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
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
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
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.
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
Once you're back at the 4-way, retrace your route back to the
View up to the saddle, after
completing the hardest part of the uphill. That's Sidney Peak.
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
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
N 37° 42.869' W 112°
turn left, becomes singletrack, start hard
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.