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Bunker Creek Trail

The Bunker Creek Trail is an epic downhill at Brian Head. The trail begins atop Brian Head Peak at 11,300 feet, and heads east to Panguitch Lake 3000 feet below. The trail can be done by intermediate riders with a shuttle for the return trip.

Bunker Creek was severely affected by the summer 2017 forest fire. The right fork has been re-opened in summer 2018 after some new digging, and 4 miles of new singletrack was added to the lower canyon in 2019. It's ready to ride.

View from the ridgeline, about 3 miles down from Brian Head Peak. Review ride July 19, 2001 by Bruce Argyle. Page most recently updated on September 8, 2019.

The singletrack trail is 11.6 miles long, and is best done with a shuttle vehicle. The bike shops in Brian Head provide shuttle service for (2018 rate) $25 per rider, which includes the trip up to the trailhead on Brian Head peak, then a pick-up at Panguitch Lake after the ride.

If you're morally opposed to shuttling, you can loop via Highway 143, a 28-mile sufferfest with 3400 feet of climbing. Been there, done that. I've even ridden the whole singletrack as an out-and-back. It's a 22-mile round trip up and back down, with around 3300 feet of climbing overall. About half-way up, you'll note that grunting uphill at this altitude is brutal.

View over the parking area on Brian Head Peak, looking northeast.

Brian Head Peak is formed of a light-colored soft volcanic rock, deposited during last 20 million years. The bright pink cliffs of Cedar Breaks are formed of Claron-formation limestone from about 40 million years ago during the Tertiary Era. This limestone was deposited at the bottom of a large fresh-water lake, before the plateau area was uplifted away from the valleys of the Great Basin.

Threading the needle through volcanic tuff.

Occasionally, there's a little bit of gentle climbing to roll over a small ridge, but in general it's a downhill cruise that's fast and fairly straight. Technically, it's not tough, but there are a couple of sections (such as Bunker Creek's Left Fork -- closed due to fire damage at this time) where there are loose and slightly rough downhill steeps.

View to the north at 11,000 feet, heading east along the high ridge.

The first few miles on ridgeline, coming down from Brian Head Peak, is unlike any other ride. You're cruising through a world of odd rocks, tiny flowering alpine phlox, mosses, and stunted spruce trees. There are some fun rock rollovers and drops on the edge of the trail, if you look for them.

The first fork you'll encounter is at 1.5 miles, where the Dark Hollow trail forks left and Lowder Ponds forks right. As you drop off the ridge, wide meadows alternate with dense spruce forest.

Heading towards the Lowder Ponds fork. The dead trees are courtesy of a bark beetle. (Stay tuned for the fire scar!)

After crossing the Sidney Valley road, the terrain changes to aspen and spruce forest, with small meadows. The turns are gentle, so there's not much tree-dodging. 

Bunker Creek's Left Fork (turning right at mile 4.4) is steeper and more technical; the Right Fork is a cruise. (Note that the left fork is still closed due to fire damage as of July 30, 2018.)

Looking south as we cross a meadow approaching the Sidney Valley road area.

In 2017, a massive fire hit the area east of Brian Head. The burned area includes the last 1/2 mile of Sidney Peaks trail and 90% of the Bunker Creek trails. The Right Fork of Bunker Creek was re-dug in 2018 due to flooding following the fire, and a new 4 miles of singletrack was added below the Right Fork in 2019, bypassing the dirt road that was formerly the last 5 miles of the ride.

Burned trees on Sidney Peaks.

Just 0.1 miles before the Right Fork trail ends on dirt road, you'll find a trail fork on the right. This is the new 2019 singletrack. It will take you downhill 4 miles before it joins the dirt road about a mile before the highway. (Note: in September 2019, at the top of the new singletrack, the bridge across both the Right Fork and Left Fork have not been completed, so you might need to get a shoe wet.)

On a non-burned area of the Right Fork, we're approaching the fence that starts the doubletrack.

As you head down, the air will get warmer, and the ecosystem will change to larger pines. The temperature at Panguitch Lake may be 30 degrees warmer than it was at the top at Brian Head Peak.

A log ride alongside the new lower Bunker Creek singletrack extension in 2019.

The new lower portion of Bunker Creek makes a nice loop ride. You can crank up the dirt road -- starting from a parking spot on the dirt road 0.15 miles past the forest-boundary cattleguard -- then turn onto the lower Bunker Creek about 0.2 miles uphill on the Right Fork trail. The loop is 8.3 miles with 1100 feet of climbing, top elevation 9300 feet. This portion of the trail may be snow-free a month or two before the full shuttled ride can be done.

Some fun twisty berm work as I approach the end of 12 miles of singletrack.

Be prepared for cold. On my July 19 2001 ride, the 10 a.m. temperature at the trailhead was 52 degrees F with a 20 mph wind, even though the sky was clear and sunny. On July 30 2018, a toasty warm day turned to low-60s with wind and cold rain by 4 pm. Thunderstorms can pop up quickly at Brian Head, and they're very ugly at this altitude. Bring a rain jacket. I suggest full-fingered gloves. Also come prepared for some serious sun exposure.  Use a potent sunscreen and UV-protective sunglasses.

Penstemmon blooms in one of countless small meadows alongside the trail.

Bottom Line:

A classic ride. Do it. Bunker Creek is still very much worth doing despite the burn damage, and the new 4 miles at the bottom make it even better! Where else are you going to find 11 miles of continuous downhill singletrack?

A carpet of little aspen trees has sprung from the ground among the skeletons of the former forest.

 A video of the trip down Bunker Creek in 2018...

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

Trail notes, starting at Brian Head Peak (11,300 feet elevation)
0.5 turn left uphill on singletrack across from parking lot
1.5 intersection with Dark Hollow (4-way), continue straight on Sidney Peaks Trail
4.3 cross Sidney Valley Road loop
4.4 trail fork: go Right for technical, Left for easier
7.3 fork right onto lower Bunker Creek ST
11.3 R onto dirt road
11.6 parking spot for loop ride or up-and-down
12.6 dirt road reaches highway, L for Panguitch Lake

Jackie takes a breather near a cluster of Colorado Columbine in 2001.

 Loop ride on the new lower Bunker Creek trail (2019)...

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

Getting there:  On U-143, head up the canyon from Brian Head to the summit. Just 1/4 mile past the summit sign, turn left on a gravel road (GPS N 37 40.136' W 112 50.350'). Drive 2.5 miles to the peak of the mountain to start your ride. (Note the parking area to your left at 1.8 miles. Once you start riding, you'll turn onto the singletrack across the road.) 
Riding resources for this trail:
Single-page riding guide
GPS track files and route (right-click and "Save as..."):
     GPX Bunker Creek R, Fork ride   Area multi-track file
High-res topo map Bunker Creek route:  View
     Area topo (with other trails) for printing:  View topo
Lodging, camping, shops:     Links to Cedar City - Brian Head area resources

Copyright 2001 Mad Scientist Software Inc
updated 2018