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Thursday, October 25, 2018

Riding the Good Water Rim Trail - Wedge Overlook & Little Grand Canyon of San Rafael, Utah

It's hard to describe the soothing sound of the gravel and sand crunching under your tires as you twist and turn through flowy remote singletrack.  It's a sound any mountain biker knows and loves (and craves), the quiet of the mountains in stark contrast with the sounds of the trail.  And then there is the insane view ahead of you as you are doing something you love - it creates that sort of mood that makes you stop and ask yourself "Is this really my life?".  Pedaling away and paying close attention to the trail as it rides the rim and snakes along the canyon wall.  These canyon walls drop over a thousand feet into the San Rafael river below just a yard or two to your right.  To your left, you have an endless expanse of small cacti and desert brush sprawling back towards the gravel roads.  You are also virtually alone since the trail is not a popular one which reminds you that you have just found a hidden gem.  It is a perfect fall day on my bike and I am reminded that life is well in the San Rafael Swell.  

I spent this Sunday following local bike shop owner Mark Jespersen on the trails, trying to copy his stamina and style as we rode along on our mountain bikes.  I am on a beautifully built (and borrowed) Specialized Enduro and it is shifting like butter unlike my cranky mountain bike back at home.  This full suspension Specialized is making me never want to ride my hard tail again.  We are biking along an area called "The Little Grand Canyon" and "The Wedge" and I am left a little speechless as I take in the wide open space out in what feels like the middle of nowhere.  Its that "so small" sort of feeling that is so easy to find in the desert.  

I have seen a lot of amazing trails in Utah from Salt Lake City to Moab and I have to say, the views throughout this 'my kind of singletrack" in Castle Country may be the best views I have witnessed on two knobby wheels.  If you know me, I love to go where the crowds are not and while many were flocking to Moab's famous trails, I am biking along on an empty and quiet wild landscape, pure un-busied bliss. 

Pausing for a break at the Little Grand Canyon Overlook

Little Grand Canyon

Good Water Rim Trail 

Canyon below 

San Rafael River down below in The Wedge

I met Mark at his bike shop in town, Bicyclewerks.  I walked in and was immediately distracted by the Specialized bikes covering every corner of the shop.  Gravel bikes, road bikes, mountain bikes, you name it, he has it.  Mark was welcoming, kind, and it didn't take long before we were talking about bikes, our favorite trails, the beauty of Utah, and how special this area is.  We drove miles and miles down gravel roads, farther from the main roads driving deeper into the desert.  Mark talked about his love for the area but he also talked about the struggles with the trails.  It hasn't been easy building and promoting trails on BLM land, or dealing with those that suffer from a lack of signage and proper maps because they are not, and can't be officially designated trails.  Mark explained his passion for biking, going so far as to coach the local mountain bike clubs at the schools.  He often spends his free time coaching the next generation of mountain bikers, using his passion for the outdoors and everything on two wheels to help kids and young adults find their passion in the outdoors.  I talked a lot about the people of Price, and how their love for the area and what is has to offer really stood out and made my experience such an intimate one.  It only a quarter tank of gas to realize Mark is a selfless passionate mountain biker, and this area and the students in it are so lucky to have him leading the mountain bike community.  I was insanely lucky to have him leading these rides, a chance to see the area and the trails through his experienced eyes.

Loading up the bikes at Bicyclewerks

Posing at The Wedge Overlook

As one of the trail guides ( stated: "this area is the other side of nowhere, you have to want to get there". I couldn't have said it better myself.  It is only a 3 hour drive from Salt Lake City, and about 50 minutes from Price, but you really feel like you are a world away.  We continue driving and we talk a bit more about the area, specifically, as Price as the "Epicenter of Play".  Mark points out that geographically, this area is really the epicenter of outdoor recreation. It takes two hours to get to Utah's famous powder, two hours to Moab's National parks, two hours to Grand Junction, three hours to boat on Lake Powell, and the list goes on.  A lot of activities right here in town, with the rest of it an easy 2-3 hour drive.               
Price is truly the Epicenter of Play. 

Little Grand Canyon Overlook

Posing at the Little Grand Canyon

All smiles on the trail

 Our final destination was the kiosk off Wedge Road (at the intersection of 405 and 407) where we unloaded the bikes and started biking up the gravel roads.  As we pedaled up the road, all too aware of this steady incline and elevation, Mark tells me that Price is also the "Capital of Gravel Biking".  I am loving his pitches on this town and as we continue, climbing and chatting with some desert scenery all around us and I can start to see what he means.  Gravel roads spread across the desert here, giving you a chance to do some biking somewhere happily between rugged mountain biking and smooth road riding.  We pedal along, about 2.5 miles in, until we reached one of the most spectacular views two wheels have taken me: the Little Grand Canyon Overlook.  Below our stop I see what looks like a mini replica of the Grand Canyon.  Only difference?  There is no one here.  Not a soul as we hop off our bikes and stop to take in the view (and a couple pictures).  Eventually, we see one person show on a jeep, and a few other people by their car or walking the trails, but in the course of a few hours we saw less than ten people out on the trails and roads on a beautiful sunny Sunday.  After that, the trail starts hugs the rim of the canyon before turning back in towards the gravel roads.

The view is incredible and I can't believe I am getting the chance to bike the rim along this canyon, paying attention to the trail as I take Mark's advice of "Don't Turn Right".  We pass a few campsites and I make a mental note to come back and camp here the second I can.  Eventually, we reach the Wedge Overlook and again, I can't believe the view in front of me.  Now you can walk out to this peninsula of rock, and see these sweeping views of the canyon from all around you. Mark urges me to step out on the rocks for a photo op and I fight my fear of heights before finally stepping out onto the rocks for the epic photo in The Wedge above.  We continue on, biking miles of perfectly flowing singletrack, enjoying the day and the ride on a beautiful sunny day in Utah.

Following Mark on the flowey singletrack

Trail Map along the rim from

Trailhead/Trail: Little Grand Canyon Overlook or the 405/407 junction is a good place to start.  You are out in the middle of nowhere. The nearest services are Castle Dale, 25 miles away, so make sure you have enough gas and pack food and water.   Good Water Rim is a relatively new trail built by a local in the area. The trail is winding flowing singletrack, relatively flat with some up-and-downs (and some rock ledges).  It is relatively beginner friendly as there is little climbing, but there are a lot of sharp turns.  The trail also skirts the edge of the canyon so there is the element of control as you flirt with the edge of a 1,000' canyon.   The trail is loose sandstones with smaller rocks mixed in.  There are 15-miles of singletrack following the edge of Good Water Canyon.  According to other guides, you can do a 21 mile look of the area.  A more extensive trail guide can be found at 

Biking the gravel road 2.5 miles to the start of the Good Water Rim Trail

Elevation:  Gained - 300'-600'  Highest point- 6,250'

Facilities:  Trail kiosk and bathroom about 7 miles from the Little Grand Canyon Overlook.  Also bathrooms at the Wedge Overlook. 

Dog-Friendly: Yes

Scenery:  Epic vistas to your right, rolling pinyon and juniper woodland to your left.  Wedge Overlook, sometimes called "Utah's Little Grand Canyon." Over 1,200 feet below, the San Rafael River winds its way between the canyon walls.  Definitely one of the most scenic trails in Utah. 

Season:  Best to ride in the spring and the fall.  There is no shade so the trail can be quite brutal in the summer.

Views along the trail

Directions:  From Price, exit onto Highway 10 and continue south for 28 miles to Castle Dale.  You will see a dirt road (heading east) labeled "San Rafael Access".  Follow this road and follow signs directing you to the Wedge Overlook.   We parked back a the kiosk about 2.5 miles down the road (Wedge Road, at the intersection of 405 and 407) but you can also start your ride here.  From the Wedge Overlook, follow the trail 1/2 mile to the Little Grand Canyon Overlook (you will see campsites here).  Continue riding, you have 15 miles of singletrack and there are spots to dip out and head back to the road if you choose.

Mark's shop Bicyclewerks in Price, Utah 

I love Moab passionately and deeply but I have to say, this trail impressed me more than anything I found down there. I am also a sucker for solitude so anything deemed "quiet" or "not well known" always ranks high on my list. If you want to ride some of the most scenic singletrack in Utah, then you just need to follow some gravel rides to the "other side of nowhere". It is here where you will some flowy singletrack trails hugging a rim of the Little Grand Canyon. Sunshine, solitude, insane views, and a fun trail meandering through Utah's desert. Just 3 hours south of Salt Lake City, I can't wait to see all of my friends head here for a ride of their lives.

Special thanks to Mark of Bicyclewerks for showing me these amazing trails and for letting me ride one of his bikes.  If you find yourself in Price, make sure you stop in to talk to Mark, rent a bike, and talk trails with him and the guys in the shop. 

Thanks to all the great existing guides out there that helped me organize info for this post.

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