There is a little known trail up Ophir Canyon in the Oquirrh Mountains of Utah called the “Lion Hill / South Fork Loop Trail.” This trail is primarily an ATV trail but horse riders, hikers and mountain bikers can follow it as well.
The trail is primarily on Public Lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management Salt Lake Field Office but there are private lands on all sides, so if you follow the described route, ensure that you stay on the main trail. There are many side roads that may look enticing but they are mostly private property—so keep out.
The Lion Hill / South Fork Loop trail was built many years ago so miners could access their claims and works. It has been a long time since the mines were in operation and most of them have been closed off, but these old roads have left us with some fine recreational trails.
Tooele County has done a great job working with their Federal partners at the BLM and with local property owners to open this route. After I finished my hike, I discovered that the County maintains an excellent database on the web where you can find detailed trail information on this trail and many others at www.tooelecountytrails.com. This is a great resource so if you are thinking about following this route, check it out!
My wife and I, along with my old Lab, Duke, hiked this trail in mid-May 2013 and the canyon couldn’t have been prettier. It had been raining all week and it was threatening rain still but that has never stopped us before, and I’m glad it didn’t on this day. We drove down to Ophir and up through that town to the tiny trailhead that has been established about 1.5 miles east of Ophir. A brown sign shows the route of the loop trail and states that the Lion Head / South Fork Loop trail is seven miles long if you complete the circuit.
From the sign the road crosses the creek and there is a small rounded parking area with private property on both sides. If you park there make sure that you are courteous and that you don’t block the gates or the road to either direction of travel.
The old mining road climbs steeply southwest up the side of the mountain and in a short while you have a great bird’s eye view of the ribbon town of Ophir to the west and far below.
The road is extremely rocky with chunks of grey limestone that could do some damage to tires and ankles if the traveler is not cautious. I would consider this the only drawback to the trail as the rocky nature of it gets pretty old.
The trail climbs south up the small side canyon and then it splits and the right fork continues up the bottom of the drainage through mixed conifer and aspen forest and the left more prominent path makes a series of several long switchbacks up the east slope of the canyon. Both of these paths are part of the trail system and they rejoin each other higher up.
There are thick stands of Gambel Oak, and the Balsamroot was in bloom and literally seemed to cover some of the hillsides with its large yellow flowers. Ominous dark clouds were swirling about the higher peaks and when the wind blew it was cold. A few squalls marched up the canyon and pelted us with tiny hail. When we finally reached the pass that separates Ophir and Silverado Canyons, the sun was starting to break out of the clouds and it was a totally beautiful day.
The aspens at the higher elevations were just starting to leaf out. The mixed forest of White Fir (light blue/green) needles and the Douglas Fir (dark green needles) contrasted nicely with individual trees of the different species standing next to each other. At one point when we stopped, we noticed a tiny hummingbird who landed on a oak branch. This little dude had a long black beak, black head, bright red collar and a metallic green back. I consider it a total privilege to be able to observe a creature like that.
The higher peaks of the Oquirrh Mountains—10,006 foot Sharp Mountain to the north, 10,411 foot Lewiston Peak to the east and 10,273 foot Rocky Peak to the northeast—all looked magnificent as the parting clouds exposed the remaining snow slides on their slopes and the fresh powder dusting of the highest summits.
To the south, Porphyry Hill area looked inviting and upon further examination of the BLM maps, this peak is on public land and could be accessed from this trail where it drops into South Fork of Ophir Canyon. As always, it is incumbent upon the hiker to know where the boundaries between public and private lands are.
If you continue along the road from the pass, you can follow it east along the face of an un named rounded peak and then drop into South Fork Ophir Canyon and follow that road north down to main Ophir Canyon and back down to the trailhead along that canyon making a giant seven-mile loop.
Closed and locked gates should never be crossed. Stick to the main loop road and you will be fine. If you are ever in doubt, contact the BLM or you can do what I did and go to their field office in West Valley and pick up the Rush Valley 1:100,000 Land Use Map which shows land ownership. This is a great map. Anyone who likes to explore in Tooele County ought to buy the set as they will keep you from getting into trouble as far as trespassing is concerned. Make sure that if you pack something in—you pack it out. Do not litter.
To get to the trailhead, follow state Route 36 south out of Tooele through Stockton and then turn left onto state Route 73. Follow this road for approximately five miles and watch for the signs to “Ophir.” Turn left and east on the Ophir road and follow that up the canyon through the town and watch on your right hand side for the Lion Hill / South Fork Trailhead Sign.
The trail is an easy grade so most anyone could handle it—just remember how rocky it is. Take plenty of water as the Oquirrhs are a dry range and have fun on this trail that provides fantastic views of the high Oquirrh Mountains.