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Willow Creek 025 South - French Hollow and optional Buffalo Canyon

This ride is located in the high ridge country between Strawberry Reservoir and Spanish Fork Canyon. It is NOT the cushy Willow Creek 001 found north of Strawberry near Daniel's Canyon summit. This Willow Creek trail is best classified as an "adventure ride" -- definitely reserved for very experienced riders who come well-prepared.

View of a tiny falls near the trail crossing of Racetrack Creek. Photos and ride September 16, 2009 by Bruce and Jackie.

Important notice for riders with maps!  Do not, do not, do not follow the lower Willow Creek trail route shown on your topo map or software. Every source I checked showed a nice trail extending all the way down Willow Creek to the Strawberry River, then turning upriver and connecting to the road below the dam. It looked very tempting; an awesome loop ride. Well, that trail does not exist any more. Stick with my suggestions and it's unlikely you'll die in the wilderness. Which is a distinct possibility if you try to get all the way down the Willow Creek gorge to the Strawberry River.
In the year of my ride, the Willow Creek trail hadn't seen a lot of use. It's a legal route for motorcycles, and the trail desperately needed a herd of them to establish a clear riding route. The trail was hard to find and sometimes hard to follow. While the trail never strays far from the willows along the creek, the frequent game trails and alternate tracks will have you following a few dead ends.

This is FR 090 as we climb up on the Epic ride. The first few miles of 090 is suitable for family cars in all weather, but after storms there may be mud in some areas further on. If you're uncertain about road conditions, drive FR 131 from Strawberry's west side and park at the FR131 - FR 090 junction.

You need maps, a good ride description, and an accurate odometer or GPS unit loaded with the ride's track and coordinates. Come prepared and give yourself plenty of time. The scenery is beautiful, and the riding in the gorge offers its own brand of fun.

View from FR 090 of Soldier Creek, as the wind whips the surface into shimmering blotches of color. On the skyline to the left, those are the sharp peaks of the Uintah Mountains. The road ride portion of the Epic is actually a beautiful and fun experience.

The lower portion of the trail is not only hard to follow, it suffers from grown-in brush. Not just sage, but currant and rosebush that will razor your legs. I suggest you bring shin-guards or long cycling tights and put them on when you hit the area between Buffalo Canyon and French Hollow.

Top of the French Hollow Trail on FR 090. If you're dropping down here (or climbing up), the top 1/4 mile is moderately steep, but not that tough.

View to the west and northwest with Cascade Mountain, Mount Timpanogos, then Lone Peak and the Cottonwood Canyons.

Many sections of the Willow Creek trail traverse steep slopes, with a very narrow riding line. While fat knobbies help, the most important factors are skill, speed, and confidence. These steep slopes are prone to washouts, which adds to the challenge. I liked it, but not many riders will.

As we reach the southern end of the road ride on FR 131, we're looking into Spanish Fork Canyon (mid-right in the photo is a US-6 highway road-cut).

There are probably two places beyond French Hollow where a route takes you left up to FR 090. But I haven't confirmed that the top and bottom actually connect. Let me know if you've explored these options.

Now a disclaimer: I did not actually complete any of the rides listed below. I did a few pieces of the top and bottom of the connector trails (Racetrack, Buffalo, Center, French) just to prove they were there. But I was suckered by existing maps into riding further down Willow Creek into impenetrable jungle.

Already over 32 miles into the ride and too late in the day to turn back, I thought good trail was just around the next bend. So I dragged and carried my bike through brambles and over huge boulders in the creekbed. For two hours. I'll save you from that. Don't go past the fence.

We're finally at the Willow Creek Trail. After hiking through a few campers and trailers that were parked right on the trail, I found this trail about 100 yards from the road.

I'll offer 4 loop options:
Climber's Epic:  36.2 miles w 4300 vertical. Base 7500, top 9500.
The Big Loop:   21.6 miles w 2400 vertical. Low 8000, top 9500
French Buffalo:   13.6 miles w 1600 vertical. Low 8000, top 9500
Racing Buffalo:   7.1 miles w 500 vertical. Low 8200, top 8600

Jackie did 37 miles with me, including a fair amount of swimming across wheel-high creekwater, scrambling over giant boulders in the lower Willow Creek gorge (don't go there), and picking her way through the Strawberry River rapids. She's getting a chunk of granola bar to keep her speed up.

Climber's Epic:
36.2 miles w 4300 vertical

Drive to the east end of Soldier Creek, head toward the dam, then pass Aspen Grove campground and marina. Park at the alternate Strawberry Narrows trailhead 0.3 miles uphill, just off the paved road. Climb and descend FR 090 then turn left on FR 131. 

The trail follow the creek down a very slightly sloping canyon. You can see a sliver of the trail at the far right of this photo.

When FR 131 splits at mile 18.5 (Reservation Ridge on L and 131 to Soldier Summit on the R), find the trail on your left at the north end of the clearing. Blunder your way to the French Hollow trail 7.9 miles later, then climb 2.5 miles up French Hollow. Turn right and ride 7.3 miles on FR 090, climbing up over the ridge again and back to your car.
The Big Loop: 
21.6 miles w 2400 vertical

This is the option that most experienced and adventurous riders will go for. Go around the west end of Strawberry, passing the Renegade Point marina on FR 131. When FR 090 comes in on your right, park there and begin riding south on 131. Ride 7 miles to the Reservation Ridge - 131 split (see the navigation information below -- there are a lot of forks in the road). Head north on the Willow Creek trail. At the French Hollow trail 7.9 miles later, climb 2.5 miles up French Hollow. Turn left on FR 090 and ride 4.2 miles back to the car.

A bit further on, this 8-inch ribbon on the side-slope is the trail. Not too bad here -- you can motor right along. But it's not for the unskilled.

French Buffalo: 
13.6 miles w 1600 vertical

This will likely be the favorite. Fun creek crossings, enough riding to satisfy. This loop circles through French Hollow and Buffalo Canyon, and can be ridden either way. (The top of French Hollow is a little steeper, if that makes a difference to you.) 

OK, now we're talking tricky. This can be ridden, but you've got to keep up your speed and keep your line smooth.

Drive to the top of French Hollow. Drop 2.5 miles down French Hollow, then fork R (south) and ride slightly uphill 3.2 miles to Buffalo Canyon. Climb Buffalo 2.5 miles to FR 131 and turn R. 1.2 miles later, turn R again on FR 090 and climb back up to your car. Or do it the opposite way.

Just thought you'd want to know: trail. This was the only trail marker on Willow Creek. The tiny brown stripe left of the bike is the trail.

Racing Buffalo: 
7.1 miles w 500 vertical

This is the easiest option, although the trail isn't very easy to follow in the bottom of Willow Creek. Drive to the top of Buffalo Canyon on FR 131. Ride 131 for 1.4 miles to the Willow Creek guardstation road and turn left. 

A shallow creek, fun to splash through, as Jackie follows the bike up the other side.

Just before the guard station, turn right (south) across the meadow, then turn back east again and follow the DT until it becomes the ST Racetrack Canyon trail. After 2.0 miles from 131, fork left along Willow Creek and ride 1.4 miles to Buffalo Canyon. Fork left up the canyon and ride 2.5 miles to your car.

Then there's this crossing, with hip-deep water and a muddy bottom. Jackie got to practice her swimming skills. She hates swimming. The bike wouldn't touch bottom because it was floating.

So is this ride worth doing? Yes.

Less-strong riders can do the loop using Racetrack Creek and Buffalo Canyon. There's little climbing, and you can hoof it through the areas along Willow Creek that are hard to ride or confusing. For the easy ride, just remember, whichever direction you ride, when you hit the next canyon, turn. And always turn the same direction.

As we get lower still, the trail features currant bushes, roses and other harsher shrubs to scratch you as you ride. It's pretty, though.

Adventuresome riders will enjoy the side-slope hugging runs along the ravine above the willows as you crank downhill on the epic ride. If enough motorcycles and bicycles hit this canyon, it won't be confusing (or as difficult) any more.

The creek-splashes between Buffalo Canyon and French Hollow are a hoot. Plan to get wet.

Looking back up the canyon. Can you spot the trail, an eight-inch ribbon of dirt hidden in the shrubs? Amazingly, I could actually motor through here pretty efficiently.

Did I mention the scratchy shrubbery? It's all part of the adventure, but if you don't want your legs scratched, bring riding tights or shin guards.

And if you ride the trail, tell the forest service that you'd like to see them (1) create a single, non-confusing trail alignment, (2) put in more signs, (3) change their maps so people aren't arriving at the dead end, and ideally, (4) create a tie-in to the lower trail, running over to Soldier Creek so we'll have a great epic riding loop.

The front of my legs at the sockline.

Road riding notes for Climber's Epic:
0.0   Park at pullout on R side of road, 1/3 mile past the marina
        N40 07.851 W111 02.316
        Ride uphill (R) on pavement, which becomes gravel
2.0   Keep straight (R)  N40 06.492 W111 02.698
2.5   Forest border
3.8   DT on R, trail on L, keep on road
        N40 05.818 W111 04.034
5.0   Temporary reprieve from climbing, Alt 9200
6.3   Trail 360 forks off on L, keep straight
        N40 04.763 W111 06.032
6.5   Keep straight and L, DT on R
        N40 04.789 W111 06.152
7.4   Straight. DT 109 on R, top of French Hollow on L
        N40 04.628 W111 06.935 Alt 9000
8.3   Keep L, R = FR 679)  N40 04.003 W111 07.018
9.1   Viewpoint Alt 9500
9.4   Keep straight, R = Center Canyon
        N40 03.637 W111 07.875
11.5 L on FR 131 N40 03.065 W111 09.500
12.3 L toward White River on 131
        N40 02.643 W111 09.390
12.8 Keep straight, R = Buffalo Canyon
        N40 02.426 W111 09.112
13.9 Straight. R = Guard Station and Racetrack Creek
        N40 01.579 W111 09.202
14.8 Fork L toward Soldier Summit (continue 131)
        N40 01.277 W111 10.023
16.0 Keep on road (DT to Willow Creek on L)
        N40 00.389 W111 10.155
18.5 Arrive fork FR 131 (Soldier Summit and Left Fork) and
        Reservation Ridge road. Find trail in meadow on L.
        N39 59.196 W111 09.232
Riding notes, Willow Creek downhill from top:
0.0   At fork FR 131 (Soldier Summit and Left Fork) and
        Reservation Ridge road. Find trail in meadow on L.
        N39 59.196 W111 09.232
2.0   Cross to west (L) side of creek, cross feeder creek
        N40 00.422 W111 07.894
        Faint trail joins from canyon on L
3.3   On L side of creek, cross Racetrack creek
        Trail joins, keep R, N40 01.148 W111 07.190
4.0   Confusing area, find your way. Suggest L side.
4.7   Veer L into Buffalo Canyon, cross creek
        Trail joins, hard R, N40 01.907 W111 06.577
6.8   On R side of creek, cross Center Canyon trail
        N40 03.087 W111 05.049
7.9   French Hollow crosses at angle,
        N40 03.849 W111 04.496
        Hard L to climb French Hollow
10.4 Top of French Hollow at FR 090

Getting there, FR 090 (Soldier Creek) for Epic Ride or driving to French Hollow:  On US 40, go eastbound up Daniel's Canyon and cross the summit. Continue on US 40 past Strawberry Reservoir. Pass the Soldier Creek campground, then 1/2 mile later turn right toward Soldier Creek Dam (road fork is N40 10.960 W111 01.690). After 3.3 miles, keep R at the fork and continue toward the dam and marina. At 4 miles from US 40, turn R and go across the dam. At 5.2 miles, you reach the intersection for the Aspen Grove campground (left) and the marina (right). Continue on another 8 miles if you're headed for French Hollow (ignore the big no-trespassing sign; you're on a public road). To do the epic ride, drive 0.3 miles past the marina. Just after the road turns to the left, exit on dirt doubletrack N40 07.851 W111 02.316. Park there. Start your ride by heading up the hill on the paved road.
Getting there, FR 131 (from Strawberry):  On US 40, go eastbound up Daniel's Canyon and cross the summit. 4.7 miles after the summit, turn R on the main Strawberry road. Continue south toward Indian Creek at the far southeast corner of the reservoir. Drive past the Renegade Point marina and and continue southeast on FR 131 and begin climbing. About 6 miles past Renegade Point, FR 090 comes in on your left at N40 03.065 W111 09.500. Park here for the big loop ride, or turn left on 090 if you're headed to the top of French Hollow. For Buffalo Canyon, keep straight. Note the directions and coordinates above to navigate your way to the Buffalo Canyon trailhead. 

Riding Resources:
Condensed riding guide for Epic:  Click here.
GPS Track File  (Right-click and "Save as...")
    Garmin      GPX 
Large-format topo map (2.6 MB!):     View map
Lodging, camping, shops:
     Links to Strawberry area resources

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