The Great Utah Gravel Debacle: SLC
Note: This is a start in a compendium of Utah all road and gravel bike rides, based by region (list HERE). Please feel free to comment below with any additional preferred rides, we'd love to see them! The gravel bike is a growing category of cycling that covers everything from road racers adapted for fatter tires, to hardtail mountain bikes with drop bars. Many coin this genre as another ploy for bicycle manufacturers to sell another bike; others see it as a road bike that doesn’t need to be babied. Cyclists here in Salt Lake and Park City are especially divided on the value of gravel bikes. Many love their “jack of all trades” personality, while others don't see a need, especially here in Northern Utah, where we are spoiled for choice for both mountain and road bikes. Do some sleuthing, however, and Utah is a serious sleeping giant when it comes to picturesque "all road" riding. There is no question that the Salt Lake Valley offers outstanding riding, both on and off-road. The argument goes like this: there is no point in having a gravel bike if you are only going it ride it in Salt Lake Valley because you are either on pure single track or on the road. It's not a false argument; because there are so many canyons in such close vicinity to Salt Lake and Davis County, why wouldn’t anyone ride something that wasn’t a fast canyon descent of Little Cottonwood or the winding singletrack of Corner Canyon? The fact of the matter is that this should only add to the value of a gravel bike, in that it connects both things in one ride. With that said, we’ve compiled three of our favorite gravel bike rides in Salt Lake County and Davis County. Each encourages riders to be adventurous, and experience a different flavor of terrain, all on the same ride. We tried our best to not include the Bonneville Shoreline Trail in any of these rides, which in general makes for excellent mixed-terrain riding. The Contender Two Hours of (Gravel) Power (GPX/TCX file and Ride with GPS map found HERE) If you’re picturing glass-smooth dirt roads on which to ride a gravel bike, stay away from this section. The climb up to the antennas here has a little bit of chunk, but the views and the high-speed descent into North Salt Lake is worth the effort. In addition to including the climb up to the antennas, it takes a fast descent into NSL before connecting to a quiet strip of dirt road before connecting back into Salt Lake City. From Contender, ride to Memory Grove Park and up to the mouth of City Creek Canyon, at which you’ll go left toward the capitol building. Continue up toward Ensign Peak. The route will lead you toward a gated community. Ride up to the sidewalk, through the exit, and continue up the road. On your right, you’ll see it continue up and turn into a gated dirt road. No problem here; continue through. This is the most strenuous part of the ride, and in the summer the heat can get to you. After the antennas, it is more or less all descending from here. Unless you're strapped for time, we recommend taking a pause at the antennas before dropping into Davis County to soak up the views of both the Salt Lake Valley and the Great Salt Lake. The rest of the ride is straightforward. Perhaps the only thing here is to keep an eye out for 3300 North. The key here is once you ride passed Cross-E Ranch and make a forced left turn, you’ll take the first right turn you can and that will lead you to the second, kinder strip of dirt, particularly compared to the ride up to the antennas. Choose this ride as a way to get a healthy dose of gravel, chunk, and road. It is our go-to from the shop, and maybe it can be yours too. Farmington-Bountiful Gravel Loop (GPX/TCX file and Ride with GPS map found HERE. A longer route including Francis Peak found HERE) - Photos by Tyler Callister, Alvin Holbrook, and Zane Enders. The Farmington-Bountiful Gravel Loop offers some paved road, but much of the climb is gravel or hardpack. The steep initial climb typically starts at the B near of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail. More or less there’s one large climb to the top, then a descent that largely follows Farmington Creek. The descent ends at the north end of Farmington, with the option to take the BST/dirt roads along the base of the canyon back to the start. This ride offers excellent views of the Great Salt Lake and is one of the best overall rides in the area, perfect for a bike that can confidently handle all types of roads. This ride also connects riders to Francis Peak, which offers not only 9700 feet in elevation but two very unique white domes, which provide radar for airplanes landing at SLC Airport. Starting from the parking lot, take the ascending road away from the Bonneville Shoreline Trail (on maps as Ward Canyon Road) toward the Bountiful B. The first two miles or so offer about a ten percent grade, then it levels out to about five or six. About eight miles in, you'll come across a fork. Take a left, as the right takes you back toward Big Mountain. Take a right at the second fork about nine miles in. Mile twelve takes you to Bountiful Peak. Mile sixteen takes you back down Skyline Drive. Take the road down to about mile twenty three and hang a left. This takes you back to the start. This side is a bit rockier but completely doable on a bike with 35c slick tires. Toward the peak of the loop at about mile sixteen, there's a point where riders can cross Farmington Creek, marked by a gate. Hang a right there for an additional ten miles there and back to Francis Peak. After this is one more climb, followed by a gorgeous, fast descent. Just make sure to watch for cars rushing up the trail.
Contender to Farmington Bay (GPX/TCX file and Ride with GPS map found HERE)
More Farmington? What?! Yeah, and its because there is a combination of great dirt out there while being in close proximity. Most dirt riding in the Salt Lake City area requires a fair bit of climbing into the mountains and riding singletrack. Not so with this ride. It is flat as can be, with only 1,000 feet of climbing in the entire ride. You *could* certainly add elevation if you’d like by adding the Bonneville Shoreline Trail or riding up to the antennas while heading north.
From Contender, ride toward Memory Grove Park and north on Beck street to North Salt Lake’s West Center Street. Note that you can certainly ride to 900 West and avoid the choppy road that is Beck Street, but Beck Street makes the ride more of a loop. Take Center Street to just past the Legacy highway overpass, where just after you’ll take your first street on the right. Enjoy the first stretch of dirt!
Take this dirt road to Frontage Road, where you’ll link back up to asphalt right until you find Bountiful Pond on your left side. Here, you’ll encounter your main stretch of non-asphalt: Farmington Bay. You’ll follow the map around Farmington Bay to your first right turn, which takes you to the second bit of Farmington Bay as well as the Buffalo Ranch Trail. Take that loop around and back to the main part of the bay. The roads are well-marked but having some sort of map - either a cycling computer or a smartphone - is recommended.
Riding back to SLC includes riding back through the dirt segment of Legacy Parkway and the dirt road that is 3200 West. From here, take side streets through Rose Park and back to Contender Bicycles. My recommendation is to stop by Chunga's on 900 West for a post-ride meal.
Being a wildlife refuge, Farmington Bay is closed from March 1st to July 31st for mating season. Note also that like most roads around here there isn’t a lot of tree canopy to be had. This means that it is best if you avoid the heat. But doing so nets you a ride with little auto traffic and plenty of wildlife.
Albion Basin (GPX/TCX file and Ride with GPS map found HERE)
Gerard Vroomen, co-creator of the OPEN U.P. gravel bike, said in an interview with us that "most people who buy road bikes are better off buying some sort of gravel bike." How's that? Locals and visitors ride up Little Cottonwood almost exclusively on road bikes; why ride anything else when that bike has done so well for so long? It's all about engagement, and Albion Basin is definitely engaging on a gravel bike. These forest service roads are compact, with the kind of scenic instant gratification that many other bike rides could only imagine having. Enjoy both gravel and the high-speed descent out of Little Cottonwood on the same ride.
This features a classic climb up Little Cottonwood by road, but has enough dirt at the end to want a gravel bike. About 5 miles of gravel and hardpack dirt there and back. Riders can continue on Germania Pass to add about four miles total (and later to Collins Road as well), but is probably snowed in for much of the year.
Take Little Cottonwood up to Alta. At the Albion Basin ski lifts, the canyon road becomes gravel Albion Basin road. The road goes through two switchbacks, then continues up about two miles. You’ll find a fork in the road that points down; take the right side down Germania Pass road. Take it through the campgrounds, and from here you have two choices: walk your bike the third of a miles to Cecret Lake, and/or take it down Germania Pass to Collins Road back to Alta. Collins Road is a service road that has some remarkable views of Alta and the rest of the basin. Feels good on slicks, but something with a side knob and a little lower tire pressure is recommended.
The climb itself is remarkable, but adding in a nice mix of dirt and gravel is the cherry on top.
The Antennas (GPX/TCX file and Ride with GPS map found HERE)
An excellent evening blast, and one that can be done in about an hour in Salt Lake City. It takes riders through Memory Grove Park (watch for pedestrians), up past Ensign Peak, and down to North Salt Lake. Riders then can ride back on the road, or back up the trail. Overall, this ride is an excellent way to get your dirt fix without sacrificing much else. Riders can also mix in as much of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail as they'd like.
Make no mistake, we aren’t suggesting that everyone ditch their road bike or mountain bike to pick up a veritable “quiver killer". Instead, the gravel bike allows cyclists to enjoy more than just one type of riding; a three-course meal instead of a plate of just meat and potatoes. Salt Lake City has plenty to take advantage of.
Photos and words by Alvin Holbrook unless otherwise noted.