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Blackhawk Trail

The Blackhawk Trail is a narrow singletrack that twists through aspen and pine along the top of the Nebo Loop in Payson Canyon. Almost unknown to northern Wasatch Front bikers, this trail is among the nicest alpine rides in the state.

Snow clears from the top of Blackhawk in early June, but the many sections stay wet with springs and bogs until late summer. Most of the creeks that cross the trail have a solid base, but if you see deep horse hoof prints, you'd better bail and walk.

Bruce cruises through aspen groves as the Mules Ear blooms. Original review and photos October 26, 1999 by Bruce. Latest update June 19, 2017.

The Nebo Loop is famous for its beautiful trees and mountain vistas -- especially in late September to early October when the red maples and golden aspens draw Sunday-afternoon gawkers from around the state. Elevation is 8000 feet.

The loop I describe on this page uses the Rock Spring and Jones Ranch trails. At 18 miles with 2400 vertical, it's for very strong riders. It requires only good intermediate technical skills. You can make a shorter loop by connecting other trails in the area (see below).

Chris rides south toward Mount Nebo on October 9, 2002. This ride climbed Bennie Creek from Birdeye and descended Beaver Dam.

The Blackhawk Trail itself is 8.6 miles long. At the bottom end, it forks off the Loafer Mountain Trail. (The trailhead is on the downhill side of the road, just below the Payson Lakes campground area.)

As Blackhawk climbs, there will be a spur to the Nebo Loop road to connect to the Rock Spring trail, and a spur to doubletrack at the Guard Station.

Climbing Blackhawk.

At its southeast corner, the Blackhawk trail winds around the Blackhawk Campground. There are several spurs that connect the campground to the trail. If you're in a hurry, a shortcut trail (Bennie Creek Ridge) bypasses the long loop around the campground, but at the cost of some extra climbing.

The upper end of Blackhawk is on the Nebo Loop Road, just west of the Beaver Dam Overlook and across the road from the Tie Fork (Frank Young) trail. This trail heads to the middle of the Rock Spring trail, offering a shorter loop.

There are several meadows of Mules Ear flowers. This is one of the attractions that brings riders here in June. Here Kris rides through the big meadow, about 1/2 mile uphill from the Loafer trailhead. Photo received by email, 2005.

Much of Blackhawk is easy cruising. But what you'll remember are the horse-trenched, boulder-strewn stretches. And at 8000 feet elevation, the uphills will seem steep, even if they're not. It's a solid ride for intermediates.

Because Blackhawk has multiple connections, you can assemble a ride that's mellow and easy, or a monster of a sufferfest. Your call.

As you drop onto the east side of Bennie Creek Ridge, there are a lot of meadows. This area is easy cruising.

Payson Canyon is a favorite for those who ride horses. There's plenty of trail here to "thin the herd." And the trailside usually has generous open space for horses and bikers to move off-trail for passing. And although you'll see plenty of horse trailers, actually seeing riders on-trail is rare. But be prepared to yield and always be courteous. 

In the early season, horses will pit the swampy areas. By July, these spots have usually smoothed out.

The Blackhawk Loop ride

This loop uses Blackhawk, Rock Spring, and Jones Ranch. While there's only 800 feet of absolute elevation change, but you'll climb that amount three times! You'll need strong thighs, plenty of water, and some calories. Shorter options are offered below, with additional information on the Rock Springs Loop page.

Approaching the Blackhawk Campground.

From the Loafer Mountain trailhead, you roll down 0.15 miles, where you take the right fork to the Blackhawk Trail. You'll now climb south 1.5 miles through aspen, maples, and pines to Bennie Creek Ridge. Dropping over the back side, it's up and down through meadows, springs, and small creeks until you reach the Blackhawk Campground at mile 4.75.

The trail passes directly through the campground -- conveniently, right past this group picnic area where you'll find water. 

As you approach the campground, go straight onto the double-track until you reach a paved road. Go straight across to a single-track. Cross paved road again, and fork right in the middle of the large meadow. At the next road, find the continuing trail at GPS N 39 53.246' W 111 37.557'.

After the campground, the nature of the trail changes. Westbound, it's steeper, narrower, and more overgrown. As you climb toward the ridgeline at 8400 feet, it's a bit of work.

Keep right at the next trail intersection. Next is a 4-way intersection. Straight ahead takes you up the hardest section of the trail, to the ridge at the top of the Nebo Loop. (Forking right takes you up to the Black Campground road, just off the Nebo Loop Road. From here, you can turn left to take paved road to the summit, or go straight across to the Bennie Creek Ridge Trail. This trail returns you to the Blackhawk Trail for a short loop of around 9 miles.)

View down into Beaver Dam Creek Canyon from the west-bound trail. While most of the mountain is aspen forest and meadows, there are some stands of fir.

As Blackhawk ends on the Nebo Loop road, turn left on pavement and ride over the crest of the Nebo Loop. After 2 miles, turn right on the gravel Santaquin Road. Exactly one mile later at GPS N 39 54.398' W 111 41.624', the Rock Springs Trail drops down on your right, taking you back east. Keep straight at all trail intersections.

OK, we're at Lizard Lake on the Rock Spring trail. Kinda pretty. The flowers will be blooming in a week or two. Photo June 5, 2006. 

Save some muscle to climb Done Ridge, the last mountain between you and your car. Then roll two delightful miles along the creek through beautiful aspens and pines. Again, keep straight at all trail intersections, (unless you want to visit Payson Lakes as an alternate return route). When you reach the Nebo Loop road, turn right and head uphill to your car. (There are a couple of alternate singletracks near the end of the trail. They all take you down to the road.)

Almost back to the car.

 Blackhawk uphill from Loafer to the ridgeline above Frank Young

 If the above video does not appear on your browser/device, you can watch it on YouTube by clicking here.

There are three Payson Lakes.

Shorter loops can be constructed as follows:

Blackhawk-Bennie Ridge Loop: After the Blackhawk Campground, keep right at the next two intersections. As you come up through the log fence, you encounter the campground road (the Nebo Loop road is about 1/4 mile to your left). Go straight across the pavement to the Bennie Ridge (campground bypass) trail and run the ridge back to the Blackhawk trail. Length 9 miles.

View of Payson Lake from the ridge top, on a spur off the main trail. October 26, 1999.

Tie Fork to Rock Spring: After Blackhawk, go right at the first intersection, straight at the second. Arriving at the Nebo Loop road at the ridgetop, go straight across to the singletrack trail (Tie Fork Spur or Frank Young trail). You'll join the Rock Spring trail near a gate at the ridgetop. Turn right, grind over Done Ridge, and run straight down the canyon. Length 13 miles.

East Rock Spring Trail: Another option to shorten the ride is to start the ride at the ranger station, joining the Blackhawk Trail via the connector east of the road. (This skips the whole Bennie Creek area.) When returning, go right on the continuing Rock Spring Trail, instead of left down the Jones Ranch Trail. Based on the tire tracks and wearing of the trail, MOST bikers on the Blackhawk Loop seem to select this option!

 Payson Canyon mini-loop with Jones Ranch, east Rock Spring, and northeast Blackhawk

 If the above video does not appear on your browser/device, you can watch it on YouTube by clicking here.

Geek stuff...
Harvested timber

Logged section near campground. October 26, 1999.

Same spot on September 30, 2002. Recovering nicely.

Note that Payson Canyon is a "working canyon." In addition to recreation, area is used for livestock grazing and lumber extraction. So yes, the trails will occasionally be wide and hoof-tromped with loose rock. Your tires will flip some poop. You may ride past some stumps. This is the price you pay to live in a house and eat hamburgers. So ride with a good attitude.
The geology of these mountains is a bit more complex than the rest of the Wasatch Front. From this area south to Nephi, a "thrust fault" -- an earthquake zone that pushes a block of land up and over-top of another -- shoved limestone of the Mississippian and Pennsylvanian Era (before the age of dinosaurs, when western Utah was covered by deep ocean, around 300 million years ago) over top of younger rocks. The younger rocks are actually turned upside-down. Later, the land to the west of the Wasatch Fault subsided, leaving the limestone high above the valley, forming the sharply-rising eastern mountains seen from American Fork to Payson. Rocks of the Triassic Era (the early age of dinosaurs, about 210-240 million years ago) are found on the eastern side of the Mt. Nebo area, while the front face is formed from the older limestones.

View toward Mount Nebo from the trail. If you like a nice mix of pretty trees and meadows, this is the trail for you! September 30, 2002.

Getting there, Loafer Mountain trailhead: Going south, take the Payson exit 250 from I-15 and turn left. Head into Payson on U-115 to the traffic light, then turn left (100 North, U-198). About 1/3 mile later, at the top of a small hill, turn right at 600 East. Drive 11.7 miles up the Nebo Loop Road to a small turnout on your left at GPS N 39 56.447' W 111 38.652', with a sign "Loafer Mountain Trail."
Rock Spring trailhead:  Drive past the Payson Lakes campground. Watch for the sign on your right and turn into the dirt road to the parking area. To reach Blackhawk, go back across the road and find one of two connector trails.
Campground trailhead:  Continue uphill and turn left on the campground road. There are several spots at the campground where you can pick up the trail.
West end:  Just past the Beaver Dam Overlook, the trail reaches the road on doubletrack, with some undeveloped parking. The Tie Fork (Frank Young) trail is just across the road.
Blackhawk Trail Map


Riding notes, from the Loafer Mountain Trailhead:
0.15  Fork R uphill through gate
         N 39 56.497' W 111 38.499'
1.5   Fork L downhill (R = out to road + Rock Springs Tr)
        N 39 55.819' W 111 37.822'
2.2    Keep straight as trail comes in from R
         N 39 55.410' W 111 37.574'
2.5    Fork L  N 39 55.147' W 111 37.617'
4.7    Gate, Blackhawk Campground
         Continue to parking, cross road
         N 39 53.568' W 111 37.203'
         Trail always continues across pavement
         leaves CG at N 39 53.246' W 111 37.557'
5.9    Cross trail at top of ridge (R=down to road)
         N 39 53.479' W 111 37.788'
6.7    Fork R (L= to Beaver Dam Trail)
         N 39 53.955' W 111 38.085'
7.1    Straight at fork (R=road, L=Beaver Dam)
         N 39 54.155' W 111 38.337'
8.9    R on DT to road, turn left on road
         N 39 53.824' W 111 39.324'
10.4  Right on Santaquin Canyon Rd
11.4  Fork R on Rock Springs Trail
         N 39 54.398' W 111 41.624'
13.2  Keep straight (L=Schram Tr)
13.4  Straight (R=Lizard Lake Tr to Road)
14.2  Straight (R=Tie Fork or Frank Young Tr)
15.4  Fork L on on Jones Ranch
         Alternate loop = R = Rock Springs
17.0  At paved road, turn R uphill
17.8  Back at vehicle
Riding resources for this trail:
Single-page riding guide
GPS track files and route (right-click and "Save as..."):
     GPX track Blackhawk   Payson Canyon area file

Maps for printing:
   2017 upper Payson Canyon trail topo
   Medium-res topo   View high-res topo
Lodging, camping, shops:  Links to south Utah County resources

Copyright 2000 Mad Scientist Software Inc. Updated 2017