Ogden Canyon is one of the many beautiful mountain locations near where I live. The canyon connects the Greater Ogden Area with Ogden Valley, which is home to Huntsville and Pineview Reservoir. Three ski resorts are accessible from Ogden Valley, including Snowbasin, which was a venue for the 2002 Winter Olympics. Prior to the construction of the Trapper’s Loop Highway, Ogden Canyon served as the most improved road between Ogden Valley and the more populous areas of the Wasatch Front, including Ogden City.
The naming of the Ogden City and of Ogden Valley is confusing, even to residents of the area, because Ogden Valley is six miles over the mountain from Ogden City. Peter Skene Ogden headed a company of trappers in 1824-25 that trapped in the area that came to be known as Ogden Valley. Apparently other trappers started to call the valley by that name, and the name stuck when the valley was later settled. Ogden and his company didn’t spend much time in the valley, and records seem to indicate that Ogden never entered the area where Ogden City was later built.
Fort Buenaventura was purchased from trapper Miles Goodyear by Mormon settlers. The settlement was then named Brown’s Fort and later Brownsville in honor of the group’s captain, John Brown, who lived there only for a couple of years. Four years after settlement, the name was changed to Ogden City at the encouragement of Brigham Young, the President of the LDS Church at the time.
The Ogden River runs through Ogden Canyon. In the mid 19th Century, settlers cut a wagon road that ran along side of the river. Eventually the entire canyon was re-graded during the construction of a rail line. And in the early part of the 20th Century, an improved automobile road was constructed. The WPA built a low rock wall along the road in many places in the 1930s. Remnants of this wall still line the road. In the days before air conditioning, the wealthy and elite of Ogden built summer retreats in the canyon, which was markedly cooler than the city. Many of those homes still exist. You can see a fun photo history of the canyon on the walls of Dylan’s Drive Inn Restaurant.
The bottom of Ogden Canyon is very narrow. In many spots along this six-mile stretch, there is barely enough room between the rocky canyon wall and the river for a two-lane road. In the broader portions of the canyon where homes exist, the road usually runs on the narrow area on the other side of the river from the homes. And on the side where the homes are built there is usually only one to three hundred feet of real estate between the river and the canyon wall.
During my life there have been projects to improve the Ogden Canyon road, and for the most part, those projects have been quite helpful. But driving in the canyon can still be hazardous, especially when people speed or pass in no passing zones. One rarely drives through the canyon without encountering large vehicles, including semi trucks, motor homes, and vehicles pulling recreational vehicle trailers.
Every so often when there is a serious accident or a spate of accidents in Ogden Canyon, people write letters to the editor of the local newspaper complaining about the lack of proper traffic enforcement. This letter is representative of those kinds of letters. The writer complains, “I see speed traps all the time on quiet city streets where no one has ever been killed, but never in Ogden Canyon where there have been many fatalities over the years!”
What many of the writers of these letters seem to dismiss is the sheer physics of the situation. There are very few spots throughout Ogden Canyon where police could safely and effectively radar or patrol. There are only a couple of spots where drivers could be safely pulled over without creating a greater safety hazard than is caused by their bending of the traffic laws. The road is like a luge chute. Once vehicles enter either end, it’s very difficult to safely get them off the road. Traffic enforcement officials are in a Catch-22. Enforcing traffic laws in Ogden Canyon can be more hazardous than tolerating traffic law violations. Motorists seeing violators can’t even call 911 in many parts of the canyon due to spotty cell phone coverage.
Ogden Valley is following in the path of Heber and other communities surrounding Park City. It is transitioning from a sleepy agricultural area to a resort area. It is now common for million-dollar homes to be built in Ogden Valley. As the valley’s population increases, the pressure on Ogden Canyon also increases, despite the availability and quality of Trapper’s Loop. Trapper’s Loop is great if you’re headed to points south, but for access to the Ogden area, Ogden Canyon is still the best route.
While road officials can and do work to keep the Ogden Canyon road well maintained, there really isn’t a whole lot more they can do to make the road safer. It simply can’t be widened. And all of the curves that could reasonably be straightened out have already been straightened out at great cost. Concrete barriers have been added on the river side where necessary. Road officials have pretty much maxed out their capacities in Ogden Canyon.
Any further steps would require traffic regulation that many travelers would consider oppressive, such as prohibiting larger vehicles during certain hours or having traffic lights at either end timed to promote safe distances between vehicles (which would cause long lines). Utahns have strongly rejected photo-cop systems as an infringement on the presumption of innocence.
The fact is that there are no seriously good options to improve the safety of access between Ogden City and Ogden Valley. Ogden Valley has a number of outlets, but there are no remaining places to build more outlets. We can’t construct a road over the top of the mountains and we can’t blast a new canyon. What you see is what you’ve got. Whining and complaining about it won’t change anything. If you deem Ogden Canyon too unsafe to traverse, then use Trapper’s Loop instead. There is an alternative. Your use of Ogden Canyon says that you’re willing to accept the risk of doing so. It’s harsh, but that’s the way it is.