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Hell Canyon to Ensign Peak

The Hell Canyon - Ensign Peak trail lies on the northern edge of Salt Lake City. It runs from the valley at Victory Road to Ensign Peak, with connections uphill to the Ensign Peak portion of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail (BST).

View down Hell Canyon toward the oil refinery. Photos and trail review by Bruce on September 2, 2021.

The trail starts on Victory Drive at 4400 feet elevation. There's a small gravel parking area, with the singletrack starting on the north side just uphill from the trail sign. Do not block either of the gates with your car.

Trailhead, looking northeast from Victory Drive.

The climb from Victory Road to Ensign Peak is 3 miles with 950 feet of elevation gain. The segment in Hell Canyon is often steep and narrow, with some tricky tight switchbacks that most riders will walk. Intermediates may want to take the alternate path up the Columbus Court Connector to Sandhurst Drive, substituting a section of the Tower Road for the singletrack through Hell Canyon.

Starting uphill on the singletrack.

Victory section of Hell Canyon - Ensign Peak trail
The first 1.1 miles of the Hell Canyon trail is called the Victory Road trail or just "Victory." It climbs through 25 tight turns to gain 350 feet of elevation. The climbing pitch is fairly mellow. While the grade is suitable for experienced beginners, many of the turns require at least intermediate skill, and new riders will quickly tire of walking up around the turn to restart their bike.

View to the southeast at the state capitol building and downtown Salt Lake. Note the trail winding back and forth through a sea of grass.

The trail surface is dirt with rounded loose rocks. There's an occasional outcrop of Lake Bonneville tufa and tufaglomerate. (Tufa was formed from precipitated calcium carbonate in the lake waters.)

The terrain is almost entirely grass, so views over the Salt Lake Valley are unrestricted. With a southwest exposure, this hillside will get toasty warm on summer afternoons.

Typical turn. Some are tighter and will be a challenge for new riders. We're looking east toward The Avenues.

The Victory segment ends at the Columbus connector trail. Here a right turn takes you 0.4 miles down to Columbus Court. A left turn contours the hill northbound toward the Hell Canyon section.

Northbound as we near the top of the trail.

Columbus section of Hell Canyon - Ensign Peak trail
The second segment of trail is the Columbus Connector. We'll join it in the middle. This trail starts downhill on Columbus Court and follows a sewer corridor uphill. The trail is 0.8 miles long with 300 feet of elevation gain. It ends on paved Sandhurst Drive (which continues uphill as the gravel Tower Road).

Trail entry on Columbus Court. If you rode up via Victory, you won't see this spot because you'll bypass the lower half of the trail.

As you might expect for a trail that runs on top of a utility easement, the Columbus Connector is straight and non-technical. It contours the hillside on a small bench just below the homes on the old Lake Bonneville delta.

Heading north on Columbus.

If you're reaching Columbus via the Victory trail, you're hitting it exactly in the middle. Turn to the left and you'll be heading north.

At mile 0.3 from the top of the Victory Road climb, there's a trail fork. Stay left if you plan to climb through Hell Canyon. For the easiest route, go right and climb up to Sandhurst Drive. 

Here's the junction between Victory and Columbus. Note the sewer port.

View of downtown looking south from the trail. View of oil facilities looking northwest from the trail.

If you select the Sandhurst Drive route, turn hard left uphill at the top of the Columbus connector trail. Pedal up the paved road 1/10th mile, keeping right at the road fork. Go around the metal gate onto the gravel Tower Road for the climb to Crag's Trail or to the BST.

Heading north toward Hell Canyon on a lower shelf of former Lake Bonneville.

Hell Canyon section of Hell Canyon - Ensign Peak trail
The Hell Canyon segment begins as an easy flat trail. (As you approach the trail sign, there's a second trail fork. The path on the left just goes to a gate on the edge of a quarry. Keep right and uphill.)

Deceptively easy trail here as we pass the official Hell Canyon sign just after the fork to the Quarry spur.

Hell Canyon is 0.7 miles long with 300 feet of elevation gain. Overall, it's considered an expert-level trail.

In Hell Canyon, you'll find trees for the first time in the ride. But the area is still mostly grass and a bit of sage. The cliffs are course conglomerate.

Eastbound in Hell Canyon.

After about 1/3 mile of cushy cruising, the trail shows you its "expert" rating. The track gets narrow, with some fairly steep pitches. These spots aren't too tricky or hazardous though. The killer feature is the switchbacks. Some of them are tight and rough and -- for me at least -- worthy of getting off and dragging your bike up around the turn.

Looking down into the gorge of Hell Canyon.

If you don't mind hiking a few switchbacks, the trip through Hell Canyon can be managed by a confident strong intermediate. 

Looking back west, as we're almost finished with the switchback climb out of the canyon.

Hell Canyon ends on the Tower Road. You're now at 5070 feet elevation, having climbed just over 650 vertical feet in your first 2.2 miles. If your goal is Ensign Peak, go across to Crag's trail.

We've reached Tower Road.

OPTION:  Tower Road to the Bonneville Shoreline Trail
If you want to climb directly to the Bonneville Shoreline Trail, you can turn left and climb the Tower Road. It will be 0.9 miles to the BST. The climbing will be 500 vertical feet.

Looking northeast on Tower Road.

Crag's trail section of Hell Canyon - Ensign Peak trail

Crag's trail starts on the Tower Road just across from the top of Hell Canyon. Except for a couple of tight loose switchbacks, the trail is a fairly easy ride.

The sign at the entry to Crag's trail is showing directions on Tower Road; it's NOT the name or destination of the singletrack trail.

Crag's Trail is 0.7 miles long. It will climb a bit over 200 vertical feet to a ridgeline just below the top of Ensign Peak. 

Climbing northeast.

The terrain is grass meadows mixed with low scrub oak. There will be frequent views over the valley to the west.

And we've turned back to the southwest, as forest fire smoke obscures much of our valley view.

Near the top, you'll pass under crags of course conglomerate.

Passing under outcrops of conglomerate -- some of the youngest rock along the Wasatch Front.

At a ridgeline, Crag's trail ends in a four-way with the Ensign Peak Connector from the BST, the foot trail from Ensign Plaza, and the final section of trail to the top.

Almost there. We can see Ensign Peak ahead.

Fork to the right for the final 1/10th mile to the monument at the top of Ensign Peak. But you'll find hikers here, even on weekdays. Consider stashing your bike at the trail fork and walking to the top.

If your final destination is the BST, take the left fork at the four-way at the top of Crag's. This trail will climb up -- steeply! -- to the Bonneville Shoreline Trail in 1/2 mile.

At the monument. For more photos, see the BST Ensign Peak trail page.

Hell Canyon is one-way uphill for bicycles. So you'll need to take the Tower Road downhill.

There's an optional trail on your left as you descend, signed "Ensign Plaza." This trail goes 0.7 miles around the hill to a viewpoint off the Ensign Peak hiking trail. Worth an out-and-back.

Connector trail to the lower Ensign Peak viewpoint from Tower Road.

Although I saw no signs to indicate it, the main Ensign Peak trail -- from Ensign Plaza up to the four-way) -- is considered a hiking trail. So once you've reached the viewpoint, further exploration should be on foot.

At the viewpoint. Not an exciting option, but it's a cheap 1.5 miles added to your tally for the day.

As you descend Tower Road, you'll hit a metal gate, after which the road is paved. Keep straight at the road fork. Coast downhill and watch carefully for a trail on your right, just before the first home. In September 2021, this trail is not marked. That's the top of the Columbus connector trail, and it will take you back to the Victory trail.

Here's the Columbus Court connector trail as it leaves Sandhurst Drive and disappears in a grove of mahogany.

Getting there:
Exit I-15 at the Salt Lake 600 North Exit, heading eastbound toward Highway 89. At 89, turn left (north) for 3/4 mile, then turn hard right onto Victory Road. Drive 3/4 mile southeast, watching for the parking area on your left. The trailhead is designated with a kiosk-type sign. Do not park in front of the gates. The singletrack trail is on the north side of the parking area.

No bathroom or water at trailhead.

Riding resources for this trail:
GPS track files (right-click and "Save as..."):
      Area GPX multi track file 
Lodging, camping, shops:
       Links to northern SLC resources
       Links to Ogden area resources

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