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Orson Smith and Ralph's Trails

Orson Smith and Ralph's trails are very short routes extending up to the Bonneville Shoreline Trail (BST) along Draper's east foothills. These trails have become popular as hiking and bike routes since the big suspension bridge was completed at Bear Canyon. Strong riders can go directly uphill, while intermediates should take a long "ride-around" on the dirt Corner Canyon Road to the BST then pick one of the trails to descend.

Looking north from the middle of upper Orson Smith. Photos and trail review by Bruce on September 28, 2016.

You can reach this area from the north via the BST Hidden Valley trailhead, or from the west via the Corner Canyon, Coyote Hollow, Red Rock, or Potato Hill trailheads. This area is not as popular as central Corner Canyon, but has a longer riding season and dries quickly after storms.

For our featured ride we'll use the Orson Smith Park trailhead right at the bottom of the trails. You have two options to get uphill: the Orson Smith trail, or the gravel Corner Canyon Road.

Looking northeast in the parking lot. The Orson Smith trail is to the left at the end of the sidewalk along the parking zone.

Plan A...
The lower Orson Smith trail is a short span between the Orson Smith park trailhead and the broad Aqueduct Trail that traverses the hillside. The climb isn't too tough -- 0.3 miles climbing 140 vertical feet for an average grade of 8.5%.

(If you found lower Orson Smith to be brutal, don't go all the way back down for Plan B. Instead, just go south 0.3 miles on the Aqueduct Trail. Turn uphill onto the Corner Canyon Road for the 0.8 miles of climbing, and you'll be at the BST.)

Looking south on lower Orson Smith. You can see that the trail surface is grainy, so it tends to break up during long dry times.

Plan B...
The Corner Canyon Road starts south from the entry into the parking lot of Orson Smith Park. You'll pedal 400 vertical feet over 1.1 miles, a very tolerable rate of climb. It's boring -- and toasty on a warm day -- but it's better than walking your bike uphill if Orson Smith is too steep for you.

Keep going as the Aqueduct Trail crosses. It looks like a big dirt road. Climb on up to the Corner Canyon Bonneville Shoreline trailhead. The trailhead is on the right (downhill) side. You'll go through the log fence to your left on the uphill side and begin riding the northbound BST toward Bear Canyon. It's about a mile from here to the top of upper Orson Smith.

Looking north at the entry to the Bonneville Shoreline Trail from the Corner Canyon Road. The bathroom, picnic tables, and shade are across the gravel road, left of this photo.

Back to Plan A...
So you climbed up lower Orson Smith, you're now on the Aqueduct Trail at mile 0.3 from the trailhead. Pick your thigh-killer climbing route. Upper Orson Smith is right there, a bit to the left as you reach the top of lower Orson Smith. Ralph's is found by riding 0.4 miles north on Aqueduct.

Orson Smith and Ralph's are about equally steep and both will have loose sections. Orson Smith specializes in sand, while Ralph's has cobble. One advantage to a climb on Ralph's is, you get a few minutes of flat pedaling to recover before you make the next attack. And the grunt will be only 80% as long.

 Looking south from the Aqueduct Trail.

The bottom of upper Orson Smith is about 50 feet north on Aqueduct from the top of the lower trail. Depending on horse traffic, the sand may stop you at the first switchback. Most riders -- even elite racers -- will fail to clean those first two switchbacks and following loose 50 yards.

I didn't ride the switchbacks clean, and now I've spun out as I climb through the churn along the "idiot-containment" fence. Loser. I'll turn around and shoot a photo downhill while I catch my breath.

It gets much better as you go higher, and if you still have leg enough to ride, you'll find a nice firm trail surface. Upper Orson Smith rises 260 vertical feet in 0.5 miles, for an average 10% rate of climb.

Heading northeast uphill higher on Orson Smith.

There's an unmarked trail fork just before the top. Both go to the BST. So go right if you're heading toward Corner Canyon, or left if you're heading for the Bear Canyon bridge and Ralph's.

View downhill southwest from a corner near the top of Orson Smith.

Once on the BST northbound, whether via Orson Smith or the Corner Canyon Road, enjoy a nice flattish cruise. There are pretty views of the mountains to the northeast, and 180 degrees of valley to your left.

Heading toward the multiple 11,000-foot summits in the Twin Peaks area on the BST. 

The Bear Canyon suspension bridge has become a popular hiking target. On the day of my ride, a gazillion school kids were heading uphill on Ralph's trail. But by the time I returned from a lovely BST ride to Hidden Valley, they'd crossed the bridge and hiked back down to their busses. 

Be careful when passing on the bridge. You might think it's wide enough for two-way traffic, but it's easy to bang your handlebar on the metal lattice -- or the other rider.

View from the approach to the south end of the bridge.

Just a bit after crossing the bridge comes the fork to Ralph's Trail. If you're up for some fun (and more-technical riding), do the BST as an out-and-back before returning to the trail fork.

Ralph's is shorter than Orson Smith by 0.1 mile. but the top end is at a slightly lower altitude, so the pitch works out. Ralph's is 0.4 miles and 210 vertical feet, a slope of 10.1% (compared to Orson Smith's 10.0%).

The Ralph's fork, looking northwest.

Drop down Ralph's, then turn left on the Aqueduct and go 0.4 miles to lower Orson Smith for the return back to the trailhead.

Coasting down Ralph's.

Riding notes, up Orson Smith:
0.0   ST at N end of sidewalk
        N40 31.336 W111 50.017
0.3   L on Aqueduct N40 31.306 W111 49.909
        50 feet, then R uphill on Orson Smith
0.7   Keep L (R = to southbound BST)
        N40 31.216 W111 49.809
0.8   L on Bonneville Shoreline
        N40 31.254 W111 49.765
1.1   Bear Canyon Bridge, cross
1.2   L downhill on Ralph's
        N40 31.474 W111 49.568
1.6   L on Aqueduct
        N40 31.598 W111 49.666
2.0   R on Orson Smith 
        N40 31.306 W111 49.909
2.3   Back at TH
Riding notes, via Corner Canyon Road to Ralph's:
0.0   Gravel road, south from park entry
        N40 31.323 W111 50.053
0.3   Straight (Aqueduct trail crosses)
        N40 31.096 W111 50.123
1.1   L on BST singletrack
        N40 30.365 W111 50.090
2.1   Keep R (L = Orson Smith A)
        N40 31.156 W111 49.824
2.3   Keep R (L = Orson Smith B)
        N40 31.254 W111 49.765
2.6   Bear Canyon Bridge
2.7   L downhill on Ralph's
        N40 31.474 W111 49.568
3.1   L on Aqueduct
        N40 31.598 W111 49.666
3.5   R on Orson Smith N40 31.306 W111 49.909
3.8   Back at TH
Getting there, Orson Smith TH:
From 13th East, turn to the east on Pioneer Road and go to 2000 East. Turn right (south) on Highland Drive.
From the Corner Canyon area, follow Highland Drive east, then north.
Turn east (toward the mountains) into the Orson Smith Park at 12625 South Highland Drive. Find a parking spot. The lower singletrack trail starts at the north end of the sidewalk between the parking lot and picnic pavilion. To climb the road, backtrack to the parking lot entry and aim for the gravel road heading south. Water and bathroom are at the park.

Bonneville Shoreline on Corner Canyon Road: 
From Draper, take 123rd South to 13th East and turn south (right). At the roundabout just down the hill, turn east (the equivalent of a left turn at the roundabout) on Pioneer Road. Go around one mile to 20th East, then turn right going south on Highland Drive. Turn left into Orson Smith Park. Immediately turn right to the Corner Canyon gravel road. Go one mile up Corner Canyon to the Bonneville Shoreline trailhead on your right (N 40 30.364' W 111 50.094'). The northbound BST is across the road from the trailhead parking. There is a bathroom at this trailhead.

 

Other nearby trailheads...
Lower Corner Canyon Trailhead (Equestrian Center):
Take the Bluffdale exit from I-15 and turn east towards the mountains. Continue on Highland Drive until you reach the ballpark parking lot. Directly across the street from the parking, the Lower Corner Canyon trail heads uphill (GPS N 40 30.351' W 111 50.721'). To reach the trailhead from the north (Sandy area), take 13th East southward until it ends at the stop sign just past the underpass. Turn left and drive 1/4 mile, then turn left into the paved parking area. Start riding by going under the street and keeping left on the Corner Canyon Trail, connecting to Ghost Falls, Canyon Hollow, or Clarks at mile 1.2. (Bathroom at this TH.)
Coyote Hollow trailhead: Take the Bluffdale exit from I-15 and turn east towards the mountains. Climb the hill as above, but turn right at the light on Traverse Mountain Road. After one mile, turn into Mike Weir Drive on your left. Pass the Mike Weir trailhead 1/2 mile later and continue another half mile until the road veers left downhill. Take the next right turn, turn right again, then left. You should now be on Gray Fox Drive. Take the next right into Coyote Hollow Court. The parking is on the right at the end of the pavement. As you start riding, keep R uphill for Clarks, left and slightly downhill on the Silica Pit trail to reach Canyon Hollow or Ghost Falls.
Ghost Falls TH:  If you drive a little further up the Corner Canyon Road (see above), you'll reach the next trailhead, which is Ghost Falls. (Bathroom at this TH.)
Peak View TH (Traverse Ridge):  Head all the way up the Corner Canyon Road (see above), whether by car -- if the gate is open -- or by bike from either the BST or Ghost Falls trailheads. The fenced area on on the right as you approach the summit is the trailhead.
Potato Hill TH:
Take the Bluffdale exit from I-15 and turn east towards the mountains on Highland Drive. At the light at the top of the hill, turn right on Traverse Mountain Road. After one mile, pass Mike Weir Drive on your left. Look for the Potato Hill TH on your left about mile 1.3 from the light. Start by riding through the fence, turn R immediately. Next keep R as Potato Hill trail turns north. Connect to Ann's and turn left. Climb Ann's to Clark's, and on to the Peak View trailhead.
Red Rock (Mike Wier) trailhead: Leave I-15 and climb the hill as above, but turn right at the light on Traverse Mountain Road. After one mile, turn left onto  Mike Weir Drive. The Red Rock trailhead parking is on your right, 1/2 mile later.
Sandy Hidden Valley Park BST trailhead:  Take Wasatch Blvd to Hidden Valley Park, about two miles south of Little Cottonwood Canyon on the east side of the road. From I-15, take the 90th South exit, which will turn into 94th south as it approaches the mountains. At the mouth of Little Cottonwood, turn right on Wasatch. The park is located on a curve in the road just past a large church on your left. From the parking area, bike towards the mountain on the paved path. It will turn south. The first dirt trail is a broad doubletrack to the upper BST. The next is a singletrack that joins the upper BST at Little Willow Creek. The next trail is the Hidden Valley singletrack, which will join the Aqueduct trail after 0.6 miles.
Riding resources:
Single-page on-trail riding guide for printing
GPS track files (right-click and "Save as..."):
   Draper Area GPX multi-trail file   
Load map in separate window for printing:  View 
Lodging, camping, shops:  Links to southern SLC resources