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Casto Canyon Trail

Casto Canyon is like a miniature Bryce Canyon. Spires of orange rock rise above you on the canyon walls, among pine and cedar. All except for 2 miles of fairly technical singletrack, the trail is an ATV path that's easy to ride. But the many creek drips and turns will hold your interest while you gawk at the awesome spectacle of rock. The trail clears of snow in May.

View of the canyon wall, about a mile up Casto Canyon. Photos by Bruce Argyle, July 17, 2001.

The lower 3.7 miles of Casto Canyon is an easy ride on an ATV trail. But I don't recommend it for tiny tykes, because small wheels and lighter bodies will hang up on some of the large rocks in the many creek crossings. Beginning riders will turn back where the singletrack forks off of the ATV trail, for a total ride of 7.4 miles. Almost all of the eye-popping rock formations are on the lower section anyway. Vertical climb will be 600 feet for this version, but the altitude gain is slow and almost imperceptible.

Jackie pauses to cool her feet and grab a drink of water. The eroded creek walls are the result of flash flooding two nights before our ride.

For those who are interested in a longer ride, I suggest you form a loop of the singletrack past Casto Springs, the Fremont ATV trail, and the northern end of the ATV trail. This ride will be 14.4 miles. (See map.) Peak altitude will be 8000 feet, for a climb of 1000 feet.

View of the canyon walls about 3 miles up the Casto.

You'll ride into the creek over 20 times. (The creek may dry up before it reaches the parking area.) Plan on dust settling on a wet chain. To prevent chain suck on the steeps that follow, I suggest you wash your chain before you exit the creek the last time (either at the trail fork if you're heading left, or at mile 5.4 on the singletrack). Packing a tiny bottle of chain-lube with you can't hurt.

Bruce rides the singletrack in upper Casto Canyon.
Photo done with the camera's timer.
(This was before GoPros and digital cams.) 

The orange rocks on the walls of Casto Canyon (and of Bryce Canyon) are formed of Claron-formation limestone. This limestone was deposited at the bottom of a large fresh-water lake about 40 million years ago, before the plateau area was lifted up above the valleys of the Great Basin.

The lower canyon has spaced fir and long-leaf pine, with a scattering of brush and wildflowers. Walk up to one of the tall long-leaf pines and stick your nose in a crack in the bark. Seriously. It smells like vanilla.

Paintbrush blooms alongside the trail in the July sunshine.

Once you're up on the mesa, the vegetation becomes more dense, with lupines and grasses among the brush, with low forests of pinion, fir, and juniper.

Lupine blooms among the brush on the loop portion, upper mesa.

The upper mesa also offers a different panoramas, looking at rock cliffs of a different color and views over the valleys to the north.

The volcanic rock here originated within the past 20 million years, when volcanoes dominated the southwest corner of the state.

From the Fremont ATV Trail looking north.

Another riding option is to head down the Cassidy Trail, either to highway 12 for a road return, or to Losee Canyon. Be warned -- the Cassidy Trail was hard to find, but (I hear) a sign has been installed, and more tires are following the Casto-Losee loop. Cassidy forks south (right) off Casto near Casto Springs, about 0.5 miles from where the singletrack meets the Fremont Trail. In 2002, perhaps it was because I was riding just two days after massive thunderstorms, but I couldn't find any sign of the trail.
If you plan on using the Cassidy Trail from the bottom end, the trailhead is the "Red Canyon" Trailhead, 2.5 miles uphill from the "Red Canyon" sign on the left at GPS N 37 44.692' W 112 18.090'.

View over the handlebars in the wider section of lower Casto Canyon.

Riding notes for loop version:
0 trailhead
0.4 metal gate, continue straight
3.7 signpost marking fork of singletrack off ATV trail GPS N 37 48.174' W 112 17.062', go right across creek
5.1 pass Casto Springs
5.4 steep short climb up out of wash on left, last chance to wash the chain
5.7 reach Fremont Trail ATV path GPS N 37 48.158' W 112 15.372', turn left uphill.
7.5 after crossing large "meadow" area, descend steeply into creek then climb again
8.5 junction of Fremont Trail with Casto Canyon ATV Trail GPS N 37 49.577' W 112 16.687', turn left.
10.7 back to junction of ATV trail with singletrack, turn right downhill.
14.4 back at trailhead

Getting there: From US-89, drive 2.9 miles east on U-12 (towards Bryce Canyon National Park). Turn left on the gravel road marked for Casto Canyon. Drive 3 miles. Parking is on your left, the trailhead is on the right at GPS N 37 47.038' W 112 19.919'.
Riding resources for this trail:
One-page guide to this trail
GPS track file for Casto-Fremont ride (right-click and "Save as..."):
   Garmin      Google Earth      GPX
GPS track file for Casto-Losee Loop (right-click and "Save as..."):
   Garmin     National Geographic     Google Earth     GPX
Medium-res topo (includes Casto-Losee route via Cassidy):   View
High-res topo w Fremont and Losee (750 KB):   View 
High-res topo w Losee and Cassidy to Hwy 12 (700 KB):   View
Lodging, camping, shops:     Links to Red Canyon area resources

Thanks to Jon Parker for GPS track file.

Copyright 2002 Mad Scientist Software Inc