The J.E.M. Trail is found just west of the town of Virgin
near Zion National Park. Named for trailblazers John, Ellen, and Mike,
this trail offers high-speed desert cruising and a cliff-side ride along
the Virgin River. Except for one dangerous switchback (which you can
walk), it's an easy technical ride.
View towards Gooseberry Mesa from the
JEM Trail. July 7, 2001.
Photos and review by Bruce Argyle
||Most riders do this trail as an out-and-back or as a
shuttled ride top-to-bottom. Others do the JEM as the middle portion of
the 21-mile loop using Goulds and Hurricane
Rim. From the Sheep Bridge (Virgin) trailhead, new options in
2014 use the Goosebumps and Cryptobionic
and the Dead Ringer trails.
Then there's the old classic JEM Loop, which is 12.9 miles in length with 800 feet of altitude gain. The
first half of the classic JEM loop is uphill doubletrack; the last 6.2 miles is downhill
View up the wash, about 2.5 miles into
the classic loop ride. The wash here has a hard bottom, and is fairly easy to ride.
Aerobically, this trail is fairly easy. The first 300 feet
of altitude gain is imperceptible as you ride the double-track towards the
mesa. Once you reach the base of Gooseberry Mesa, there's a bit of
up-and-down, but all doable in the middle chainring.
The trail is a fun ride, and definitely worth doing. The views into the
chasm of the Virgin River are awesome, and the high-speed singletrack
descent is a blast.
The "badlands" and the alternating bands of red and white of Gooseberry Mesa are mudstone of the Moenkopi Formation, laid
down during the early Triassic (about 240 million years ago). As the ocean
receded, gravel and shoreline deposits formed the hard Shinarump conglomerate,
which begins the cap of the mesa.
Near the top of the ride, the trail
passes by a fruiting yucca.
||There are trailheads and parking at each end of the trail.
The bottom end is just off Highway 9 on the way to Zion National Park. The
top end is on Highway 59 just before Gooseberry Mesa.
For out-and-back or one-way riding, the trail is so well-marked that I
don't think you need a riding guide. Just follow the signs.
Near the top of the trail, looking
north. We'll drop into the valley.
|Classic JEM Loop clockwise:
From the lower trailhead off Highway 9 (see below GPS N 37° 12.029' W 113° 13.089', altitude 3320 ft.),
backtrack 0.2 miles and turn right on the main gravel road.
At 2.1 miles,
you'll drop through a big wash. Just a bit further, at 2.3 miles, you turn
left off the main road into a shallow wash, or the doubletrack 0.1 mile
further on (GPS N 37° 10.726' W 113° 14.326'). The wash and road will
cross a number of times, so it doesn't matter which one you take.
Jackie grabs a little bit of shade as
I stop to take a trail photo.
A singletrack branches off the wash at 2.9 miles, dumping
back onto an intersection of the road and the wash at 3.0 miles. You'll
see an old corral and a gate just up the road. From here, I suggest you
take the road, because the wash gets soft (hard to ride), with some
At 4.1 miles, the trail crests at the top of the big wash. (There are a
few stock watering tanks here.) Drop down into the wash and head uphill.
Follow the road as it dips into and out of the wash. At 4.4 miles, the road forks. Go RIGHT (west). At 5.25
miles, you'll encounter a gate as the road passes around a sandstone
canyon on your right.
High-speed cruising on JEM's middle
section, heading northeast.
At 6.7 miles, the singletrack branches off on your right (GPS N 37°
08.637' W 113° 14.511', altitude 4160 ft). A rockpile marks the trail.
Kowabunga! It's cruising time. Except for a couple of short technical
sections, from here you can fly through the desert at motorcycle speeds.
At 7.1 miles, the trail walks down the cliff with a steep
technical switchback. There's some injury potential here. But it's just a
short walk. At 8.4 miles, the singletrack crosses the main road.
At mile 11.4, the Hurricane Rim trail forks off on the left, N 37
11.261' W 113 13.862'. Keep right. (Option: take Hurricane Rim to
China Wash, then turn south to connect again to JEM about 1.5 miles uphill
from where you forked onto the Rim, then retrace back to the fork. Adds
about 5 miles to the ride. See GPX or MPS file.)
investigates the edge of the wash as it deepens to a 30-foot chasm. July
||At mile 11.5, the trail drops into the wash. Ride across the rock, and
spot the continuing trail on the far side of a second wash. (If you're afraid of
heights, you can bail out on the doubletrack road here to avoid riding along the
Virgin River Gorge.) You'll ride a mile along the edge of the Virgin River, as
it cuts a deep canyon. Then the trail takes you back to the parking area.
View into the Virgin River from the
trail. The river is swollen with last night's rains.
|Riding notes, Gould/JEM/ Hurricane Rim Loop:
Start from parking area on US-59 above Hurricane
0.0 R (downhill) on US-59
0.2 L uphill on DT
1.8 Top of DT climb
2.3 R off DT onto ST
N 37 09.606 W 113 16.330 Alt=4000'
5.4 Trailhead, L on DT, head NE
N 37 08.142 W 113 16.280
6.2 At corral, find ST rear on R
N 37 08.310 W 113 15.649
8.0 ST comes in from R
8.3 US-59. For Big Loop, cross to DT
N 37 08.096 W 113 14.564 Alt=4350'
For small loop, head downhill on road
8.6 JEM Trailhead, cross
N 37 08.329 W 113 14.527
Immediate R onto ST
|9.0 Cross DT, descend to cliffs
10.0 Keep L (R = Goosebumps)
N37 09.119 W113 15.103
10.8 Keep R (L = China Wash)
N37 10.541 W113 15.154
11.0 Cross gravel road
11.1 Cross Cryptobionic
N37 10.798 W113 14.354
14.0 Fork L to Hurricane Rim
N 37 11.261 W 113 13.862
15.8 Virgin Dam trailhead
N 37 11.781 W 113 14.109
16.0 Keep L (R=Virgin Dam trail)
18.7 R across Chinatown Wash
19.6 Dam trail rejoins on R
20.2 Panorama Point
N 37 11.169 W 113 16.179 Alt=3850'
21.5 Back at parking
Getting there: From I-15 north, take the La Verkin exit on
UT-17. From the south, take the Hurricane exit on US-9 and go through
Hurricane towards Zion National Park. At the junction of US-9 with UT-17,
turn east towards Zion. 4.8 miles after the turnoff, turn right (south) on
a gravel road signed "Sheep Bridge Rd." 0.5 miles later, you'll
cross over the Virgin River. Just uphill is a cattleguard, then a
doubletrack on your right 0.1 miles after the bridge. Take the doubletrack
0.2 miles to a turn-around overlooking the Virgin River. The singletrack
is at the end of the turn-around. For the classic (old) JEM loop ride, head back on
the dirt road. For the Hurricane Loop, ride up JEM to the Hurricane Rim
Upper JEM trailhead: In Hurricane, turn south on US-59 (towards the Grand Canyon). Drive exactly 5
miles uphill. Turn left on cindered doubletrack right as you approach the base of Gooseberry
Mesa. Drive another 0.3 miles to the parking area. N 37 08.329' W 113 14.527'
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