People come from all over for the Manti Mountain ATV-UTV Run

Run participants gather around the sign marking the highest point on Skyline Drive for a group photo commemorating the ride.

MANTI—The secret is out. Treasure has been found in the mountains above the Sanpete Valley.

The treasure is the Arapeen Trail System, where people from all over are now coming to recreate with their UTVs, ATVs and other recreational vehicles.

Nowhere is that more obvious than during the Manti Mountain ATV-UTV Run, an organized trail ride for off road enthusiasts that takes them deep into the Arapeen trails and all over some of Sanpete’s most spectacular canyons.

The runs are held three times a year, in June, July and September, and each year the spots sell out faster. But Greg Wayman, owner of Sterling-based UTV and ATV rental company Skyline Recreation, and one of the run’s original organizers, says the run itself has never been about immediate profit, despite its growing popularity.

“It’s never been a big money maker,” Wayman told the Messenger. “It’s a long term investment in local economic development. We are planting seeds to make people enjoy the area and want to come back all on their own.”

Although it is now organized primarily by Manti City, the run originally started in 2004 when Wayman’s father and a local hotel owner decided to team up to organize the event for the benefit of both their businesses as well as the local community.

Since then, the run has grown in popularity, drawing people from across the state three times a year, filling motels and helping to build the off-road tourism economy by leveraging one of the best trail systems you can find in Utah.

(Left): Participants in the Manti Mountain ATV-UTV Run carefully cross a stream on the way to their lunch stop at Six-Mile Pond. (Right): Charlie Allen of Orem offers her dog Molly a bowl of water during a brief stop along the trail.

“Right now, Americans all over the country are looking for new ways to recreate and this has become one of those ways,” Wayman says. Last year was a record year for the event and his rental business, as people turned to trails and recreational vehicles more often as a way to enjoy the outdoors safely during the pandemic.

Spots on this year’s run filled up quickly too, often with participants taking part in more than one of the three two-day events.

This year, the Messenger decided to cover the run properly, and to do that, we had to get out on the trail with the rest of the participants and experience it first-hand. To make that happen, Wayman graciously let us use of one of his UTV rentals, a Honda Pioneer 500 4×4 two-seater, and I hit the trails with Wayman and the rest of the run participants to see what it was all about.

On the morning of Wednesday, July 14, I loaded up the Honda UTV with my camera gear, some snacks and my dad, who would be my copilot on the adventure. At about 8:30 a.m., we set off for the meetup point to join the others making the run.

Because so many people participate (this year more than 100 machines were registered for the event), the run is broken into groups that are each led by a trail guide. We were fortunate enough to join Wayman’s group, which was composed of more than a dozen UTV’s, many of which were full to the brim with excited families, retired couples and people ready to enjoy some time on the trails.

The David Benson family of Salt Lake City was one of those groups excited about the day’s ride. Benson, who had first discovered the run last year, had so much fun he had to bring the whole family this time around.

“It’s just a great time and I knew I had to come back with everyone,” he said. “They love it too, and I love to hear the girls yelling and covering their eyes on the trail. It just feels great to be out here.”

Our group made its way to the beginning of the trail in a long caravan, stopping briefly at an elevated overlook above Palisade State Park, where Wayman gave some early instructions about the first stretch of proper trail running. From there we made our way into Six-Mile Canyon, making sure to switch on 4WD as the ride went from casual cruising to careful crawling on the trail’s rockier inclines.

The first stretch of the trail heading into Six-Mile presented obstacles and uneven terrain just as you would expect, but it also often gave way to smooth, well-packed dirt shaded by the many trees of the Manti-La Sal Forest. For the first several hours of riding, we saw only three other vehicles that were not part of our group, and Wayman says that is one reason many are drawn to the run and the trails of the Arapeen.

“The people that come from up north to do the run have lots of places to ride up there too,” Wayman said, “but the canyons up closer to the Wasatch Front are always so packed and busy. Here you can ride all day and run into very few others and that is a big draw.”

Dick and Charlie Allen of Orem, a retired couple participating in the run, had similar feelings about the area and its trails.

“We ride up north too,” Dick said. “We just like the way the trails ride here. You’ve got it all and it’s a very peaceful ride.”

In fact, it was peaceful enough that the Allen’s were able to bring their dog, Molly, with them. As we rode, Molly perched from her seat in the Allen’s UTV, watching the scenery as it passed and drinking from a water bowl at each rest stop along the way.

Our first major stop on the run was Six-Mile Pond, which unlike many of Sanpete’s other bodies of water, was not empty. Instead, the pond held crystal clear water, and the scenery surrounding it was still lush and green, having so far escaped the worst of the drought hammering other parts of the state. Our group ate lunch at the stop and used the restroom before piling back into their UTVs and returning to the trail.

After several hours of riding and a lunch break, the group rests at the edge of Six-Mile Pond.

We steadily climbed deeper into the canyon, working our way towards Skyline Drive. We crossed streams, climbed rocky terrain and cruised past meadows of wildflowers as butterflies flew around and among us before fluttering off in another direction. Permanent smiles were affixed to our faces as we went.

The entire time, Wayman was careful to maintain a count of the machines riding with him, and the group worked together to make sure nobody got left behind. Once, spotting a rock blocking the group’s path, Wayman and members of several of the lead vehicles got out and hefted the large stone away from the trail, allowing the rest of the group to pass without damaging their ride. The sense of teamwork lended itself to a feeling of community, and everyone got to know each other better as we traveled, socialized at rest stops and shared stories and advice.

Rising out of the canyon, we finally came upon Skyline Drive and took it south to stop again briefly at the sign marking the mountain road’s highest point of elevation. We took a large group photo at the sign; and Wayman explained the surrounding landmarks to the group as we all took in the view looking east towards Duck Fork Reservoir.

Our final destination before heading back towards civilization was Twelve-Mile Flat, where the group was able to use a clean restroom and prepare for the ride towards our starting point. As our caravan of UTVs began departing to ride back, dark clouds began forming over us, eventually giving way to a brief light rain that helped to combat the dust and cooled the air as we rode.

As we dropped down out of the canyon and drew closer to town, I started to realize how tired I really was from the day’s ride. I had been having too much fun to notice it until then, but the realization of the impending end made me assess myself closer, and I knew then that I was going to sleep like a baby that night.

The day had been a nonstop offering of fun exploring the network of Arapeen trails that crisscross the mountains, all with  the  added  security  of a capable guide. It had also been a long overdue bonding moment between me and my dad.

It had also been an opportunity to make new friends, and get away from the routine of the work week. It had been one of the best times I have had in ages, and that made it easy to see why more and more people want to experience the outdoor recreation opportunities Sanpete County has to offer.

While there are still some people in Sanpete County who are hesitant about drawing too much tourism to our area and the fairly untouched wild beauty of our mountains, Wayman says that attitude is shortsighted.

“These mountains don’t belong to us,” he said. “They belong to all the taxpayers. Of course people want to come and enjoy this area … just look at it.”

With big-draw events like the Manti Miracle Pageant being phased out, Manti City and Sanpete County have to draw upon their other offerings to keep driving economic development, and, after experiencing it myself, it is easy to see why the Arapeen trails and the Manti Mountain ATV-UTV Run are an easy sell to people who love the great outdoors.

To find out how you can get in on the fun and hit the trails yourself, check out http://www.mantiatvrun.com.  

Trail guide Greg Wayman (orange shirt) gestures to the view across Skyline Drive as he explains area landmarks to the rest of the group.