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 a 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.

Farmington-Bountiful Gravel Loop (GPX/TCX file found HERE. A longer route including Francis Peak found HERE)

The Farmington-Bountiful Gravel Loop offers ome 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 trial.

Albion Basin (GPX/TCX files 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.

Wildcard: Yellow Fork Canyon (GPX/TCX file found HERE, my shortened ride found HERE)

This ride is cool, but I’m hesitant to call it a destination ride. If you already live in the area, or if you’re bored with other options, then this is excellent. This 7 mile loop (8.4 according to my computer) combines wide doubletrack with narrower singletrack. It’s also relatively easy to do and doesn’t have the elevation the other rides do, with only about 1000 feet of climbing the entire ride. Very fun, adventurous ride on a gravel bike. I’ve never seen horses on the trail, but people do ride out there. As such, it’s critical to be cautious on descents.

Start on the right most trail, and follow the widest part of the trail. Depending on how far into the trail you are, there will be tight singletrack on the right and left of you. At your first fork, take the right side up the wider, better kept side of the trail. At the second fork, take a left, which will take you a fence with an opening. This will take you to the top of the loop.

If you noticed, my loop that I recorded was a bit short. The bottom of the circle part of the loop extends through varying singletrack and double track. This adds about six miles to my estimation. The Lauf True Grit gravel bike I rode for this was fantastic at soaking up the rocks, and here you’d want something with some knobs to it.

Note: Rose Canyon Road, starting from S 6400 West is a calm two lane road that takes you through some super smooth roads on the way to Yellow Fork Canyon. If you’re looking for some additional miles, you could do far worse than this road.

The Antennas (GPX/TCX file 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.

Final Words

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.

Utah Gravel Debacle gravel bike ride Yellow Fork Rose three pronged fork


Image of Alex Rosasa
Alex Rosasa says
June 13th, 2018

Another great road/gravel/road loop is starting in Kamas: take mirror lake highway 150 (asphalt) north t then right on 37 (gravel) to Soapstone pass and rightdown 35 (asphalt) back to Kamas.

Reply to Alex Rosasa


Image of Alvin Holbrook
Alvin Holbrook says
June 13th, 2018

Alex, great suggestion!

I actually have this ride lined up on a list of gravel rides in Summit County/Park City area (to be detailed in a future blog post!) It's crazy picturesque for sure, and a favorite of mine.

Reply to Alvin Holbrook

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