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Nebo Summit Trail

The Nebo Summit Trail starts on the Nebo Loop Road at an elevation of 8200 feet. It follows the ridgeline between the Nebo Creek drainage (west of Thistle) and the Salt Creek Canyon above Nephi.  The singletrack is 8.1 miles long and can be a fairly strenuous ride because it requires some stiff climbing at high elevation. The usual riding season would be mid-June through October.

From the ridge at 8400 feet elevation, looking west toward Mount Nebo. Photos and trail review by Bruce on July 14, 2021.

The Nebo Summit trail can be done as an out-and-back, as a shuttled ride, or as a long loop that includes several miles of gravel road and a long stretch on the Nebo Loop paved road. Experts will find a full out-and-back (16.3 miles with 2350 feet of climbing) a nice piece of riding. Intermediate riders would probably choose a short out-and-back, turning around at mile 4 or 5. I'm not fond of the loop option because of the exposure to dangerous traffic on the Nebo Loop road. To shuttle, leave one car at the Bear Canyon turnoff parking (see below).

Fir and scrub surround the singletrack as we contour south of the ridgline to go around a steep hump. 

Six of the Summit Trail's eight miles are new in 2019. Instead of following the steep rocky pitches of the ridgeline for its entire length, three miles of the trail at each end was replaced with a new machine-cut. This rebuild converted a trail that I considered a no-go for mountain bikes into a nice scenic ride.

Riding through a forest of tall aspen and maple.

The National Forest here is used for cattle grazing. They will inevitably churn up the trail surface and break down the trail sidewalls, especially on the portion in Pole Canyon. Early season riding is best. Whether the riding surface is plush or a sloppy moonscape depends on weather, motorcycle traffic, and cattle.

The trail has returned to the ridgeline between the two canyons. We're looking east, with a canyon on each side of us.

On the upper end, the Summit Trail starts at a parking lot off the Nebo Loop road, 8.4 miles uphill from Highway 132 east of Nephi. From Payson, it's across the summit around mile 29 of the Nebo Loop. The lower end of the singletrack is at the uphill end of the gravel Pole Canyon road. My description for the ride will assume that you're starting at the top. In this "downhill" direction, you'll do around 700 vertical feet of climbing even as you lose 800 feet of elevation overall.

Looking at the trail from the Nebo Loop road.

For those planning to ride a loop or to pedal up the singletrack from the bottom (or both), there's a parking area on the Nebo Loop road near the Bear Canyon Campground turnoff. There's a toilet here. This parking area is just over a mile uphill from the Pole Canyon road. (Note that there is no trailhead in Pole Canyon, and it's illegal to park at the end of the road. To ride from the bottom, you'll need a drop-off. Or pedal up the 5.5 miles of gravel road. Or find a flat spot off the road downhill from the trail entry.)

A view to the south as we pedal. I think that's Haystack Hill.

From the Summit Trail parking, the trail heads east. For the next half mile, it will run on the northern side of the ridgeline before permanently crossing over to the southern side. At mile 0.4, keep to the right as the Sawmill Fork trail forks away and descends to the north.

Heading east through aspen and fir forest.

For the next three miles, the trail gradually descends to 8000 feet elevation. There will be a few short climbs. The new trail-cut bypasses the steep humps on the ridgeline by repeatedly contouring around the southern slope of each little hill, then returning to the ridgeline briefly before turning away again to skirt the next hill. At some of these spots, there's a persistent trail over these little hills, kept open by the occasional motorcycle rider and horseman. If you always keep to the right, you'll avoid some hike-a-bikes.

Looking west toward Mount Nebo. It looks a lot like Timpanogos because it's made of the same limestone. But the difference -- for real -- is that here the rock layers are upside down.

After mile 3, the trail spends a lot of time on the ridgeline (rather than contouring around on the southern slope). The climbs and the descents will get steeper now.

Here the trail has returned to the ridgeline between "humps." We're looking north. The dead trees are the result of the severe Pole Creek fire in 2018. 

At mile 3.9, you'll pass the old Page Fork trail on your left as you ride the ridge through a sagebrush area. You might not notice it. (The newer alternative Page Fork route is designated 88a and forks away at mile 5.4.)

Looking southwest from the ridgeline around mile 5.

At around mile 5, the trail reaches its highest elevation at 8400 feet. But it's not all downhill from here. You've got more up-and-down riding to go.

The grunt climbs get tougher as you continue east. Fresh legs recommended!

At mile 5.4, there's a 4-way. The Page Fork alternate (88a) forks away to the right. A steep loose trail continues straight. Again, fork to the right for the new trail-cut.

Heading south into Pole Canyon.

The trail now turns south to descend into Pole Canyon. You'll drop 1000 vertical feet over the next 2.8 miles. On the day of my ride, the trail surface in Pole Canyon was occasionally very loose and torn up by motorcycles and cattle. Most of the trail was good riding, and even the torn-up spots weren't bad downhill. But on returning back uphill, there were several sections where I bogged down or spun out and had to push the bike a few feet uphill to re-start.

The Pole Canyon section is deeply forested but alternates between tall fir, aspen forest, and maple/oak scrub.

The trail drops onto a turn-around at the end of the gravel road in Pole Canyon. It was posted "No Parking."

If you're doing the shuttled ride, or making a clockwise loop ride, just bomb 5.5 miles down the canyon. At the bottom of the Pole Canyon road, turn right (uphill) on the Nebo Loop road if you parked at the big lot near the Bear Canyon turnoff.

Bottom end of the trail in Pole Canyon, just downhill from the turn-around (no parking here).

For those doing the loop ride using the Nebo Loop Road, the bottom of the Pole Canyon road is at 6000 feet elevation. You'll climb 2200 feet over 6.4 miles to get to the Summit Trail parking area. A clockwise loop is 20 miles with 2900 feet of total climbing -- but only 8.1 miles and 700 feet of climbing are on the singletrack. But still, the loop ride is easier than the out-and-back ride of 16.3 miles and 2350 feet of climbing -- all on dirt trail.

Looking down Pole Canyon. I didn't ride this because I hate gravel roads. So I fought my way back up the singletrack for the big out-and-back ride.

Bottom Line:
High-elevation trail with some great views and beautiful forested riding. Downsides include some residual steep pitches in the middle section of the trail and occasional loose challenging trail surfaces in Pole Canyon. Wish this ride had a singletrack loop option! Recommended for tough riders.

View into Pole Canyon from the trail, around 7600 feet elevation.

Getting there: From I-15 in Juab County, take the Nephi 100 North Exit. Turn east on Highway 132, toward the mountains. Drive about 6 miles up the canyon, then turn left on the Nebo Loop Road (Scenic Byway). Drive another 3.5 miles on the loop road. If you're leaving a shuttle vehicle, turn left into the big parking area, then continue uphill on the Nebo Loop road. At mile 8.4 from Highway 132, turn right into the Summit Trail parking area.

Water:  Bear Canyon campground
Toilets:  Hells Kitchen on Nebo Loop Road, shuttle parking
Camping:  Bear Canyon, nearby Cottonwood campground.

Riding resources for this trail:
GPS track files and route (right-click and "Save as..."):
     GPX track
Lodging, camping, shops:   Links to south Utah Co resources

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