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Onion Creek Trail

Onion Creek is a dirt-road ride. The highlight is several miles riding through a deep chasm carved in colorful sandstone, the Onion Creek Narrows. The surface of the Onion Creek portion is fairly smooth, for a very easy technical rating. As an out-and-back, the ride is about 7 miles each way (depending on where you turn around) with 1500 vertical feet of climbing. This section can also be ridden downhill one-way with shuttle -- the road is easily passable in the family SUV.

Mike cruises past rusty cliffs of banded sandstone, typical of the rock you'll see in the Onion Creek Narrows. Photos October 19, 2002 by Bruce.

In addition to a one-way or out-and-back through the Onion Creek Narrows, there's the option of a long ride from the La Sal Mountains via the Kokopelli. This version is 25 miles, with 4000 vertical feet of downhill. There's a moderate one-mile climb near the beginning, and a brutal 400-vertical foot, 1/2-mile climb in the middle. This ride is entirely on dirt road. The upper section has some loose rock and a few ruts, but is still an easy technical cruise.

View back towards the peaks of the La Sal mountains, from early in the long-version ride.

The long ride starts in long-leaf pine, pinion, and juniper. A portion of the ride is on the Kokopelli trail. As it drops down, there are distant views of mesas and cliffs. After popping over the steep hill into Fisher Valley, the cliffs of Wingate sandstone frame this picturesque scene. 

Dropping from 8200 feet, we're now at 7000. In front of us pinion pine frame views of sandstone cliffs. This is about 7 miles into the ride.

Plan to splash through Onion Creek uncountable times. If you're riding uphill doing the Narrows as an out-and-back, bring some extra chain lube. If you don't want to get your butt wet, throw a quick-lock fender on your seatpost. Your feet WILL get wet.

In Fisher Valley, Chad rolls west. The entrance to the Narrows is at the extreme left in this photo. We're about mile 16 downhill. This valley would be your turn-around for an out-and-back ride.

The banded cliffs in the Onion Creek Narrows are impressive. This appears to be Organ Rock formation sandstone from the Permian period (284-240 million years ago), but I'm not absolutely certain about the ID. This rock was uplifted, blocking the flow of water and letting sediment build up in a lake bottom in Fisher Valley. As Onion Creek cut through the mountain, it drained the lake as it created the impressive Narrows.

Just before the Narrows itself is an other-worldly collection of multicolored badlands formations. The chocolate-colored rock in the middle is typical of the Narrows.

Riding Notes, Long Shuttle Version:
0.0   At the fork, head downhill left
        N 38 36.716' W 109 11.738'  Alt 8100
0.5   Pass ATV track on L, corral on R
2.0   Keep straight on main road
        N 38 37.284' W 109 10.365'  Alt 8200
        Straight at any other spurs
4.3   Left on DT marked Kokopelli Trail
        N 38 38.693' W 109 09.452'  Alt 7600
7.2   Hard left, ignore track on R
13.7 Stay left on main road, head south

Matt rides towards the Onion Creek Narrows, looming ahead.

14.1 Begin climb up steep hill
14.4 Gate at top of hill
15.2 Fork R, west
        N 38 40.623' W 109 12.704'  Alt 5800
16.2 Keep straight L (R = Kokopelli Tr)
        N 38 41.340' W 109 13.233'
18    Dropping towards Onion Creek Narrows
        Multiple creek-crossings!
23    Leaving Narrows
25.0 Back at parking area
        N 38 43.253' W 109 20.576'

Mike (red jersey) and Dominic hit the water.

Getting there:  Drive north from Moab (2.4 miles from Center Street) on US 191, and turn right on U-128. Set your odometer as you turn. At mile 15.2, you'll pass the paved Castle Valley - La Sal Loop road on your right. Continue on, passing a gravel road on the right at mile 18.0. At 19.7, turn right onto the gravel Onion Creek Road. Drive 0.7 miles to a parking area on the left-hand side of the road N 38 43.253' W 109 20.576'. 

The trail for the out-and-back is the main road (continuing the same direction you were driving), not the smaller doubletrack that heads north (left) from the parking area.

If you're riding the long (shuttle) version, leave one car in the parking area. Head back to U-128. Turn left and drive 4.5 miles back to the La Sal Loop Road. Set your odometer. At mile 10.5, keep left (straight) as the La Sal Loop Road forks south. At mile 16, you'll pass parking for the Fisher Mesa Trail (parking right, trail left). A bit later, the paved road turns to gravel. Drive 2.2 miles past the pavement's end and park at the first major fork in the road (mile 18.2 from U-128). The trail is the left fork N 38 36.716' W 109 11.738'.

Riding resources:
One-page, printable riding guide
GPS track file (right-click and select "Save Target as..."):
     Garmin MPS     GPX    (w. Kokopelli track)
Topo map for printing:   Lower Res   High-Res (out-and-back only)
Lodging, camping, shops:     Links to Moab area resources

Copyright 2002 Mad Scientist Software Inc