Exploring Utah's Paiute Trail
Colton Worthen enjoys exploring the Paiute Trail in his Polaris RZR with his wife Jackie, daughter Maddi, and dog Tinker-bell.
Mention Utah’s Paiute Trail, and Colton Worthen’s eyes light up.
Colton, a Dominion Energy Utah gas operations rep II, is known around the company as the expert/guru/go-to guy when it comes to the Paiute Trail and four-wheeling or off-road adventuring in the Beehive State.
“I’ve been riding that thing since I could walk,” he says, referring to the 275-mile loop trail running through south-central Utah near Cedar City. “We have a cabin up on Beaver Mountain, and the Paiute Trail actually goes straight through it.”
The Paiute Trail is, in fact, kind of a big deal. Dirt Wheels magazine rated the Paiute ATV Trail as one of the nation’s top 15 trails, and ATV Illustrated Magazine puts it in the top five.
Colton’s dad, Terry Worthen—a DEU retiree—introduced him to the wonderland along the Paiute (pronounced pie-yoot) Trail and its 600-plus miles of side trails. “We started with three-wheelers, and we thought those were the most amazing things in the world,” Colton says of his childhood. “Then we went with a 250 four-wheeler, 350 four-wheeler, a 400, then a 450, 500. We are a huge riding family. That’s just what we’ve done forever, as far back as I can remember.”
One day while riding across sandstone formations … they noticed in the stone what looked like dinosaur tracks. It turned out to be prints of a mom dinosaur and two babies that were so clear they “almost looked like they had happened yesterday.”
One of the attractions is all the history along the Paiute Trail, Colton says. “There are plaques on some of the houses, telling you about who lived there, what happened there. Some are about Butch Cassidy.”
There are geologic wonders, too, including natural arches and lava tubes. One day while riding across sandstone formations near St. George, Colton and his family stopped for lunch. They noticed in the stone what looked like dinosaur tracks. “The prints turned out to be those of a mom and two babies,” he recounts. “Once we noticed them, they were so clear it almost looked like they had happened yesterday.”
Colton informed the state, “and now it’s closed off so people can’t ride there anymore. It’s a good thing to preserve all that. But we’d been riding all over those for years and never noticed them.”
The trail, which shares a name with the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, winds through all kinds of geography, from pine forests to redrock complete with petroglyphs, and through rivers and streams. As Colton explains, “During some times of the year, it’s like you can experience all four seasons in one ride—it goes so high, and also so low, you can be in snow one day and the next day it’s 80 or 90 degrees.”
Colton runs a four-seater Polaris RZR along the Paiute. “I conned my wife into getting that, somehow.” Before that, they had a two-seater model. “But then we had our kid, and we have a dog, and so my wife ended up holding the kid and the dog. She kind of got to the point where she wouldn’t ride with me. So I said, ‘Well, let’s get the four-seater.’” They’ve had the four-seat RZR about a year, and have already put 2,200 miles on it.
“During some times of the year, it’s like you can experience all four seasons in one ride—it goes so high, and also so low, you can be in snow one day and the next day it’s 80 or 90 degrees.”
“The main trail is pretty good for all ATV riders,” Colton says, “but some of the side trails can be more challenging. You can get into a jam pretty fast. You have to know what you’re doing.”
Has he ever gotten himself into a precarious situation?
“All the time,” he says with a laugh. “Luckily I’ve usually had somebody with me, so with two people you can usually get out of the situation. It’s a good thing to have a winch on your rig; we’ve been in a lot of situations where we’ve had to use that to get us out of where we’re at.”
And the draw of the Paiute Trail is more than riding and scenery. The wildlife is amazing. Colton has seen elk, deer, mountain lions, bears, coyotes, antelope and, up above the tree line, mountain goats. “If you take a trip on the trail,” Colton says, “it will change the way you look at the world, guaranteed. It’s so beautiful. There are farm-field-sized swaths of wild raspberries that used to be accessible before some of the trails were closed off. We’d pick ’em and make raspberry jam.”
All that may sound a little too good to be true, but it’s real. Such splendor exists along the Paiute Trail. And as much joy as Colton and his clan derive from exploring on their own, he says it’s even more fun introducing others to his corner of the world. “My favorite thing is taking people out who have never seen anything like this,” he says, admitting to disappointment that our interview wouldn’t include a day-long ride. “It truly does change the way you view the world, being able to see how gorgeous it is.”