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Where You’re Going You Don’t Need Roads: Adventures in Utah’s Trail Country

By Brian Higgins
October 16, 2023

Visit Utah's Trail Country

You know those “Share the Trail” signs you see while hiking? The ones that describe how mountain bikers should yield to hikers and both should yield to horses? You probably see them and think, “That’s helpful, but where the heck are people mountain biking, horseback riding and hiking all in the same place?” 

Well, in Sevier County, aka Utah’s Trail Country, you’ll find just about every kind of trail (and trail lover) imaginable. Home to the Tushar and Pahvant Mountains, Sevier River and Fishlake National Forest, it’s a place where you can have fun on four wheels, two wheels, two legs or even two legs riding on four legs. Whether horseback riding, hiking, biking or off-roading, you’ll find your path in this often overlooked part of the state.

Off-Roading on the Paiute Trail

With a whopping 275 miles to explore, the Paiute Trail is the main attraction in Utah’s Trail Country. It’s not just one of the best OHV/ATV trails in the state, but one of the best in the entire country. There are over 1,000 miles (!) of marked side trails off the main drag, and even more unmarked forest trails.

With generally mellow, forested terrain, the Paiute Trail is a great destination for the whole family and operators of all skill levels. The trails are wide, the scenery is beautiful and there are lots of places to get out and explore on foot. And if exploring on four wheels is enough for you, bring the fishing rod along. It won’t be too hard to find some lakeside serenity. 

The 275-mile loop takes a bit more than 24 hours to complete, which doesn’t sound like too much fun to do in one day. It’s best done in 3-4 days, and while you’ll find plenty of scenic spots to camp, there are also lots of opportunities to stop and spend the night at a hotel or B&B. The trail has easy entrance and exit points in towns like Richfield, Beaver, Fillmore, Marysvale and Salina. And if you don’t have your own OHV(s), you can rent from a local outfitter.

If that’s not enough riding for you, don’t worry. Utah’s Trail Country has even more to offer. Ambitious ATVers can access the sprawling Arapeen Trail to the north via the Gooseberry Trail, which breaks off from the Paiute Trail just south of Salina. And the Gooseberry Trail is more than just a springboard between these two larger systems, it’s got lots of beginner and intermediate terrain to explore as it weaves through both Fishlake and Manti-La Sal National Forests. 

Horseback Riding at Big Rock Candy Mountain

If you’re bound to go where there ain’t no snow, where the rain don’t fall and the wind don’t blow, then head to Big Rock Candy Mountain. Utah’s candy mountain isn’t quite what Harry McClintock was thinking of when he penned the lyrics to his beloved bluegrass classic, however. He was singing about an imaginary paradise for boxcar hobos. 

But right after the song was released, a few residents of Marysville, Utah, looked up at a colorful local hill and decided that even without the lemonade springs, cigarette trees, crystal fountains or lakes of stew, it made for a pretty good Big Rock Candy Mountain.

As far as geologists are concerned, the multi-hued mountain gets its color from volcanic rock, not rock candy. The yellow, red and orange you see come from iron minerals, while potassium- rich rocks lend the hill its white shading. It’s a unique place that’s well worth a stopover, and if you want to see this quirky Western landmark up close, you can do so in the most Western way possible — on horseback. 

Just give the folks at SC Trail Rides a call! They offer rides through the foothills of Big Rock Candy Mountain that are both affordable and easy to pack into your fun-filled schedule (an hour long in total). There’s no better way to view the mountain’s rippling shades of desert rock, and it's a great way to stretch your legs and explore without having to, you know, use your legs. The riding is gentle and the horses are well trained, so you can relax while you imagine a Big Rock Candy paradise of your own.

Mountain Biking the Pahvant Trail System

Fantasies aside, mountain bikers in Sevier County will find a trail utopia that’s as real as the dirt beneath their wheels. The Pahvant trail system in Richfield offers 57 miles worth of beginner, intermediate and expert trails, making for a ripping good time no matter your ability. 

Beginner to intermediate riders will be killin’ it on the Kiln It trail (named for a preserve lime kiln near the parking area). This two-way trail gets more technical as you climb, so you can turn around whenever you feel like it. If you’re comfortable on the terrain or willing to push yourself a bit, you can travel down the intermediate Big Red or Carin-Age trails, the latter of which is a popular combo. 

Experts, meanwhile, can travel down the local favorite Telegraph trail for some big drops and high-speed fun. And if you’re itching for adventure, technical terrain and an all-day outing, you can take on the 18-mile Spinal Tap trail, which really turns things up to 11. You’ll need to shuttle to the top of the trail, but it’s well worth the drive. And only the last 4 miles of the trail are expert level. The first 15 miles are a pleasant, intermediate downhill ride that lots of capable riders will enjoy, with intermediate access back to the main trail system.

Young riders (and older riders still finding their bike legs) can enjoy the Cottonwood Kids loop. A mile in length with less than 200 feet in elevation, it’s the perfect place for them to hone their skills. For more green and blue goodness, travel across town over to the Glenwood Hills trail system. It’s got 13 miles to Pahvant’s 57, all of which are intermediate or easier. It’s a great place to spend the day doing laps and building your skills. 

Of course, if you’d rather have “mountains” and “biking” stay completely separate in your vocabulary, you can take a road bike onto the Candy Mountain Express Trail, a 16-mile paved route that travels from Elsinore down to the Big Rock Candy Mountain. And we do mean down (about 800 feet in total), so heading south and setting up a shuttle might be the way to go.

Hiking in Fishlake National Forest

Why overcomplicate things, though? If you prefer your trails tackled the old fashioned way, you’ll find plenty of excellent hiking opportunities in Fishlake National Forest. And that’s not all you’ll find. At Fremont Indian State Park, you’ll be able to step onto the trail and into the past as you learn about one of the region’s most unique indigenous tribes.

Fremont Indian State Park is home to the largest Fremont Indian village ever unearthed. The remains of the village are in the park’s museum (moved from their original location), but the Fremonts’ handiwork can also be found throughout the hills and canyons of the park. Many of the trails showcase pristine rock art, left behind between 700-1300 years ago. Most of these shorter jaunts are more like living exhibits than extended hiking trails, but the 5-mile Centennial Trail spans the length of the park, passing even more rock art and offering the chance to add in a sweeping view at Five Finger Ridge. 

Another popular hiking area in the national forest is Bullion Falls, a 2.2-mile out and back trail that leads to a stunning 75-foot waterfall. Its moderate rating is pretty accurate, unless you plan to scurry down to the base of the falls. You don’t need to though — there’s an overlook that delivers a clear view of the rushing falls. There you can take both your adventure temperature and your actual temperature to see if you want to do some scrambling for a scenic cool-off. 

Those hikes are all well and good, but it is Fishlake National Forest, after all, and you wouldn’t want to leave without seeing its namesake. The 17-mile Lakeshore Trail travels around Fish Lake, Utah’s largest natural mountain lake, and can easily be done in sections. An easy 3-mile section begins at Doctor Creek Campground for those who want a view of the shore. Meanwhile, a steeper, 2.5-mile section starts at Bowery Haven Resort and delivers panoramic views of the lake and the mountains beyond. 

After your hike, relax by the lake or go see Pando, Utah’s largest resident (Jazz players and “yo’ mama” jokes aside). This 108-acre aspen grove is also probably the state’s oldest living thing, because even though the old ladies at church seem old, they probably aren't over 10,000. Up close, Pando might just seem like a bunch of aspen trees, but you’ll know that you’re standing amid over 40,000 trunks that make up one incredible organism.

Bonus: Riding the Sevier River

There are so many trails in Utah’s Trail Country that some of them are even water trails. Gee, if only there were a name for that … If you’re looking to raft down the Sevier River (river, that’s the word!), you’ve got plenty of options. Thrill seekers can book a whitewater trip down its Class II and III rapids, which will be on the higher, faster side in early summer. There are multiple outfitters that offer exciting and informative two-hour trips.

But you’ve done a lot of adventuring so far in Utah’s Trail Country. If you’d rather enjoy floating waters than foaming waters, you’ve certainly earned the relaxation. For less than $20, Big Rock Adventure will hook you up with tubes, life jackets and a ride back to your car. All you have to do is sit back, chill out and start planning your next trip back to Utah’s Trail Country.

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