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
|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
|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
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,
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
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
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.
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).
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.