Mountain biking Thunder Mountain
If you’ve ever been to Bryce Canyon National Park, looked down from an overlook at the maze of red rock hoodoos, and thought to yourself, “gee, it sure would be awesome to mountain bike that,” then Thunder Mountain in nearby Red Canyon is tailor-made for you.
Thunder Mountain – the name just sounds epic, and the mountain biking is even better. The ride is just about the most scenic mountain biking you can hope for in Southern Utah (which says a lot) plus it’s a fun, semi-technical ride with stellar views that will have you stopping every 500 feet to snap pictures. As a result, don’t be surprised if the 8 miles of singletrack takes a long time to ride. But it’s worth it, because around every corner is an unbelievable landscape that will force you to tear your eyes away from the trail, which, of course, is dangerous.
Thunder Mountain can be ridden three different ways – as a loop when you add the paved Red Canyon Trail with the Fremont ATV trail to access the singletrack goods, as a shuttled downhill, or as a stamina-testing out-and-back. Either way you slice it, you’ll discover why Thunder Mountain is called a “must-ride classic.”
To ride Thunder Mountain, you begin at the Coyote Hollow Trailhead, located at the end of a dirt road at the top of Red Canyon, just outside Bryce Canyon National Park. The singletrack is well maintained, but can be loose with rocks and moon dust caused by the ever-dry desert conditions, and horse hooves that stir up the dirt. The trail first traverses through several valleys, going up and down over and over again. The elevation gain from trailhead to the top is only 1,200 feet, but the actual amount of vertical you climb is more because getting there requires a lot of up to make up for all the downs. But it’s all good, as these valleys are beautiful, filled with Ponderosa pines and swooping corners that are fun to hit at speed.
After the row of valleys, the real climbing begins and the landscape changes into a red rock wonderland. Bizarre hoodoos pop up from the ground and the trail weaves through and around them. The path also gets more exposed as it negotiates mountainsides and the tops of shoulders shaped like dinosaur backs with hundred foot drops on either side. In fact, one of the most memorable moments of the ride is “The Fin,” a long stretch of spooky singletrack that tenuously clings to the top with dropoffs on either side.
There’s a few sections of tight switchbacks made more difficult with loose rocks, and gravel-bottomed streams that won’t hesitate to flip out your back tire if you drop in too fast. Overall, the ride is moderately technical, but it’s okay if you find yourself needed to hike-a-bike, because slowing down will give you more opportunity to take in the views.
Finally, Thunder Mountain Trail ends in a blazing fast, straight descent to the finish at the bottom of the Thunder Mountain trailhead
To ride Thunder Mountain, drive up Red Canyon on Highway 12 and leave a car at the Thunder Mountain Trailhead (3 miles from US-89.) Continue in a shuttle vehicle or ride the paved Red Canyon Trail to the Coyote Hollow Trailhead, which can be found at the end of a right turn down a gravel road marked as the Fremont ATV Trail, 8 miles up the canyon where the terrain levels out.
Check out the GPS track: