December 22, 2010
It's the end of the year, which seems to me to be a great time to make a list. The following is a list of the top 10 routes on which to take a mountain bike trip in the American West.
10. White Rim Trail: Ride 100 miles along spectacular red rock cliffs in Canyonlands National Park. Permits for camping are required. A flood in 2009 washed out part of the road, so it can not be completed as a loop until further notice. For more information, visit www.utah.com/offroad/white_rim_trail.htm.
9. Utah Cliffs Route: Pedal through national parks and stunning red rock country on rugged back country roads, bike paths, and jeep tracks in this 287-mile loop developed by Adventure Cycling Association. Road surfaces on the Utah Cliffs Loop Route are approximately 50 percent dirt and gravel roads and 50 percent paved roads. For more information, check out Adventure Cycling Association's description of the route.
8. Maah Daah Hey Trail: This 97-mile-long singletrack trail in North Dakota traverses dramatic badlands and rolling prairie in an area teeming with wildlife. Four fenced overnight campsites with hitching posts, vault toilets, and campfire rings are available along the trail. The north end of the trail begins at the US Forest Service CCC Campground in McKenzie County, located 20 miles south of Watford City, off Highway 85. For maps and more information, visit www.mdhta.com.
7. TransUtah: Not an official route or trail, this endeavor is part of a small but growing trend of visionary bikepackers armed with maps, ideas, GPS devices and lots of enthusiasm who strike out to invent their own routes. TransUtah is the brainchild of St. George cyclist Dave Harris, and in its current state travels the far back roads and trails of Southern Utah between St. George and Boulder, Utah. It's little more than a cue sheet and a GPS track, and there are few resupply options or water sources along the way, so this route is only for the truly prepared, knowledgeable, and adventurous. For more information, visit Harris's website to download a track and cue sheet.
6. Kokopelli Trail: This 142-mile red rock route starts in Loma, Colorado, and winds its way through sheer canyons, desert plateaus, and high mountain landscapes on its way to Moab, Utah. This well-marked route includes singletrack, 4x4 trails, gravel roads and some pavement. The elevation changes can be daunting, with the lowest point below 4,000 feet and two massive climbs reaching elevations near 9,000 feet. Drinking water is scarce and resupply non-existent along the route, which normally takes three to six days to complete. Visit the Bureau of Land Management's website for more information.
5. Oregon Three Rivers: The Oregon Three Rivers route showcases the Middle Fork Willamette Trail (about 30 miles), North Umpqua Trail (about 80 miles) and Mackenzie River Trail (about 30 miles). For more information and a GPS track, visit www.bikepacking.net/bikepacking-routes/oregon-three-rivers.
4. Coconino Route: According to the Bikepacking.net site, the Coconino Loop seeks to highlight the best of Northern Arizona mountain biking. From buffed singletrack among the pines of Flagstaff to technical red rock Sedona country, this ~250-mile loop is a grand tour of Coconino Country. For more information, visit www.bikepacking.net/routes/coconino-loop.
3. Colorado Trail: This 535-mile route across the Colorado Rockies is an ultimate adventure for any singletrack enthusiast. Expect high altitude riding, stunning alpine landscapes, spectacular storms and not a small amount of bicycle pushing. But most who have completed this route say the scenery and world-class riding is more than worth it. It is possible to complete the trip without any vehicular support by re-supplying in Frisco, Leadville, Buena Vista, and Silverton. Allow 15 to 20 days for the trip. Because bicycle riding is prohibited in wilderness areas, through-cyclists are required to detour around each of the six wilderness areas through which The Colorado Trail passes. The official Guidebook carefully describes each required wilderness detour. For more information, visit www.coloradotrail.org/bike.html.
2. Arizona Trail: The 700-plus-mile Arizona Trail travels from Mexico to Utah through the low Sonoran Desert to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. Although bicycles are allowed on much of the trail, the Grand Canyon crossing requires cyclists to either take a long detour around, or carry their bicycles on their backs across 24 miles and 6,000 vertical feet of trail. Camping along the trail also requires permits in some areas. For more information, visit www.aztrail.org.
1. Great Divide Mountain Bike Route: Adventure Cycling Association's own 2,745-mile off-pavement route from Banff, Alberta, to the Mexican border remains a classic and a worthy goal for any mountain bike travel enthusiast. Check out the route description for more information.
Photo courtesy of Jill Homer.