The Blackhawk Trail is a narrow singletrack that twists
through aspen and pine along the top of the Nebo Loop in Payson Canyon. Almost
unknown to northern Wasatch Front bikers,
this trail is among the nicest alpine rides in the state.
Snow clears from the top of Blackhawk in early June, but the many
sections stay wet with springs and bogs until late summer. Most of the creeks that cross
the trail have a solid base, but if you see deep horse hoof prints, you'd better bail and
Bruce cruises through aspen groves as
the Mules Ear blooms. Original review and photos October 26,
1999 by Bruce. Latest update June 19,
The Nebo Loop is famous for its
beautiful trees and mountain vistas -- especially in late September to early October when
the red maples and golden aspens draw Sunday-afternoon gawkers from around the state.
Elevation is 8000 feet.
The loop I describe on this page uses the Rock
Spring and Jones Ranch trails. At 18 miles with 2400 vertical, it's for very strong riders.
It requires only good
intermediate technical skills. You can make a shorter loop by connecting other trails in
the area (see below).
Chris rides south toward Mount Nebo on October 9,
2002. This ride climbed Bennie Creek from Birdeye and descended Beaver
The Blackhawk Trail itself is 8.6 miles long. At the
bottom end, it forks off the Loafer Mountain Trail. (The trailhead is on
the downhill side of the road, just below the Payson Lakes campground
As Blackhawk climbs, there will be a spur to the Nebo
Loop road to connect to the Rock Spring trail, and a spur to doubletrack
at the Guard Station.
At its southeast corner, the Blackhawk trail winds around the Blackhawk Campground.
There are several spurs that connect the campground to the trail. If you're in a
shortcut trail (Bennie Creek Ridge) bypasses the long loop around the campground, but at the cost
of some extra climbing.
The upper end of Blackhawk is on the Nebo Loop Road, just west of
the Beaver Dam Overlook and across the road from the Tie Fork (Frank Young)
trail. This trail heads to the middle of the Rock Spring trail, offering a
There are several meadows of Mules Ear flowers. This is
one of the attractions that brings riders here in June. Here Kris rides
through the big meadow, about 1/2 mile uphill from the Loafer trailhead. Photo received by email, 2005.
Much of Blackhawk is easy cruising. But what you'll
remember are the horse-trenched, boulder-strewn stretches. And at 8000
feet elevation, the uphills will seem steep, even if they're not. It's a
solid ride for intermediates.
Because Blackhawk has multiple connections, you can assemble a ride that's
mellow and easy, or a monster of a sufferfest. Your call.
As you drop onto the east side of Bennie Creek Ridge,
there are a lot of meadows. This area is easy cruising.
Payson Canyon is a favorite for those who ride horses. There's plenty of
trail here to "thin the herd." And the trailside usually has
generous open space for horses and bikers to move off-trail for passing. And
although you'll see plenty of horse trailers, actually seeing riders
on-trail is rare. But be prepared to yield and always be courteous.
the early season, horses will pit the swampy areas. By July, these spots
have usually smoothed out.
The Blackhawk Loop ride
This loop uses
Spring, and Jones Ranch. While there's only 800 feet of
absolute elevation change, but you'll climb that amount three times! You'll need strong thighs, plenty of water, and
Shorter options are offered below, with additional information on the Rock
Springs Loop page.
Approaching the Blackhawk Campground.
From the Loafer Mountain trailhead, you roll down 0.15
miles, where you take the right fork to the Blackhawk Trail. You'll now climb
south 1.5 miles
through aspen, maples, and pines to Bennie Creek Ridge. Dropping over the back side, it's
up and down through meadows, springs, and small creeks until you reach the Blackhawk
Campground at mile 4.75.
The trail passes directly through the campground --
conveniently, right past this group picnic area where you'll find water.
As you approach the campground, go straight onto the double-track until you reach a paved road. Go
straight across to a single-track. Cross paved road again, and fork right in the middle of
the large meadow. At the next road, find the continuing trail at GPS N 39° 53.246' W
After the campground, the nature of the trail
changes. Westbound, it's steeper, narrower, and more overgrown. As you
climb toward the ridgeline at 8400 feet, it's a bit of work.
Keep right at the next trail intersection. Next is a 4-way
intersection. Straight ahead takes you up the hardest section of the trail, to the ridge
at the top of the Nebo Loop. (Forking right takes you up to the Black Campground road,
just off the Nebo Loop Road. From here, you can turn left to take paved road to the
summit, or go straight across to the Bennie Creek Ridge Trail. This trail returns you to
the Blackhawk Trail for a short loop of around 9 miles.)
View down into Beaver Dam Creek Canyon from the
west-bound trail. While most of the mountain is aspen forest and
meadows, there are some stands of fir.
As Blackhawk ends on the Nebo Loop road, turn left on pavement and ride over the crest of the Nebo Loop. After 2
miles, turn right on the gravel Santaquin Road. Exactly one mile later at GPS N 39°
54.398' W 111° 41.624', the Rock Springs Trail drops down on your right, taking you back
east. Keep straight at all trail intersections.
OK, we're at Lizard Lake on the Rock Spring trail. Kinda
pretty. The flowers will be blooming in a week or two. Photo June 5,
Save some muscle to climb Done Ridge, the last mountain between you and your car. Then
roll two delightful miles along the creek through beautiful aspens and pines. Again, keep
straight at all trail intersections, (unless you want to visit Payson Lakes as an
alternate return route). When you reach the Nebo Loop road, turn right and head uphill to
your car. (There are a couple of alternate singletracks near the end of the trail. They
all take you down to the road.)
Almost back to the car.
Blackhawk uphill from Loafer to the ridgeline above Frank Young
If the above video does not appear on your
browser/device, you can watch it on YouTube by clicking
Shorter loops can be constructed as follows:
Blackhawk-Bennie Ridge Loop: After the Blackhawk
Campground, keep right at the next two intersections. As you come up through the log
fence, you encounter the campground road (the Nebo Loop road is about 1/4 mile to your
left). Go straight across the pavement to the Bennie Ridge (campground
bypass) trail and run the ridge back to
the Blackhawk trail. Length 9 miles.
View of Payson Lake from the ridge top, on a spur off the
main trail. October 26, 1999.
Tie Fork to Rock Spring: After Blackhawk,
go right at the first intersection, straight at the second. Arriving at the Nebo Loop road
at the ridgetop, go straight across to the singletrack trail (Tie Fork Spur
or Frank Young trail). You'll join
the Rock Spring trail near a gate at the ridgetop. Turn right, grind over Done Ridge, and
run straight down the canyon. Length 13 miles.
East Rock Spring Trail: Another option to shorten the ride is to start
the ride at the ranger station, joining the Blackhawk Trail via the connector
east of the road. (This skips the whole Bennie Creek area.) When returning, go
right on the continuing Rock Spring Trail, instead of left down the Jones Ranch
Trail. Based on the tire tracks and wearing of the trail, MOST bikers on the
Blackhawk Loop seem to select this option!
Payson Canyon mini-loop with Jones Ranch, east
Rock Spring, and northeast Blackhawk
If the above video does not appear on your
browser/device, you can watch it on YouTube by clicking
Logged section near campground. October 26, 1999.
Same spot on September 30, 2002.
Note that Payson Canyon is a "working canyon." In
addition to recreation, area is used for livestock grazing and lumber
extraction. So yes, the trails will occasionally be wide and hoof-tromped
with loose rock. Your tires will flip some poop. You may ride past some
stumps. This is the price you pay to live in a house and eat hamburgers.
So ride with a good attitude.
The geology of these mountains is a bit more complex than the rest of the
Wasatch Front. From this area south to Nephi, a "thrust fault" -- an
earthquake zone that pushes a block of land up and over-top of another -- shoved
limestone of the Mississippian and Pennsylvanian Era (before the age of
dinosaurs, when western Utah was covered by deep ocean, around 300 million years
ago) over top of younger rocks. The younger rocks are actually turned
upside-down. Later, the land to the west of the Wasatch Fault subsided, leaving
the limestone high above the valley, forming the sharply-rising eastern
mountains seen from American Fork to Payson. Rocks of the Triassic Era (the
early age of dinosaurs, about 210-240 million years ago) are found on the
eastern side of the Mt. Nebo area, while the front face is formed from the older
View toward Mount Nebo from
the trail. If you like a nice
mix of pretty trees and meadows, this is the trail for you! September 30,
Getting there, Loafer Mountain trailhead: Going south, take the Payson
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.
Drive 11.7 miles up the Nebo Loop Road to a small turnout on your left at GPS N 39°
56.447' W 111° 38.652', with a sign "Loafer Mountain Trail." Rock Spring trailhead: Drive past the Payson Lakes
campground. Watch for the sign on your right and turn into the dirt road
to the parking area. To reach Blackhawk, go back across the road and find
one of two connector trails. Campground trailhead: Continue uphill and turn left on the
campground road. There are several spots at the campground where you can
pick up the trail. West end: Just past the Beaver Dam Overlook, the trail
reaches the road on doubletrack, with some undeveloped parking. The Tie
Fork (Frank Young) trail is just across the road.
Riding notes, from the Loafer Mountain
0.15 Fork R uphill through gate
N 39° 56.497' W 111° 38.499'
1.5 Fork L downhill (R = out to road + Rock Springs Tr)
N 39° 55.819' W 111°
2.2 Keep straight as trail comes in from R
N 39° 55.410' W 111°
2.5 Fork L N 39° 55.147' W 111° 37.617'
4.7 Gate, Blackhawk Campground
Continue to parking, cross road
N 39° 53.568' W
Trail always continues across
leaves CG at N 39° 53.246' W
5.9 Cross trail at top of ridge (R=down to road)
N 39° 53.479' W 111° 37.788'
6.7 Fork R (L= to Beaver Dam Trail)
N 39° 53.955' W 111° 38.085'
7.1 Straight at fork (R=road, L=Beaver Dam)
N 39° 54.155' W 111° 38.337'
8.9 R on DT to road, turn left on road
N 39° 53.824' W 111° 39.324'
10.4 Right on Santaquin Canyon Rd
11.4 Fork R on Rock Springs Trail
54.398' W 111° 41.624'
13.2 Keep straight (L=Schram Tr)
13.4 Straight (R=Lizard Lake Tr to Road)
14.2 Straight (R=Tie Fork or Frank Young Tr)
15.4 Fork L on on Jones Ranch
Alternate loop = R = Rock
17.0 At paved road, turn R uphill
17.8 Back at vehicle