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Lowder Ponds Loop

The Lowder Ponds Loop is a high-altitude advanced-intermediate trail that combines ridgeline singletrack with forested downhill. The trail is a loop 11.9 miles in length, with a short (2 mile) climb on dirt road in the middle of the ride.

 

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

Altitude at the trailhead is 11,000 feet. You'll drop 1000 feet, then climb your way back up. You shouldn't consider Lowder Ponds unless you have conditioned thighs, great lungs, and are acclimatized to altitude.

The trail starts on the ridgeline near Brian Head Peak. 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.

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.

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

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.

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). 

Dropping off the weird world of the high ridgeline, you'll enter forests of spruce and aspen. The trail winds and 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 ponds near the old Lowder Ranch. The trail winds through meadows scattered among clusters of spruce and aspen. Wildflowers include penstemmon, yarrow, monkshood, and columbine.

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

When you join the Bunker Creek Trail, it's time for some serious uphill. Take a minute to enjoy the views over Parowan Canyon. The altitude makes trivial slopes a major effort, and steeper slopes will be a struggle.

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

Trail notes:
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

View up to the saddle, after completing the hardest part of the uphill.

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.

Yarrow blossoms among the trees.

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..."):
   Garmin     National Geographic     Google Earth    GPX
High-res topo map (450 KB): View
Lodging, camping, shops:
     Links to Cedar City - Brian Head area resources

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