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Rock Spring Trail

The Rock Spring Trail runs east-west near the top of Payson Canyon. It's intermediate in tech requirement. But at an altitude of around 8000 feet it will require a bit of stamina -- or frequent rest breaks. The trail can be part of many different riding options off the Nebo Loop road.

Heading east on the Rock Spring trail. Original review and photos by Bruce in October 1999. Latest update June 19, 2017.

The Nebo Loop area is famous for its fall leaves. But it's a scenic ride anytime. You'll go through groves of aspen and maple, with the occasional fir. In the early morning, you may surprise deer, moose, and elk as you pop out of the trees into a meadow. Wildflowers are everywhere, and include lupine, mule's ear, daisy, and penstemmon.

Lizard Lake, one of the highlights of the Rock Spring ride.

The trail...

The Rock Spring trail itself is 4.5 miles long, with up-and-down riding bringing the climbing to around 800 vertical feet. The trail is a key to several other routes at the top of Payson Canyon. It has connections to Shram, Lizard Lake, Jones Ranch, and Blackhawk.

Here's the Rock Spring that the trail is named after. You'll pass this in the middle of the trail.

On the eastern end, Rock Spring begins at a large trailhead with a horse corral, on the west side of the Nebo Loop road above the Payson Lakes campground.

As it heads west, it hits the Jones Ranch trail, Tie Fork (Frank Young), Lizard Lake, and Shram Creek. It ends on the gravel Santaquin Road.

View from Rock Spring as the Mules Ear blossom. Compared to other Payson Canyon trails, much of Rock Spring's riding offers views.

Compared to the northern Wasatch, the trails here are virtually empty. On weekdays you'll rarely see another human. On weekends, it's a nice break from the crowded northern trails, yet not far away.

The Nebo Loop area is very popular for horse riding. Steeper areas may be a bit loose after a dry spell, as the horses churn the trail. This trail gives plenty of room to sidestep horses.

Rolling through an aspen grove. 

There are many loop rides that use a piece of the Rock Spring trail to connect between uphill and downhill routes. For example, Jones Ranch to Shram Creek. This page will describe a loop that uses all of Rock Spring. 

Descending from the Nebo Loop Road on the Frank Young trail, we're at the intersection with the Rock Spring trail.

The Rock Spring and Blackhawk loop

This loop is 11 miles. Starting at 7900 feet elevation, the trail climbs only 500 feet, but up-and-down riding will make the total vertical about 1800. Surface is intermediate technical. It avoids some of the meaner climbing on lower Blackhawk by starting higher on the mountain.

In 2002, Jackie takes a break while I check the healing of a 1999 logging zone.

The ride starts at the eastern Rock Spring parking area, but heads across the road to the Blackhawk Trail to start a clockwise ride.

To cut off some distance, the trail will shortcut past the Blackhawk Campground on the Bennie Creek Ridge (campground bypass) trail.

Fall rain drops the maple leaves on Blackhawk just west of the campground.

Again and again, the trail breaks out to provide fantastic views of nearby mountains and canyons. You'll look east towards the Birdseye area, north down Payson Canyon, and south down Beaver Dam Canyon.

View south down Beaver Dam Canyon as I approach the end of Blackhawk.

At the Blackhawk trail's west end, we'll take a bit of road to reach the west end of Rock Spring. (For a shorter ride, you can take Tie Fork or upper Lizard Lake to reach Rock Spring. If you cross the Nebo Loop road at Frank Young Canyon, you'll drop straight down to the middle of the Rock Spring Trail.)

There are a couple of gates on this loop. Be sure to close them after you. The gates aren't to keep you out, they're to keep cattle in.

View along the trail in 2017. Much of Rock Spring would rate as a "Cruiser" -- relatively flat and straight.

Once you find Rock Spring on the gravel Santaquin Canyon road, you just keep heading east and straight at all trail forks. Early in the season, Lizard Lake is a must-see.

Lizard Lake in this 2005 photo.

There are several riding options to tailor your ride. For a longer ride, without adding a lot of climbing, loop around through the Blackhawk Campground. Another (brutal) add-on is a dip through Holman Canyon.

When you finish your loop, draw straws to see who drives the car, while the rest of you plunge down Blackhawk and take the Bennie Creek Cutoff Trail down to the loop road a couple of miles below.

On the final gentle descent on Rock Spring, heading for the corral.

 A portion of Rock Spring is included on this Jones Ranch to Blackhawk video.

 If the above video does not appear on your browser/device, you can watch it on YouTube by clicking here.

Riding Notes, from the trailhead opposite the Ranger Station:
0.0    From the fenced parking area, head right up the ridge
         Find the trail as the doubletrack ends
         N 39 55.535' W 111 37.753'
0.25  Trail joins Blackhawk, turn R
         N 39 55.410' W 111 37.574'
0.55  Fork R (L= Blackhawk Loop)
         N 39 55.147' W 111 37.617'
1.9    Reach road, cross to parking area
         Trail continues through fence
         N 39 54.542' W 111 38.373'
         (Ignore smaller trails, keep southwest)
2.6    Fork R and slightly uphill at trail sign
         N 39 54.155' W 111 38.337'

4.4    Reach doubletrack, go R to paved road
         N 39 53.824' W 111 39.324'
         Turn left on road
5.9    Fork R onto Santaquin Canyon Road
6.9    Fork R off road onto Rock Springs Tr
         N 39 54.398' W 111 41.624'
7.7    Keep straight (L=Schram Tr)
8.0    Straight (R=Lizard Lake Tr to Road)
8.7    Straight (R=Tie Fork or Frank Young Tr)
9.9    Fork R on Rock Springs (L=Jones Ranch)
11.1  Doubletrack, continue straight to road
         N 39 55.676' W 111 38.068'
         Turn R on road, then L 0.1 mile later
11.5  Back at vehicle

Getting there:  Going south, take the Payson exit 250 from I-15 and turn left. Head into Payson on U-115 to the traffic light, then turn left (100 North, U-198). About 1/3 mile later, at the top of a small hill, turn right at 600 East. Set your odometer now! Keep going up Payson Canyon. Just past Payson Lakes at mile 12.8, you'll see a Rock Spring trail sign on your right. About 1/10th mile down the dirt road is a large corral, with the trail on the left side.

To start from the Ranger Station trailhead, go past the trailhead sign for 1/10th mile. Turn left across from the Ranger Station. Go 1/10 mile to park. Pedal a tiny ways up the dirt road on your right and find the singletrack at the top of the ridge. GPS N 39 55.535' W 111 37.753'.

For the Blackhawk Trailhead, continue up the road to mile 14 and turn left at the fork to Blackhawk Campground. About 1/10 mile down the road, there's a turnout on the right. The trailhead is at the log fence, heading west. GPS N 39 54.542' W 111 38.373'.

Riding resources:
One-page printable trail guide
GPS track files (right-click and "Save as..."):
     GPX multi-track   (includes area trails)
Topo maps:  View loop map   2017 upper Payson Canyon trail topo
Lodging, camping, shops:
     Links to south Utah County area resources

Copyright 2002 Mad Scientist Software Inc
Updated 2017.