Just once we'd like to ride in an area officially called Boondocker's Heaven.
We're talking a place where, when you log on to www.topozone.com and type in Boondocker's Heaven, a specific spot in the snowbelt pops up.
We thought we'd ridden in places that can easily be named that-that is, until we did some serious riding in central Utah.
Official or not, that is Boondocker's Heaven.
We explored from Spanish Fork Canyon in the north to Sixmile Canyon in the south and over as far east as Long Flat and Miller Flat Reservoir. Much of our riding was in Sanpete County, although it did spill over to Utah County in the north when we rode out of the rest area near Tucker.
We played on top of, on either side of and in the shadows of the famous Skyline Drive during our four-day adventure in central Utah. Skyline Drive, which snakes more than 100 miles north to south along the massive Wasatch Plateau, is one of the highest continuous roads in the United States as it rises and falls between the 9,000-11,000 foot level along the plateau. Skyline Drive begins (or ends, depending on your perspective) at Tucker, on U.S. Highway 6, and heads south to Interstate 70. Gas permitting, you can ride the entire length of the drive during the winter on a snowmobile.
Not All Groomed
The section from Tucker to Utah Highway 31 is a groomed trail. There is a snowmobile parking area on Highway 31, just about eight miles east of Fairview, which serves as a prime gateway to Skyline Drive. From here south, it's not groomed and can have some serious wind drifts (which we found to be lots of fun).
To help get your bearings, we covered most of three complexes (Utah officials label the state's riding areas as complexes) during our rides-Scofield/Skyline Drive, Ephraim/Manti/Mayfield and Skyline South (or Joe's Valley).
When riding the Skyline Drive and on the Wasatch Plateau you're on top of the world in these parts. You can literally see forever in any direction. When on the Wasatch Plateau and Skyline Drive near Sixmile Canyon, look west and a little bit south and you can see Great Basin National Park in Nevada. Southeast you'll see the La Sal Mountains past Moab along the Utah/Colorado border. And if you've got eagle eyes, look south and you can see the Henry Mountains by Lake Powell. Sanpete County-more specifically about three miles north of Manti-is the geographic center of Utah.
As cool and spectacular as the views are, the boondocking is even better. And just like you can see forever in every direction you can about ride in every direction, as well. What makes it Boondocker's Heaven are dozens of canyons, ridgelines, small and large drainages, vast forests of quakies and pine trees, miles of groomed trails, hundreds of miles of forest roads, wide open meadows and a varied terrain that will please any skill level of snowmobiling.
We got to tag along with Scott Stevens (owner of Diamond S Manufacturing in Ephraim, UT), who showed us the canyons and plateaus in the mountains east of Ephraim. He describes this area as a place where there's "riding for everyone." Roger that.
For two days we parked up Ephraim Canyon (a short three miles from Ephraim) and rode the 9.5-mile groomed trail to the backcountry. The elevation at the parking area is 6,600 feet (a little more than 1,000 feet higher than the town of Ephraim, which is 5,580 feet) and rode up to 10,600 feet. Riding tops out at 11,000 feet.
Here, There, Everywhere
After leaving the trail Stevens took us from ridgeline to canyon and back up and through the trees and up small hills and across creek beds and all over the plateau. We hit Jolley's Hole, went past John August Lake, rode near Danish Knoll (elevation, 10,358 feet), crossed Skyline Drive who knows how many times, played in Little Pete's Hole, overlooked Duck's Fork Reservoir, passed Jet Fox Reservoir and Snow Lake, climbed along the terraces near The Cove and generally boondocked until we were giddy. Some of the riding was wide open, some a little technical, some hillclimbing (not any real long extreme pulls, though) and all of it fun. The real Boondocker's Heaven.
There's nothing here that is terribly intimidating but that doesn't mean you can't get into trouble. Drop into any number of canyons and you'll be a fair while trying to get back out.
For two days, all our riding was south of where the trail ends up Ephraim Canyon. The Seely Creek snotel site, which sits at 10,000 feet, isn't far from where the trail ends. We came out past Seely Creek our second day after riding more of the eastern fringes of the plateau than we did on the first day.
North of Seely Creek toward Horseshoe Mountain (you can't mistake why it's called that) and over to Seeley Canyon, south and east of Fairview, are where the horsepower junkies usually head for the challenging hillclimbs.
Up To The Challenge
We were up to the challenge so on our third day, we parked at Miller's Flat (8,970 feet) off Highway 31 and headed straight for the backcountry. Miller's Flat is east of Fairview and a very popular riding area, especially on weekends when you'll see full parking lots and rigs lined up along the road for miles.
Our destination for the day was Race Bowl, site of the infamous Fairview Shootout, an informal but serious competition for mod sleds that takes place every April. We boondocked-this is still part of Boondocker's Heaven-through the trees, over creeks and climbed as many hills as we could as we made our way up Staker Canyon. Once to the Race Bowl we watched others attack the hill before hitting it ourselves. We made it to the top (10,496 feet), hopped on this section of Skyline Drive and rode to a nice vantage point (Staker Overlook) west of the Race Bowl. Looking south we could easily see Horseshoe Mountain and north we could see Loafer Mountain (10,687) and the distinctive Mt. Timpanogos (11,750). We were just across a drainage from Jordan Peak (10,602 feet).
We baled off the mountain down Seeley Canyon, boondocked through the trees, blasted through creeks and drainages of all sorts and sizes and flew across Miller Flat Reservoir on the way back to the truck.
Snow conditions were near perfect all three days. Of course, it was more tracked up around the Miller's Flat area because of all the traffic but we found plenty of untracked snow even there. There were a lot more people in the Fairview area than Ephraim Canyon but the area is big enough that sledders are fairly dispersed once in the backcountry. The big attraction of riding directly east of Fairview, such as Miller's Flat, is the hillclimbing, where the climbs are big and long.
Still More Boondocking
Our fourth day of riding was near the northern, groomed section of Skyline Drive, between Tucker and the parking area off Highway 31 east of Fairview. The terrain and riding is much the same as south of Highway 31-yep, Boondocker's Heaven. We found one spot where the combination of deep snow, a challenging creek drainage and no tracks turned into a sledfest of playing. We almost felt guilty about how much fun we were having. Okay, not really, but it was a near perfect combination for those who love to boondock through the trees and up and down and all over. And we left plenty of untracked snow for others to enjoy.
The areas we rode might be in different complexes but they are all connected, thanks to Skyline Drive, which means you may only have to trailer to one spot and still be able to enjoy and play all along the Wasatch Plateau. Gas, food and lodging are located in Fairview, Soldier Summit, Manti, Ephraim and Mt. Pleasant-all small, friendly towns (the entire population of Sanpete County is only 23,649 people). And you're really never very far from town-most parking areas are within a few miles of one of those towns.
So grab a map of Utah, find Sanpete County and scrawl Boondocker's Heaven right across the Wasatch Plateau.
That then might be the most accurate piece of information on the map-official or not.