeper and
more technical; the Right Fork is a cruise. (Note
that the left fork is still closed due to fire damage as of July 30, 2018)
Looking south as we cross a meadow approaching the
Sidney Valley road area.
In 2017, a massive fire hit the area east of Brian Head.
The burned area includes the last 1/2 mile of Sidney Peaks trail and 90%
of the Bunker Creek trails. There's also a small burn scar on the
doubletrack heading for Panguitch Lake. The Right Fork of Bunker Creek has
been re-dug due to flooding following the fire.
trees on Sidney Peaks.
When the Left Fork and Right Fork trails recombine, you'll
ride 5 miles on high-speed doubletrack. As you head down, the air will get
warmer, and the ecosystem will change to larger pines. The temperature at
Panguitch Lake may be 30 degrees warmer than it was at the top at Brian
On a non-burned area of the Right Fork, we're
approaching the fence that starts the doubletrack.
Be prepared for cold. On my July 19 2001 ride, the 10 a.m. temperature at
the trailhead was 52 degrees F with a 20 mph wind, even though the sky was
clear and sunny. On July 30 2018, a toasty warm day turned to low-60s with wind and
cold rain by 4 pm. Thunderstorms can pop up quickly at Brian Head, and they're very ugly at this
altitude. Bring a rain jacket. I suggest full-fingered gloves. Also come
prepared for some serious sun exposure. Use a potent sunscreen and
Penstemmon blooms in one of countless
small meadows alongside the trail.
The trail is still very much worth doing despite the burn damage. The new
trail-cut on the Right Fork is still a bit rough in places in 2018, and
the trail is still being affected by runoff from the burn area.
carpet of little aspen trees has sprung from the ground among the
skeletons of the former forest.
a trip down Bunker Creek in
If the above video does not appear on your
browser/device, you can watch it on YouTube by clicking
Trail notes, starting at Brian Head Peak (11,300 feet
0.5 turn left uphill on singletrack across from parking lot
1.5 intersection with Dark Hollow (4-way), continue straight on Sidney
4.3 cross Sidney Valley Road loop
4.4 trail fork: go Right for technical, Left for easier
7.3 trails rejoin, continue on doubletrack
12.0 reach highway, turn left to head for store
Jackie takes a breather near a cluster
of Colorado Columbine in 2001.
Getting there: On U-143, head up the canyon
from Brian Head to the summit. Just 1/4 mile past the summit sign, turn
left on a gravel road (GPS N 37° 40.136' W 112° 50.350'). Drive 2.5
miles to the peak of the mountain to start your ride. (Note the parking
area to your left at 1.8 miles. Once you start riding, you'll turn onto
the singletrack across the road.)