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Duchesne River Gorge Overlook
Soapstone Basin Loop

If you've lived in Utah very long, you've seen pictures of Soapstone Basin. The local weathermen frequently use photos of this area as backdrops. Soapstone in the summer with sparkling meadows of alpine flowers. Soapstone in the fall with brilliant gold aspen among the fir trees. This trail is not singletrack. But it's a good ride.

View through a crack in the cliffs at 10,100 feet, looking northwest at the peaks of the central Uintah Mountains. Photos and ride description by Bruce, October 14, 2010.

I'm offering two rides here, which you can combine into a single adventure if you like. Both rides are 100% 4x4 track, mostly rutted dirt road with occasional rock outcrops and rare stretches of loose rock.

Ride 1 is an out-and-back to the cliffs above the Duchesne River Gorge. It's 15.2 miles total (if you start where FR 304 forks off the main road). The ride starts at an altitude of 8500 feet and tops out at 10,150. Yes, TEN thousand. That's 1800 total vertical feet of climbing, but at this altitude any slope feels like you're climbing in sand.

Jackie tests the trail as we start out. The route is rutted and rough, with more than a few puddles. Just like IMBA says: puddles get bigger if you try to go around them.

Ride 2 is the Soapstone Basin loop ride. The loop is 15.4 miles. Lowest point is 8500 and the top is a mere 9850. Many riders start from the Lambert Hollow primitive camping area, one mile north of the loop on the Soapstone Basin Road. This will make your ride 17.5 miles, but doesn't really add any climbing.

If you start at Lambert Hollow and ride the loop with a side trip to the Duchesne River Gorge overlook, it's 21 miles.

The willows turn auburn where beaver dams have created a meadow out of Soapstone Creek.

 

The loop ride can be done either direction. If you go clockwise, the climb is fairly steady, interrupted by occasional flat zones and short bits of coasting.

Counterclockwise, you'll have a grunt climb up to Soapstone Pass (about 500 vertical in 1.4 miles). There are two long flatish zones along the ridge between mild climbs.

A typical smooth spot along the road. Aspens mix with fir, with frequent meadows.

Because of the altitude, this ride will be snowbound until July.

Most of the ride is in forest of fir and aspen. There are frequent meadows. These open meadows must be striking in July when the wildflowers bloom. Because I was riding in mid-October, the only color I saw was hunter orange. I did my best not to look like an elk.

Imagine this meadow full of Mules Ear flowers. There was snow in the shady spots among the fir trees.

There were a few short steeper areas with loose rock. That's inevitable when ATVs and 4x4s spin up these slopes. By picking routes along the side of the track, I was able to avoid spinning out on loose boulders. Most of the ride was smooth, but the altitude made any grade over 5% seem tough.

Not sight seeing. Out in the woods hoping to see an elk.

To do the out-and-back to the overlook, drive 4.2 miles from the Mirror Lake Highway (U-150) on the Soapstone Basin Road. You'll reach a Y fork, which might (or might not) be marked with a non-descript carsonite post. If  the post says "304," fork left. That's your road. Find a spot to park at one of the primitive campsites. Don't go too far. If you drive more than 1/4 mile, you may find deep holes and ruts.

Approaching the cliffs of the gorge. It's over half a mile to the bottom. We're at 10,100 feet elevation; the river is at 7,400 feet. We're looking southeast.

If you parked at Lambert Hollow (there's a nice big sign there), it's one mile to the Y fork. Your total mileage will be 17.3.

Start riding up FR 304. Stay on the main road. Watch your odometer (or use GPS), because there are two unmarked forks (as of 2010) near your goal -- one is a sucker fork to fool you, and the other is the critical turn that takes you to the overlook.

View to the northeast.

At an unmarked fork 4.5 miles from the start of FR 304, do NOT go left downhill. Stay uphill and right.

At an unmarked fork 5.9 miles from the beginning of FR 304, DO go left downhill. This critical fork is in a broad meadow, where the road turns from southwest to southeast. You'll see the continuing road climbing up and over a bald ridge. Fork to the left and descend. Within 1/4 mile, you'll come to another unmarked fork. Go uphill and left. Now climb to 10,150 feet.

View to the north. More bald mountains.

The ATV track will now flirt with the cliff edge for about 1/4 mile. There are several viewpoints with chasms between them. Very impressive. Across the Duchesne River Gorge are the bare peaks of the Uintahs.

Turn around and bomb back to your car. Or finish the loop if you have time. It only adds a couple of miles.

Don't get too close.

For the loop ride, the routes are marked best if you're going counterclockwise (2010 info - this might change). For example, when FR 174 meets FR 304 in a Y fork, the only carsonite post at the intersection would help a rider going north, but was worthless to a clockwise southbound rider. The sign said only where he'd come from, not which road he should take.

Counterclockwise, the loop is: south on Soapstone Basin Road, L eastbound on FR 89, northbound on 174, then westbound on 304.

As we head back downhill, the moon sits in the sky above us. At 10,000 feet, the sky is very dark blue and the moon is visible at 3:45 in the October afternoon.

OK, this ride isn't singletrack. You may see a couple of ATV riders. But it's a nice ride. I'd really like to see it with the summer wildflowers.

And the cliffs over the Duchesne River Gorge... photos simply cannot capture the sphincter-tightening butterflies you feel as your cleats crunch on loose rock approaching the precipice. 360 degrees of view.

Jackie is holding at 8 mph as we hit mile 15. If I get ahead, she'll just follow me by the smell of the tires. At age 12, Jackie is still enthusiastic. But the longer rides are a little harder on her now.

Riding notes, from Lambert Hollow
Soapstone Loop with trip to viewpoint:

0.0    Head south on Soapstone Basin Road
         N40 33.264 W111 01.884
1.0    Fork L on FR 304, N40 32.500 W111 01.722
2.7    Keep R N40 32.942 W111 00.063
3.2    Keep R N40 33.055 W110 59.545
4.3    Keep L N40 33.283 W110 58.536
5.6    Fork R N40 33.397 W110 57.223
6.9    Fork L (Critical Fork) N40 32.629 W110 56.148
7.1    Fork L N40 32.550 W110 55.946
8.6    Viewpoint turnaround N40 32.925 W110 55.050
10.3  Back at 304, left on 174
11.5  Straight N40 31.729 W110 56.010
12.0  Straight N40 31.436 W110 56.170
12.1  Keep R N40 31.261 W110 56.304
13.6  R at creek FR 89, N40 31.013 W110 57.813
         Stay on main road
18.3  R on Soapstone Basin Road N40 31.894 W111 01.886
19.0  Keep R at Piuta Camp N40 32.372 W111 02.432
19.6  At main fork, go L
20.7  Back at Lambert Hollow
Getting there, via 150:  Exit I-80 southbound on US-40. After 4 miles, exit and head east toward Kamas. Turn left (north) on main street. Drive north about 1/4 mile then turn right onto the Mirror Lake Highway, U-150. Drive 15 miles from Kamas. Turn right on Soapstone Basin Road. Go 3.1 miles to Lambert Hollow, or 4.2 to the Y fork where FR 304 forks left off the main road.

Getting there, via 35:  Head up Provo Canyon on US-189. In Heber, turn left (north) at the light on 189. Drive through Heber. As you approach the Jordanelle dam, turn right toward Francis/Kamas. When you reach the 4-way stop in Francis, go straight on Highway 35. (If you want Highway150, turn left toward Kamas.) Drive 16.5 miles. (When you pass the Mill Hollow road, you're almost there.) Turn left on the Soapstone Basin Road. Drive about 2 miles to the top of Soapstone Pass. Start here, or descend 1.6 miles to the Y fork or continue to Lambert Hollow.

Riding resources for this trail:
Single-page riding guide:  View to print
GPS track files (right-click and "Save as..."):
    Garmin      GPX
Topo map (1.2MB):  View to print
Lodging, camping, shops:
     Links to area resources

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