Cycling Utah with TJ Eisenhart
I grew up riding up the canyon roads and trails in the mountains behind Provo, Utah, a city at the heart of the Utah Valley, south of Salt Lake. Many locals consider the mountains of Utah County to be the most iconic, even more beautiful than those of Salt Lake and other Northern Utah cities. One of the biggest reasons? Mount Timpanogos. The range behind Utah Valley is also home to Timpangos Cave National Monument, Robert Redford's Sundance Mountain Resort, incredible mountain biking and one of the finest road cycling canyons in Utah.
Follow me through three days of challenging, scenic and diverse riding.
The first day explores some of the best mountain roads for cycling. Without a doubt, American Fork Canyon is my absolute favorite place to ride. The climb has some of the wildest views of Mount Timpanogos. This is my go-to climb to test my strength before I head off to a race. This climb is very hard and reaches an altitude of 8000 feet. I've seen mountain goats, brown bears and moose on this ride and the river helps keep it cool in the summer. In October during my rest period, I go trail running up my favorite trail, the Timpanokee trailhead, which will take you to the very top of Timpanogos. The road finishes on an excellent ride past Sundance Resort.
The second day embraces the big climbs. I developed a love for high-elevation biking at an early age. I set out one day following my brother and dad on the Suncrest route. This is a special climb for me because it's the first mountain I ever climbed. There was no looking back from there — no looking back, that is, until reaching the top of the mountain. Today you'll tackle Suncrest and/or Squaw Peak in the pursuit of the title Queen or King of the Mountain.
Finally, wrap up your grand tour of this riding mecca with more leisurely tours — that is, less climbing — on the Murdock Canal Trail and Jordan River Trail. Complete all these rides and who knows, maybe I'll be racing you to the Tour of Utah finish line!
Now get on your bike and let’s pedal it out. Ride baby ride.
- American Fork Canyon
- S.R. 92 Past Sundance
- Sundance Mountain Resort
S.R. 92 begins with a challenging and scenic climb through American Fork Canyon and offers eye-popping views of Mount Timpanogos. The neighboring stream helps keep the ride cool in the heat of summer. The road then turns east toward Sundance Mountain Resort and Provo Canyon. Of course, from this direction you get a downhill cruise and a sense for what the return trip is like. For an added challenge, consider a return trip to the summit after refueling at Sundance — or call it a day and meet non-riders in your group or family for a comfortable overnight at the rustic mountain resort. A full loop completes with Provo River and Murdock Canal trails.
I grew up riding up AF with my brother and dad; this is my absolute favorite place to ride. The climb has some of the wildest views of Mt. Timpanogos. This climb is very hard and reaches an altitude of 8000 feet. Along the way, I've seen mountain goats, brown bears and moose. With the river running alongside the road cooling the temp, this is a fantastic place to ride in the summer. And it accesses some of the best mountain bike and running trails around.
Strava.com Alpine Loop (AF) Segment
Pro Tip: Stop at the ranger station to fill up your water bottles for the climb ahead.
Distance: 10.9 miles | Elevation Gain: 2959 feet
Just down the other side of American Fork Canyon is Sundance. This is a very hard and steep climb, which makes it perfect for a hard training day. Again the views of Timp are spectacular and there’s an opportunity to stop at Sundance Mountain resort and refill your bottles or grab a nice snack. For an additional spur ride as you head up to the top, you can take a right and go down to Cascade Springs. Now we are talking about a workout!
Strava.com Alpine Loop (Sundance) Segment
Pro Tip: Plan time to stop at Sundance Mountain Resort to refuel.
Distance: 8.8 miles | Elevation Gain: 2,641 feet
Compared to its neighboring Utah resorts, Robert Redford's Sundance Mountain Resort has a cozy, nestled quality, yet its 42 runs across 450+ acres still pack in 2,150 vertical feet and the spectacular snow of Utah.
It's simply first class.
Come summer, the resort opens up to mountain biking, hiking and fly-fishing alongside great lodging, excellent dining options, an array of art classes and a very scenic zip line.
- Squaw Peak
- Provo / Utah Valley
Here are two of my favorite climbs that will earn you a well-deserved dinner and night's rest in Utah Valley. Suncrest rises from Provo Canyon, challenging you with its steep initial climb then giving way to a gentler, but still punishing grade. From the Provo River Parkway trailhead, it's nearly 2,000 feet to the top over barely 6 miles. Don't let TJ's KOM time discourage you. Any successful climb is worth celebrating. The gentler Suncrest climbs connects Highland on the Utah Valley side of Traverse Mountains to Draper on the Salt Lake Valley side, but this time you're not on a mountain backway. At the top there is a great place to stop for a snack. It's a few miles and just over 1,400 feet to the crest of this climb. Add at least 15 miles on the Murdock Canal trail to complete these two climbs on a single ride. Photo by Pierce Martin, via Flickr CC.
Squaw Peak is a 7.1-mile moderately trafficked out-and-back mountain road located near Provo, Utah. This road is another one of my absolute favorite places to ride. This climb is very steep and very hard but the benefit of this climb is when you finally hit the top you have one of the best views of Utah County overlooking Provo and Utah Lake. While TJ is KOM at just over 20 minutes, most riders will fall 6–10 minutes back. Track your ride to compete against yourself!
Strava's Squaw Peak Ride Segment
Pro Tip: At beginning when it is the steepest, don't go too hard; save some energy for the top.
Distance: 6 or 7 miles depending on starting point. Elevation Gain: 1555 feet
Suncrest trail is a very special climb for me because this was the very first mountain I ever climbed. I was 11 years old when I first joined my dad and brother for a ride up it.
I love this little climb, it's hard but not too long (3 miles on the ascent) so it gives you the perfect challenge in a short amount of time.
Strava.com Suncrest Ride Segment
Pro Tip: Stop at the cafe up top — it's a sweet market/cafe with a cool vibe.
Distance: About 3 to 6 miles one-way, depending on starting point | Elevation Gain: About 1,000 feet
The Provo-Orem metropolitan is one of the nation's best for well-being and quality of life thanks to an emerging local dining scene, extensive cultural offerings and the backyard Provo Canyon, whose river is home to scenic fly-fishing, kayaking and floating — and iconic Mt. Timpanogos keeps watch over it all.
Beyond Provo-Orem, the Utah Valley offers excellent family activities and golf at Thanksgiving Point, water sports on Utah Lake and plenty of quaint towns with unique identities. Check out the world-class arts and eclectic culture of Springville.
- Jordan River Trail
- Provo River & Murdock Canal
- Black Sheep Cafe
The previous two days featured some incredible climbs. But what if you don’t want to climb or need a day for some more relaxed cycle touring? Well don’t worry: Here are two fantastic paved trails that I love. Murdock Canal takes advantage of a valley's canal path for some excellent paved touring. Though it crosses several intersections, you'll appreciate the change to cruise the valley off the main roads and away from the vehicle traffic. The ride gets even better when the Murdock Canal trail connects with the Jordan River Parkway west of I-15. A short ride along the Parkway takes you to one of my favorite places to cool off — the bridge at Thanksgiving Point — but the Parkway continues for miles in both directions, including more than 30 miles north to Salt Lake City. It really just depends on how much time and energy you have!
The Jordan River flows from Utah Lake to the Great Salt Lake. It's nearly 50 miles total and a nearly uninterrupted paved parkway runs alongside it. There's a great connection with the Murdock Trail a few minutes south of Thanksgiving Point. Watch out for patches of goatheads — those thorny weeds that can puncture road tires.
Pro Tip: Jumping off the bridge into the water at the end of the Thanksgiving Point part of the trail is a great way to cool off!
Distance: Roughly 40 miles completed, with long stretches in Utah, Salt Lake and Davis counties.
I got to hand it to whoever came up with the Provo River Parkway and Murdock Canal trails. They make it so you can get off the main roads and except for the canyons and intersections totally avoid riding with cars for miles. Murdock connects the Provo River Parkway in Provo Canyon with access routes to American Fork Canyon.
Pro Tip: Be careful with intersections where you have to stop and go through traffic.
Distance: Approximately 15 miles one-way.
An ideal fit for your journey through the American Southwest and on Utah's Road to Mighty® (whether as a driver or a cyclist), Provo's Black Sheep Cafe combines flavors of the southwest with Native American cooking traditions. Black Sheep uses local producers when possible and emphasizes the Three Sisters of squash, corn and pole beans. Not sure where to start? Click the link below to behind the scenes with the team at Taste Utah to meet the chef and experience some of the cafe's best dishes.