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Jordanelle Perimeter Trail

I originally reviewed the Jordanelle Perimeter Trail in June 1998. It was published in our "back room" trail pages on the Mad Scientist Software website as part of our first package of 10 Utah trails. After 17 years, it's time to update the information.

This trail is a doubletrack running around the northern and eastern shores of the Jordanelle Reservoir at around 6000 feet elevation. It's 14.6 miles one-way. For early-intermediate riders, this makes it suitable for a shuttled point-to-point or a partial-trail out-and-back. Strong riders can easily hammer out the entire length out-and-back in around four hours -- 29 miles with 2400 feet of overall climbing.

View east as we ride the eastern arm. You can see the trailcut on the hillside. Original review 1998, new photos and update June 22, 2015 by Bruce.

Just for fun, here are fresh scans of the two photos from the original review on June 11, 1998. These are two of my kids.

On the left, that's Brian rounding the northern tip of the reservoir, where the vegetation is lush as the trail approaches the water's edge and crosses the creek. He was just three weeks short of his 16th birthday. He has two kids now.

On the right, Gary grunts the last bit of trail as we return to the western trailhead just north of the big state park -- now rarely used. Gary was 14 in this photo.

In the early days of, photos were shot on film using a disposable pocket camera, then scanned on a flatbed scanner. They were published in a tiny low-resolution version suitable for dial-up modems. So sometimes two or three small grainy photos of a trail was all you saw.

North (Old Highway) Trailhead

The Perimeter Trail lies within Jordanelle State Park, a fee area. In 2015, that's $7 per car or $4 for a bike ride-in or for a Senior in a car. You can access the trail from the small-boat launch parking at Rock Cliff off Highway 32 (east end), from the Old Highway trailhead off Highway 248 (north end), or by finding the old Mayflower trailhead on the west side north of the main marina and campground.

Parking area and bathroom on the Old Highway trailhead.

The trailhead on the north end (off 248 reached via the Kamas exit from US-40) puts you on the old highway. Come prepared to stuff your fee into the pay envelope -- it's illegal to park along the road uphill. After riding chipped aging asphault for 0.6 mile from the trailhead, you reach the westbound trail on your right. The southbound trail is another 0.4 miles further down the old road. So for a southbound point-to-point (or out-and-back) you'll find your trail on the left as you head down the road toward the water, a mile away from the trailhead.

Here the westbound trail forks to the right off the old highway. To ride southbound, head another 0.4 miles down the road.

West (Mayflower) Trailhead

The west-side trailhead isn't used much, but isn't that tough to find. As you pass the west side of the reservoir, exit US-40 toward Jordanelle State Park. Immediately turn left. Stay on that road until you see a settling pond on the left. The paved road drops over the edge toward the water. (The trail ends on that road down below you, but there's no place to park.)

Turn left onto dirt and drive north along the dirt road east of the pond (with the pond on your left) and pass the mine. 150 feet past the mine, there's a wide area on the right, with doubletrack going downhill toward the lake. There are no signs, bathrooms, or kiosk. Just a ramp downward. Keep left and northbound as you descend.

Typical trail on the west side -- broad and grassy.

This western section of trail doesn't see much use. It really needs to link to the campground -- perhaps there are land-ownership issues that have prevented this. I saw some bike tracks where adventurers had headed for the Jordanelle State Park on the exposed dirt and rock above the waterline. But it was bumpy, steep on the side-slope, and thistle-infested, so I don't recommend you try it.

The State Parks people had mown the grass in the overgrown trail, and the presence of fresh bike tracks the weekday morning of my ride confirms that, yes, people still ride this piece of the Jordanelle Perimeter.

Looking east, just past the bridge over the creek at the northwest corner of the lake.

Rock Cliff Trailhead

On the far southeast corner of the lake is the Rock Cliff trailhead. It's found next to the bathrooms at the small-boat launch area. There's a campground and picnic area along the road through the park.

The fee station was unmanned on a weekday, so you need a check or exact change to stuff the envelope. (See the note below about parking in the Rocky Top trailhead and paying the lower "ride-in" park fee.) Drive straight west until the road ends at the paved parking lot. You'll easily see the doubletrack trail at a ride-around to the right of the bathroom.

Looking west from the parking lot at Rock Cliff. The trail begins at the sign to the right of the bathroom.

The eastern arm of the lake will have fishermen moseying along the first mile of trail. You'll likely encounter swimmers and kayakers. Once you're past the first climb, you have the trail to yourself. There were plenty of chipmunks, rabbits, deer, turkeys, geese, and even a swan and osprey.

Those aren't ducks. It's two swimmers getting their strokes at 8 am, before the power boaters make it dangerous.

When westbound from Rock Cliff, the trail will rapidly begin climbing, well before you've warmed up. The pitches can get a bit steep and feature loose rock. Beginners will push-a-bike. Ridden east to west there's one long pitch which, while do-able with pain and careful bike handling, is such a grunt that all but the strongest elite will quit and hike up. These four miles along the eastern arm of the lake are probably 90% of the work of riding this trail.

Heading gently uphill about a mile from the trailhead.

If you're doing a point-to-point, I recommend riding north to south. The slopes are less ugly in that direction. Very do-able in granny gear for a conditioned rider, although it will be a challenge not to spin out your rear tire where the surface has loose rock.

Cresting a hill (which you'll do several times on this section of the trail), we're looking west toward the ski slopes of Deer Valley.

This eastern portion of the trail rises high on the hillside above the steep slopes descending to the lake. Once you're past the rest area at the "bend" of the lake -- actually just a marker now, the bench is gone -- it's easy riding from there northbound.

Descending back closer to the shore. For several miles, you're high on the mountain, well away from the water's edge.

Bottom Line:
This isn't singletrack. Although motor vehicles are prohibited, regular trips by maintenance vehicles mean this trail looks like a jeep road. And it rides like a jeep road. The pitches on the east arm are too steep for beginners or early intermediates. But new riders would enjoy a cruise out-and-back on the northern part of the trail. For strong riders, it's training miles in a beautiful setting. And the rollers are your intervals. So while Jordanelle wouldn't be a first choice to sample Utah riding, it's worth doing.

The views of the lake and surrounding mountains redeem this ride. If you can do it during the early morning quiet -- before the gasaholics turn the lake into a nest of angry motorboat hornets -- it's a fun crank. Put aside your "singletrack only" snobbery and you might find yourself satisfied after 29 miles and 2400 vertical feet.

Looking across the reservoir toward the state park campground, with a sailboat sitting idle waiting for the breeze to pick up.

Getting There:
Mayflower (west) TH: On US-40, take the Jordanelle State Park exit. Immediately turn left and follow this road until it's about to drop to the water. Turn left on dirt road along a settling pond. As you pass a small hill on your right, find a spot to park. The trail is the broad path dropping off to your right. (Unmarked in 2015.)
Old Highway (north) TH:  Take the Kamas exit to Highway 248 eastbound from US-40. After cresting the hill and dropping into a small valley around 3 miles from US-40, turn right at the sign for Jordanelle and proceed to the parking area.
Rock Cliff (east) TH: Just south of the dam on US-40, turn east at the light on Highway 32. After six miles, just as the road drops to the valley floor and crosses the Provo River, turn left to Rock Cliff. Proceed to the pay station. Keep straight until you reach the small boat launch parking.
Scrooge McBike money-saver:  If you're riding alone, park just outside of Rock Cliff in the Rocky Top Trail parking lot. Then ride your bike 1.2 flat pavement miles to the trailhead. You'll pay the lower $4 "ride-in" rate, saving $3 (2015 fees) compared to the $7 one-car rate.

Riding resources:
One-page riding guide
Topo map for printing:  View topo
GPX track file for trail:  Download file
Lodging, camping, shops:
     Links to Park City area resources
     Links to Heber resources

Copyright 1998 Mad Scientist Software Inc
Updated 2015