Overnight Bike Tours from Salt Lake City – Cycling West

The night group above Park City prepares to descend onto Highway 40 at the Mayflower exit. The Jordanelle Reservoir is in the background. The folks are (left to right) Barb Hanson, Dana Morgan and Cheryl Soshnik.

By Lou Melini

When you think of a self-guided bike tour, you’re probably thinking of touring the state or the country for a while. Most people find it difficult to get long stretches of time off and many find the logistics of a big tour daunting. Just as a hike starts with the first step, a bike ride starts with the first night. So why not just take a night bike ride?

Not only does an overnight bike tour give the experienced bike traveler some practice, it can give the novice the skills and confidence to ride more overnights or plan a longer ride. A night can easily become a family outing. And finally, an overnight ride provides an opportunity to try out gear and fine-tune what you put in your saddlebags or trailer. I personally try lightweight chairs on my overnight stays.

Lou and Julie Melini make their way through the Midway - Guardsman Pass section.
Lou and Julie Melini make their way through the Midway – Guardsman Pass section. This 8 mile section of road had an average gradient of 14%, with three very steep bends that even the most fit cyclist had to cycle through the bends. Photos by Angie Vincent.

My wife, Julie, thinks it’s too hard to pack for an overnight bike trip. I disagree, so I end up doing most of the nights on my own when she has to work. I can completely pack my panniers in just under an hour thanks to my “bike-tour” checklist. I could do it faster by dining out, disposing of my cooking gear, or forgoing camping and going to a motel or cabin.

Here are a number of options for night bike tours. Depending on the time I have, my overnight destinations range from less than 2 hours to just over 5 hours of driving time. I will indicate if I have actually been to the places listed below. If a mileage is listed, it will be the bottom of Emigration Canyon.

East of Salt Lake City:

very steep road between Wasatch Mountain State Park and Junction 224 between Guardsmans Pass and Bonanza Flats.
Cheryl Soshnik’s CoMotion touring bike against the road closure sign at the middle end of the very steep road between Wasatch Mountain State Park and Junction 224 between Guardsmans Pass and Bonanza Flats.

My favorite quick overnighter that I’ve been to a few times is Affleck Park (11 miles). To get there, I drive through Emigration Canyon to Highway 65 (East Canyon). About half a mile after the 5 mile marker you will see the park on the left side of the road. Although the park is owned by the Salt Lake City Water Company, you will need to bring plenty of water or filter it from the creek as the park does not have potable water available. For information and reservations, see the website. You must reserve 48 hours in advance. Perhaps because of this policy, the park was empty the last time I was there on a Saturday night. www.slcclassic.com/utilities/ud_affleck_reservations.htm

Jordan River Trail and Legacy Trail Tours:

Angie Vincent as she prepares to tackle the final 1.5 mile steep and hard gravel section to Guardsman Pass.
Angie Vincent as she prepares to tackle the final 1.5 mile steep and hard gravel section to Guardsman Pass.

Another short overnight excursion could be a trip to the Pony Express RV Resort. It is conveniently located where the Jordan River Trail meets the Legacy Trail. (Another way to find it is the north end of the “Chevron mile” section of the JRT). This would make a great kid-friendly bike tour from Salt Lake City. From the southern end of Salt Lake County or Davis County, it could be a nearly car-free bike tour along JRT or Legacy trails, reminiscent of trips to Europe. The Pony Express RV Park does not have tent camping, but a cabin can be rented for as little as $25 for 4 people. You will need to bring bedding (sheets or sleeping bag). The phone number is 801-355-1550 for reservations. www.ponyexpressrvresort.com/

If the Pony Express RV Resort is too short, you can continue on the Legacy Bike Trail (LBT), exiting in Farmington for the Lagoon Campground (Lagoon RV Park and Campground. 375 N. Lagoon Dr. Farmington UT 801-451 -8100). According to the website (www.lagoonpark.com/parkInfo/camping), rates start at $30. Allowing enough time to enjoy Lagoon could be an added attraction for youngsters. Also in Farmington is Bountiful Peak Campground, located 9 miles away on Forest Service 007 via 100 East.

Lou at the Wasatch Mountain State Park Kitchen Dinner.
Lou at the Wasatch Mountain State Park Kitchen Dinner. Photos of Cheryl Soshnik

Continuing further on the LBT, you can get to Cherry Hill Campground in Kaysville. (www.cherry-hill.com/) call 801-451-5379 with any questions. It is located at 1325 South Main Street in Kaysville. Campsite prices start at $30 plus tax. You can spend extra money on miniature golf and other amenities, again making it kid friendly. I haven’t been to this campground so can’t direct you there from the Legacy trail.

As a bonus for the kids, you can coordinate an overnight bike trip with a one-way ride on the TRAX or FrontRunner trains that run near the Jordan River and Legacy bike paths.

Backside of the Wasatch Mountains:

For those who want a longer route, one can traverse the Wasatch Range to either Summit or Wasatch counties. When I have more time, I like to travel to Utah state parks. Rockport, Wasatch Mountain and Rock Cliff are the three destinations I visited on my bike. Jordanelle State Park is a park that I did not know. My favorite national park was Rock Cliff. Despite the state’s desire to take control of federal lands, Rock Cliff (about 53 miles) was closed due to state funding cuts. However, I just exchanged emails with the former Rock Cliff Ranger/Naturalist. She informed me that Rock Cliff is open again until Labor Day. Rock Cliff is south of Kamas near the small town of Francis on Highway 32. It sits on the southeast corner of Jordanelle National Park and is technically part of the Jordanelle National Park complex. I realize that many cyclists don’t want to ride I-80 over Parley’s Summit due to road traffic, but that will be the only traffic you will encounter, with the rest of the route on dirt roads. frontage through Park City, then back roads through Kamas.

With (what I thought was) the closure of Rock Cliff Campground, Rockport State Park, (40 miles) stateparks.utah.gov/parks/rockport, was my go-to destination for a longer bike trip d ‘a night. The walk-in campsite (Cedar Point) is the farthest campsite in the park at 3 miles from the entrance. However, Jupiter campground is ¼ mile away, the only campground that has a shower. Cedar Point has a $10 fee (plus $2 if you use the shower at Jupiter) with Jupiter at $20. Rockport is located on Highway 35 a few miles west of Browns’ Canyon Road.

Due to the Rock Cliff closure, the Utah Bicycle Touring Society traveled to Wasatch Mountain State Park in Midway this year. Little did I know the campground was about 2 miles or more of a fairly steep climb from the visitor center, adding a tough end to the 43 mile route. The tenting area was not as full as I expected for a June weekend. Thus, you will have to decide whether you want to ride there with or without a reservation. Reservations cost an additional $8 at any of the state parks. Basic camping fees at Wasatch are $20. Reservations at any of the state parks can be made by calling 1-800-322-3770 or 801-322-3770 from the Salt Lake City area or online at www.stateparks.utah.gov. To get to Wasatch Mountain State Park, it’s worth trying to avoid Route 40. Fortunately, I can avoid much of Route 40 through Park City and Deer Valley with: http://www. mapmyride.com/routes/fullscreen/68950996/. For those who like to ride in the mountains, you can take the turn below Brighton to go through Guardsman Pass. Coming back from Wasatch you will have a 7 mile ride with up to 20% inclines and one mile of gravel to cover. My wife said she wouldn’t do it again even though it shortened our trip by almost an hour. For those living in the southern end of Salt Lake County, you can climb Wasatch Mt. State Park via Orem. http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/83143321.

Of course, you don’t have to go all the way to Wasatch Mt. State Park. Jordanelle State Park is just across Route 40 as you leave the Deer Crest community of Deer Valley. http://stateparks.utah.gov/parks/jordanelle

North to Morgan

There are several options for night bike rides when riding around Morgan, Utah. For the bike traveler who travels light or doesn’t mind a long climb, you have several options after riding Big and Little Mountain (AKA East Canyon and Emigration Summits). Yes, it’s a tough climb to the top of East Canyon, but you can descend to your choice of East Canyon Resort or East Canyon State Park. (20 and 24 miles). East Canyon State Park has little shade compared to the resort and may not be your destination of choice on a hot day. See www.eastcanyon.com/ for the complex and http://stateparks.utah.gov/parks/east-canyon for the park.

If you continue past East Canyon State Park on Route 66 to Morgan (40 miles), you can camp at the golf course. I was charged $5/person when I went this spring (including showers). To get to the Morgan Golf Course, exit on 100 North to the golf course, 4 miles from the main road. There’s a grocery store in town off I-80. If you are going to the grocery store, you can get to the golf course by taking a right on the road just before the freeway. This route takes you through “the old Morgan”, over a bridge and then onto the golf course.

Canyoning Touring:

And finally, let’s not forget the campgrounds in the Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons. It’s hot in the summer and a jaunt to a cooler climate may be just the ticket to relief from the heat. Redman Campground is 9 miles from Big Cottonwood and Spruces Campground is a few miles up. Tanner’s Flat (climbed there last year) and Albion Basin are halfway and all the way up Little Cottonwood. There is self-registration on site or at www.reserveusa.com or call 877-444-6777 for reservations according to the book, The Best in Tent Camping-Utah by Jeffrey Steadman.

Hopefully this will give you plenty of choice for a 2 day night ride or maybe expand it to a 3 day bike tour. In the future, I will be looking for overnight trips to the south and west. Send me any questions or suggestions you may have to [email protected]

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