In the often overlooked city of Ogden lie two exhilarating and challenging segments of the Skyline Trail infrequently traveled and waiting to be explored.
The Skyline trail is interconnected singletrack that crosses the backbone of Utah's Wasatch Front. The Front is a line of mountains rising abruptly and towering more than 4,000 feet above the nearby valley floor. They began their formation in the mid-Cenozoic era, about 20 million years ago, during the rifting of the Great Basin. The erosive forces of rivers and streams have worked since then to slice through the range, leaving natural kickoff points for each segment of the Skyline.
The routes, passing through the Wasatch-Cache National Forest, offer extensive vistas in all directions.
The first outstanding ride begins in Ogden Valley at 4,800 feet and twists up heavily wooded coulees, across small meadows, then crests on a barren ridge, right around the 8,100-foot elevation mark. Technical skill and endurance are required for this 11 mile ride, especially near the finish when a series of heavily worn, poorly maintained switchbacks are the final challenge to staying saddle bound.
From the start, eliminating the 3,300 vertical feet is the objective. After a couple miles of continuous climbing, the trail takes off on a rocky rolling and winding joy ride, cutting through more forests and small meadows on the way to more challenging climbs.
This trail is a well-worn collection of hardpack and exposed rock and only occasionally requires orienteering skills. Confusion may overtake a hapless victim at a southwest turn to Louis Peak, which is marked only when the sign hasn't fallen over. Expect the turnoff around mile seven, just after a steep half-mile climb to the exposed grassy saddle.
The Louis Peak detour is an easy three mile out-and-back addition that ends on a bald knoll overlooking Ogden and the Great Salt Lake. This adds about one leisurely hour to the ride.
From this junction, a slight climb remains before the start of a three-mile downhill. Long, straight sections of deeply worn singletrack enhance the excitement created by the extensive open views. The final mile of badly eroded and sporadically rocky switchbacks will test riders' skills and endurance.
Since this is not a loop ride, the return to the trailhead is on blacktop and drops from North Ogden Pass into Ogden Valley.
The main road heads to Eden, where Utah Route 158 connects and traces the reservoir back to the parking area. The five-mile trip is an enjoyable cool down through country settings after the day in the woods. (Shuttling a car to the parking area on the pass is another common alternative.)
Ben Lomond Peak
The second leg of the Skyline climbs to Ben Lomond Peak (9,712 feet). The deceptive wooded start and smooth ascent soon give way to a loose, shale-covered path. By mile three, the hot, south-facing route heads into cool forest shade for another mile and a half of granny gear spinning.
If this excitement isn't enough, the true grandeur of this ride appears as the singletrack cuts across the mountain and heads north, traversing the extremely steep slope. Grass and wild flowers cover the slope and frame far-reaching views of the valley, the Great Salt Lake, and distant mountain ranges. Even though this is an uphill section, the gentle slope frees the rider to enthusiastically attack the ride.
The narrow singletrack eventually yields to more short and hardy climbs, ending with bumpy straight sections. These trace the ridge line along the edge of the west face of the mountain, presenting more breathtaking vistas.
Finally, a small meadow, at the junction with Cutler Spring Trail, marks the final ascent to the summit. From here, the last half mile requires a hike-a-bike over the broken rock -- except for extreme riders. Just before the peak, another branch continues the Skyline toward Willard Peak and, eventually, back to Brigham City (many, many miles away). Returning to the parking area is via the same trail. Watch for left hand turns to North Fork Park and Cutler Springs trail along the top sections. Each is worth exploring, but both end many miles and several thousand feet away from North Ogden Pass.
Elevation change: Ben Lomond (6,400 to 9,800 feet), Louis Peak (4,800 to 9,300 feet)
Difficulty: Physically difficult, technically moderate
Riding time: Each leg takes about four to five hours to complete
Best time of the year: End of May to mid-October -- whenever there isn't snow on the trails.
Maps: USGS maps: North Ogden, Huntsville, North Ogden Canyon, and Mantua; Wasatch Cache National Forest map. All maps can be purchased at Ogden Mountaineering, 3701 Washington Blvd, Ogden (801) 399-9365, and at Utah Idaho Supply, 2665 Washington Blvd, Ogden, (801) 621-5020. Any local bike shop can provide trail information.
Getting there: The Ben Lomond Trail starts at North Ogden Pass. From Interstate 15, take the Pleasant View/Farr West exit (#352). Turn right to North Ogden. At U.S. 89, right 0.1 mile then left on 2550 North. At 400 East (stop light), turn left and continue up hill to 3100 North. Turn right to North Ogden Pass. There is a parking area at the Pass. The trail starts across the road.
The Louis Peak trail starts in Ogden Valley. From I-15, take the 12th Street exit (#347). Follow this road through the canyon. Turn left over the dam towards Eden. After 1.5 miles and just past the marina is the trailhead parking. The trail starts across the road.
Caveats: The trails become very dusty by mid- to late-July, depending on the severity of the summer. There is no water along the way, so bring your own. The Ogden Valley trailhead (ride one) does have a source to fill your bag before heading out.
Special note: Because of the higher elevations, the evenings become very cool after the sun sets. Weekends and holidays bring more traffic to the trails, including hikers, dirt bikers, and equestrians. Weekdays and evenings are the best times. Often there are no other users on the trails.
Contact: Wasatch Cache National Forest, Ogden Ranger District, 507 25th Street, Ogden, UT 84401 (801) 625-5112.