7 Great Weekend Bikepacking Rides in the Southwest

Thanks to a fantastic trail network carved by the hard work of volunteers, along with acres of National Forest and BLM land prime for camping, the American Southwest possesses some of the best long distance bikepacking routes in the world. And for the very same reasons, it’s also peppered with the finest long weekend escapes you could wish for, each one a compressed, time-friendly adventure just waiting to be savored.

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So forget about racing the Tour Divide for now: no need to punish yourself with days of sleep deprivation. Out of time for that multi-week adventure? Then just go spend the weekend outside. Our advice? Slow down and delve deeper. Discover the real backcountry. Pack your stove, pitch your tarp and soak up those starry nights. Go ride… and don’t go home.

With this in mind, here’s seven of our favourites short bikepacking trips – across Arizona, Utah and Colorado – for your consideration.

1. The Black Canyon Trail

Black Canyon Trail, Bikepacking Arizona

  • Black Canyon Trail, Bikepacking Arizona
  • Black Canyon Trail, Bikepacking Arizona

Mayer, AZ to Phoenix, AZ / View Route

67 MI (108 KM) / 4,940 FT (1,506 M) climbing / 2-3 days

The Black Canyon Trail is a multi-use trail that provides the perfect introduction to bikepacking. Running from the small settlement of Mayer to the northern fringes of Phoenix, its 78 miles of sublime, flowing, desert singletrack are easily split into 2 days, with a convenient resupply point at Black Canyon City. The route is clear to follow and well signposted, and there are maps/gpx files available too. Plans are afoot to extend the BCT to Prescott, where an extensive trail network already exists in the surrounding Prescott National Forest – easily enough to tack on a couple of extra days to your roadtrip. With temperatures soaring in the summer, the Black Canyon Trail makes an ideal winter escape.

2. The White Rim Trail

The White Rim

  • The White Rim, Bikepacking route
  • The White Rim, Bikepacking route

Moab, UT (loop) / View Route

97 MI (156 KM) / 5,459 FT (1,664 M) climbing / 3 days

Don’t let the fact that the White Rim Trail is a jeep track rather than singletrack put you off. Set in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park – shaped by the mighty Colorado and Green Rivers – this 103 mile loop offers sublime camping potential and utter desert silence, under star-crammed skies. Its 3D jigsaw of redrock canyons, mesas and buttes rank it amongst the most stunning rides in Utah – and you can easily tack on some technical riding in nearby Moab if you’re hankering for more challenging singletrack. Most people ride the trail clockwise, from the Schafer Trail to the Green River. There are those who choose to speed across it in one long day. But to really make the most of Utah’s mesmerizing desert experience, we’d suggest spreading it it out over 2-3 mellow days – it’s guaranteed to recharge your soul. Camp grounds are space every few miles and there are a few respectable climbs to contend with; overall elevation gain is a modest 6,000ft. The best time to be in the area is in the spring and fall – mid summer is searingly hot. In the peak season, make campsite reservations early and remember that a permit from the National Park Service is required to ride the trail.

3. The Kokopelli Trail

Bikepacking The Kokopelli Trail

  • Kokopelli Trail Bikepacking Route
  • Kokopelli Trail Bikepacking Route

Fruta, CO to Moab, UT / View Route

158 MI (254 KM) / 15,189 FT (4,630 M) climbing / 3-5 days

Crossing from Colorado into Utah, the 142 mile Kokopelli Trail is a classic route that uses the joint mountain biking meccas of Fruita and Moab as its start and end points. If you’ve made the long journey west, this means there’s no end of scope to add in several days of some of the most iconic trail riding in the Southwest. The trail is named after the mystic muse, Kokopelli; most of the route is relatively straightforward jeep tracks, intermixed with sandy and slabby sections, and bookended with a stunning section of singletrack out of Fruita – complete with knife-edge rim riding – before descending into Moab via the fabled Porcupine Rim Trail. The Kokopelli is raced in a day – the record being just over 12 hours – but mere mortals will enjoy it more in 2-4 days, making it another great introduction to bikepacking. Access to water can be an issue – ask at Over the Edge Cycles in Fruita about a water drop half way through the route at Dewy Bridge, as there’s generally plenty of mountain bikers shutting over to Moab willing to help out. Avoid this route straight after rain, as a high clay content in the soil means parts of the trail become incredibly tacky. Best time to ride? May, September and October.

4. The Vapor Trail

Bikepacking The Colorado Trail

  • vapor-trail-1
  • Bikepacking Vapor Trail

Salida, CO (loop) / View the Colorado Trail

126 MI (202 KM) / 16,418 FT (5,004 M) climbing / 3-5 days

Based out of Salida, the Vapor Trail is another endurance race that also makes an ideal multi-day bikepacking tour. Packing in 20,000ft of climbing, it’s brutally hard if raced within 20 hours. But split its 125 miles into a 2-3 day ride, and you’ll have time to really savour enjoy the whole route. And it’s a good one, linking in a portion of the Colorado Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, the Monarch Crest Trail – which includes 12 miles of glorious, high altitude riding – and the magnificent Rainbow Trail to top it all off. The highest point of the ride is a touch under 13,000ft, adding to its challenges if you’re not used to riding at elevation, and ensuring this slots into the summer-only category of bikepacking adventures. Be warned, there are demanding hike-a-bike sections, particularly the hour long hike up Canyon Creek. Salida makes a great base too, with an impressive range of bike shops and the local S-Mountain trails, straight across the rail lines out of town – perfect for filling in an extra half day of free time. Locals recommend starting at the most excellent coffee shop, Cafe Dawn, and finishing next to the Arkansas river at River’s Edge for good food and local brews. Due to lingering snow in Colorado, this route is best ridden from summer to late fall. Just watch out for the summer monsoons; high elevations are no place to be if a storm strikes. Oh yes, the record is closer to 12:45, which is just plain crazy.

5. Coconino Loop

Bikepacking The Cococino Loop, Arizona

  • Bikepacking The Cococino Loop, Arizona
  • Bikepacking The Cococino Loop, Arizona

Flagstaff, AZ (loop) / View Route

250 MI (402 KM) / 20,744FT (6,323 M) climbing / 4-7 days

The Coconino Loop uses the northern Arizona’s hip and friendly Flagstaff as its base. It’s a fantastic, challenging 235 mile loop that rolls out of town on the Arizona Trail, before spiralling down the Old Munds Wagon Trail and cutting across the trail mecca of Sedona – stop for a day ride, if you have time. There’s some big climbs to contend with, including winching up and over Mingus Mountain to reconnect with the Arizona Trail. By way of reward, the spectacular descent from the 9,200ft Snowbowl into Flagstaff is as good a finale as you can hope for, especially when resplendent in Fall colours. This is a ride with a real wealth of scenery, ranging from high elevation ponderosas to the towering red rocks of Sedona. With its mix of singletrack, rough jeep roads and 28,000 feet of climbing to its name, the Cononino Loop is best split into 4-5 days. Water is easily sourced and there are plenty of towns en route for resupplies. Keep an eye out on the weather if you’re riding it at the beginning and tail end of the season, as 7,000ft Flagstaff receives its fare share of snow. And be warned – it gets piping hot in Sedona come the middle of summer, making fall a great time to ride this one.

6. San Juans, Colorado Trail

Bikepacking The Colorado Trail By Train

  • Bikepacking The Colorado Trail By Train
  • Bikepacking The Colorado Trail By Train

Molas Pass to Durango, CO / View Video and Tips

80 MI (128 KM) / 8,500 FT (2,591 M) climbing / 2-3 days

If riding all 539 miles of the Colorado Trail sounds like too much, then zone in on the final 78-mile segment into Durango over 2-3 days. In doing so, enjoy some of the very best bikepacking on the CT – and Colorado, for that matter. The terrain in the San Juans is a deliciously lush, craggy, rooty and rocky melange, interspersed with verdant meadows rolling far above timberline. Views into the deepest folds of the La Plata Mountains, a subrange of the San Juans, are as bold as anywhere in the world, streaked and saturated with mineral deposits, and scarred with babyhead strewn scree slopes. The climbs are protracted and test the mettle of even the hardiest riders. The descents – endlessly long and loping – could well inhabit in a timewarp of their own. This is bikepacking at its very best; recent trail work means conditions are better than ever, with only short sections of hike ‘n biking required. Camping opportunities are excellent, and water points abound. With 8500ft of climbing and elevations topping 13,271ft, this is a challenging, summer ride only. Even so, watch out for rain and thunderstorms come the monsoon season; pack a full complement of rainproofs and layers for whatever time of the year you’re in the San Juans. Logistically, it’s easiest to shuttle out to Molas Pass Road, an hour’s drive from Durango, and ride back from there. Hermosa Tours offers a shuttle for $30, minimum 3 people). Another unique option is the historic Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge $104 pp), which will drop you in Silverton, just 13 miles north of Molas Pass for an alternative start point. When you roll into Durango, be sure to hang out at Bread, the best bakery in town and a magnet for local riders.

7. Gila River Ramble, Arizona

Gila River Ramble, bikepacking route

  • Gila River Ramble, bikepacking route
  • Gila River Ramble, bikepacking route

Kelvin, AZ (loop) / View the Route

101 MI (163 KM) / 10,548 FT (3,215 M) climbing / 3-4 days

If you don’t have time to ride all 800 miles of the Arizona Trail, then try your hand at the Gila River Ramble, which weaves together some of the very best sections in southern Arizona as its backbone. The main loop is around 80 miles in length, with various spurs and interconnecting trails to choose from. Set in the ever-craggy Superstition Mountains, terrain includes corridors of mighty saguaros cacti and stunning box canyons, spread over some 10,000ft of challenging climbing. The word ‘ramble’ is without doubt a modest definition for the steep, rocky grades involved, the lofty ridge rides, the precarious, whirligig switchback descents, and the endless singletrack alleyways that wend through forests of prickly choya cacti. Despite its mild-mannered title, think more along the lines of weekend epic than casual saunter… The Gila Ramble also straightforward logistically – the start and end points are Kelvin, near Phoenix. Temperature-wise, October to April are the best months. For wildflower action, ride this loop in the early spring. And don’t forget – running tubeless is a prerequisite here. Watch out for razor sharp rocks too.

And, to round it to an even dozen, here are eight more southwestern weekend escapes worth noting:

  • Paulopontes1122

    Great info, this website is amazing! I’m planning to do my first BikePacking Trip, unfortunately alone since I’ve moved to US few months ago and still don’t have anyone to go with. Which ride would you recommend? Considering I’m going to do alone.

  • Bryan

    Where does one go in California or Nevada for weekend bikepacking?

  • Jordan Carr

    Great info. Thanks for adding this!

  • Don’t forget about the Sheep Bridge Epic route that I submitted! ? Another great weekend route through the Tonto National Forest in Arizona.

  • Sugarsail1

    nowhere in California, the progressive environmentalists have made outdoor fun illegal here in order to save “Nature” from evil humans, unless you can afford whatever permit or licenses you need (read: tax/bribe) Otherwise, you must only sit indoors plugged in the virtual reality of the internet eating organically grown vegetables.

  • Erik Jansen

    Well that’s just wrong. Any of the national forests, like the Angeles National Forest, (10 miles from my doorstep in Los Angeles) allows dispersed camping anywhere at least 1 mile from any improved recreational facility, and there are hundreds of miles of amazing fire roads and single track throughout the San Gabriel Mountains/Angeles National Forest. There are a ton of jeep roads throughout the Mojave, including Joshua Tree that are great, and only require a standard issue National Park backwoods permit.

    Check out the Hub Cyclery in Idyllwild, and talk to Brendan Collier, the guy who created the Stagecoach 400 endurance race about the amazing single track around Mt. San Jacinto. Or call the guys at Topanga Creek Outpost and go on one of their open to everyone weekly overnight trips (every Tuesday night) somewhere in/around Southern California.

  • Ah yes. Revisiting now…

  • Thanks! 40/50 might be a little much for your first bikepack, especially if it’s on singletrack with big climbs. White Rim is probably the closest to a beginner route, although cycling in the desert shouldn’t be underestimated. Where are you located?

  • Paulopontes1122

    Thanks Logan. I live in Houston, TX – thus Big Bend and New Mexico works pretty well. I can drive there 2/3 days of road trip and after hit the trails.

  • Well, funnily enough, Big Bend is probably the second least technical and difficult out of this group. Make sure you talk to the rangers about water; that’s the biggest trick there…

  • Christophe Noel

    That section of the Colorado Trail was my first proper bikepack trip in 2005. On a singlespeed. Not an ideal entry into the pursuit. :) Still one of my favorite rides anywhere.

  • Natasha

    Erik awesome suggestions. From 29 Palms, CA next to Joshua Tree and we are always on our bikes and the hubby often goes bike packing. Brendan is amazing and will hook you up with ideas Sugarsail1.

  • John F

    There are countless 2-3 day MTB tours in CA. It’s a huge state with massive amounts of national forest and BLM lands. We just got back from a 3-day tour of Catalina Island in the Southern California area. Although all dirt roads, Catalina is a magical place. Expansive ocean view, lush backcountry canyons, and a couple of very cool towns (Avalon and Two Harbors). Next month we are doing a 3-day trip around the San Diego mountains. There is also the Big Bear mountains, Sierra foothills, Mammoth/Mono Lake, Santa Barbara Mountains, Humboldt/Redwood Coast, Shasta/Lassen, Lake Tahoe/Downieville area. The list goes on and on! Don’t listen to the nay-sayers. Grab a map or atlas, do a little research, contact Brendan at The Hub cyclery, and you will have a list of excellent destinations. I really like Catalina Island however. It’s not like anywhere in the U.S. Good luck and never stop exploring!

  • John, we are looking for a good photographer/bikepacker in CA to contribute a few routes… let me know if you know anyone.

  • John F

    Logan, I would be very interested. In fact, I did a short write-up on our Catalina trip last month for my mountain bike club. I think you would enjoy it. Should I email it to you?

  • Sure, go for it! pedalingnowhere at gmail.

  • Mike

    What camera equipment do you carry? thanks!

  • John F

    A regular iPhone 6. I’ve been thinking about getting a high-end camera, but the iPhone takes very decent photos and I’m usually carrying it anyways.

  • John F

    For 2-3 day trips In Southern California try:
    – Catalina Island. Super awesome!
    – San Diego Mountains (Julian, Laguna, and Cuyamaca areas)
    – San Bernardino Mountains (Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead areas)
    – Santa Barbara Mountains (northern areas).

  • John F

    An iPhone 6.

  • btompkins0112

    Kinda coming in late, but Logan, would you say that White Rim is doable on a cross bike with 40mm WTB Nano’s?

  • Doable, sure. Maybe not ideal in the sandy stretches though. A lot of folks do it on standard 2.1s though …

  • btompkins0112

    Thanks! So would you say with my equipment that Conquistador would be a more appropriate ride?

  • Cass Gilbert

    I haven’t ridden ‘skinnies’ in a while, but I don’t see why not. Just bear in mind that NM roads can be a mixed bag at times. There might be some sandy stretches along the Missile Range. Most importantly, be sure go tubeless, or run sealant in your tires.

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