Welcome to Utah's Trail County
It was time for the money steer, which is exactly as it sounds. Participants, as young as 4-5 years old chase a steer around the rodeo arena trying to snatch bills of varying denominations taped to its back and sides. The other children laugh and cheer from atop the arena fence and the parents look on from nearby bleachers. “The kids know when to get out of the way,” one parent tells me.
Early August in Richfield, Utah, means the Sevier County Fair. And the money steer is among the first events. It’s followed by bull riding for older kids, calf riding for younger ones, and mutton bustin’ for the little tikes — one small boy rides backward, legs and arms latched tightly to the body of his sheep. Eventually, failing to escape the boys grip, the sheep simply gives in. Meanwhile, a Neil Diamond tribute band plays on the main stage and attendees shuffle back and forth; food, Simply Diamond, rodeo, livestock, back to food, and so on.
The fair is a gathering place for Sevier County and captures an authentic spirit of community. It welcomes participants and spectators, residents and visitors, with familiar people, hometown hospitality, impressive livestock, and fair “fare” — all those guilty pleasure foods that can only be consumed in good conscience at a fair. But even if you don't visit the fair, the annual celebration is far from the only attraction awaiting Sevier County midsummer adventurers.
The county is also the starting point for some of the country’s most spectacular off-road trail riding.
All Trails Lead to Sevier County — Literally
Riders access the Arapeen Trail System in the North, the Paiute Trail System going south, and the Gooseberry Trail System that connects them through the middle. Each of these trails is accessible from a base camp in Sevier County.
Even when the county fair isn’t running, this Central Utah town near the western terminus of I-70 embodies the heritage of the American West, which includes the freedom to roam. The Paiute Trail is part of the Fishlake National Forest, south of I-70 and just east of I-15. It comprises more than 900 miles of loops and spurs (by some measures, there's up to an additional 1,000 miles in spur roads), including several dips off the mountain into towns like Koosharem and Salina where navigating roads on ATVs and UTVs is entirely legal.
It’s also quite common to see kids and teens in helmets steering ATVs through town. With an OHV education certification, kids 8–15 can take the helm on public lands, which is important for the family and community aspect of these trails. These trails and communities are surprisingly remote for being so entirely accessible. Which is to say, this is small town living at its finest.
Shared with Piute County to the south, the Paiute Trail is one of the most well-mapped and well-maintained trail systems in the country, making it especially popular for trail riding jamborees and a favorite for ATV vacations.
Hidden Gems in South Sevier
Following the fair, we arrive in a sleepy, but quaint little town called Monroe. There are not many places to stay in Monroe, so the Monroe Inn is a pleasant surprise. A bed and breakfast on Monroe’s main drag, the Inn consists of two large, gabled homes, one of which doubles as the residence for the owners.
Keltin and Elizabeth Barney moved here a few years ago, after both graduated from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Elizabeth's father had already created the bed and breakfast years earlier, but the pair, together with Elizabeth's brother, Alex Evaschuk, has since remodeled and rebranded the location, which has large suites and an impressive breakfast. Their hospitality is well-received.
Our pleasant visit to the area is capped by a ride to the top of Monroe Mountain with our guides. It is there we meet Denise Barber and Jack Doyle, and their hodgepodge crew of OHV enthusiasts staying nearby for the annual Paiute Trail Jamboree; Lila and Ron Hodson, Carolee and Ty Bricker, and Kathryn and Duane Stegman, who are celebrating their 56th wedding anniversary.
“We’re off-roaders and we go to a lot of Poker Runs,” says Barber. Poker Runs are card games for riders. The riders pick up cards at each stop and the high hand wins a prize. “Low hand this year gets a laptop,” she says. "High hand gets a sound system," adds Lila Hodson, another rider. ”It’s a stereo system for your UTV.” Upon inspection, each of their UTVs is already equipped with a stereo system.
Riding along with Max Reid
There are all levels of difficulty in the system and some impressive climbs, descents, and summits. But the Paiute trail is also littered with information about the past. There are old arrastras and adits, mills, mines and meetinghouses. The area has been meticulously cared for and prepared for visitors to learn, experience and enjoy. Indeed, there are a lot of fingerprints on the off-road trails of Central Utah, but none is bigger than that of retired Fishlake Public Service Staff Officer, Max Reid. Reid’s extensive involvement in the Pauite system led to a segment being named for him.
Like others of his generation and experience, Reid can spin a yarn, and he consistently jokes that the reliability of any story is dubious. Still, with each tale one thing is clear, Reid cares deeply about the region: the people, the trails, the forest.
He relates an event from his early days on the Paiute Trail, circa 1995. “It was late, the colors were on then,” Reid recalls. “And whatever (Reid says ‘whatever’ a lot), it was a pretty day and whatever, there was a family there from Trenton, New Jersey, the Harding family.”
Reid proceeds to relate a story about riding with the young family to the top of the mountain on their “little 300s.” In particular, Reid remembers the young daughter, when she arrived at the summit. “Elizabeth takes her helmet off and she just turns in a circle. Her eyes were blue and just as big as dinner plates,” he says, becoming misty-eyed. “She said, ‘oh mama, the sky is so much bigger at the top of the mountain.’ Now I’d been to the top of that mountain a thousand times, it never dawned on me that the sky is bigger at the top of the mountain,” Reid says.
While there are a variety of reasons for coming to Utah’s Trail Country, for many it boils down to the ride, the entertainment and the relationships that develop along the way on these outdoor adventures. “The Utah trails are absolutely exquisite,” says Barber, “It’s the camaraderie, and the people. Everybody is so friendly and nice.” It’s a sentiment common to Trail Country and to the small towns of Central Utah.
The Max Reid trail itself is a microcosm of the central Utah trail-riding experience, including surprising elevations gains, thick foliage and stark exposure, huge vistas, varied terrain and quick turns on steep descents.
We start up the trail along an exposed hillside, already beginning to warm in the morning sun. The ATV just fits through the narrow 50-inch gates. I’m trailing behind Max on his oversized 650. Before long we begin our ascent into the cool, tree-covered environs of the mountainside where our long sleeves are no longer uncomfortable.
The Max Reid trail is set among the abandoned mines, canyons, and history of south Sevier and northern Paiute counties. Along the way Reid relates stories of the mines, the area and its former inhabitants. We continue to climb on the sometimes narrow trail, and as we near the top much of the foliage falls away.
There is a a rocky pass with a rather significant drop off one side, mildly unnerving, and at the top, with views in every direction, the sky truly is bigger. The thrilling, often steep descent has quick turns along the narrow, yet well-maintained trail. It’s hard not to feel, upon its completion that you’ve experienced a grand adventure.
For some, the Paiute Trail will begin and end with the ATV experience, and that alone is well worth it. But for those seeking enrichment beyond the ride, the trail offers an opportunity to connect with all of the others who have benefitted from and enjoyed these places in the past.