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Wasatch Crest Trail

Looking southwest across Big Cottonwood Canyon

View southwest overlooking Solitude Resort and Big Cottonwood Canyon.  September 28, 1998 photo by Bruce.

The Wasatch Crest Trail runs along the high ridge between Big Cottonwood Canyon and Park City, then descends via Mill Creek Canyon. This is a very popular and well-traveled trail. Because it's at high altitude, the riding season starts in July. There are many ways to enjoy this great trail.

View from Scott's Bypass trail as you begin the ride at the top of Guardsman Pass.

Shuttled rides!
Most riders do the Wasatch Crest as a shuttled ride from the top of Big Cottonwood Canyon. There are two popular starting points from Guardsman Road. The lower trail climbs and the higher one trail descends, then they converge at Scott's Pass below Puke Hill. The shuttled ride ends with a pavement rush down Mill Creek Canyon (and a possible detour onto Mill Creek Pipeline on the way down).

Scott's Bypass trail has varied scenery, ranging from open meadows to aspen groves to deep fir forest.

Climbing to the Crest!
There are other ways to ride the Crest. Hardbodies can climb from Mill Creek Canyon's Big Water trail and ride the Wasatch Crest as a 20-mile out-and-back or as a loop with Midmountain. (Upper Mill Creek trails are open to bikes only on even-numbered days!) You can also reach the Crest by climbing Mill D North Fork, which hooks in above Desolation Lake.

Climbing the Big Water trail in Mill Creek Canyon. At the top of Mill Creek, we can loop around the Midmountain Trail then climb to the crest for a giant loop ride. Photo 2012.

The Crest from Park City!
You can also get there from Park City for an out-and-back or loop. Any climbing route to Midmountain can get you to the Wasatch Crest. Pine Cone Ridge connects directly to Puke Hill at the south end of the Crest. You can reach Scott's Pass via the Shadow Lake Trail or connect to Scott's Bypass via Dead Tree (see the Scott's Bypass Loop page). You can also reach Guardsman Road from Deer Valley.

Heading toward the top of Guardsman Pass on the Dead Tree Trail, we're looking down at Shadow Lake.

Big Loops!
Hardcore riders combine the Wasatch Crest with the Midmountain trail for a long loop. There are many variations! Most riders do a clockwise loop, descending the Crest. At the northern (lower) end of the Crest, the Crest Connector connects to the Midmountain Trail just north of Red Pine Lodge of The Canyons. At the southern end of the Crest, there are several connection routes from Midmountain of varying difficulty and complexity. The most direct route is Pine Cone Ridge.

View on the Crest Connector Trail at the northern end of the Midmountain-Wasatch Crest loop.

Mill D Loop!
You can do a loop on the Cottonwood side. This is a good option on odd-numbered days, when Mill Creek is closed to bikes. Park at Reynolds Flat and bike uphill on the Big Cottonwood Road, then Guardsman Road. Hit the Crest, then after The Spine drop down the trail to Desolation Lake Trail to the Mill D North Fork. (Intersection of the Crest with the Desolation Lake trail is GPS N 40 39.508' W 111 35.756'.)

Looking toward the mouth of Big Cottonwood.

The Classic Wasatch Crest ride
The classic Wasatch Crest ride is a 13-mile shuttled ride from Guardsman Road to the Big Water trailhead in Mill Creek Canyon. (Even-numbered days only!) But there are two favorite "classic" starting points:
(1) Go all the way to the Guardsman Pass parking lot and take Scott's Bypass trail. Scott's Bypass is 1.4 miles, descending 200 vertical feet (with a bit of climbing in the middle). The singletrack ends at Scott's Pass above Shadow Lake.

A hairpin turn in the aspens on Scott's Bypass.

(2) There's a doubletrack located at a turn in the Guardsman road. Parking is at roadside. The DT climbs uphill 0.8 miles to Scott's Pass. It's a stiff climb, covering about 450 vertical feet..

No matter which trailhead you select, you've gotta climb Puke Hill from Scott's Pass to the top of the Crest. This rider is about finished.

At Scott's Pass, take the doubletrack on your left heading uphill. You're now on the way to Puke Hill, the final brute climb to the Crest. It's 350 vertical feet in 1/2 mile, with the steepest part at the highest altitude. The name Puke Hill was not chosen arbitrarily. Take a break at 9900 feet to enjoy the views.

Looking south from Puke Hill at Brighton Resort.

On the ridge there will be singletrack to your right. That's Pine Cone Ridge. To continue on the Crest, veer left along the ridge on doubletrack trail. After the second transmission shack, it converts to single track.

A rider hits a rolling uphill as he proceeds westbound along the Wasatch Crest.

The trail rolls up and down, with fabulous views of the granite peaks southward in Big Cottonwood and Little Cottonwood canyons on your left. Occasionally, you'll see a bit of the Park City area to your right.

View north over the Park City ski areas, with I-80 heading east in the valley below. On the right, the peaks of the Uintah Mountains reach the skyline.

Into late summer, the trail is surrounded by sticky geranium, wild flax, paintbrush, daisy, wild rose, and arnica. Later in the season, currants, rose hips, and elderberry provide color as the leaves turn yellow. 

There's a fair amount of up-and-down riding as you follow the Wasatch Crest trail west, then north.

Until you drop into north Mill Creek Canyon, every inch of the trail has a fabulous view extending over miles of alpine landscape.

Just before turning north away from Big Cottonwood Canyon, we take a look down the canyon. The Oquirrh Mountains are across the Salt Lake valley in the distance.

Above Desolation Lake, the sharp fin of rock called The Spine is a challenge for the very best riders. The ridge is a col, a fin left standing between two glaciers as they ate into the mountain towards each other (there's a glacial cirque and lake on either side of the fin). 

This rider is heading toward the easier left line on The Spine, while another biker judiciously packs his bike downhill.

This is a good spot to take a break. Enjoy the views of Desolation Lake. Hike back uphill and try The Spine again.

Desolation Lake. The Bingham Canyon copper mine can be seen in the distance.

Don't be ashamed to walk your bike over this area. Most riders walk -- or stop for on-trail repairs and bandaging. Want to ride? The line to the far left is suitable for confident upper-intermediate riders. The apex of the ridge right on top of the spine looks scary, but it's a pretty good line. The area between them is a trap.

Taking the ballsy line.

Keep right at the trail fork just below The Spine (left goes down to Desolation Lake and Mill D North Fork). Now motor on toward Mill Creek Canyon, stopping occasionally for the views. This section of the trail (Mill Creek Canyon) is open to mountain bikers on even days only -- you can bike the 28th, but not the 29th.

Another peek south at Solitude Resort's ski slopes.

Keep to the left at the intersection with the Crest Connector. Follow the trail signs down Mill Creek Canyon to the Lower Big Water Trail. (Alternate: shorter steeper descent down Red Pine Road Trail.) The official ride ends in the parking lot in upper Mill Creek Canyon. Coast down the road to your shuttle vehicle.

A rider zooms downhill in upper Mill Creek Canyon.

An option (our personal favorite) is to catch the Mill Creek Pipeline at Elbow Fork 4 miles down the road. Ride the Pipeline Trail to Rattlesnake Gulch, then run out the bottom of the canyon.

Looking west, around the midpoint of the descent down Mill Creek.

Riding directions, Classic Crest from Guardsman Pass:
0.0   From parking, find DT (north uphill)
        N40 36.409 W111 33.291
0.1   Veer L onto ST (Scott's Bypass)
1.4   Drop to Scott's Pass
        N40 36.992 W111 33.511
        Straight across, uphill on DT
        (L = down to road, R = Shadow Lake)
1.9   Puke Hill N40 37.264 W111 33.731
        Go L (R = Pine Cone Ridge)
5.8   The Spine N40 39.354 W111 35.708
5.9   Keep R (L = Desolation Lake)
        N40 39.508 W111 35.756
7.7   View on R N40 40.842 W111 36.144
8.3   Keep L (R = Crest Connector)
        N40 41.219 W111 36.083
9.2   Keep L (R = Red Pine Rd Trail)
        N40 41.029 W111 36.901
11.3 Straight N40 40.685 W111 38.486
        (L = Dog Lake, R = Little Water)
13    Parking N40 41.082 W111 38.905
Getting there: 
Guardsman Road trailheads:
Leave a shuttle vehicle below the mouth of Mill Creek Canyon. (Not in the residential areas, please!) Now drive to Big Cottonwood Canyon (Wasatch Blvd and 72nd South). Pass Solitude Resort (at about 15 miles). Just before you reach Brighton Resort, the road to Guardsman Pass turns off on your left. At 0.8 miles, you'll see a red metal gate. Exactly one mile later (1.8 miles from the fork in the road), you'll see a dirt road on the left. GPS N 40 36.817' W 111 33.532'. This is the first option to start your ride. Park along the hairpin turn and bike up the road. (There's a second -- closed -- gate about 100 yards up the road. Just pack your bike around the gate and continue.) Another mile up Guardsman Road, you'll reach the summit. There's a parking area here. The doubletrack on the north is the trail. Drop off the doubletrack about 0.1 mile later to start the singletrack Scott's Bypass.
Wasatch Crest Trail Map Mill Creek trailhead: Get to Foothill Blvd on the east bench of Salt Lake City via I-215. Exit at 39th South. Take 3800 South eastbound into the Canyon. Drive all the way to the top of the canyon. The trail begins on the south end of the Big Water Trailhead parking area GPS N 40 40.922' W 111 34.199'. (Note: the gate to upper Mill Creek Canyon is open to cars July 1 to November 1. Mountain bikes are only allowed on upper Mill Creek trails on EVEN numbered days!) The fee to enter Mill Creek Canyon is $3 per car (2012), payable on leaving.
Mill D Loop or climb: Drive up Big Cottonwood Canyon to Reynold's Flat and the Mill D North Fork trailhead. Shuttle or ride to the trail head. You can bomb down Mill D North Fork from Desolation Lake, or make the loop around north Mill Creek Canyon and catch the Dog Lake trail back to Mill D. See the Mill D North Fork page for loop options from Mill D.
Park City epic loops:  For real hammerheads, consider riding the Wasatch Crest from Park City. Starting spots include Rob's Trail, The Canyons (Ambush), Park City Mountain Resort (Crescent Mine Grade, Spiro, Armstrong), Sweeney/Johns, and Deer Valley's Silver Lake Lodge. Climb to the Wasatch Crest, ride it, then drop back to the Midmountain trail at the fork above Mill Creek Canyon. See the Wasatch Crest - Midmountain Loop Trail page.
Riding resources for this trail:
Single-page riding guide
GPS track files and route (right-click and "Save as..."):
     GPX Classic Crest Guardsman Rd   GPX Classic via Scott's
     Scott's plus Pipeline descent   Scott's to Red Pine Rd Tr
     Mill Creek "Reverse Crest" Loop   Mill Creek out-and-back
     Epic Mill-D-Road-Crest-Dog Lake 
     Mill-D-Desolation-Dog Lake Loop
     Mill-D-Road-Crest-Down Mill D North
     Tracks ncluding Mill D N, Dog Lake GPX
     Multi-track Park City loop rides
     The Ultimate FileGPX Inter-canyon Connections Parleys to Provo  
Medium-res topo:  View   High-res topo (900 KB): View  
Topo maps of loop via Park City:  Medium-Res   High-Res
Lodging, camping, shops:
       Links to northern SLC resources
       Links to Cottonwood canyon resources

Above: View from the ridgeline at Desolation Lake. That's my old Rockhopper. Desolation Lake is a glacial lake, with the rounded valley (called a cirque) carved out by the weight of moving ice. September 28, 1998.

Copyright 2000 Mad Scientist Software Inc
Last updated 2012