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Lowder Ponds Loop

The Lowder Ponds Loop is a high-altitude advanced-intermediate trail at Brian Head that combines ridgeline singletrack with forested downhill. The trail is a loop 12 miles in length, with around 1400 vertical feet of climbing. Consider Lowder Ponds if you have conditioned thighs and great lungs. It helps if you are already acclimatized to altitude.

Framed by spruce, a carpet of grass, sedges, and penstemmon leads to the largest of the Lowder Ponds. Photos and ride review by Bruce Argyle, July 19, 2001.

Altitude at the trailhead is 11,000 feet, starting at the parking area at the turn in the gravel road on the way to Brian Head Peak. You'll drop 1000 feet, then climb your way back up in a reverse-profile ride.

An alternative for strong riders is to start in the main parking lot of Brian Head Resort and climb Color Country up to the higher trailhead. This option will add 10 miles and 400 vertical feet of climbing -- bringing your ride to a worthy 22 miles. Few flatland riders will have the lungs for this.

Handlebar view of the riding on this western edge of the Markagunt Plateau. Note that the spruce is recovering after the bark beetle infestation, so dead trees no longer dominate the landscape as they do in this 2001 photo.

Be prepared for cold. July 19, the 10 a.m. temperature at the trailhead was 52 degrees F, with a 20 mph wind, despite clear sunny skies. Thunderstorms can pop up quickly, 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. You'll spend most of your ride in the open sun at high altitude. You can blister your skin and damage your eyes (ultraviolet keratitis -- sunburn of the cornea) quickly at this altitude. I suggest you apply a high-potency sunscreen a few hours before the ride to let it "soak in," then reapply before starting the ride. UV-protective sunglasses are a must, unless you want to spend the evening holding cold washcloths on your aching, burning eyeballs.

Looking from the ridgeline at 11,000 feet, we see over several mountain ranges in the distance.

From the ridgeline at the upper trailhead near Brian Head Peak, you'll head eastbound on the Sydney Peaks Trail. You'll have unobstructed views from Parowan Canyon out over the valleys of the I-15 corridor. The ground is rocky and covered with moss and tiny alpine plants.

This is the common route to Bunker Creek, Dark Hollow, Paradise Canyon, Lowder Ponds, and the Marathon Trail. (The "Marathon" designation on the trail signs can confuse riders. I will be using the traditional names for the trail segments. "Marathon Trail" is a route assembled from pre-existing singletrack trail, cindered road, and dirt road -- not a specific individual trail.)

View up the trail on the Sidney Peaks Trail shows rocky soil with stunted spruce. The rock along the summit is light volcanic breccia, when volcanic extrusive rock covered the lakebed deposits (the pink cliffs of Cedar Breaks and Parowan Canyon) of the Tertiary Era's Claron Formation (around 40 million years ago). 

At a 4-way trail intersection, you'll turn to the right, leaving Sydney Peaks for the Lowder Creek Trail. Dropping off the weird world of the high ridgeline, you'll enter forests of spruce and aspen. The trail winds south, then east as it drops over several ridges towards Lowder Ponds.

Handlebar view shows typical riding conditions on the lower portions of the Lowder Ponds Loop -- small patches of meadow among stands of aspen and spruce.

You'll pass a few ponds near the old Lowder Ranch. The trail passes through meadows scattered among clusters of spruce and aspen. Wildflowers include penstemmon, yarrow, monkshood, and columbine.

There will be intersecting trails and ATV routes. Most of the time, the route should be obvious. Follow the "Marathon" signs.

Jackie heads towards the first of the Lowder Ponds to get a drink.

 

After passing the ponds, the trail turns back to the north and descends to the ride's lowest point. Here it joins the cindered Sidney Valley Road. Turn left, uphill. You're now leaving the Marathon Trail route. You'll climb for two miles on the road.

Passing another pond. The scenery is much prettier now than in these original photos, as the dead trees have dropped their branches and the remaining spruce have grown up.

When you reach the spot where the Bunker Creek Trail crosses the road, it's time for some serious uphill. Turn left toward Sidney Peaks. Take a minute to enjoy the views over Parowan Canyon. 

View north towards Parowan, from the ridge where the Sidney Valley Road reaches the Sidney Peaks Trail.

Now start climbing up the Sydney Peaks trail. The altitude makes trivial slopes a major effort, and steeper slopes will be a struggle.

Once you're back at the 4-way, retrace your route back to the trailhead.

View up to the saddle, after completing the hardest part of the uphill. That's Sidney Peak.

Bottom Line:
Very scenic singletrack at high altitude. One of my favorite rides at Brian Head, and the first to make it onto this website many years ago. The loop can be done either direction. I prefer counterclockwise, but on weekends you may be meeting flying riders on the Sydney Peaks uphill segment as they head for Bunker Creek. The altitude will be a limiting factor for many riders, so most Brian Head riders will be doing lift-served or shuttled riding.

Yarrow blossoms among the trees.

Riding notes, counterclockwise lariat loop:
1.1 trail intersection 4-way GPS N 37 41.624' W 112 48.359', turn right.
   (Dark Hollow is left, Bunker Creek is straight ahead)
1.4 cross doubletrack
2.2 cross small creek, then doubletrack
2.9 pond on right, go left (not through log fence)
3.0 join ATV doubletrack
3.9 cross meadow
5.2 large meadow, veer right and cross wide deep creek
5.6 metal gate, reach Sidney Valley Road, turn left
7.7 ignore road coming in from left, continue straight
8.0 intersect Sidney Peaks - Bunker Creek trail GPS N 37 42.869' W 112 46.444'
      turn left, becomes singletrack, start hard climb
9.5 reach saddle
10.2 trail fork, go right
10.8 back at 4-way intersection, go straight
11.9 back at parking area.
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 1.8 miles and turn left into a parking area (GPS N 37 41.164' W 112 49.181') with a small outhouse. The trailhead is across the road from the parking area.
Riding resources for this trail:
Single-page riding guide
GPS track files and route (right-click and "Save as..."):
     GPX lariat loop ride from upper trailhead
High-res topo map for printing:   View
Lodging, camping, shops:   Links to Cedar City - Brian Head area resources

Copyright 2001 Mad Scientist Software Inc