Distance: As far as you want to go...
Elevation: 10,000-10,900 feet (3050 - 3325 meters)
Time of Year: Early June - Mid-October
Normally I post about hiking trails on this site. But, the Skyline Drive along the summit of the Wasatch Plateau in Central Utah is sort of an exception. Here is route that can be either driven or hiked. After climbing up the steep mountain road from Mayfield, UT, it was so beautiful at the top that we decided to just park the car and start walking up the road. It was mid-June and we did not see a single car on this entire route.
The Wasatch Plateau is not to be confused with the Wasatch Front rising high above Salt Lake City. Related geologically, it is not the steep rocky ridge rising directly out of the Great Salt Lake, but rather a flat-topped plateau of limestone and mudstones rising to the south of the Wasatch Front above the towns of Gunnison and Manti, UT in the middle Sevier River valley and Sanpete valley.
|The road up from the parking spot|
The easiest access for the best views would to drive up the Skyline Drive out of the town of Mayfield, UT. The road goes steeply up the escarpment passing aspen stands and open meadows along the way. There are a number of great meadows and small lakes along the way to stop at to relax or camp at before reaching the summit of the escarpment.
|Wandering the aspen meadows on the way up the escarpment |
(with Rosie the travelling kitty)
As the road approaches the split for the Ferron Reservoir, stay right and continue to the ridgetop. At the ridgetop, there is another branch with a road dropping down to the Duck Fork Reservoir. Stay left, drive to the top of the ridge and park here.
|Road down to Duck Fork Reservoir|
At this stage, you may begin your leisurely trek across the summit ridge for basically as far as you wish to go. There may be some ATV's and other vehicles passing by, but they can be mostly avoided if you walk across the meadows instead a hundred feet off the road. Whether it gets more traffic later in the summer I don't know, but like I mentioned, we saw no other cars on our entire trip up there.
|Wandering the subalpine meadows of the Wasatch Plateau|
From the summit ridge, we could see the San Rafael Swell and the canyon country off to the east. We could look down into the Sanpete Valley some 6,000 feet below to the west. We could also see the southern end of the Wasatch Front, including Mount Nebo, to the north and the Fish Lake Mountains off to the south.
|View across the 11,000 foot Wasatch Plateau|
The vegetation at the top is mostly subalpine meadows with scattered clumps of subalpine fir and Engelmann spruce. The spruce, however, has been heavily impacted by long-term drought conditions and spruce ips beetles and has suffered severe dieback, leaving almost all of the living trees along the summit as firs.
Eventually you can decide to turn around whenever you like. What we did was that I turned around to go get the vehicle, while Linda and Hilina continued down the road even further. Then, I picked them up and we continued on the Skyline drive until we reached Snow Lake. Unfortunately, at that point, the road was blocked by a snow drift, so we were unable to continue the last few miles to the descent to Ephraim.
|Exposed sedimentary strata as we descend down the Manti road|
Thus, we had to backtrack a couple of miles to the Manti access road. This route down is extremely steep and very rough. It took a long time of very careful driving to manage the ruts and rocks on this way down. But, our Honda CRV did make it down alright. The route is certainly scenic, especially as we entered into the mixed aspen-conifer stands.