The Cedar Mountains Offers Great Riding and Solitude

By Chris Magerl

Getting around

The Cedar Mountain Wilderness is about 52 miles or 45 minutes west of downtown Salt Lake City, Utah. The northern part of the range is easily accessed from I-80, at exit 70 (Delle), 62 (Lakeside) and 56 (Aragonite). There is a gas station at Delle, but otherwise expect no services, bathrooms, water, etc.

You should have cell coverage almost everywhere in the range. But response times will be very, very long. On weekdays expect to encounter no other humans. You are on your own. Have spare tubes, tools, food and water.

There are many dirt roads and very few signs or landmarks. Be certain to have a map with you and to have looked closely at route options before heading out.

Because it is a wilderness area, vehicles, including bicycles, are not allowed off the existing motor vehicle routes. The northern area of the range, closest to I-80, is not wilderness and has many ATV and moto trails heading in every direction.

Mountain biking Ceder Mountains Utah
Richard Backman nears the top of the Lees Canyon climb from the
east side of the Cedar Mountain Wilderness. The climb gains about 1,300
feet over 3.5 miles, topping out at 6,200 feet. The Stansbury Mountains are
in the background, about 15 miles to the east. Photos by Chris Magerl

What bike?

A mountain bike is the best way to explore the Cedars. There are portions that are faster on a ‘cross bike, but normal CX tires are not up to the task. Oftentimes you can be traveling at 20 to 25 mph and quickly come into a patch of apple-sized rocks. MTB tires can handle this, but CX tires are no match for that impact. And the walk back out is a long one. Plan accordingly.

Exploring cycling options in the Cedar Mountain Wilderness

A wilderness area less than one hour from downtown SLC. Home to an estimated 600 wild horses. Miles and miles of dirt roads. Virtually no people.

Yup, all true. The Cedar Mountain Wilderness in Tooele County provides hours of long ride and exploration potential. And a sense of solitude that is so hard to find in Utah. But you can find it very close to the state’s biggest population base.

The Cedars also offer a historic element. One of the prominent passages from the west side to the east side is over the Hastings Cutoff Pass. This route was used by the Donner-Reed party on their ill-fated journey west in 1846. It was pitched to them as a viable shortcut to California. It wasn’t. The outcome was not good. Standing on the top of Hastings Pass looking west, it is easy to be in awe of the strength, courage, as well as the struggles and suffering, of these early pioneers.

Map of Ceder Mountains Utah
A map of the Cedar Mountains with the Wild Horse Dirt Fondo course.

We’ll offer a few ride ideas to get you started exploring the Cedars. But first, a bit of caution. You are on your own out there. No water, no food, almost never any other people. If something goes wrong, you are your own rescue.

Watch the weather. While rain and snow are unusual, some roads in the Cedars become virtually impassable to any vehicle — car or bike – when the mud is at its worst. Watch the weather, and do not plan to head out if it is expected to rain or if snow has fallen in the previous few days. Some of the hidden northern passes can hold snow for quite a while in the winter.

Little Wild Horse loop, 31 miles, 1,800 vertical.

This route is a mostly easy loop that starts at the parking lot just west of the gas station at Delle. Head west on the frontage road for 8 miles, turning left just before the road crosses under the railroad trestle. Stay on this main road for 7 miles, curving to the southwest. At mile 15 (from start), turn left onto the start of the Hastings Cutoff pass. Climb just over 2 miles to the summit, then descend east. Go left at the bottom, after passing a BLM signboard. Stay on this main road heading north for 9 miles until you return to the frontage road just south of the interstate. Turn right, return to your car in 1.5 miles.

This will be the short route of The Wild Horse, Utah’s first Dirt Fondo, to be held on May 16, 2015.

Hastings/Lees loop

This route starts on the west side of the range. To get there, drive to the Aragonite exit and drive south toward the large smokestack. Just before you get to the plant, turn left onto the Hastings Cutoff road. Drive about 2 miles up to the BLM signboard and park off the side of the road here. Pedal east up the Hastings Cutoff pass for 2.5 miles, then down the other side. Descend past the BLM signboard, go left for 1 mile, and then look for a subtle left heading back west into Lees Canyon. There will be a gate after about 100 meters to let you know you are on the right track. Climb up this road for just over 6 miles, then descend the western side. Keep your speed in check, as there are several very significant water bars and wash outs. After about 3.5 miles the road will intersect with the start of the Hastings climb. Turn right and continue to descend, reaching your car in about 1.5 miles.

This area sometimes has nesting raptors and is closed to all traffic. If the gate is closed, do not pedal up Lees. You can check the status in advance at the BLM website, www.BLM.gov.

Big Cedars loop

This loop will give you several hours in the saddle and take you through the areas most likely to yield a wild horse sighting.

Start near the Aragonite plant, same start as the Hastings/Lees loop. Head south on the main westside road for 21 miles. This road is listed as Cedar Mountain Road on some maps. Just after you pass an old corral you will begin the 4.5 mile climb of Rydalch Pass. Top out at just under 6,000 feet and descend the other side. Start to head north on the main eastside road at Wildcat Basin. This main road is listed as Rydalch Road on some maps. There will be a few intersections that require some attention. On the trip north, always stay on the obvious main road, and always look to the north. There are a few roads that slope down to the east that will try to sucker you in. You will regret not doing some Google map research in the comfort of your home before heading out. Print a few maps of intersections. Landmarks are few on the east side.

At mile 49 you will reach the east side bottom of Hastings Cutoff pass. Go left/west here and climb 3.5 miles to the summit. Take a moment at the top to look west and contemplate walking to Donner Lake. Then descend Hastings Cutoff, returning to your car in 3 miles.

Editor’s Note: The Wild Horse Dirt Fondo will be held on the roads of the Cedar Mountains on May 30, 2015. For more information, see the mountain biking calendar section or visit ridewildhorse.com. Cycling Utah is a sponsor of the event.

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