Tag Archives: mountain biking southern UT

Fall Cycling and Camping Tour of Utah

My cycle for retirement has been downscaled a bit after taking a teaching a job in August, however Eric is enjoying a full retirement and finding local cycling groups to keep him busy. Aside from the joy of being with students again, one bonus of teaching in Western Colorado is the Fall Break. It’s like a Spring Break only better because the weather is so nice. Eric and I took full advantage of the week off by exploring southern Utah. It would be amazing to cycle tour or bike pack the entire trip, but the limited time made it necessary to connect the adventures with a car. Here is a synopsis of the fun and beauty we found:
Day 1 – Drive Fruita, CO to Moab, Utah. (Mountain biking Moab Brand Trails— 16 miles)

The names of these trails gave me confidence that we were at the right level.
The names of these trails gave me confidence that we were at the right level.

After loading our car with camping gear and 4 bicycles (2 road and 2 mountain) we headed toward the mountain biking capital of Utah, to see what all the hubbub is about. At just over an hour from our home it was easy to set up camp and be cycling before 2 pm.

Our first ride was at the Moab Brand Trails a short cycle ride from our campground. Little did we know that this weekend was Outerbike, a huge festival/trade show for mountain bikes and equipment. Dozens of vendors filled the parking lots and hundreds of cyclists filled the trails on demo bikes.

The tents and vendors of Outerbike were a pleasant surprise.
The tents and vendors of Outerbike were a pleasant surprise.

Because we still consider ourselves beginner mountain bikers we chose the Bar M trail and Easy-LZ. These trails gave us a lot of practice cycling up small rock ledges and slick rock. After a second loop of Easy, I could feel how much our riding skills had improved and the cycling became that much more fun.
Day 2 – Arches National Park – (Road cycling – 60 miles)

View on the road from our campground to breakfast in Moab.
View on the road from our campground to breakfast in Moab.

Not only does Moab have great mountain biking, it also has a beautiful paved bicycle path that starts at the intersection of Highway 313 and 93 north of Moab. This bicycle path, also less than 1/4 mile from our campground made a cycling to Arches super convenient. With crisp fall air, clear blue skies and growling stomachs, we hopped on our road bikes and cycled the 9 miles into town for what we thought was a breakfast big enough to fuel our ride into Arches National Park. Little did we know that the breakfast coupled with a last minute decision to buy a sandwich for a picnic later would barely be enough food to sustain the mostly uphill ride to Devil’s Garden, the end of the 18 mile paved road.

The first big climb from the park entrance to Three Penguins.
The first big climb from the park entrance to Three Penguins.

Beautiful vistas, amazing sandstone sculptures, and geological surprises greeted us around every corner of the road. Even a quick, but heavy rainstorm waited until we were at the top on the climb and under a picnic shelter before it let forth its fury.

Picnic spot at Devil's Garden, the end of the paved road in the park.
Picnic spot at Devil’s Garden, the end of the paved road in the park.
One of the arches in Arches.
One of the arches in Arches.

Day 3 – Dead Horse Canyon State Park – (Mountain Biking – Intrepid Trails— 16 miles)

A 30 mile car drive, which by the way would have been a beautiful road bike ride, took us  to the Intrepid Trails, some really fun, perfect-for-our -evel, mountain biking trails. Slick rock, great rim views with minimal exposure, and just enough challenge to keep us focused and improving made this a super fun day. We also found great, hidden BLM campsites that will be our destination for the next trip. A lovely interpretative center with a convenient, coffee trailer outside were an added bonus. Because this park is located at a much higher altitude, temperatures were the perfect coolness for cycling.

Nice and easy for the start of the Intrepid Trails.
Nice and easy for the start of the Intrepid Trails.
Cycling down not-too-steep slick rock is lots of fun.
Cycling down not-too-steep slick rock is lots of fun.

Day 4 – Natural Bridges National Monument to Lake Powell (Road cycling and hiking – 16 miles)

It’s a long drive from Moab to Lake Powell but we did manage several stops along the way. Our first side trip was into Canyonlands National Park to see petroglyphs at Newspaper Rock.

This is a really cool set of petroglyphs. It would be interesting to understand the story..
This is a really cool set of petroglyphs. It would be interesting to understand the story..

We’d thought we might drive further into Canyonlands but realized the park is so big and isolated that we actually need to dedicate several days to do the park justice. So we made a decision to come back later. After another few hours of driving we did make the side trip to Natural Bridges Natural Monument which is TOTALLY worth the extra time. Our legs were feeling cramped after sitting in the car for so long so we unloaded our bikes and road the 14 mile park loop stopping at each bridge and hiking. Hiking by the Horsecollar Ruins and down to the valley floor underneath the bridges was really enjoyable.

The hike down to the valley floor underneath the bridge involves steep ladders, wire chains and steps carved into the sandstone...FUN!
The hike down to the valley floor underneath the bridge involves steep ladders, wire chains and steps carved into the sandstone…FUN!
Part of the descent towards the bridge.
Part of the descent towards the bridge.

It was getting late in the afternoon, the Natural Bridges campground was full, and the next town was a LONG drive away. Thankfully, the park ranger suggested we try Hite Campground at Lake Powell where we found a completely empty campground. Luckily for us (unlucky for the boaters) the water lever was so low at this end of the lake that we had the campground basically to ourselves. We enjoyed a beautiful sunset and campfire with millions of stars twinkling overhead. The morning’s sunrise yielded glorious colors and shadows from the sandstone formations.

Sunrise at Lake Powell. The shadows on the rocks are caused from the rock formations behind us.
Sunrise at Lake Powell. The shadows on the rocks are caused from the rock formations behind us.

Day 4 – Lake Powell to Tropic, UT (Hiking – Capital Reef National Park – 4 miles)

The hike up the Rim Trail in Capital Reef National Park is worth the steep climb. We enjoyed a picnic and a beautiful view of the Waterpocket Fold looking down into the valley at Fruita, UT.

View of the water pocket fold from the ridge down to the valley, Fruita, UT.
View of the water pocket fold from the ridge down to the valley, Fruita, UT.

After the strenuous hike we continued driving on America’s Scenic Highway 12 (it really is scenic) through Dixie State Park filled with golden aspen trees, tall dark-green evergreens, and huge panoramic views of Grand Escalante Staircase National Park. As daylight waned and temperatures dropped we thought we’d treat ourselves to a motel room in Tropic. Unfortunately, so did every French and Chinese tour group. There was not a room was to be had. Luckily, the local RV park had a tent site with a hot tub, bbq and live music. We had a very relaxing evening unwinding in the hot tub and listening to great country western and blues music in the cozy western-style chow house. But the temperatures were dropping quickly.

We slept fairly well in about three layers of clothes, socks, long undies and hats but the morning was COLD. I guess we’ve become wimps because we both jumped at the suggestion to hop in the car and drive two blocks with our heated seats to the local espresso cafe for breakfast and a pastry.

Day 5 – Bryce National Park – Cycling (16 miles) and Hiking (2 miles)

We definitely recommend cycling into Bryce rather than driving.
We definitely recommend parking at the shuttle bus parking lot and cycling into the Bryce National Park, or making a full day of cycling and start at Red Canyon National Park.

It’s a short 12 mile drive from Tropic to Bryce National Park. As we were driving to the park entrance I noticed a beautiful, multi-use bicycle path snaking through the pine trees on the side of the road so we parked the car and started cycling. Not only did we avoid the lines at the park entrance, we enjoyed the freedom and flexibility to explore the park without waiting in the long lines for the shuttle bus.

View of Bryce from the Rim Trail.
View of Bryce from the Rim Trail.

As a side note, this beautiful path actually starts at Red Canyon Visitor Center and would make a lovely day trip cycling park to park.

After hiking and cycling around Bryce for the morning, my goal had been to mountain bike in Red Canyon in the afternoon. Unfortunately, after a stop at the Visitor Center we learned that it was too late in the day to attempt the famous Thunder Mountain Trail. We opted for a shorter trail that we abandoned after only a few miles as it too hard for our skills. It would have been a better hike.

This path in Red Canyon looks easy but it quickly got too technical for us and would have made better hike.
This path in Red Canyon looks easy but it quickly got too technical for us and would have made better hike.

Enjoying the luxury of our first bed and heat in five day, we slept like logs at an over-priced motel in Panguitch, a small old one-horse cowboy town located near Butch Cassidy’s homestead.

Day 6 – Zion National Park (Cycling 25 miles and Hiking 3 miles, 1000 ft.)

None of my pictures do justice to the majesty of Zion.
None of my pictures do justice to the majesty of Zion.

After a late start and a breakfast of the BIGGEST pancakes I’ve ever seen, we drove towards Zion making a random stop at second-hand, antique shop brightly painted with American-flag colors on the west side of Highway 89. Eric is hunting for some second-hand cowboy boots or which many pairs were displayed in front of the shop. Although unsuccessful in finding cowboy boots, he did find a well-used, several-sizes-too-big, pair of Merrell hiking boots for gardening.

We arrived mid-morning at Zion about the same time as thousands of other people. The line to enter the park and the wait to go through the tunnel were long. But the drive from Mt. Carmel to Springdale was beautiful. All the parking lots in Zion were full and it took some creativity and patience to find a parking spot in Springdale. We then hopped on our bikes and headed into the park to enjoy the car-free road.

Here's where we turned around on the hike to Hidden Canyon. We felt too exposed on the narrow ledge with the steep cliff on one side.
Here’s where we turned around on the hike to Hidden Canyon. We felt too exposed on the narrow ledge with the steep cliff on one side.

Magnificent and awe-inspiring is the only way to describe the thrill of enjoying the magnificent peaks of Zion from the seat of a bicycle on a smooth, wide road without the worry of approaching traffic. Although this would be a perfect road cycling ride, we used our mountain bikes with hiking shoes so we could stop when the mood struck. After a picnic lunch on the grass of the the Zion Lodge we hiked the Emerald Pools Trail, cycled to the Narrows, and then hiked up Hidden Canyon trail until the trail became too exposed, narrow and scary for us.

The perfect, sunny, low 70s Fall kind of day and the hiking and cycling justified a huge scoop of ice cream cone in Springdale before driving on to St. George.

Day 7 – St George and Snowy Canyon (Road Cycling 29 miles, 1500 ft.)

St. George was packed with senior citizens in town for the Huntsman Senior Games. (I’d never heard of them but apparently they are quite popular.) Seniors 55 and older from across the United States and Canada had converged on St. George to relive their team athletic days playing volleyball, pickle ball, tennis, bridge, and mah jong. Other seniors were competing on road bikes, mountain bikes, golf courses..you name it. If it involved leisure activities, there was a competition for it.

We got a kick out of the seniors but still don’t feel it’s possible that fit into that category. Our grey hairs, however, would tell us differently. Putting denial aside, we hopped on our road bikes and cycled towards Snowy Canyon. We chose the dedicated cycle path, which apparently, most road cyclists do not use because some of the hills are MUCH steeper (15% or steeper) than the highway with wide shoulders that it parallels.

This dedicated cycle path to Snowy Canyon gets very steep in some places.
This dedicated cycle path to Snow Canyon gets very steep in some places.

As we struggled to get to top of each hill (even walking in several places) we saw dozens of road cyclists zipping by on the highway. Our consolation is that we got an incredible aerobic workout and enjoyed an amazing view through Snow Canyon on our downhill ride back to St. George.

Snowy Canyon in the background.
Snowy Canyon in the background.

Our Fall Break left me refreshed and really charged up about the place we’ve chosen for retirement. We live so close to many magnificent and beautiful places that we can’t wait to see more.