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Moonlight Meadows

Moonlight Meadows is a classic La Sal Mountains ride southeast of Moab. Reaching an altitude of 10,500 feet and featuring tough narrow singletrack, the "Classic" 10.8 mile loop ride will be a challenge even for strong skilled riders. This loop climbs Forest Road 071 before tackling Moonlight Meadows, Clark Lake Trail, Clark Lake Loop Trail, and Boren Mesa. Intermediate riders can do a "Mini-loop" of 3.6 miles starting at Geyser Pass, or a figure-eight adding the Geyser Pass singletrack. Riding season is July through September.

View down toward Spanish Valley, with south Moab at the far right (between the dark green of the mesa and the red of the cliffs). Photos and ride review by Bruce on September 18, 2015.

Moonlight Meadows Burned by Pack Creek Fire - JUNE 2021
The entire length of Moonlight Meadows has been burned, as well as most of the Clark Lake trail. It is unclear when the trail will re-open. 

Moonlight Meadows Classic Loop:  Uphill segment
If you're only interested in the not-too-brutal mini-loop using only Moonlight Meadows (or a figure-eight of the Geyser Pass singletrack plus Moonlight Meadows), skip down to the next section. You'll be driving the Geyser Pass road FR 071 to the Geyser Pass trailhead.

The classic loop starts at the Squaw Springs trailhead on FR 071, altitude 8900 feet. From the La Sal Mountain Loop Road, drive 3 miles up FR 071. The trail head is at the apex of a left-hand turn, on the right side of the road.

The Squaw Springs trailhead. The Squaw Springs hiking trail heads south from here. Your return route -- the Boren Mesa trail -- is across the road.

Start your loop with a climb on the gravel road. The road often has significant washboard segments around the turns and is rough with chunky granite gravel. Often the best riding surface is on the dirt along the right side of the road.

Your total climbing for the loop ride will be 2200 vertical feet, of which 1600 will be on the road.

Pedaling up the road through aspen forest.

After a couple of miles the road narrows and becomes hardpack dirt. You'll have a break from the constant climbing for about a mile, then the climbing starts again. This time, it's a little tougher, with both increased pitch and high altitude.

As we approach the 10,000 foot level, we're now on narrow hardpack dirt in deep conifer forest.

Moonlight Meadows Trail:  Classic Loop segment 2 or Mini-loop downhill segment
At mile 5.1 from the Squaw Springs trailhead, at an altitude of 10,500 feet, you'll reach Geyser Pass. (If you're driving directly to Geyser Pass, it's 8 miles from the La Sal Loop Road.) The trailhead is on the left side of the road.

You can take either the singletrack (between the toilet and kiosk) or the doubletrack (around the trees to the right of the kiosk, veering left as you pass the trees). They rejoin after about 100 yards.

Geyser Pass trailhead, looking north from the road.

At mile 0.1 from the Geyser Pass trailhead you'll reach a fork in the doubletrack. Keep to the left, leaving FR 071 for FR 243.

About 100 yards uphill from the road fork, the Geyser Pass singletrack forks to the right for the Whole Enchilada ride. Take this route if you're planning to do the figure-eight ride. If you're doing Moonlight Meadows, stay on the doubletrack uphill.

Heading uphill on the doubletrack at the point where the Geyser Pass singletrack (Whole Enchilada) forks away. We're keeping straight.

At mile 0.2 from Geyser Pass, Moonlight Meadows forks off the doubletrack on your left. You'll traverse the first meadow heading directly toward Haystack Mountain. The La Sal Mountains were formed by an intrusion of igneous rock. 

Moonlight Meadows leaves the doubletrack. To the northwest is Haystack Mountain.

After a long initial traverse to the northwest, the trail will zigzag down the mountainside heading generally southwest. You'll pass through groves of aspen with the occasional stand of fir. The trail is narrow but not tricky.

Overall, you'll be dropping 600 vertical feet over the 1.4 miles of the singletrack descent.

Cruising through an aspen grove. Most of the tree-riding here is straight ahead, not twisty.

Between aspen groves you'll break out into large meadows. These meadows are "rented" to cattle for summer grazing. You may find more than a little green stuff on your tires. Keep your mouth closed, because when you pick up speed, the cow poop will fly.

The large bald peak to the south is Mount Mellenthin. Further away to the west of Mellenthin is Mount Tukuhnikivatz. And to your right looms Haystack Mountain to the north. Looking straight west down the slope from the top of the meadows, you'll be able to see all the way down into Spanish Valley (south of Moab). On a clear day the views are incredible. 

Looking south as we emerge from the trees into a large meadow. To the left is Mount Mellenthin.

Toward the end of Moonlight Meadows, you'll enter groves of conifer. The trail gets a little more rooty, but is still a fairly plush ride.

At mile 1.8 from Geyser Pass, you'll reach the Clark Lake trail intersection.If you're doing the mini-loop, this is your exit point. Fork to the left. Tiptoe across the creek, then begin a 100-yard push-a-bike up the rooty steep Clark Lake trail. Once you reach the top, you'll find a rock garden of granite diorite awaiting you. Bang over it until you reach the Geyser Pass road, 0.3 miles from the trail fork. Turn uphill to complete the loop.

Looking southwest lower in the ride.

Riding notes, Moonlight Meadows Mini-loop:
Geyser Pass Trailhead
0.0    North on ST between toilet and kiosk
         N38 29.122 W109 13.940
0.05  L on DT N38 29.163 W109 13.932
0.1    L at DT fork N38 29.197 W109 13.913
0.15  Stay on DT (R=Whole Enchilada)
         N38 29.228 W109 13.930
0.2   L on Moonlight Meadows ST
        N38 29.279 W109 13.966
1.6   L on Clark Lake trail
        N38 29.286 W109 14.922
1.9   L on Geyser Pass road
        N38 29.177 W109 15.119
3.1   Back at parking
Geyser Pass/Moonlight Meadows figure-eight riding notes:  See Geyser Pass ST page
Clark Lake Trail:  Classic Moonlight Meadows Loop segment 3
To proceed on with the classic loop, keep straight (right) at the intersection with the Clark Lake trail. Immediately, you'll find the riding to be significantly more technical. The pitch of the trail increases, and the rock-and-root challenges get a little tougher.

Just past the end of Moonlight Meadows, the first tech challenges await.

The Clark Lake segment is 0.9 miles in length, dropping 450 vertical feet for a 10% average downhill pitch. Upper-intermediate riders would be able to do this trail with occasional short walks through the technical spots. But in tackling Clark Lake, you've committed to significantly uglier trail coming up.

This trail segment is 100% in deep forest, mostly fir with the occasional aspen. There will be no views for the next couple of miles.

There are several of these stairstep root runs.

The Clark Lake trail curves around the base of Haystack Mountain staying just above the creek as it descends towards Oowah Lake. Typically it follows a pattern of a traverse then a short technical drop.

Narrow passage over the creek on the Clark Lake Trail. Other bridges offer generously wide decks.

When the trail finally breaks out of the forest, you'll see a small lake below you on your left at mile 2.7 from Geyser Pass. This is Clark Lake, and it marks the end of your time on the Clark Lake trail. Fork to the left downhill towards the lake, while the Clark Lake trail continues straight over ride-over cattleguard.

If you choose to continue on Clark Lake, you'll traverse another half-mile then begin a steep drop to Oowah Lake. The trail is a rough root-and-rockfest dropping 600 vertical in the last 0.6 miles (20% average downslope!). Unless your destination is a bailout at the Oowah Campground road, it's not a route I recommend. (Because you'll also be walking your bike back uphill to get back to the loop route.)

Sample descent on the Clark Lake Trail.

Clark Lake Loop Trail:  Moonlight Meadows Classic Loop segment 4
To continue on the classic loop, fork hard left downhill at Clark Lake. The drop to the dam is very steep and loose, but fortunately short. At the dam, do a U-turn to head back west (the direction you were going on the Clark Lake trail). Immediately, there's a fence corner with two ride-over cow-extruders. Take the path on the left, crossing over to the opposite (south) side of the creek.

View to the left side of the trail above Clark Lake. We're at the cattle-extruder, where we fork 150 degrees left to drop steeply down to the dam.

This is the Clark Lake Loop Trail. It starts out kind of mean, with frequent steep and technical pitches both uphill and down.

After crossing the dry creek below the dam, we're faced with a few uphill challenges. Yes, that's the trail.

The trail will rock up and down a bit, then travel a long traverse, then begin descending as it approaches the Boren Mesa trail. It's exactly one mile long. You'll lose 250 feet of altitude, which you'll have to gain again on Boren Mesa.

Looking back at a particularly nasty rock-drop on the Clark Lake Loop trail.

When you reach the intersection with the Boren Mesa trail, fork left uphill. You're now at around mile 3.7 from Geyser Pass.

If you want to visit Oowah Lake as part of the loop (instead of taking the Clark Lake Loop trail), here's what you need to know:  the Boren Mesa trail climbs 500 vertical feet up from the lake to this intersection, all in 0.6 miles. That's an average 16% slope, which I consider unrideable at this altitude.

Finally, a cruiser section as we zoom through the aspens.

Boren Mesa Trail:  Moonlight Meadows Classic Loop segment 5
From the intersection with the Clark Lake Loop trail, the Boren Mesa trail will climb up to the top of the mesa -- instead of going around it. Classic old horse trail alignment. The initial climb is 200 vertical feet in 0.4 miles, a 10% pitch. It's do-able. But the constant hits from little aspen roots will kill off your legs. And at 9300 feet of elevation, this climb would hurt even if it were smooth.

Climbing uphill through aspen forest, heading toward the top of Boren Mesa. Lots of roots.

When you break out of the aspens at the top of the mesa, take a break to look around. You can see the surrounding La Sal peaks on both sides. Ahead of you, the view extends all the way down to Highway 191 in Spanish Valley.

Nice views to the northeast as we reach the open area at the top of Boren Mesa.

At this point, the trail is intersected by an old doubletrack. This trail can be used for an alternate loop route. It climbs 500 vertical feet as it follows the ridge above Horse Creek for one mile southeast, where it joins the Geyser Pass road. (The connection to FR 071 is 2.9 miles uphill from the Squaw Springs trailhead, 2.2 miles downhill from Geyser Pass.)

Looking south from Boren Mesa. In the foreground is the bailout doubletrack that heads toward the Geyser Pass road.

The classic loop ride gets ugly for the next mile from this point. First, you'll descend west on a fall-line trail that's turned into a narrow trench. Your pedals may fit, but your shoes won't. At least my size 12s didn't. Rather than continue to get knocked off the pedals, I spent a bit of this descent picking my way through the trailside brush.

Heading downhill to the west. I hate riding in trenches. Modern trail building techniques would prevent this.

At the western edge of Boren Mesa, the trail turns 150 degrees to the left. It now drops steeply and roughly down to Horse Creek. The downslope is 16%, with 400 feet of elevation loss in 1/2 mile.

The path here is a challenging mixture of loose and embedded rock with encroaching oak brush often blocking your view of the upcoming trail. You have to keep enough speed to avoid hanging up, yet the sight lines don't allow it.

View of one of the plusher stretches of the descent from the mesa. Most of it has more loose rock than this section.

After crossing Horse Creek, the Boren Mesa trail gets better. Much better. The last half mile is a total buff traverse. You may not forgive the trail for that miserable middle mile, but at least your ride ends nicely.

At mile 2 from the intersection with the Clark Lake Loop trail -- 5.7 miles from Geyser Pass and 10.8 miles since you left -- you'll cross the road to the Squaw Springs parking.

View back at the nicer end of the Boren Mesa trail as we reach the road.

Riding notes, classic loop from Squaw Springs TH:
0.0    Uphill on Geyser Pass road
         N38 28.751 W109 17.403
1.6    Winter TH on L (BR)
         N38 28.622 W109 16.685
2.7    Keep L N38 28.844 W109 15.777
3.5    Stay on road (Clark Lake Trail on L)
         N38 29.177 W109 15.119
5.1    Geyser Pass TH (BR) N38 29.122 W109 13.940
         North on ST between toilet and kiosk
5.15  L on DT N38 29.163 W109 13.932
5.2    L at DT fork N38 29.197 W109 13.913
5.25  Stay on DT (R=Whole Enchilada)
         N38 29.228 W109 13.930
5.3   L on Moonlight Meadows ST
        N38 29.279 W109 13.966
6.9   Straight (R) on Clark Lake trail
        N38 29.286 W109 14.922
7.8   Clark Lake N38 29.595 W109 15.753
        Hard L downhill before cattleguard
7.9   R off dam, then fork L across fence
        N38 29.573 W109 15.756
        Clark Lake Loop Trail
8.8   L uphill on Boren Mesa
        N38 29.686 W109 16.623
9.3   Straight (L = DT to road)
        N38 29.455 W109 16.726
10.8 Back at parking
Getting there, Squaw Springs TH:
On Moab's Main Street, head south on US-191. Zero your odometer at Center Street Center Street and drive 8.2 miles. Turn left toward Ken's Lake - La Sal Loop Road. At the T intersection 1/2 mile later, turn right. Stay on the paved La Sal Loop Road to mile 20.6, then turn right on gravel Geyser Pass road. Drive exactly 3 miles uphill. The trailhead is at a left turn in the road, on the right side. There's parking space for 4 to 6 vehicles.
Geyser Pass TH (for small loop):  Use this trailhead if you're riding ONLY Moonlight Meadows. Drive 8 miles from the La Sal Loop on Geyser Pass road (to mile 28.6) until you see a bathroom, kiosk, and parking on your left with a road fork straight ahead.  This is Geyser Pass (N38 29.122 W109 13.940).
Riding resources for this trail:
Single-page riding guide, classic loop
GPS track files (right-click and "Save as..."):
    GPX Classic Moonlight Meadows Loop
    Moonlight Meadows mini-loop    Figure-eight ride
    Area multi-track file
High-res area topo for printing:  View topo  
Lodging, camping, shops:   Links to Moab area resources

Bathrooms:  Winter TH, Geyser Pass
Camping:  Primitive, at spurs along road
Water:  Bring your own

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