The South Fork of Warm Springs to Red Warrior is a great mountain bike ride contained entirely within the Warm Springs drainage near Sun Valley. It is more remote than some of the more popular rides, so it sees a bit less traffic. Much of the trail was rebuilt in 2009 and 2010, and the crew did an excellent job of creating a moderately challenging, flowy route that makes excellent use of the landscape.
The first leg of the ride follows the Warm Springs Road toward Dollarhide Summit. This steady but relatively easy 7.7-mile warm up gives riders a chance to fill their lungs with fresh mountain air and enjoy the pretty scenery without being singularly focused on the trail. The first turn is at a well-marked junction at the South Fork of Warm Springs Creek, where a two-track dirt road turns south off of the main road. Follow this through several stream crossings to the second junction at 8.4 miles.
This is where the real single-track begins. Though an old four-wheel drive road used to climb further up the canyon, it has been rehabilitated into a singletrack mountain bike and motorcycle trail. The trail hugs the north side of the canyon, weaving through pretty pockets of trees and across several dry washes on the north side of the creek. There are a handful of steep crux sections, but in general everything is rideable.
At mile 10, turn left at another well-signed junction (the main trail continues to Poison Flat). This is the newer section of trail and the start of the final climb to the top of Warfiled Creek. For the next 2 miles the trail makes a moderate, steady climb up a newly constructed trail. There are two nice bridges and several sections of well-built rock-armored trail at the crux sections. Rounded switchbacks keep things to a moderate grade toward the top of the drainage for a very enjoyable climb to the Warfield saddle at mile 12.
The next section is a great traverse across the top of Warfield Creek that alternates between shaded, north-facing pockets decorated with shrubs and flowers to open, grassy hillsides of bunchgrass, sage, and warmer variety flowers. An open clearing at mile 13.5 on the divide between Warfield and Red Warrior marks the beginning of a fun descent.
The headwaters of Red Warrior Creek burned in the 2007 Castle Rock Fire. In 2010 and 2011 trail crews rebuilt sections that were damaged by the fire and also re-routed the trail away from older steep, rutted, and unrideable sections. The result is a fantastic 4-mile descent through a burned forest recovering from effects of wildfire. Purple fireweed and streambank globemallow decorate the trail as it flows through switchbacks, past rock spires, and through a handful of stream crossings. Look for the junction with the Greenhorn connector at mile 16.7.
The final descent along the bottom of Red Warrior Creek to the trailhead continues at a high-paced clip. The trail is in great shape, but there are several dense and somewhat blind creek crossings. Don’t worry, they are all rideable, so you can keep your speed up. About halfway down the drainage you pass an old metal shack (mile 17.5) and then a continued fast and fun descent through several more stream crossings to Warm Springs Creek. This can range from a raging torrent (during spring and early summer run-off) to a rideable, knee-deep river crossing. If it is too swift, look for the sneak out trail that follows the south bank for a quarter of a mile to a road bridge.
The Smoky Mountain trail system is a great interconnected network. Other rides that spur off this route, include the Poison Flat, Mars Ridge, Warfield Creek, and Lodepole to Red Warrior Trails.
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