The Markagunt Plateau is a hidden gem of gravel riding. Follow me as I discover this secret Utah gravel cycling adventure for the first time. You will not believe how the fall colors of the golden aspen trees pop against the background of central Utah's black lava flows.
My gravel adventure started from Zion Adventure Home in Kanab, Utah. I made the scenic 50 mile drive north towards Cedar Breaks National Monument and parked just before Duck Creek Village at the large parking area on Strawberry Point Road. The are several small diners in the Duck Creek area, if need be, you can grab a bite to eat before starting your ride. From the parking area I started on Dixie National Forest Service Road 64. This forest service road lead me to the first stop on my tour, Mammoth Cave.
The Utah's Mammoth Cave is a series of lava tubes that runs just underground. Even if you are wearing a cycling kit you can get down into the caves and have a look around and walk in as deep as practical. This area also makes for a good stop if you are riding this route in heat of summer.
If you are more prepared or perhaps make a return trip, you can spend an hour of so exploring the tubes. The lava tubes run several hundred feet in multiple directions. To reach the exits you will need shoes you don't mind getting dirty, good light and be ready to get on all fours. This area is very exciting for kids. It is important to note that the cave is closed from October till spring to protect bat habitat.
After leaving the Mammoth Cave lava tubes I made my way along a UTV / ATV trail towards the community of Mammoth. I did not notice any services in the small community. After passing through Mammoth I continued on the main road, route 50 and it soon passed the huge lava fields of Black Rock Valley. Utah is such a diverse place. When one thinks about Utah they typically think about the Red Rock deserts such as Moab, or maybe the Wasatch Mountain and ski resorts near Salt Lake City. I would doubt many people would envision black lava flows that look like Hawaii. What really sets this area apart is if you come in early October are the golden aspen trees. The fall leaf colors of golden yellow and blazing orange makes for a dramatic contrast with the black lava flows. The Markagunt Plateau is an incredible place that not many have heard of!
From Black Rock Valley I made the short detour to Mammoth Springs. Mammoth Springs is the largest instantaneous discharge observed at any spring in Utah. It is really neat to see nothing then a large spring coming out of no where in the ground. It really is amazing to see so much water just appear. If you are following my route you could make a change here and skip the lower portions of Black Rock Valley and head straight to Mammoth Springs from the community of Mammoth. This would eliminate the out and back required to reach the spring and you will still be able to see the best of the lava fields. After the 500 foot climb back to route 50 I made my way back to Utah Hwy 143 and turned towards Panguitch, Utah.
After about a mile I turned onto Forest Service Road 69 and headed toward Miller Knoll. WOW, when the aspen trees are just right, this is arguably the most scenic gravel ride in all of Utah. That is a bold statement consider other gravel rides I've done such as the Shafer Switch Backs in Moab, Utah. The golden aspen and the mountains of black lava were truly amazing. Forget the national parks, this is what you want to see! I wish I had a way with words, I simply have no better way to describe this area other than breath taking. I'm sure it is scenic at any time of the year but the first week of October is unreal. After returning home I have checked my maps and it looks like there are several roads in this area that would be neat, but I stuck to Forest Service 69 and headed down the back side of Black Rock Valley. Another thing to point out in this area is that you will be riding on a custom built UTV trail. I know that sounds bad to most cyclist but trust me this trail is great, the sweeping berms were sooo much fun.
It was all good up until the next spot. Black Rock Valley eventually turns into a huge ranch named Hatch Ranch. The owners have gated off the road across the ranch even though there are well traveled roads leading right up to them. There are also vacation homes and lots on the backside of the property. This was very frustrating to find 3:30 hours into a gravel ride. I could see another road on my Gaia map so I tired to use it. After a 1.5 mile detour this road came to a similar sign. At this point I just opened the gate and continued on despite their no trespassing signs. Once I got back home I called both the Kane County Sheriff(their number was listed on the no trespassing sign), and the US Forest Service. Neither agency wanted to say anything about it, they both deferred to the other. Sounds like some "Good Old Boy" stuff. I checked my map once home and there may or may not be an easy way around, one map layer shows a road the other doesn't. I know from similar things near my home the city/county just doesn't feel like maintaining the road so they allow large land owners to gate the road. However, this is not totally legal as the gov't never passes title to the local land owner. Next time I go back, I would image the ranch owner could yell at me but I don't think they have a legal right to block me. I would continue.
Once back on route I continued up a neat road with some red hoodoos and eventually reconnected to the my first road to finish my route back to my truck. However, I was surprised by a gigantic heard of sheep being moved along the road. What a cool way to end my Markagunt Plateau gravel adventure. I can't wait until next fall to ride this route again, I already have a group a friends lined up to make the trip.
Would you like to visit this area? Well, if so you are going to need a place to stay. Why not stay in our vacation rental, Zion Adventure Home? It really is first class and is centrally located in Kanab, Utah and provides easy access to Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon and of course the Markagunt Plateau. For more details visit Zion Adventure Home.