Willard Basin is one of the Wasatch's lesser known and seldom visited areas but one that is truly glorious. From the route's end at Inspiration Point you'll look directly down upon the sheer face of the Wasatch Front, which has been gouged into tiers of crumbling castle walls, broken colonnades, and craggy slopes.
The Wasatch Range can be seen stretching for more than 100 miles from the Idaho border to Lone Peak. And far below lies the consistently level Great Salt Lake valley. Moose are known to inhabit this basin; spying one is a rare but treasured moment.
From Mantua's Wyatt Park, turn right at the stop sign and pedal south. After one-half mile, pavement turns to an improved dirt road with variable gravel and washboards. Follow the sign for Willard Basin-Inspiration Point. A set of steep switchbacks begin the long-winded climb to Willard Basin (m3.0).
As elevation increases, scrub oak mixes with aspen and pine then with fir through which filter cooler breezes. You cross the Forest Service boundary at m7.5. Just over a mile farther, you reach the junction for Perry Reservoir (m9.1). (A steep, rough double-track drops to the small, marshy reservoir.) Several long traverses rise to a road junction at the edge of Willard Basin (m11.5). From here, you can view fertile Cache Valley far to the north.
Fork left and descend gradually along Willard Basin's eastern slope. Pass a primitive Forest Service campground (m13.4) then circle around to the basin's western side. A small glacier once rested in the cirque basin above you, but the ice sheet didn't flow very far. The basin below is deep and V shaped, which is evident of erosion by stream runoff rather than glacial scouring. The road turns north then crosses over a small ridge. Now, the reward for your struggle becomes readily apparent as the Great Salt Lake valley unfolds nearly a vertical mile below. Keep chugging uphill to Inspiration Point (m16.0) for more jaw- dropping views.
This section of the Wasatch Front is a veritable wall of rock. In fact, the Wellsville Mountains (to the north) are claimed to be some of the steepest rising mountains on the continent.
Option: (Willard Peak-Ben Lomond) There are five miles of ridge-top single-track (out-and-back) between Inspiration Point and Ben Lomond. The trail is moderately difficult and can be highly technical since it receives little regular maintenance.
Along the way, you'll hover above ragged, exhumed terrain; sheer, treeless cliffs; and shadow-filled crevasses. During early summer, a small meadow between Willard Peak and Ben Lomond is a tapestry of brilliant wildflowers.
From Inspiration Point, head southward on the old jeep road, then branch right to stay just below the ridge. In the small saddle ahead, take the uppermost trail along the ridge. Connect with another trail that contours across the western face of Willard Peak.
The trail crosses a small topographic point then follows the ridge south through a meadow to Ben Lomond. Return to Mantua the opposite direction. Naturally, you can keep heading south from Ben Lomond on Northern Skyline Trail and then descend to North Ogden Divide, but you'll need a vehicle shuttle. Total distance for this killer ride is about 26 miles.
Notes: To knock off a few miles of mundane dirt road, drive about three miles south of Mantua and park alongside the road. Perry Reservoir is a good trailhead for an intermediate level ride to Willard Basin, but the dirt road leading up to it can be rough for passenger cars. The potability of spring water at the primitive campground in Willard Basin is uncertain.
Access: From I-15, take Exit 364 (Brigham City, Logan). Travel east on UT 89/91 and up Box Elder Canyon. Just past the Box Elder Campground, turn right for Mantua. Wyatt Park is one-half mile ahead.
This feature is from Mountain Biking Utah's Wasatch & Uinta Mountains, which is available at book stores and bike shops throughout northern Utah or from Off-Road Publications @ (888) 477-3374.
Location: Mantua, 5 miles east of Brigham City
Length/Type: 32 miles/Out-and-back
Surface: Dirt road and double-track
Physical Difficulty: Advanced (long climb, distance)
Technical Difficulty: Low to moderate
Elevation Gain: 4,500 feet
Maps: USGS 7.5 minute: Mantua, Utah; USGS 1:100,000 metric: Ogden and Promontory Point, Utah
Land Status: Wasatch-Cache National Forest (Ogden Ranger District)