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Devils Castle
at Albion Basin

The Devils Castle trail is an upper-intermediate to advanced singletrack in Little Cottonwood's Albion Basin. The ride has substantial climbing at higher altitudes and one short advanced-technical section. The shortest loop ride is six miles with 1300 feet of climbing.

View uphill from the return singletrack showing Devils Castle to the south. Photos and ride review July 28, 2015 by Bruce.

The climb via Albion Basin Road

By the most direct route, there's over 1000 vertical feet of climbing just to reach the singletrack. Starting at the entry station at the end of the Little Cottonwood Canyon road at 8700 feet elevation, you'll head up the dirt Albion Basin road to the campground. Along the way, there will be constant views of the basin and surrounding peaks.

Cranking up the Albion Basin road for the loop ride.

After riding straight up through the campground, turn a bit east at the upper southwest corner. Go about 50 feet then turn right uphill on a steepish unmarked doubletrack guarded by the big green gate. Just over 1/4 mile uphill, make a hard right on the singletrack. You're now at 9700 feet elevation on the Devil's Castle trail, but you're not through climbing yet.

View west down Little Cottonwood from the gravel road. You can see a piece of the copper mine tailings pile on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley.

Alternate longer tougher climb via Catherines singletrack

Riders who need a bigger challenge can exchange a bit of the dirt road for some tough singletrack. At mile 2.1 from parking, there's a large gravel parking area and a bathroom on the right of the road as the road itself turns left. At the inside corner of the turn (to your left) is the beginning of the Catherines Pass trail.

You're going to link the first section of the main Catherines Pass trail to the campground connector (see the map). You'll bypass 0.8 mile of the road climb, substituting 1.3 miles of expert-level singletrack.

Catherines Pass is steep in spots and has some technical rock to bang over. All but the toughest riders will find one stretch to be 100 feet of hiking. This singletrack option has some fun challenges on the uphill, and rewards you with a nice slightly-downhill traverse to the campground where you'll join the easier route.

Keep to the right at the singletrack trail fork, unless you want to visit Catherines Pass itself as an up-and-back. The price of admission to these awesome views will be 0.7 miles (one way) of very steep trail with more than a little push-a-bike. The top of Catherines is 11000 feet elevation, over 300 vertical above your current location.

The trail fork on the optional Catherines Pass route.

The connector to the campground descends a bit as it heads south. Just after it turns westbound, it makes a right turn and drops 100 yards to the campground road. (At the apex of this turn, a smaller trail heads straight. Although it aims towards Devils Castle, it dead-ends.)

Descending a bit as we head south toward the campground on the Catherines Pass connector. Devils Castle is straight ahead.

As you hit the campground, keep left onto the westbound road. Pass a camp spur on your left, then at the pit toilet take the gravel road heading left uphill. There's a green metal gate on this road. The road climbs steeply uphill. Pass a spur to a building on your right, and the road starts to veer left. (At this spot, the old steeper singletrack is being naturalized. Stay on the road a bit longer.)

As you turn to the east, the newer singletrack forks hard right from the doubletrack, southbound.

We've found the new trailcut and are starting the Devils Castle trail.

Devils Castle Singletrack

The singletrack continues a fairly stiff rate of climb, but on this portion the surface is smooth and you should motor right along. You'll pass through stands of fir and little meadows of wildflowers. You will climb about 250 vertical feet over 0.6 miles to reach the ride's highest point at around 9900 feet elevation.

Climbing towards the limestone cliffs of the Devils Castle.

You'll pass over and around outcrops of limestone from the Mississippian or Pennsylvanian Period. This rock was deposited around 320 million years ago when western Utah was the bottom of an ocean basin. There will be a few spots that have embedded rock or a short steeper pitch, but overall, this portion of the trail is intermediate in tech requirement.

The trail winds through a rougher spot of limestone outcrops.

The altitude is the climbing challenge here. Take a few breaks to check out the views around you, and behind you. If you grind through this area too quickly, you'll miss some awesome scenery.

Looking back to the east at some fairly buff trail. The lowest spot on the skyline is Catherines Pass.

The trail climbs up near the base of the limestone cliffs of Devils Castle. This is the ride's highest point at 9900 feet. From here, you can see the trail descending through a rockslide and down into the fir forest.

Looking up at the Devils Castle.

For riders who skipped the Catherines Pass singletrack, the rockslide will be the most challenging feature on the ride. But the pitch is slightly downhill, and the slabs have been arranged to they form a sorta-trail. Just keep your speed up and bang through. It's not as hard as it looks.

Navigating the rockslide. Nice work.

The trail now descends steadily through forest and meadows toward Alta's base. Trail forks are unmarked (2015). When in doubt, take the downhill option. (GPS navigation here is affected by the big trees. Your display may show you to be off-course -- causing you to backtrack or take the wrong trail fork -- then suddenly update to show that you were on the right trail all along.)

At this altitude the wildflowers are at their peak for the last two weeks of July. You'll see a lot of lupine and paintbrush, with some sticky geranium and the occasional penstemmon and columbine.

Paintbrush on the left; columbine on the right; lupine mid-upper right in front of the trees.

When the trail joins doubletrack near a lift building, go downhill to the singletrack at the bottom of the meadow. You'll see two singletrack options. The lower (left) singletrack heads straight and narrow down to the base. The right fork goes to the middle of the meadow, where it joins the broad doubletrack route where you'll find most of the hikers. (GPS track note: I rode the narrow route on the harder loop via Catherines. The broad trail is used on the direct-up-Albion version. Either one will get you downhill.)

Descending through the firs.

When the two routes converge, keep to the right and join pavement as you pass the service building and maintenance-vehicle parking and head up to the road where you parked.

A note on climbing the singletrack:  I don't recommend it. Yes, it's a viable option, but very difficult. At the very bottom, the broad hiking route is do-able but steep. The narrow singletrack has two non-rideable hills that you'll have to push up. And once you're in the trees above the Germania turnoff, the limited sight lines may keep descending riders from seeing you until it's too late.

Meadow intersection of the right singletrack fork with the broad main trail, looking from downhill.

Bottom Line

Beautiful and worthwhile ride. It requires good aerobic conditioning and altitude acclimatization, plus a bit of technical skill and strong legs.

Those looking for a monster ride can add an up-and-back to Catherines Pass and to Germania Pass. See the map.

Paintbrush and lupine.

Riding notes, loop including Catherines connector:
0.0   Pass guard shack to Albion Basin road
        N40 35.526 W111 37.865
2.1   L onto Catherines singletrack
        N40 34.969 W111 37.102
2.3   Keep left and uphill at lift road fork
        N40 34.958 W111 36.812
2.8   Stay R toward campground
        N40 34.740 W111 36.476
3.2   R downhill N40 34.535 W111 36.522
3.3   Join campground road, keep L
        N40 34.554 W111 36.602
3.4   L uphill, through green gate
        N40 34.501 W111 36.711
3.7   R onto ST Devils Castle
        N40 34.321 W111 36.684
4.5   L downhill N40 34.341 W111 36.976
4.7   Cross Cecret Lake DT
        N40 34.453 W111 36.903
        Keep straight (right) at ST fork
        N40 34.470 W111 36.906
5.2   Join DT above building
5.3   L downhill after building
        N40 34.821 W111 37.182
        R on ST N40 34.815 W111 37.211
        then L on lower ST after 100 feet
6.0   Cross main trail (caution, hikers!)
        N40 35.271 W111 37.516
6.1   Join main trail then keep right
        N40 35.365 W111 37.537
        Pavement, pass L of building
        then up through parking to road
6.4   Back at parking
Getting there:
From I-15, take the 90th South exit and drive east towards the mountains. This will take you directly to Little Cottonwood. When you arrive at the stop sign in the canyon, with the giant illuminated Little Cottonwood conditions sign on your right, turn right uphill and drive 8 miles to Alta. Keep straight until the end of the road. Park on the right side of the road just before the information booth (the booth is between the lanes of the road just before it turns to gravel).

Riding resources:
Single-page riding guide
GPS track files (right-click and "Save as..."):
    Multi-track Albion Basin GPX  (includes ST, Catherines, Germania)
    Loop via Catherines connector   Direct Loop with standard return
Albion Basin Road only   Intercanyon connections file!
High-res topo for printing:   View map 
Lodging, camping, shops:   Links to area resources

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