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Red Canyon Rim

Red Canyon Rim is a 4.8 mile trail on the south rim of Red Canyon at Flaming Gorge. It's usually done as a 9.6-mile out-and-back, but can also be done as a one-way shuttled ride or as a loop with a road return. The riding is fairly easy aerobically despite the altitude of 7400 feet. In some short areas the surface is technical due to rock ledges and loose rock.

View of Flaming Gorge at Red Canyon at the first trail overlook. Photos June 27, 2010 by Bruce.

Red Canyon Rim gets a high recommendation. But the ride is over quickly enough that, if you're here to ride, you may need to add something else like Swett Ranch or Dowd Mountain to feel satisfied. Many riders do the trail from the visitors center to the overlook, then insert the Swett Ranch loop before returning on the Rim trail. (That would increase your ride to around 15 miles.)

Trail near the visitors center. Flat slabs of rock provide a little bit of interest, but the riding is easy and suitable for beginners here.

There are three common ways to do this ride. Pick your starting spot: (1) Red Canyon visitors center, from which it's slightly uphill going out, (2) Red Canyon Lodge at Green Lake (or the campgrounds), riding to the spur to catch the west end of the trail at the visitors center, turning around and doing the length of the Rim to the scenic pullout, then returning to the lodge, and (3) the scenic overlook on highway 44 at the east end of the trail. Shuttle jockeys will want to start at the pullout on 44, so the ride will be mostly downhill.

Viewpoint about a mile east of the visitors center.

The route I describe is a modified out-and-back from the Red Canyon visitors center trailhead. This ride hugs the Rim as you go east, but on the way back, it will take the alternate route past the campgrounds and Green Lake before returning to the Rim.

Drive to the Red Canyon visitors center at Flaming Gorge. On highway 44, go 3.7 miles west of the junction with 260. (On the way, at mile 1.1 you'll pass the scenic pullout where the trail ends.) Turn right toward the Red Canyon visitors center and drive 2.5 miles to the end of the road. The singletrack trail goes past the outhouse, just where your car enters the parking circle at the visitors center.

Typical trail section. Slabs offer tiny drop-offs downhill, mild ledges uphill. Non-experts will need to watch to: Not catch a loose rock chunk as they drop over a ledge with brakes on, and Not pinch-flat by hitting the angular rock edge when riding uphill.

Pedal east on fairly level trail. There will be rock slabs in the trail. Usually they're simple roll-overs, but occasional ledges and sharp edges will give trouble to beginners. As with all trails frequented by horses, there will be loose rock that can catch your tread. The angular rock here is particularly likely to wedge on a tread knob and slide along as it freezes your wheel.

There are viewpoints looking out over Red Canyon about every 1/4 mile for the first two miles. Ignore the trails branching right -- these are spurs to picnic areas and campgrounds. At mile 1.3, you'll pass the return path from the lodge (you'll be coming back along this path, so keep left).

The scenery is pretty. Long-leaf pines, firs, and occasional juniper are widely spaced in grassy meadows. The balsamroot flowers are striking in early June. Only the late flowers are still around today.

At this point, the trail gets a little tougher for a while. There are some uphill erosion-control logs to master (not too tough), and a section of slightly tricky ledges with loose rock waiting to catch your wheel and send you over the handlebars. In other words, fun stuff.

At mile 2.5, note this trail intersection. When you come back, you'll fork south here, rather than repeating the same trail section. For now, continue on straight through the gate.

The trail is well-marked with plenty of trail signs (as of 2010). This is the critical fork (looking west) where you need to fork left on the return if you're doing the ride I describe below.

When you reach the scenic pullout, it's time to turn around. Or continue to Swett Ranch by hopping on the dirt road at the far east side of the pullout.

Remember to turn left at the first trail fork past the gate. You'll hit a short section of uphill tricky ledges and rough rock that's a bit of challenge, then smooth trail at the top.

A fun little creek-dip as the trail crosses Skull Creek.

Keep right past the spur to Greens Lake Campground, then ride past the lake. Just after the lake, fork right (left takes you to the lodge). Rejoin the outgoing trail about 3/4 mile later and return to the trailhead.

Arrowleaf balsamroot forms the foreground of this view northeast, nearing the end of the trail.

Riding notes, from Red Canyon visitors center TH:
0.0  Find trail on your right at the start of paved loop
       N40 53.494 W109 33.619
       Keep straight past the toilet.
0.2  Keep L (R = spur from Red Canyon picnic area)
       N40 53.374 W109 33.510
1.0  Keep L (R = spur from Canyon Rim CG)
       N40 53.120 W109 32.815
1.3  Keep L (R = return path, from lodge area)
       N40 53.028 W109 32.673
1.8  Trail veers away from rim
2.5  Keep L (R = to lodge, return path)
       N40 52.578 W109 32.000  Go through gate
2.9  Keep straight (R = Skull Creek CG)
       N40 52.401 W109 31.561
       (continued...)

Trailhead at the scenic pullout on highway 44.


       (riding notes continued...)
4.7  At scenic overlook N40 52.341 W109 29.801
       Consider adding Swett Ranch Loop
       Backtrack
6.5  Straight past Skull Creek spur
7.0  Left toward lodge and campgrounds
       N40 52.579 W109 32.000
7.3  Keep R (L=Greens Lake CG)
       N40 52.404 W109 32.149
7.6  Keep straight N40 52.657 W109 32.359
7.9  Fork R (L = to lodge) N40 52.631 W109 32.505
8.7  Keep L (rejoin outgoing trail)
       N40 53.028 W109 32.673
       Backtrack to visitors center
9.6  Back at car

Passing Greens Lake on the return trip. 

Getting there:  
From Manila:  Drive east on highway 44. Turn left on the Red Canyon visitor center road. Drive 2.5 miles to the visitors center and park. The trail is next to the toilet, just as you enter the loop in front of the visitors center N40 53.494 W109 33.619. Alternative east TH: drive another 2.5 miles past the Red Canyon road to a scenic pullout on your left. Park N40 52.341 W109 29.801. The trail is the singletrack on the far left.
From Vernal:  On highway 44, drive north over the Uinta Mountains. Stay on 44 at the junction with 260. At 1.1 miles past the junction, there's a scenic overlook on your right. This is the east trailhead. For the west trailhead, drive another couple of miles and turn right on the Red Canyon visitor center road. Find the trail next to the toilet as above.
Riding resources for this trail:
Single-page riding guide
GPS track files (right-click and "Save as..."):
    Garmin     GPX
Large-format area topo map:  View map
Lodging, camping, shops:   Links to Vernal area resources

Camping: Greens Lake and  Canyon Rim CGs on Red Canyon Overlook (visitors center) road. Skull Creek CG just east on highway 44. 
Bathroom:
At visitors center trailhead. BR at campgrounds. None at eastern TH at scenic overlook.
Water:
Water at campgrounds and visitors center.
Bike services, maps, trail conditions:

Altitude Cycle, 580 East Main, Vernal. 435-781-2595

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