Trail Etiquette on the San Rafael Swell’s Good Water Rim Trail

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By Pete Kilbourne — It was inevitable that the place would be discovered for its massive Wingate and Navajo towers, walls, and deep intricate canyons relatively close to the Wasatch Front. Agency management has been relatively low key lending an air of permissiveness and freedom to the place. So, by now you realize I am not talking about Moab but the San Rafael Swell. Visitation by ATVers, climbers, hikers, sight seers, and cyclists has boomed. The Good Water Rim Mountain Bike Trail is a case in point.

Riders on the Goodwater Trail in Utah's San Rafael Swell. Photo by Kim Player/MECCA Bike Club
Riders on the Goodwater Trail in Utah's San Rafael Swell. Photo by Kim Player/MECCA Bike Club

The trail circumnavigates the rim of Good Water Canyon, a tributary to the San Rafael River. It roughly traces the rim for 17 miles, twisting around pinyon and juniper trees and along cliff edges with stunning views and attention demanding intermediate riding. Although the trail had been on the ground for a number of years, it was only designated by the BLM in 2021; an environmental analysis was needed to address issues such as the presence of an endangered cactus.

The plaque on the Goodwater Trail commemorating Sheriff Lamar Guymon. Photo by Kim Player

The Trail was created by Lamar Guymon, founding member of the MECCA Mountain Bike Club and former Emery County Sheriff. The Guymon Good Water Rim Trailhead plaque reads, “Lamar Guymon (12/30/1946 – 10/12/2018) put his heart, soul, sweat and BLOOD into designing, creating, and maintaining Good Water Rim Trail. You honor him when you ride this trail.”

At first traffic on the Good Water Rim Trail was light. Mountain bikers began coming in increasing numbers as the trail’s reputation for scenery and fun became better known. Plenty of other riders are on it now, especially on weekends.

The trail is well designed and a hoot to ride, but it is a bit of a frontier with respect to trail etiquette. The only norms are those riders bring with them from other areas. By establishing and adhering to a set of norms at Good Water Rim, riders could help resolve three primary issues.

For one, the trail is narrow, twisty, and treed. On-trail visibility can be limited and there are few places to pull over. The second is speed and mismatch of speed of riders. Faster riders who refuse to slow down can run others off the trail. The third problem and victim is the environment. When riders dive out of the way to avert a collision, they can crush sensitive cryptobiotic soils and trample the endangered cactus that made official designation of the trail uncertain in the first place. 

To be sure, on a typical weekend you will encounter slower riders in front, faster riders behind, and two-way passes perhaps a dozen times, much as you would on Bonneville Shoreline Trail. There, accepted norms are in place. For the most part, downhill riders give uphill riders the right of way and passes are slowed and cordial there. This is less so at Good Water. 

Both fast and slow riders and the environment can coexist given norms that beneath it all are simply based on the idea of looking after each other so all can enjoy the trail. But the specifics need to be tuned to the terrain and the clientele. We must adjust for narrow, twisty, low-visibility trails, environmental concerns, and the mix of fast and slow riders. So here goes. 

Riders on the Goodwater Trail in Utah's San Rafael Swell. Photo by Kim Player/MECCA Bike Club

Fast riders, keep an eye out for what is ahead. If uncertain, then slow down. If you drive someone off the trail as you emerge unseen from around a tree, that is on you, not your victim. Where you can see, on straight sections, intimidating passing speed is impressive in a bad way. Slow down to pass other riders. Hopefully, both of you can stay on the trail.

In defense of fast riders on Good Water Rim, a quick slalom rhythm of linked single-track turns can be fun. That said, blind corners and cliff edges on the trail demand speed moderation no matter how experienced you are. At Good Water Rim, a personal best ride is one that is fun, cleanly run, and safe. Time is pointless because of what has been previously mentioned about coexistence with other people and the stunning overlooks. Stop the clock and enjoy the place and the experience.

A special note about E-bikes. The Bureau of Land Management has authorized the use of Class 1 E-bikes on Good Water Rim. Class 1 E-bikes provide assistance only when pedaled. E-bikes are categorized by the level of pedal assist ranging from Class 1 that provides pedal assist only to 20 mph to throttled E-bikes that can assist to 28 mph. Only Class 1 E-bikes are authorized on this trail. 

Good Water Rim is not particularly hilly but like in most areas other than lift operated downhills, uphill riders have the right of way, except of course, when the downhill rider needs to clear some semi-technical terrain first before they stop. 

Riders congregate. People bunch up at lunch stops, rests, or while waiting for their slower partners to catch up. These stops should ideally target wider hardened areas such as the viewpoints. This not only minimizes impacts on sensitive soil and vegetation but also provides riders more room to pass.

For slower riders, bail with care because of the damage you may cause by trampling sensitive soil and vegetation. If possible, leave your tires on the trail and tilt your bike out of the way without venturing into untrammeled soil. If that isn’t good enough for an aggressive rider, that is their problem. 

Never cut the curves, which widens the trail and damages sensitive soils. Paid and volunteer trail crews have spent many weeks completing trail repairs and repairing rider impacts off trail. Their efforts have also focused on maintaining a single track and keeping the trail in good condition. 

The BLM is addressing the most pressing problem, sanitation, with more toilets. They have also added signs, designated sites, and a bit more presence, but there is only so much they can do. It is up to the users to play well with each other and minimize their impact on the land. Act as part of a community that engenders friendly and respectful behavior. Lamar, by the way, was a very respectful guy. Please honor him as you ride Good Water. 

Riders on the Goodwater Trail in Utah's San Rafael Swell. Photo by Kim Player/MECCA Bike Club

 

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