If it’s true that good things come in
small packages, then put American Fork Canyon on your wish list of
places to ride.
This is just a sliver of an area open
to snowmobiling but it’s a slice of heaven when it comes to
terrific terrain and deep snow.
Located east and a bit north of Utah
Valley in the Wasatch Mountains, American Fork Canyon can be accessed
from Utah Valley on the west or the Heber Valley on the east. As you
look at a map to get your bearings, you’ll notice the snowmobiling
spots are surrounded by Wilderness areas, ski resorts and other
non-motorized locations closed to sledding. In fact, you’ll think
there is little area for sleds (remember, we did say a sliver).
Don’t panic, though. There is still
room for snowmobiling.
Good things really do come in small
packages and American Fork Canyon is proof positive.
While you’re still digesting how such
a relatively small area can be such a good one for snowmobiling, let
us throw out a comparison snowmobilers might think twice about. If
you want to get an idea of the kind of terrain there is up American
Fork Canyon, just look at the number of ski resorts that flank the
riding area. These include some of Utah’s most popular and biggest
downhill resorts, like Snowbird, Alta, Brighton and, over the
mountain, Park City and Deer Valley. Aside from the snowfall figures
the resorts tout (upwards of 500 inches, which can be verified by
various snotel sites), another number that should pique your interest
is vertical drop—which varies from 1,700 to 3,200 feet at those ski
Take What We Can Get
Now we’ve got your attention. Yes, we
would really like more riding area, especially in this stretch of the
Wasatch Mountains , but we’ll take what’s there because it’s
On day one of our ride up American Fork
Canyon, we accessed the riding area from Utah Valley on Utah Highway
92. There are two parking areas on the west side: Tibble Fork and
Pine Hollow (or as it’s sometimes noted on maps, Mutual Dell). We
parked at the Tibble Fork trailhead (the parking area is right next
to Tibble Fork Reservoir—elevation 6,392 feet), which was about the
only flat place we were all day. Bonus.
There are two groomed trails leaving
from Tibble Fork, the 2.6-mile Trail J that leads to Silver Lake Flat
Reservoir and Trail D/Mill Flat-Tibble Fork, a 15.7-mile path that
goes into Wasatch Mountain State Park and parking areas on the east
Don’t be confused with Silver Lake
and Silver Lake Flat Reservoir. Silver Lake is in the Lone Peak
Wilderness while Silver Lake Flat Reservoir has a groomed trail
leading to it.
Sledders need to pay attention to
Wilderness boundaries while riding American Fork Canyon. Many of the
popular off-trail riding spots go right up next to the Wilderness and
it’s the snowmobiler’s responsibility to know where those
We followed the Mill Flat-Tibble Fork
Trail to Mary Ellen Gulch, where we peeled off the trail and headed
up the gulch toward even higher country. Up Mary Ellen Gulch is the
old Live Yankee Gold Mines and Globe Mines with a few abandoned
buildings (including an old outhouse that sits on the edge of a
cliff, offering great views of the valley below and surrounding
Our Kind Of Playground
Toward the top of the gulch, there are
a few bowls, lots of hillclimbing and great tree riding. We climbed
to a ridge just below Twin Peaks (east peak 11,433 feet, west peak
11,489 feet), which gives you an amazing view of Mount Timpanogos,
the Twin Peaks, Mary Ellen Gulch, Major Evans Gulch and just about
everything else in sight. Some high clouds obstructed some of the
taller peaks but the views were still amazing.
From the ridge we dropped into Major
Evans Gulch and played in untouched and several inches of new snow.
The snow was best below the ridge on both sides of the mountain. On
the very top the wind had scoured the ridge clean in some spots.
On the other side of Twin Peaks are the
ski runs for Snowbird, which, of course are off-limits.
Once back on the Mary Ellen Gulch side
of the ridge, we climbed up onto Merril Flat—which is a bit of a
misnomer, it’s definitely not flat—which is behind the mines and
below Twin Peaks. From there it was over a ridge to Mineral Basin,
where it’s quite a drop through the trees down to the bottom. From
the ridge you can see Snowbird’s Mineral Basin lifts. From there it
was down American Fork Canyon along a creek to the Mill Flat-Tibble
On day two we rode from the east side,
parking in Wasatch Mountain State Park heading in the same general
direction as where we rode the day before but staying a ridge or two
over. From the parking area we boondocked through the trees to Snake
Creek Trail and then to Mill Flat-Tibble Fork Trail (the trails were
prime condition that day) back to American Fork Canyon, crossing the
Wasatch Mountains before reaching AF Canyon. We didn’t ride up into
the canyon as far as we were the day before, but headed off the path
and up Dry Fork. The area we played in was basically the backside of
Alta Ski Resort. Our guide, Dustin Sweeten, told us the area is
called Bloody Gulch with no real explanation as to why the name.
The area features challenging, steep
terrain that can be unforgiving in places. Other spots are more
moderate but if the snow was really deep, it would all be
challenging. The day we rode Bloody Gulch, the snow was a bit tracked
up and had a good base, allowing us to ride just about anywhere and
everywhere. We did head up to the ridge (10,698 feet) that marks the
edge of the Alta Ski Resort, staying, of course, on the legal side to
ride. Again, once you gain some elevation, the views are amazing.
There were no clouds hindering our views on day two and it was a day
where it’s easy to see why sledders—and skiers—like this part
of Utah during the winter.
Before heading back to the truck, we
made a quick side trip to Cascade Springs, which is always a fun stop
and easy to get to via groomed trail. Once there you can walk around
the springs using the raised boardwalks and wooden bridges. Of course
you have to be careful because they aren’t shoveled in the winter
so there will likely be snow on the paths. At Cascade Springs, water
from the springs flows over terraces, small waterfalls and pools and
around vegetation (some of which is green even in the dead of winter)
before it makes its way into the Provo Deer Creek. Nearly 7 million
gallons of water flows through Cascade Springs every day.
The terrain is more open and not quite
as steep near this part of the trail system. There are more open and
rolling hills compared to the steep verts on the northern part of the
area. That variety broadens the appeal of American Fork Canyon and
Wasatch Mountain State Park to sledders of all skill levels. If you
want elevation—more than the 9,000-plus feet you’ll get on the
trail—then this area’s got it. But, if that’s not your thing,
well, then, you can have that too.
So while on paper the area may look
restrictive, you can easily spend two or three days exploring the
country and only cross your tracks when you head back to the parking
areas on trail.
You see, good things can come in
American Fork Canyon/Wasatch
Mountain State Park
Elevation 8,000-9,000 feet
Snowfall 150-300 inches
Miles of Groomed Trails 60 miles
Full Service Town Midway, Heber
City, Pleasant Grove, American Fork
Nearest Airport Salt Lake City
(45 miles from Heber City; 39 miles from Pleasant Grove)
Getting Started Heber Valley
Chamber of Commerce (866) 994-3237 www.gohebervalley.com; Utah Valley
Convention and Visitors Bureau (800) 222-8824 www.utahvalley.com
To access American Fork Canyon from the west, take Utah Highway 92
(exit 284 off Interstate 15) into the canyon. Snow plowing of the
highway stops several miles up the canyon, where there is a parking
area. Or for the Tibble Fork parking area, watch for the signs that
indicate to turn left off Highway 92. Then it’s just a short drive
up to the parking area. From the east, there’s a trailhead at Aspen
Grove, where road plowing stops on the other side of Highway 92 off
U.S. Highway 189. There’s also a trailhead near the Midway Fish
Hatchery and a couple of trailheads in Wasatch Mountain State Park.
The park is located off the northwest corner of Midway.
Bring your own sled.
Bedding Down There are
accommodations on both sides of the Wasatch Range.
Eating Out There are also plenty
of dining options on both sides of the Wasatch.