Cedar Mesa Loop: Ruins and Monuments

  • Distance

    154 Mi.

    (248 KM)
  • Days

    3

  • % Unpaved

    60%

  • % Singletrack

    0%

  • Difficulty (1-10)

    6

  • % Rideable (time)

    100%

  • Total Ascent

    9,607'

    (2,928 M)
  • High Point

    7,090'

    (2,161 M)

Contributed By

Todd Schollenberger

Todd & Charlotte

Guest Contributor

After our first two night bikepacking trip we went “All In” and tackled the GDMBR in 2015.  Since then we’ve been mapping out adventures in CO and UT while trying to figure out the next big trip.  Follow on Instagram at @bergersride and @bergersrider

With its abundance of canyon hikes, Cedar Mesa has long been a popular destination for backpackers. But great bikepacking opportunities abound on the dirt roads atop the mesa and through its washes and canyons. This weekend loop offers the chance to pass through incredible desert landscapes and explore some of the many Ancestral Puebloan ruins in the area.
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We spent most of May exploring Southeast Utah’s San Juan County and this 154 mile loop gave us the chance to ride thru incredible desert landscapes and explore some of the many Ancestral Puebloan ruins in the area. We spent plenty of time off the bikes exploring the Moon House and Mule Canyon ruins during our 3.5 day loop.

Our first stop was the Kane Gulch BLM Ranger Station to pick up the required, day-use permit for the Moon House Ruins. We then rode across the mesa on Snow Flats Rd to the trailhead. A steep one mile hike into McLoyd Canyon leads to a well preserved kiva and granaries. It took us a while to find the pictograph of the lunar cycle which gives the site its name. After camping the first night high above the mouth of McLoyd Canyon we dropped down off the mesa and headed south towards Valley of the Gods.

A 17 mile gravel road winds thru Valley of the Gods passing fantastic buttes and freestanding monuments. Valley of the Gods is a smaller version of the more famous Monument Valley in AZ. As temps rose in the afternoon we sweated our way up the Moki Dugway, a 3 mile/1200 ft climb from the valley floor to the edge of Cedar Mesa. The campsite at the top of Muley Point definitely is worth the climb. The Goosenecks of the San Juan river are just below the point and views all the way to Monument Valley were spectacular at sunset . The next morning we made a fast descent back down the Moki Dugway and into Mexican Hat to refill water, grab snacks and enjoy a slushie at the 7-11 gas station.

From Mexican Hat we rode north and along Comb Wash Rd on the western side of Comb Ridge. On our last day after camping at the head of Comb Wash we stopped at Mule Canyon. An easy 1 mile hike up the canyon brought us to the House on Fire ruin, a cliff dwelling which when viewed or photographed at the right time in the morning appears to be bursting with flames. We were a little early to get the full effect but continued hiking to find additional ruins further up the canyon.

  • Highlights

  • Must Know

  • Camping

  • Food/H2O

    💧

  • Trail Notes

  • Explore the Moon House, one of the best preserved Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings on the mesa.
  • Camp on Muley Point high above the Goosenecks of the San Juan River.
  • Climb and descend the switchbacks of the Moki Dugway, a National Scenic Byway.
  • Ride in the shadows of Comb Ridge, an 80 mile long monocline that extends into northeast AZ.
  • Late spring or fall is the best time to ride, summer temps can often reach 100F.
  • A permit is required for the Moon House and can be reserved in advance — Link here.
  • Route start/finish with overnight parking at Natural Bridges National Monument (entry fee or park pass required) or Kane Gulch Ranger Station.
  • The route is almost entirely on BLM land with many opportunities for wild camping.
  • Natural Bridges National Monument has a small campground but it fills early each day.
  • The Four Corners Inn in Blanding is clean and affordable.
  • Stock up on food in Blanding, 40 miles east of the start/finish.
  • Mexican Hat is the only resupply point on the route, it has two small cafes and two convenience stores.
  • You will need to carry all water, there may be water in the canyons but its not be accessible by bike.
  • BYOB – Blanding is a dry town so bring your own post-ride beer and then stop at Patio Drive In for burgers and shakes.
  • The NatGeo Trails Illustrated map 706 (Grand Gulch/Cedar Mesa) is helpful in addition to the gpx track.
  • The roads on top of the mesa can be muddy and/or impassible after rain but they dry quickly.
  • Carrying all your food and water makes this route challenging, but the stunning landscapes and solitude in this part of UT are outstanding.

Additional Resources

The Cedar Mesa is part of the proposed Bears Ears National Monument which aims to protect up to 1.9 million acres in SE Utah.  More information at http://www.friendsofcedarmesa.org/ and  http://www.bearsearscoalition.org/.

Terms of Use: As with each bikepacking route guide published on BIKEPACKING.com, should you choose to cycle this route, do so at your own risk. Prior to setting out check current local weather, conditions, and land/road closures. While riding, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, carry proper safety and navigational equipment, and of course, follow the #leavenotrace guidelines. The information found herein is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this route, associated GPS track (GPX and maps), and all route guidelines were prepared under diligent research by the specified contributor and/or contributors, the accuracy of such and judgement of the author is not guaranteed. BIKEPACKING.com LLC, its partners, associates, and contributors are in no way liable for personal injury, damage to personal property, or any other such situation that might happen to individual riders cycling or following this route.

  • DamagedSurfer

    Thanks for sharing your words and photos. Every time I see amazing pics like these I regret my lack of pics from my last decade of adventures. I’ve hiked in Utah, but never bikepacked, so it’s quickly becoming a must-go.

  • mikeetheviking

    Very nice! Thanks!

  • Doug Nielsen

    Killer! What rigs were you on? Great route guys!

  • Thanks Doug, we’re both on Surlys, med ECR and xs Troll

  • Jim Woodruff

    Is this route doable without 29+ or fat tires?

  • Jim Woodruff

    Would this route be rideable on just a regular 29? No fat tires?

  • Jamie Lent

    Checking out street view on the few sections of the route that intersect with large roads, it looks like the answer to that is entirely season dependent. Some areas look pretty gross and muddy/rutted in the winter with snow melt and car tires mixing horribly. During the dry season when these guys’ photos were taken it looks like you might even make it on a road bike.

  • Regular 29er should be fine, there a few sandy sections in the Comb Wash but plus/fat tires not necessary.

    The roads on top of the mesa will be very muddy, maybe impassable after rain but they dry quickly.

  • Road bike would be uncomfortable but doable with cross tires

  • Ron Winsett

    Was wondering if you found any water along the route other than mexican hat. We were planning a trip down there this Thanksgiving.

  • Jim Woodruff

    We did this route the last weekend in October and didn’t find any water to filter. We did stop and the B&B in Valley of the gods and the owner was nice enough to give us some water. You might call ahead and ask them if you could get some water from them. She was a very nice lady and she even showed us around the b&b.

  • We didn’t find any water while riding but there was water in both McLoyd and Mule Canyons from recent rains. If you’re going to hike in to see the ruins in these canyons I’d consider any water as a bonus, carry as much as you can on your bike.

  • Heather

    Hi, does anyone have any insight as to conditions the last week of March this year (snow? or melting snow making nightmare mud?) Thanks!
    Heather

  • Jim Woodruff

    Weather seems to be holding for now and the extended forecast looks good. I know they can’t predict weather a day out let alone 10 days out. Call the Kane Gulch ranger station and ask about conditions. I think you’ll reach the station in Monticello, but they should be able to give dome insight on conditions.
    https://www.blm.gov/style/medialib/blm/ut/monticello_fo/recreation.Par.18354.File.dat/Cedar%20Mesa-Grand%20Gulch%20Trip%20Planner.pdf

  • Steve Graepel

    Was there last weekend. Hot — if it’s raining, these roads could likely turn to gumbo.

  • Eric

    Rode Cedar Mesa/Bears Ears this week, did a slightly different loop. Parked at Kane Gulch Ranger Station and rode your recommended route on Day 1 to Muley Pt. Which ends up being 65 miles and 4700ft. Camped at Muley Pt. and headed back on 261 to the ranger station, with a detour into Bullet Canyon. Day 2 was 28 miles. Did it on a Ice Cream Truck, wouldn’t recommend anything other than a mtn bike, few rocky descents on Snow Flats Rd. and loose sand sections this time of year. No water, carry everything. Thanks for the route!

  • Eric

    Rode there this week, dry and hot. Hit 99 down in Valley of the Gods. No water anywhere, except for some nasty smelling runoff just as you turn into Valley of the Gods

  • Tons of side canyons to explore in this area and all over San Juan County, most with dirt road access and good wild camping. There’s also a similar route in Adventure Cycling’s March issue.

  • elleryjk

    Amazing writeup and pictures! We are now thinking about doing a modified Valley of the Gods loop with some extra dirt thrown in.. Question:

    Does anyone know if Lime Creek Rd. (County Rd. 226) is passable all the way through from Hwy 163 to Valley of the Gods Rd? I wanted to complete a short loop using Rd. 226 plus the Valley of the Gods loop in this route log for an overnight. Only, halfway through the road is what looks like a fence with a wildlife/cattle enclosure with the road going straight through it. Can’t figure it out because it doesn’t look like wilderness, state or private land. See link below for a satellite view. Has anyone tried to ride that road before? Thanks!

    https://www.trailforks.com/map/?lat=37.294746&lon=-109.781916&z=18&m=hybrid

  • Its marked as BLM on my DeLorme Utah Atlas and is now within the Bears Ears NM so access shouldn’t be an issue, looks pretty ride-able, I’d say go for it.

  • Jonathan Black

    Four of us just rode this route this week. We had vehicle support, so we had no problems with water, etc. Stretches are very sandy, I advise plus sized tires. The mesa tops were extremely windy, and so rocky that tent stakes could not be driven — I advise self supporting tent or bivy. Stunning scenery. Bike packers: Support the Bears Ears National Monument, this magical place needs protection. Moon house is must see, arrange for permit in advance with Kane Gulch Ranger Station.

  • It’s great to see more and more people riding in and around Bears Ears NM, there’s so much potential for backcountry riding. It certainly needs our support now, check out http://bearsears.patagonia.com/take-action for an easy way to make your voice heard.