|Utah Cliffs Loop
St. George, UT to St. George, UT
1 Map Set (287.6 mi.)
| GPS | Overview
Utah Cliffs Loop Overview Image
|1. St. George, UT to St. George, UT (287.6 mi.)||Detail
Utah Cliffs Loop Section 1 Detail Image
Southwestern Utah is known by many as "Color Country." You'll discover how apt this nickname is as you encounter the rich hues of the red rock cliffs and pedal through the cool greens of the sub-alpine forests that the route visits.
Cliffs are an inescapable part of your view on the Utah Cliffs Loop. You'll catch your first glimpse of the Hurricane Cliffs in the distance as you pedal northward out of St. George on a bike path winding through Snow Canyon State Park. This beautiful park encompasses white and red sandstone cliffs with an overlay of black lava rock. The route then heads for historic Pine Valley, nestled in a bucolic basin in the Pine Valley Mountains. As you continue your journey in a clockwise direction, the Hurricane Cliffs loom to the east until just outside of Cedar City, where you'll begin to climb up and through the Hurricane Cliffs escarpment, high onto the Markagunt Plateau of the Dixie National Forest. Later, as you descend through the timber at the beginning of North Fork Road, be sure to take in the view of the Pink Cliffs to the east.
Use caution as you approach Zion National Park on Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway. Traffic will increase and the White Cliffs will tower over the road on your left. Just south of Zion National Park, you might consider a side trip to the nearby ghost town of Grafton, a filming site for the 1969 blockbuster, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Next up: Smithsonian Butte and Gooseberry Mesa, which lead into the Vermillion Cliffs that begin here and flirt with the Utah-Arizona border to the south. The approach to Hurricane runs along the edge of the Hurricane Cliffs on a rough four-wheel-drive road.
Due to the high elevations of this route, be prepared to deal with extreme temperature differences between morning and mid-day and night. Also, the summer months can bring frequent afternoon thunderstorms. Fall weather is ever-changing and it is not uncommon to have snow flurries at 10,000' elevation as early as late August. However, these conditions typically pass within hours at that time of year. Wind can occasionally be a problem as weather fronts enter the state. In the summer and fall, most storms come from the south and southwest, and can kick up incredible amounts of dust.
Photo by Doug Goodenough
From St. George, heading clockwise, the route climbs northward to Snow Canyon State Park. From Cedar City prepare for a tough climb up through the Hurricane Cliffs escarpment, high onto the Markagunt Plateau of the Dixie National Forest. At Navajo Lake, still at high elevation, you begin an unforgettable downhill run that starts out alongside the North Fork of the Virgin River – really just a creek at first – and ultimately meets SR 9 just east of Zion National Park. The route out of Rockville toward Smithsonian Butte is extremely steep and potentially slick and muddy when wet. After Hurricane you'll then enjoy a slightly downhill ride most of the way back to St. George. Elevations on the route range from 2,500' to 10,000' above sea level.
Road surfaces on the Utah Cliffs Loop are approximately fifty percent dirt and gravel roads and fifty percent paved roads. Throughout the route, any gravel and/or dirt road has the potential to become washboarded due to usage and weather factors.
The stretches of route on SR 14 can be highly trafficked in the summer months. It tends to be narrow in most places with a variable shoulder width. Ride with caution. And SR 9/Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway through Zion National Park to Rockville can carry high traffic volumes. SR 59 also has high traffic levels and no shoulders.
In Zion National Park, bicyclists are prohibited from riding through the longer Zion-Mt. Carmel tunnel. Cyclists are required to obtain a ride through the tunnel.
This route may be ridden from late May to early June, and September into mid-October, depending on weather. Due to the high elevations, be prepared to deal with extreme temperature differences between morning and mid-day and night. Also, the summer months can bring frequent afternoon thunderstorms. Fall weather is ever-changing and it is not uncommon to have snow flurries at 10,000' elevation as early as late August. However, these conditions typically pass within hours at that time of year. Wind can occasionally be a problem as weather fronts enter the state. In the summer and fall, most storms come from the south and southwest, and can kick up incredible amounts of dust.
Some campgrounds will charge a cyclist traveling by himself less if they have hiker/biker sites, but often they will charge the price of a regular tent or RV site, and that can easily be $10-$40/night (higher in tourist areas). If you're friendly and ask around, you can often get yourself invited to camp in a yard. Our routes sometimes go through national forests (moreso in the west) and you are allowed to camp anywhere on national forest land as long as you "pack it in, pack it out." Many city parks are free to camp in.
You may also wish to sign up with Warmshowers, a reciprocal hospitality site for bicycle travelers, for other overnight options.