We're excited to finally release the long-awaited Bears Ears Loops bikepacking route network - 700 miles of riding options through the high deserts and subalpine wilds of central and southeastern Utah. Their goal with these routes are to empower riders to confidently and safely immerse themselves in the remarkable but intimidating landscape, develop an informed sense of place, and experience some of all that is at risk to be lost if the Bears Ears region is not protected.
The 372-mile Bears Ears Loop, the eastern of two loop options, meanders through more than 100 miles within the original boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument. By helping bikepackers experience this and the surrounding landscapes and understanding more about the unique cultural history, geology, and ecology through the accompanying 100-page Bears Ears Loops Landscape and Route Guide, we are actively creating new advocates for Bears Ears. The 437-mile Swell Loop to the west connects with our already-popular Wild West Route, the Canada-to-Mexico epic.
The riding experience of this network has been intentionally designed as relatively non-technical, very manageable on a traditional mountain bike (fat bikes are not necessary, and gravel bikes are not recommended), and to be accessible for any mountain biker with some prior bikepacking experience. Most of the riding is on dirt roads and 4x4 tracks, and water resources along the way have been inventoried and scouted in different seasons to assess reliability. Bikepacking Routes also chose to not route the loops through the more seldom-visited areas of the Monument to avoid impacting their nature.
“The remoteness of this region, the scale and grandeur of the landscape, and the minimal development of any sort make this place the most powerful of anywhere I’ve ridden,” says Kurt Refsnider, Bikepacking Roots' Executive Director. “But the remoteness and perceived harshness of the area keep most bikepackers away. So we’ve created these routes and extensive planning resources to allow more riders to safely adventure through this region, to have immersive experiences here, to learn more about the landscape and its sacredness to Indigenous groups. That understanding and connection is what builds new conservation advocates.”
The designation of Bears Ears National Monument in 2016 marked the first time in U.S. history that a National Monument was created in response to the voices of the Indigenous groups who call the landscape home - the Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni, and Ute Indian Tribe. Just 11 months later, the Trump administration reduced the Monument's size by ~85%. And in a direct affront to the request of the Intertribal Coalition, the southern unit of the reduced Monument was named the Shásh Jaa’ Unit (using the Diné name for Bears Ears). The Coalition had insisted upon the use of the English “Bears Ears” name for the Monument rather than in any one tribe’s language in solidarity and unity. The legality of the Monument reduction is currently being litigated in court.
"We often times hear phrases such as ‘land conservation’ and ‘protecting public lands’ in the outdoor industry which is heavily driven by preserving the ability to recreate in these places,” explains Diné (Navajo) conservation advocate and mountain biker Renee Hutchens. “We too advocate, but what drives our fight to protect our land is our belief that the land is us – our identity, culture, and way of life is held within Mother Earth. It is the same mindset you’d have if you were fighting for your own life or that of your loved ones."
More information about these loops, all GPS data, and the full 100-page Bears Ears Loops Landscape and Route guidebook (in digital and print formats) are available on our Bears Ears Loops page.
However, during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition is requesting that visitors refrain from traveling to the Bears Ears region given the severity of the health crisis in some local communities, particularly Indigenous communities. So now is the time for planning trips, not actually taking trips to this area - that’s how we collectively can best show respect and solidarity at this time.
By Kaitlyn Boyle
In late 2019, Bicycling Magazine published an article highlighting the Bears Ears Alternate to our Wild West Route, part of a larger bikepacking network in development called the Bears Ears Loops. We intended to release the route network and its guidebook in early spring, but the arrival of the Coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent closing of much of southeast Utah’s public lands led us to withhold releasing the Bears Ears Loops. We're now excited to share the progress toward releasing the route!
As we stayed home looking forward to the opening of the Bears Ears landscape to visitors, we have been quietly adding the details and finishing touches to the Bears Ears Loops network and guide. The loops will consist of three loops plus an alternate to the Wild West Route and shorter point-point trips. The Confluence Loop is a 372-mile-long loop that circles the heart of the Colorado Plateau around the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers. The Swell Loop is a 436-mile-long loop that broadly encircles the San Rafael Swell over the Henry Mountains and Aquarius Plateau. The Plateau Loop is made by riding the outer periphery of the Confluence and Swell Loops for a larger 646-mile-long loop connecting the Wild West Route on the high plateaus of the western Colorado Plateau to a grand tour of Bears Ears and the Canyonlands Region.
This route network will be supported by GPS resources with hundreds of waypoints identifying the scarce water and resupply options. The Wild West Route mobile app from Bikepacking Guides will also be updated to include the Bears Ears Loops. A full-length guidebook will be available in digital or print formats to accompany the route and guide bikepackers through the logistics of planning and riding any of the routes. To help bikepackers further enhance their experience in the inspiring and sacred landscape that is Bears Ears region, a detailed landscape guide offers geophysical, biological, and human histories and perspectives of the area. The landscape guide weaves in a Navajo perspective on the sacred connection between landscape and culture and it gives a background to the ongoing National Monument designation issue.
If you’re looking forward to planning a bikepacking trip to the Bears Ears region, keep an eye out for the Bears Ears Loops network and guide to be released in early June! To support our work in professional and intentional route and guide development, please contribute to support more projects like this in the future - one of our current prizes is a night or two of lodging in one of Roam Industry cabins along the route, as well as shuttle support if needed for a point-to-point ride!
by Heather J. Rose
How do you write a short post about a 1500 mile journey that took place almost two years ago? Looking through old photos and focusing on one or two moments that capture the essence of solo travel was key. In summer of 2018 I was fortunate to be one of the early pioneers of the Wild West Route (WWR) developed by Bikepacking Roots. I rode the northern half of the route from Eureka, MT to Park City, UT (segments 1-5); I rode with the first portion friends and segments 4 & 5 alone. Experiencing the beauty of a new place, and especially the shared experience of communing in camp with friends, is always rewarding; however, I have also done a lot of solo bikepacking and thrive in this environment.
The section of the WWR from Hailey, ID to Park City, UT is in many ways a transition between the northern mountains of Montana and Idaho and the Wasatch Range of Utah. Pedaling away from Hailey, alone for the first time in two weeks, everything shifted. Not only was I transitioning to the flow of solo travel, but the landscape shifted immediately to open plains and chaparral -- suddenly I had to be acutely aware of my water levels and resupply points. Additionally, I had to give the hot mid-day sun the proper respect and shift my riding patterns accordingly as I spent the next several days riding across the exposed Snake River Plain of southern Idaho.
It occurs to me that I am recalling the challenges and pleasures of the WWR during a time of transition for all of us. We are all trying to adapt to being quarantined in our homes (for those fortunate enough to have a home), and local communities, as the Covid-19 virus ravages the world and we do our part in reducing its spread. We are transitioning between what our world looked like before the Covid-19 outbreak and what it may look like after, with many of us hoping that we can leverage this tragedy into a more kind and just world. Personally, I had to cut a bikepacking trip in Oceana short to get home before international flights were reduced to nonexistent and more borders closed. What started out as a transition between a fulltime career and some yet to be discovered version of my life has now transitioned into an exploration of stasis. Transitions abound.
Long bike rides, such as the Wild West Route, are tools by which we learn more about ourselves. Riding the long, often hot, and exposed sections of the route between Hailey and Park City will help you explore your personal boundaries. How close are you willing to cut your water supply to save a few pounds? Are you willing to gamble on the unconfirmed stream on the map? Are you willing to set up your tent in an exposed location miles from anywhere with no hiding from the sun, wind, nor a passing pickup truck? Or do you hold out for a campground with the security of others, hopefully a family, nearby? These are all questions you have to ask yourself in this transitional zone of the WWR, especially as a female traveling solo. During these segments of the WWR (4 and 5) resources are much scarcer with water and towns farther apart. Often during the long summer days, I would start pedaling extremely early to beat the heat, carrying four or more liters of water and make large pushes from town to town because I did not relish the thought of spending the afternoon sitting in my tent in the middle of a field of chaparral with no shade.
For example, from Arco, ID to Blackfoot, ID you are riding through open country on remote dirt roads in the Snake River Plain with only the Big Southern Butte off in the distance for company (with an optional side trip to the top of the butte!). While the 63 miles between these towns may not be a huge distance to cover in one day, with temperatures regularly pushing well into the 90s that week in July, the section was intimidating. I was pedaling away from the KOA in Arco by sunrise and made it to a hotel in Blackfoot by early afternoon. Inside with AC was the only chance for respite from the punishing sun; however, in cooler weather camping alone on the plain with the Big Southern Butte in the distance and coyotes singing that high lonesome song would be an exquisite treat.
Leaving Blackfoot the next day I planned to camp at one of the designated campsites in my route notes, but they came too early in the day to stop, so I pushed on, planning to camp on one of the patches of BLM land ahead. However, as morning turned to afternoon, and afternoon to early evening, all patches of public land were heavily trampled by cows and covered in cow pies. Let’s just say I’ve had a bad experience with setting up my tent in a location that cows claimed as their own and none of these sites were calling my name; instead I pushed through the endless rollers and wind, finishing a 90 mile day in Soda Springs, ID just before the last restaurant closed. For the duration of the trip I only spent three nights in a hotel and two of the three were in this more exposed transitional zone to get respite from the heat.
After Soda Springs the route climbs into the Preuss Mountains. After passing through a huge mining area and being chased down the backside of the mountain by a sheepdog I started to look for water and a place to rest my head for the night. After cresting several more ridgelines with nothing but cows and dry chaparral I found nirvana! A sudden, and inexplicable, piece of alpine heaven surrounded by dry grazing land on all sides! I set up my tent next to Preuss Creek, surrounded by protective brush (safety from the eyes of folks passing by), pine trees, and a log to sit on – everything I could ever ask for in a campsite! As I headed toward Bear Lake the following day I skirted along the edge of the high plains of Wyoming, with views forever and a sky so big that Montana may have to give up its motto. At the gas station in Laketown I bought what were possibly the most expensive bag of instant mashed potatoes in existence and headed over to the state park campground for the night, but unfortunately the campground was full! This is where being a solo traveler comes in handy; there is always space for you. I started cruising the group sites for a friendly face and some open space; it didn’t take me long to spot the right bearded man with an open smile. This man turned out to be a fellow dirt bag down from Alaska and he was camping with his extended Mormon family for a reunion. He told me to go ahead and set up my tent in the back corner and he would go explain to his father. The family welcomed me to their huge dinner and that night this vegetarian ate the best sloppy joes of her life! While being a solo female traveler does introduce some risk, or at least perceptions of increased risk, the payoff is that people are incredibly open, kind, and protective of you on the road.
Coming off four months of solo international bike touring and being locked into one (relatively) urban place for an unknown number of months is quite the challenge of its own, but as someone who has trouble staying in one place I am trying to take advantage of this forced opportunity with daily Spanish and banjolele practice and, of course, fantasizing about where I will ride as soon as it is safe again. I don’t know about you, but I think the Orogenesis route tracing the western edge of North America, currently being developed by Bikepacking Roots, is calling my name. Let’s keep working together to protect our public lands so that we can continue to enjoy these explorations of self and place. Now please excuse me while I go tend to my sourdough starter!
Written by Kurt Refsnider, Executive Director
My bikepacking story began more than a decade ago when my mountain biking ambitions began to pull me toward bigger and bigger rides in unfamiliar landscapes or to connecting familiar but distant places. I spent hours pouring over print maps and fuzzy satellite imagery and enjoyed awe-inspiring trips with varying levels of success following the “routes” that I had created. But no matter the outcome of any particular adventure, I found myself absolutely enamored by multi-day mountain bike rides.
Early on, I shared some of these routes with other relatively new bikepackers who had seen my trip photos and wanted to experience those places for themselves. And with reliably unfortunate consistency, those folks bailed from my routes and sought more reasonable alternate tracks. It didn’t take me long to realize that where I opted to ride (or often push) my bike wasn’t necessarily about the riding but rather where I was riding. And that part of the passion often didn’t translate to other riders who more often expected where I had gone to have been driven by the search for great trails. That, however, wasn’t necessarily the case. A month-long solo trip across southern Utah in 2013 highlighted that for me as my focus was on conceptually connecting familiar parts of the desert landscape through the unknown country in between and trying to better understand the geologic relationships along the way. For me personally, bikepacking was a means for exploring and learning rather than seeking out as much great riding as possible.
This pattern culminated in 2014 when Bikepacking Roots co-founder Kaitlyn Boyle and I spent 30 days pedaling along the length of the Alps – L’Aventure Alpine. It was far and away the most arduous trip either of us had ever (or have since) done – 30 high passes, 320,000 feet of climbing, endless sections of above-treeline riding, countless hike-a-bikes of at least 3,000 vertical feet, and so much great trail. But despite the absolute magnificence of that 800-mile route, we never ended up sharing the data publicly because for most bikepackers, the over-the-top rigor simply wouldn’t be enjoyable. The same theme applied to long trips in Patagonia, Australia, New Zealand, and throughout the American West.
Subsequently, Kaitlyn and I devoted quite a bit of time to creating a series of 2- to 4-day routes on the Colorado Plateau and in the Central Rockies for Geology through Bikepacking, a Prescott College course in which we took groups of new bikepackers out on a series of self-supported trips and explored the diverse geology of the region. The impacts of the route development decisions are never more evident than while traveling with new bikepackers on those exact routes. Those routes and itineraries evolved from year to year, being honed by past experiences that went particularly well – or poorly.
It was through endeavors like those described above that I began to recognize the transformative power bikepacking experiences can have on individuals, and the vision for Bikepacking Roots as on organization began to congeal. On the route development side of our mission, the goal is to create professional and intentionally-designed routes with particular rider audiences in mind. Our initial offerings were varied in this way – the Colorado 14ers and Craters and Cinder Cones Loops are relatively short circuits designed for newer bikepackers seeking out singletrack and dirt road/4x4 track riding experiences, respectively. And the 1,100-mile Plateau Passage was created to offer experienced bikepackers a rugged, remote, and lengthy backcountry epic like no other.
The Wild West Route development was a whole different beast. The goal from the outset was to create a non-technical riding experience showcasing the wild and public lands of the American West – a place like no other on Earth. We sought to balance remote and immersive riding with regularly spaced services so as to make the experience as accessible as possible. And the physical demands of the route had to remain reasonable. Putting all this together resulted in a suite of criteria upon which the entire project progressed.
Scouting the Wild West Route took more than 8 weeks and involved more than 5,000 miles of driving on dirt roads, rough 4x4 tracks, and official Forest Service roads that really no longer were roads at all. In most areas, two or three parallel options for the route were scouted, incorporating input from local cyclists and land managers. For me personally, the scouting turned into a legitimate motorized adventure, allowing me to explore parts of the West that had been quite unfamiliar, but on a timeline that often dictated 12+ hours of driving for days on end. Dead ends, unexpectedly steep and blown out tracks, challenges associated with private lands, and completely annihilated “forest roads” turned me back on a daily basis. In Arizona, water resources dictated the alignment of the route in places, and I worked with private landowners in to offer additional water resources for bikepackers. On Navajo Nation in northern Arizona, I spent two years collaborating with their newly-launched Trails Initiative and the Navajo YES non-profit to envision, create, and institute regulations and a permitting process for the Nation’s first long-distance recreation route.
Upon completion of this extensive scouting, I set about determining how to best link up the sections that offered the most enjoyable and wild riding experiences while keeping the flow of the route on a broader perspective from becoming too taxing or remote. What I thought were the most stunning options that were scouted didn’t always make the cut for a variety of reasons. But the assemblage of sections that came together offered a consistent riding experience that met our criteria. By the summer of 2018, we had nearly 50 bikepackers ride some or all of the Wild West Route to provide feedback, help refine a few short sections, and build awareness of the new route in communities along the way. Personally, it was amazing to hear from these riders about how their experiences along the way were so closely aligned with the goal we set upon initiating the Wild West Route project. After incorporating the feedback from these riders, we released the Wild West Route in 2019 along with a 90-page route guide and an innovative new mobile app for bikepackers.
Since the Wild West Route was released, riders from across the globe have pedaled segments or the entirety of the route, and the appreciation voiced by these riders for the wild landscapes and public lands along the way has made my heart sing. A decade of adventures in route development, combined with input and feedback from literally hundreds of individuals, culminated in a route that will live on for decades. Hopefully one day I’ll have the opportunity to ride the Wild West Route, but for now, my attention has already been pulled elsewhere for other route development initiatives.
Bikepacking Roots' Wild West Route (WWR) showcases the wild and public lands of the American West. At more than 2,700 miles in length, the WWR is among the longest bikepacking routes in the world. It's development involved collaboration with public lands managers, private landowners, Navajo Nation Department of Parks and Recreation, and 50+ bikepackers.
The WWR is more than 80% dirt, ranging from graded gravel to seldom-traveled dirt roads to rough 4x4 tracks. It offers bikepackers a remote, rugged, expedition-scale riding experience balanced with resupply options in small communities generally spaced a few days apart. Nearly 70% of the WWR's length is on public lands, passing through 18 National Forests, 6 National Parks and Monuments, 4 areas with BLM National Conservation Lands designation, and 2 tribal parks.
Bikepacking Roots is proud to offer a suite of resources for the route, including a comprehensive 82-page print or digital route guidebook with maps and conservation/public lands educational content, GPS data for navigation with ~1500 waypoints (services, water, campgrounds, etc.), and a smartphone app.
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Bikepacking Roots is the only non-profit organization dedicated to supporting and advancing bikepacking, growing a diverse bikepacking community, advocating for the conservation of the landscapes and public lands through which we ride, and creating professional routes. We value human-powered experiences and an inclusive, engaged, and informed membership (nearly 6,000 strong) that makes a positive impact as we adventure by bike.
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