Grand Staircase Loop

  • Distance

    160 Mi.

    (257 KM)
  • Days


  • % Unpaved


  • % Singletrack


  • Difficulty (1-10)


  • % Rideable (time)


  • Total Ascent


    (3,636 M)
  • High Point


    (2,295 M)

Contributed By

Jamie Mefford

Jamie Mefford

Guest Contributor

When not touring the world with bands as a front of house engineer or hiding out in the recording studio making records. Jamie tries to find the time to get out on a bike and ride quiet dirt roads and trails. Trips have included The Baja Divide, Colorado trail and various excursions around the Colorado Plateau, Peru, Mexico and Guatemala. Follow Jamie on Instagram @jamiemefford.

Wending its way through the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, the Grand Staircase Loop is a three or four day bikepacking route following quiet and remote dirt roads over spectacular plateaus and canyons. With abundant scenery and wide open camping, the route was designed to bring awareness of to this beautiful and threatened area.
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To showcase some of the most iconic and beautiful canyon country in southern Utah, the route passes through Grand Staircase-Escalante National monument and dips into Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. A small section on BLM land completes the southern part of the loop. Gently climbing to 7,600 feet and dropping to 3,600 feet, the route travels from the top of Smokey Mountain Road (BLM 300) down to Lake Powell — twisting its way through sandstone cliffs and awe inspiring views of the towering rock monuments below. Through its many climbs and descents, the route passes through several of the sandstone layers that comprise the Colorado Plateau. Each layer tells the story of the its Precambrian and Paleozoic history — a geologic story that spans almost 2 billion years.

The loop can be started from the North or South depending on which direction you are coming from. But, regardless of your origin, it is highly recommended that the route be travelled clockwise. Thanks to a small section of road that isn’t accessible by car or truck, this loop can only be completed on two wheels. Backcountry camping is possible on almost any section of the route and the roads are mostly free of traffic. The 40 mile section of Cottonwood Canyon Road contains the most vehicular traffic at a rate of a few cars per hour.

  • Grand Staircase Loop, Bikepacking Grand Staircase - Escalante, Utah
  • Grand Staircase Loop, Bikepacking Grand Staircase - Escalante, Utah
Route Development: This route was developed after learning of the current administration’s plans to reassess the boundaries of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and potentially rescind its status as a monument. After a recent deadline, the Secretary if the Interior recommended reducing the size of the Monument. As of December 1, 2017, Trump also plans to nearly halve the 1.9-million-acre Monument, according to documents which were first reported by the Washington Post. Further actions could open up this area to mining, in turn threatening its preservation. The 1.9 million acre Grand Staircase-Escalante is the largest of all U.S. National Monuments and harbors 75 million year old dinosaur fossils and almost two billion years of geological history. Bringing even the smallest amount of awareness to its beauty might be useful in preserving its status. The Grand Staircase Loop took 3rd place in our 2017 ROUT3 contest.

Difficulty: The route travels almost entirely on dirt roads and is 98% ridable with generally intermediate and sustained climbs, containing just a few steep spots that might necessitate a push. Some stretches can be a bit sandy, so plus size tires are preferred but not necessary. Be forewarned that sections of the road are composed of gray bentonite clay which is IMPASSABLE when wet. In rainy conditions it will stick and cling to anything it comes in contact with, forming giant clumps of concrete like mud that gather on your shoes, tires and drivetrain. Riding a bike becomes impossible and even walking can prove extremely difficult. In the warmer months this route can be extremely hot and very committing with long distances between unpredictable water sources. For that, it is certainly not a beginner route and we’ve upgraded it to a 6/10.

  • Highlights


  • Must Know


  • Camping


  • Food/H2O


  • Resources


  • The section of Smokey Mountain Road that drops from the top of the mesa down to Lake Powell is truly stunning. The view is top notch as the road snakes its way down the sandstone cliffs into the valley of monuments below.
  • Camping on Lake Powell for the night is a short side trip; the shore is wide open and you can camp anywhere you find a spot.  Aside from being a nice place to spend the night, it’s a great place to take a swim on a hot day.
  • The route passes the Grosvenors Arch, which is a unique double sandstone arch
  • The section from Grosvenors Arch to Smokey Mountain Road follows very lightly traveled roads and a section that gets a bit rougher and is only accessible on two wheels.
  • As a side trip, Cottonwood Narrows is half way up the Cottrronwood Canyon RoadD in an area known as Candyland.  It’s a short hike into some gorgeous sandstone slot canyons.
  • There is a small resupply 1/2 mile off route in the town of Big Water, UT.  It is a quick ride down the main highway to the boatyard/gas station just off the RD.
  • Early Spring and late Fall are the best times to ride the route.  Upper elevations are extremely cold in the Winter and the lower elevations are very hot in the summer.
  • We don’t recommend attempting this route in summer (May thru August). Recent unexpectedly high temperatures, even at the end of April are resulting in higher temps that will make the route even more difficult, and water sources even more critical.  Higher heat + less reliable water = a thin margin for error.
  • While we state that the route is 98% rideable, as always, this is entirely dependent on conditions, type of bike and/or tires, rider fitness, experience, etc. There are a few steep and loose climbs.
  • Free permits are required for the Monument; They can be obtained at any Visitor Center (Escalante, Cannonville, Kanab, Big Water).  Self register boxes are also available throughout the monument at “developed” trailheads.  They are indicated on our visitor use map available at VCs. These permits serve an important function: they give the park service data about patterns of use and volume of use; they also provide emergency contact information in case family/friends call about missing hikers/cyclists; Leave No Trace guidelines are printed on the back of the permit as well.
  • Obtaining a permit in person will help riders be better prepared (road conditions, weather, etc.). The park has few self-register trailheads along the route.
  • The route crosses sections of gray bentonite clay. With enough rain, it becomes extremely sticky, making it impossible to ride and very difficult to even walk the bike.  Riding into these sections under the threat of rain is NOT RECOMMENDED.  If this happens, be prepared for a muddy night of camping.
  • The loop can be started and finished at any point along its length. If coming in from the North it’s recommended to access the loop from Cannonville and park near Grosvenors Arch, as these dirt roads are the most drivable. If coming in from the South, it’s recommended to start around Big Water, UT where the route is accessible from paved roads.
  • It is highly recommended that the route be travelled clockwise.
  • This route travels through the high desert and, as such, there is the possibility of extreme weather conditions. The temperatures can dip below freezing on the lower end and reach well over 100°F on a hot day.  Water can be scarce and flash flooding in the washes is possible.
  • Parts of this route are rarely traveled and extremely remote. Be prepared!
  • Bicycles are vehicles, and must stay on open roads.  There was a recent comment that riders can shorten the route by riding through Last Chance canyon. However, Last Chance bisects Death Ridge Wilderness Study Area and riding that canyon is not allowed. Administrative routes are for access to range improvements only and are not open for public use.
  • Cell phone service is unlikely to be available in this region, and shouldn’t be relied on. Satellite phones or SPOT devices are strongly recommended.
  • Camping along the route is open to some backcountry camping, however, refer to GSENM camping guidelines and Leave No Trace principles. Camping at corrals and/or range improvements is not recommended as this keeps cattle from coming in to water. Camping a minimum of 300 feet is recommended near range improvements. All campers should camp at previously disturbed locations. Be sure to follow leave no trace guidelines and keep an eye out for Cryptobiotic soil.
  • Aside from a few undeveloped drive-in sites along Cottonwood Rd, next to the creek, most of the camping is primitive.
  • You may in most previously disturbed camping areas along the route, as long as it’s not an environmentally sensitive zone.
  • There are a few very small sections of private land but they are well marked along the Cottonwood Rd section of the route.
  • There is also a small motel available on route in the town of Big Water, UT.
  • Water is available in a few sections of the route and shouldn’t pose a problem in the cooler months, as long as the proper planning is undertaken.
  • Water sources might dry up! The cattle tank south of Grosvenor Arch will likely go dry, along with the surface water at Last Chance.  BLM has no ability to tell riders where, or if, they will find water.  This can be safety concern; do your homework!
  • Be sure to carry enough water on the bike to accommodate the occasional dried up desert stream.
  • Depending on the water level in Last Chance Creek, there may be little or no water for up to 100 miles between Grosvenor Arch and Lake Powell.  For this section, you should be prepared and carry all that you will need.
  • There is a well and a reservoir near Grosvenors Arch; seasonal water flows in Last Chance Canyon; Lake Powell is 3 miles off route and there is tap water available at the National Monument visitors center in Big Water, UT.
  • Cottonwood Canyon Creek usually flows year round but it is best to ask about the current water conditions before leaving the visitors center in Cannonville or the town of Big Water.
  • A small selection of food and drinks is available 1/2 mile off route, in the town of Big Water, UT, at the Gas Stations and Boat Yard.

Terms of Use: As with each bikepacking route guide published on, 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. 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.

  • Medium Rick


  • mikeetheviking

    super awesome

  • Kristen Campbell

    hi- can you tell me what your seat pack setup is? this route looks amazing!

  • Mark Atwell

    It would be nice if some of us went out and rode this loop and put the word out how wonderful it is to our (voting) friends. Before the mines and oil platforms and big trucks take it over. The locals will sell it all off for a short term profit. As Ed Abbey said, they… “can hear a dollar bill drop on a shag carpet”.

  • Fitting place for an Abbey quote. And yes, now is the time to go ride it, connect with it, and tell your friends. Another (more well known) one from Desert Solitaire: “A man on […] a bicycle will see more, feel more, enjoy more in one mile than the motorized tourists can in a hundred miles.”

  • Peter Pascale

    Wow, the vistas! This goes to the top of my utah vacation list! Nice work!

  • Jamie Mefford

    Hey Kristen, the seat pack is a Caradice Super C. I’m using one of their bagman supports as well. I just modified it with some long Nitto rails and rack nuts from Surly for more support.

  • Christophe Noel

    That’s a gorgeous area not far from where I live. I’ve ridden up there quite a bit. A word of caution to newcomers. Many of those roads have signs which read, “Impassible when wet.” They’re not kidding. A little moisture is a mess, but just a brief rain or snow storm can create mud like you’ve never experienced in your life. I have seen it get so bad you truly can’t walk ten feet in it. It accumulates like layers of concrete on shoes and tires. It also doesn’t rinse off. Crazy stuff.

  • Kristen Campbell

    thanks! and what month did you ride this/are the pics from? wondering if nov would be too late if i were prepared to sleep cold?

  • Wow… if this route took 3rd, I have some impossibly high standards for 2nd and 1st. Well done Jamie – this one may have to go on my bucket list.

  • Kat Hardt-Holoch

    great photos, very nice!

  • Seth

    Similarly wondering if early March is too early, depending on winter snow pack, etc. I know that riding in Moab / Canyonlands at that time of year is usually clear at the lower elevations and mixed at higher elevations. Looks like a gorgeous route and hope to ride it in the spring!

  • Will K

    Rode all of Cottonwood Canyon Road in July 2016. One of my most memorable days on a bike. Me and the partner were on 700x38mm slicks – really enjoyable riding with no flats – though we had to walk at least a dozens times through sandy parts. Hot but not killer. Three cars passed and asked if we needed water. If I remember correctly, Cottonwood Creek was running at a trickle. Kodachrome Basin State Park was a great campsite with nice rangers and sites.

  • Good to know. It’s highly likely someone will ask if they can do it on a cross bike, so there’s the answer! Thanks

  • longride

    Amazing route and I’m starting to plan for it now!

    Two questions:

    1) assuming you walk some sandy sections, is this entire loop rideable on 650bx42mm slicks or does it require MTB tires?

    2) looking at the RWGPS map, it appears there is water at reasonable intervals — however are the water supplies noted reliable?


  • Good to hear! You’ll find answers to your water questions above in the Food/H2O tab (or drop icon if you are on mobile). Regarding tires, I am guessing it’s doable with a few pushes here and there, but perhaps Jamie someone else will chime in…

  • longride


    Thanks so much for the response. I completely missed the Food/H20 tab — I was too absorbed in the rout text and photos!.

    I’ve followed you all on Insta, but have only just started reading the site and it’s fantastic! Thanks to all involved for putting this great resource together.

    Jamie or anyone, if you happen to read this and have any insight into the tires question, I would certainly be grateful.

  • Sue Butler

    We are considering doing this mid-October. The rain warning makes me nervous. Plan this ride, pay and travel to get there, only to be stopped (literally) in your tracks by rain. I’ve looked at the almanacs. Unfortunately October is the month they seem to get most ran. Not a lot, but it only takes one day I guess. Anyone more familiar with the weather in this part of Utah?

  • Drew Howes

    Another Abbey quote (almost, but not quite appropriate to the question), “Rudolph the Red knows rain, dear.”

  • Sue,

    In generally, the weather in the southwest in autumn is pretty variable from year to year, but pretty predictable in the short term (1-2 weeks out). Unlike the summer, which is the opposite – relatively consistent precipitation year-to-year but you rarely know when the precipitation is going to happen, even the day of.

    Or another way of thinking about it, if there is going to be rain heavy enough to make the roads impassible, it will likely be forecasted at least a week in advance in autumn and winter. It’s not like the summer monsoon where every day can have a chance of intense rainfall.

    So far the weather looks pretty dry for this October, with no big storms in the pipeline.

  • Thanks! Glad you are enjoying it!

  • Sue Butler

    Thanks! We are going for it & forecast is favourable!!!

  • Jamie Mefford

    It’s possible to ride it on a non mountain bike with some pushing, but I wouldn’t all the way recommend it. The Cottonwood road is the most traveled and ridable on the route but some of the other roads are a bit rougher and have sections of sand. I would say that 80% of it would be just fine and the other 20% will be a little rough and you will have to walk a few spots.

  • Jamie Mefford

    I second this. The bentonite clay on this route is no joke when it gets wet. I strongly advise not trying to ride into the gray dirt/clay sections of this route when rain is possible.

  • longride

    Thanks so much for the info!

  • Shane

    So…wondering about doing this as a supported trip ( sag wagon ). Love to ride, hate to carry gear. Outside of the section from Grosveners Arch over to the smokey mountain road, is the rest passable in a subaru? I’ve driven cottonwood road before … miserable washboard, but doable ;) Figure it is easy enough to continue up and around to Escalante to skip the section connecting cottonwood road to smokey mountain if the rest is passable in a car.

  • Patrick Treacy

    Is there an alternate to the route in this are that is less than 100 miles?

  • Check out the OSM Cycle layer in the map; there are a ton of dirt roads through there so you could probably change the course a little…

  • Barbora Hroncova

    Does anyone know of a bike rental place in the area? And also is there a possible guide? A group of 10 of us is planning to do this loop in Spring 2018 :) thank you!

  • Charles Nolt


    Has anybody hit this up in late November?

    I am looking to go with a group of 3 over Thanksgiving, so I am working on figuring out typical temps and expected precipitation for that time of year across these elevations.


  • Fritz

    I rode this as an overnighter last weekend starting from Big Water and had a proper adventure. Lost a third of my water, rode an extra twenty miles to refill, GPS failed, sleeping pad valve went out in the middle of the night, Camelbak froze, ran out of food thirty miles from the end. Good times! The highlights were definitely the side trip canyon along Cottonwood and the incredible Smokey Mountain descent — one of the most beautiful dirt roads segments I’ve ever ridden.

    My 29×2.25 rear tire was a bit undergunned for a few sandy spots, but it wasn’t bad. Last Chance was just a trickle, but still serviceable. I found an extra cow spring directly on route maybe fifteen miles from the turnoff to Escalante.

    Full trip report and photos:

  • Jamie Mefford

    There is a couple ways to shorten it a little. One would be to ride the paved road from Big Water to Cottonwood canyon Rd, instead of riding up into the BLM land behind the visitors center. The other one would be a short cut down Last Chance Creek. It’s rideable with fatter tires but it’s not an official National Monument road and I can’t endorse using it. It is a lovely small canyon. It does appear on old topo maps pre National Monument. Otherwise I don’t think there’s much else to shorten the loop.

  • Jamie Mefford

    Yep that would work. It’s a little bumpy in sections of Smoky Mountian Rd but a Subaru should be able to get through if driven carefully through a few sections. Just don’t attempt to ride from the arch over to Smokey Mountain Rd.

  • Jamie Mefford

    It’s doable, but I’d recommend starting the loop near Grosveners Arch so you sleep down at lower elevations near lake Powell. It’ll be cold up higher in the northern part of the loop.

  • worldsbetweenlines

    Just finished up this route with girlfriend and two pups. Note for the website admin, it would be nice to have a section to upload user photos (photos of us on this route can be found here: We skipped part of the path and took US-89 which shaved off 10 miles and gave us nice highway pavement. The route on the western side was a lot of pushing bikes up steep grades. By the end, we were happy to have all the downhill back to the start point. Would do this route again, it was pretty epic!

  • worldsbetweenlines

    We noticed your foot prints in the sand on the route!

  • worldsbetweenlines

    We did this over Thanksgiving and it was absolutely perfect weather. Couldn’t have asked for better weather.

  • Haha, right on! What part?

  • worldsbetweenlines

    At least we think. There were prints from a regular shoe, leaving me to believe it was someone without clips. We started to notice them on Cottonwood Canyon road all the way back to the start point. There was a section where the road was washed out with a huge log in between the road. Had to go down to the right and around. After heading around we noticed there was a shortcut if we would have turned left. Looked through your site and saw you took a pic of the same log. That section heading back north was brutal…lots of pushing bikes. We had dog trailers too so there was more walking than riding on our last day…

  • Yeah, that would’ve been me! Size 10 approach shoes. I remember that washed out section with the log. Props for plowing through with trailers! That section was particularly disheartening because I’d never get enough speed on the downhills to get back up the next one — totally anti-flow. Thanks for reading my trip report! Stellar photos on your IG … you really captured the desolate beauty of the area.

  • I was just thinking of how amazing this section would’ve been by sunset. Shoulda slept in a bit longer ;-) I was kind of on the fence about the route until this section … totally sealed the deal as a great time.

  • worldsbetweenlines

    Adding all photos from trip to the following collection:

  • Jules Humphreys

    hi, i noticed you have cages on the stays. are you using braze on to mount it or other means? i have a stooge and am looking to modify it to carry bottles in the same place.

  • Here is how I did it, and used them for thousands of miles off-road:

  • Joel Flowers

    I rode this beautiful route in October. Would do it again in a heartbeat. Just one word of caution. The well water tank after Cottonwood Creek was empty, along with the reservoir just past Grosvenor Arch. Not even a drop of water in it.

  • david liquori

    Will, how rideable would it be on a bike with 700×38 that’s loaded for a cross country tour? Thinking this would be a great addition to a cross country trip.

  • Will K Hey David. You should plan to ride Cottonwood Canyon Road! We did this as part of a Canada-to-Mexico tour. We were each carrying 2 panniers and other crap. You’ll push the bike some, but that will give you a chance to take picture of amazing rocks. It was in no way frustrating, though I cannot speak for other dirt roads in the area.

  • david liquori

    Great advice! Thank you! I’ll be traveling west on 12. Is there a different non-paved route back up to 12 that could make a loop? I could just ride paved roads back up.

  • Will K

    Full disclaimer: I have no first hand experience with this.
    After finishing Cottonwood and joining 89, I would ride West to the Paria Contact station (for water), and then turn North on Johnson Canyon road. This will connect to BLM and Forest Service roads along the East Fork Sevier River towards Bryce. These all seem like well traveled roads. You’ll slowly climb away from desert towards pine forest. Sounds like a great trip!

  • Jamie

    @jamie_mefford:disqus I was going to fly into SLC from Toronto (CAN) and I suppose rent a car down to Escalante and start near the G.Arch area like you mention in this awesome route. Could one leave a car for several days in one area or how would you suggest that part of the logistics? I haven’t noticed any Greyhound buses doing the trip from SLC.

    I would be arriving mid march (9th or 10th)…

    Thoughts anyone?


  • Roger Beck

    My fiancé saw this route and was so pumped about it, she showed me. Now, we talk about it every day. After checking the weather data, and we know the weather is always variable, we plan on starting the first week in June. What’s your thoughts about this?

  • Lee Smith

    We did a similar route in the San Rafael Swell in the first week of June and it was way too hot. 99 in the shade. One of our party succumbed to heatstroke.

  • Roger Beck

    Thanks Lee. We’ve modified out plans to monitor the weather and if it looks hot, we are going to go in mid to late September per Joel Flowers’ post. Thanks again!

  • Roger Beck

    Thanks Joel! We’ve modified our plans to monitor the weather and if it looks hot, we are going to go in mid to late September per Lee Smith’s post of heat exhaustion. In fact, I just called the visitor’s center and they said, yes, it’s become really hot in early June. Thanks again!

  • Roger Beck

    When I started to trace the route on RWGPS to get turn by turns (not many but I thought I’d do it anyway) I could not trace the section between miles 81.7-83.4. From the OSM map layer, it appears that there is not road there.

    1. Has anybody ridden that section that can tell me what is there?
    2. Is there anything that is super worthwhile to see on the section of the route south of route 89 that is worth seeing?

  • Vanessa Holzmann

    Would late March be a good time for this ride?

  • Yes, I think so, as long is there is not a freak late snow in the area…

  • Jeff

    How is cell phonee coverage on this loop? Or is this a Garmin InReach application?

  • itsreasonable

    I have ridden this route/area many times of the year over many years and March-Early May and September-Early November are the best times to ride. It gets very hot in the summer and freak snowstorms can be a bitch to get through. Check the weather before setting out and plan accordingly. As stated, when it rains/snows, you are basically pinned down due to the bentonite clays ability to seize drivetrains and turn shoes into Frankenstein boots.

  • Tom Diegel

    My wife and I did most of this route and she was on 700×38/42 c cross tires and we had flat issues and had to pump them up pretty high to address this, which made for a bouncy ride. I was on 26×1.9 mtb tires and it was ok. Smokey mt road is quite rough. Sand isn’t as much of an issue as rocks. It was that trip that convinced her to get a new bike with 3″ tires.

  • Tom Diegel

    Escalante is a very chill town and you could leave the car anywhere. the folks at Escalante outfitters are great and there are great meals, camping, and bungalows there.

  • Tom Diegel

    Unfortunately there are no public transport options to that area that I know of from SLC. If you had extra time you could contact the Escalante outfitter folks to see if they knew of people going back and forth. But a cheap car from Fox Rental is probably your best bet.

  • Tom Diegel

    My wife and I have done two longer tours in this area, and I’ve done a couple of blog posts with pics and tales: and
    We can’t recommend that area highly enough.

  • Richard Abbott

    Cell phone coverage is almost nil

  • Jack Ross

    I am thinking of adding some of this into my southern utah road cycling tour .. i ride out of Boulder, CO and do plenty of dirt on my 28mm road bike. Anyone have any insight on using 28mm tires instead of true cross style tires?

  • Bobby Ruple

    Where did you park in the north to start the loop?

  • worldsbetweenlines

    37.665730, -111.639024 to be exact. Cheers!

  • Bobby Ruple

    Haha amazing! I’m driving out from Michigan to do the loop in April. Thank you!

  • Kristina

    The dirt in Boulder is usually packed enough to make it no problem for road bikes (can get a bit loose in switchbacks on Sunshine though!). Elsewhere in CO (for example, backroads near Salida) you can encounter very deep sand – almost impassable for 28mm OR cross style 32-40 mm tires. I’ve had better luck surfing through the deep bits on my mtb with 27.5×2.4 tires. Never done this route, but some pics look pretty sandy and rough. Also check out Fritz further down who said 29 x 2.25 wasn’t quite enough for the sand.

  • Katie

    Been scoping this route for a while and finally got a group together to make the journey; the questions is…when is the best time to go? We are looking at July (early to mid) or April. Those who have spent time at Grand Staircase or who have done the route- which of those time frames is best? Any other climate/time of year advice appreciated!

  • As stated under the must know tab spring or fall is your best bet. I would do it in April.

  • Jeff

    What week in April? We are doing the week of April 23rd

  • Bobby Ruple

    April 12-15. If I see you it means something didn’t quite go as planned :)

  • Roger Beck

    To be able to hike Zebra Canyon, we are thinking of starting our ride heading east on Route 12 and then head S. on Hole in Rock Rd. (BLM 200) then west on Left Hand Collet Rd. (BLM 230) to join up with Smokey Mtn. Rd. to join back up with the route.

    1. Would we be missing any great vistas on Smokey Mtn. Rd. north of where we would join up with the route from Left Hand Collet Rd. (BLM 230)?

    2. Has anyone else done this variation of the route? If so, what are your experiences?


  • Jeff

    Have a question that may seem a bit ridiculous to answer. I have two tents. One free standing and one that stakes out (prefer this one). Generally is the ground so hard out there that it will be very difficult to push a stake in? I know all depends on where in thousands of acres. Still thought I’d ask.

  • Bo Torrey

    37.65474, -111.62959 is another good spot to park a car. It’s likely that “last chance creek” will have water in it in April. We’ve had good March snow so I’d imagine things will be running. As always..water is life in the desert. Enjoy the ride!

  • Bo Torrey

    If you make it to Lake Powell for your first night of camping you’ll be camped on sand and it will be easy to stake down. Night two, if you make it to cottonwood canyon road it also shouldn’t be a problem to stake the tent down either.

  • Bo Torrey

    Hey Barbora, I’d be happy to guide you and your group. Feel free to send me a message at

  • Bobby Ruple

    Thank you! Are there specific places to pull into and park or is it more about just finding a place on the side of the road to leave the vehicle? Really looking forward to this trip

  • Bo Torrey

    I wasn’t able to find any designated parking areas along the road. This was more or less a turn off for a camp site.

  • Becky Vordermann

    Our family rode a portion of this route, last week. We started and ended in Cannonville. We decided to cut off and loop back to Cannonville at Escalante, due to the lack of water on course. We were unable to find the water tank at Grosvenor Arch. The are was beautiful though and we hope to return and further explore it at a later date. This is a recap of the portion of the route we did do:

  • Jamie

    What is that section of road driving down from Escalante like? Is 4×4 with big clearance necessary? Fine for a Subie?

  • Bo Torrey

    Road is pretty well maintained. There are a few wash crossing that were dry when we drove through but could be problematic with recent rain. Other than that you would be fine in a Subaru.

  • Bevan Corry

    Just completed the loop. Perfect temperature and an overall lovely trip. I just wanted to chime in to remind users to LEAVE NO TRACE. I came across a camp up on Death Ridge that had a lot of bike tracks heading in/out, and sadly all around, a general campsite area. Someone had even left a fire ring and dragged logs to make a bench around it. To complete the KOA look there were coffee grounds and egg shells on the ground and several branches had been broken off of a tree for firewood (there were dry branches lying around all over). Finally, a log that hadn’t been fully combusted because it was obviously way too big was tossed to the side on the ground! This is simply unacceptable. It was extremely pleasant temperatures and a full moon. A fire was completely unnecessary. I know some people new to camping just think you have to have one, but as one who kicked the fire habit years ago I would encourage everybody to see how great all camping can be without a fire. In a pristine wilderness study area like Death Ridge you better have damn good reason to be building a fire. If you simply must be a noob, dig the fire pit at least six inches deep so the fire scar and embers can be completely buried and hidden. If you have put rocks around the damn thing put them back when you leave. Never leave a fire ring. Never break branches off of trees. Never leave garbage of any kind. Even coffee is essentially forever in the dry high deserts of Southern Utah. If you ride off road to a camp or view point cover your tracks. Don’t leave tire tracks anywhere but the damn trail. Rant over but it was sad to see such obvious misuse and poor stewardship in such an otherwise beautiful and pristine environment. I can’t believe backpackers from this community would be so sloppy and callous.

  • Jamie

    Thanks! Hoping to find some good weather down there in about three weeks.

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  • Jeff

    For those that have ridden the full loop. We are planning on riding it in 4 days (enjoy the views). Any suggestions on general camping points to break into 3 nights camping? Starting in Escalante clockwise.

  • Liam

    Has anyone started the loop from the Southern end near Big water? I’m looking for a place to park the car and it looks like there are some pull off sites on Cottonwood canyon road right at the turn off from HW 89. Big Water visitor center doesn’t allow overnight parking apparently. Also, any up to date information on the status of the water tank near Grosvenors Arch? We were gonna start riding later this week (4/12).

  • Liam

    Has anyone started the loop from the Southern end near Big water? I’m looking for a place to park the car and it looks like there are some pull off sites on Cottonwood canyon road right at the turn off from HW 89. Big Water visitor center doesn’t allow overnight parking apparently. Also, any up to date information on the status of the water tank near Grosvenor’s Arch? We were gonna start riding later this week (4/12).

  • LDC

    Has anyone started the loop from the Southern end near Big water? I’m looking for a place to park the car and it looks like there are some pull off sites on Cottonwood canyon road right at the turn off from HW 89. Big Water visitor center doesn’t allow overnight parking apparently. Also, any up to date information on the status of the water tank near Grosvenor’s Arch? We were gonna start riding later this week (4/12).

  • That is a shame, and definitely unacceptable. Sorry to hear that folks left a place in that condition. Are you sure it was from a group of bikepackers? Sounds like the work of car campers (eggshells, and all), but I’m not familiar with the location. Either way, I am very sorry to hear it.

  • Bevan Corry

    Definitely bikepackers. Seeing is believing. Just bike tracks in and out of there. It was fresh. Could not have been more than a day or maybe two ahead of me. Disappointing for sure.

  • Jeff Moser

    I plan to ride the loop from Big Water on the 22nd. I was able to do some recon a couple weeks ago, driving from Big Water to Cannoville. There’s a sign at the BW Visitor Center that says no overnight parking. It was closed the day I was there, but it may be worth a phone call to see if one could park nearby outside the parking lot. Outside water was turned off, but bathroom water was on. It’s a little off the route, but the lady working at Paria Contact Station offered to let us camp outside their parking area if needed that day. They also have water. Paria River is pretty silty and had lots of cattle tromping through it. The creek in Hackberry Canyon looked like a good water source. Did not check the water tank south of Grosvenor Arch (dang it!). The reservoir at Grosvenor Arch was completely dry.

  • Brock Stewart

    Hey guys. I am hitting this ride on May 3rd in the AM. Going clockwise starting as Grosvenor Arch. I am trying to get a feel for the water supply along the route. Can anyone who has ridden this route lately please give me a status update for all the water stops along the route? Thanks.

  • Jeff Moser

    I’ll be back from my loop on the 29th, and will share what I find. There are a few springs I found on the topo map that aren’t mentioned here that I want to check out as well.

  • Kyle Pomraning

    Rode it clockwise this week starting from the Northern tip of the route:

    1) Found a trickle of clear water at Last Chance Creek a day after rain.
    2) The side trip to Lake Powell is fun and a good place to fill up.
    3) The restrooms at the Big Water visitor center had water.
    4) The Paria River and Hackberry Creek had water along the Cottonwood Road.

    Cottonwood Creek and Grosvenors Arch were dry. The water at Grosvenors will be poopy when its there. There are buckets of water here and there for the cows, but again, they will be poopy. Amazing place to bike, make sure to have lots of H2O capacity!

  • Brock Stewart

    Thanks for the awesome feedback. Sounds like I am going to have to pack more water than I originally thought. Do you think the water was low because there isn’t water, or because there hasn’t been any real run off yet? Can you report on how many days you used to do the trip and how much water you packed and what you needed it for (just drinking, drinking and cooking dinner and breakfast, etc.)?

  • Brock Stewart

    Thanks. I would appreciate that, as I am sure others wanting to do this trip would also.

  • Jeff

    Arriving in Escalante Sunday April 22. Anyone park at the visitor center and ride from there? Is that viable?

  • Jeff Moser

    From the BLM regarding parking at Big Water: Across the highway from the Visitor Center is a huge area where a store used to be. It’s been torn down and that whole area is open for overnight parking and off loading of ATV’s and other vehicles for back country use.

  • Kristen Campbell

    if you do this, please let us know how it goes

  • LDC

    We rode the loop starting mid day 4/12 and finished mid day 4/15. Aside from brutal headwinds the first 2 days the ride was stunning. Many thanks to Jamie for scouting a beautiful route! We parked at the turn off from HW 89 at Cottonwood Canyon road. The car was visible to Hwy traffic but unmolested when we finished. There was a spot a little while up Cottonwood Canyon road (about 1 mile North of the Hwy) that had a couple vehicles parked and was not visible to the road. Starting at Cottonwood Canyon lets you avoid the section south of Hwy 89 from Big Water Visitors Center to where it crosses the hwy again and picks up Cottonwood canyon road. This section has deep sand for the first 5 miles or so (the only place plus tires were beneficial) due to significant off road vehicle use and would have been miserable fully loaded down with food and water.

    There was a good flow of clear water at Cottonwood creek where the route has a waypoint marking a possible campsite. Upstream it was dry. The well for the tank near Grosvenors Arch was not pumping but the lowest of the 3 tanks was about 1/4 full. There is a good chance it will be dry unless there’s been any additional rain. There was a dirt tank with lots of water at (37.58782, -111.60760). There was some water flowing low with some pools at (37.54179, -111.64036). There was also a low flow at Last Chance Creek but it was pretty alkaline looking.

    We carried 7L of water each and were never below 2L but we filled up at the tank near Grosvenors Arch and at the dirt tank at the waypoint above, and a final fill up at Lake Powell. It was quite cloudy and cold so our water consumption was a bit lower than if it had been sunny and warm.

    Again, thanks to Jamie for a great ride!

  • Erik

    I am planning on doing this route first week of May 2018. Great info here, thanks to all who have contributed.

    Any recent beta/info on the loop?

  • Erik


    It appears you be on the loop as of this posting.

    I am planing on riding it first week of May.

    Any recent info would be kindly appreciated.


  • Erik

    Your update would be great!! Look forward to it. I will be heading out 5/6 so it will be very timely.
    Big thanks.

  • Jamie

    Heading down there tomorrow. Will update when I get back.

  • Jeff

    Just road this route. We parked in Escalante and road the extra 10 miles to north start point. I’d have to say this may be a 4 technally but more like a 10 the first day mentally. 73 miles. 12 hours to get to Lake Powell. Saw 1 truck and no bikes the whole day. 4800 ft climbing on the first downhill day. Lots of hike a bike and tenuous downhills. Better bring lots of water. We used 7 liters day one each. Was twilight by the time we set up tents. Have to say at mile 50 we were starting to wonder…. So just saying this is not for the faint of heart. If you have a mechanical no one is likely to find you very soon. Hope this helps someone.

  • Yuto Watanabe

    I’ll be riding second week of May 2018 – please post info after you ride!

  • Jeff

    See above

  • Jamie

    For anyone thinking about doing this on a cyclocross bike, I just got off of the loop and it is completely doable. I rode a steel cx bike with 700×42 tires run tubeless. I personally wouldn’t try it with tubes. I know I would have blown tubes at least twice on rocky descents. It demanded more attention than my fatter-tired friends needed on descents and some ascents but I think the efficiency helped a lot on other easier sections. Disclaimer, we did not go south of Hwy 89 at Big Water but I only had to walk one sand pit on the spur up from Lake Powell. I ended up descending down to it in the dark the night before so I got caught up a lot then.

    As far as waters goes, we started near Grosvenor Arch and first filtered/iodined at what we thought was Last Chance. We came across another spot around 10 miles(?) farther down the road and gleefully filtered/iodined there too. They both had signs of cattle everywhere but we really wanted the refills. Lake Powell water actually probably tasted the worst of anything I filtered but that is also the only place I didn’t use iodine. Topped off at both Big Water gas station off route and the Visitor Center trying to drink as much as possible before tackling the next section. Filtered a last time somewhere on Cottonwood Road. It looked about as cow active as the spots on the other side. If you are comfortable with that sort of thing, there were lots of options of running water on that side of the route.

  • Jamie

    Agree with Jeff, there is a lot of climbing on that Escalante-to-Powell side of the route that is “mostly downhill”. We pushed from Death Ridge to Powell in a day and it was a huge, long day. We underestimated how slow and challenging it would be from Grosvenor to Escalante junction and the amount of climbing there would be from Escalante to Powell. On the plus side, our last day was super short! It is a great route.

  • Jamie

    Oh, I do recommend having a wide range of gears on your cx bike. I had 40 x 11/38 because that is what I normally run on that bike. I could have used more.

  • Jeff Moser

    We finished our ride last week. Due to travel times, we started at Cottonwood Road and finished at Big Water with shuttle. Being mostly a weekend warrior, the ride was harder than I imagined it would be. Lots of hike-a-bike through the Horse Mountains/Death Ridge area. Big distances between water sources forced long days in the saddle. A guy in our group setup two water drops a day before we arrived: One before the Horse Mountains, and one near the cutoff to Escalante. This was a HUGE help, even while carrying 6 liters. Paria River and Hackberry Canyon Creek have water along Cottonwood Road. The water tank southwest of Grosvenors Arch has a decent amount of water (look for the water tank with a solar panel). It’s fenced off, and free from cattle contamination. Headed south from Escalante, saw a few puddles of questionable water at Camp Spring. Last Chance Creek still has a little water. We topped off there, but it tasted like cattle. Plenty of water at Lake Powell of course. Tip: bring some flavoring to add to the water! It’ll make it much more palatable. There were several hours of suffering/Type II fun (the kind where it’s only fun to look back and reminisce), but also many incredibly awesome moments. Really glad I did it!

  • Jeff Moser

    See my report above.

  • jasoniguess

    My partner and I will be riding a week or so after you. Let us know how it went and what the water situation is like!

  • Check out Jeff Moser’s comment above, also note a few additions we added in the Must Know, Camping, and Water sections. The Outdoor Recreation office at GSENM got in touch with a few concerns. Namely water and heat, as well as camping (around or near cattle corrals and/or range improvements). Also, it has been extremely hot, so water should not be taken lightly. Also, there is another water source apparently, Camp Spring where Smoky Mountain Road crosses Right Hand Collet Canyon. We also upped the difficulty rating as we were getting reports like Jeff’s…

  • Please see comment above to Erik.

  • Vaughn Enterline

    I will also be there second week of may! Might run into each other.

  • Kurt Wold

    Kurt Wold

  • Kurt Wold

    A first time bikepacking friend and I just finished this ride the last week of April, 2018. Originally rated a “4”, I would caution anyone who thinks this might be an entry level bikepacking experience. The casually tossed off comments like “mellow” and “an occasional push” belie a quite challenging course. Scenically stunning – but treat it with respect – as all streams but Cottonwood were dry, due to high temperatures, and high winds when we went through.

  • Thanks Kurt. We recently changed both the rating and some of the notes in difficulty to reflect similar feedback. Hope you had a good time, nonetheless.

  • Erik

    Thank you all for your comments. We are heading out on 5/6/18. I will post when I get home. Thanks have fun and be safe.

  • Erik

    Thank you!!

  • Yuto Watanabe

    Thank you for this super useful info! Any chance you know what route was taken for the water drop? If the road is passable by SUV? We are planning to do this route this coming week, and seems like it would be smart to setup a water drop.

  • Jeff Moser

    Our guy came in from Cannonville and setup water a few miles east of Grosvenors Arch. He then drove back out and came in from Escalante and setup another water drop near the north end of the loop. He was able to drive all the way to Big Water on that road to meet us without getting into 4 wheel drive…you could do another water drop closer to Lake Powell. The road through Horse Mountains/Death Ridge is posted as impassable, but it looks like short wheelbase/high clearance 4x4s are getting through the washouts. Slow going, though, and probably just as fast to drive around the long way.

  • kristen campbell

    hey kurt- it was great running into you and jim- and our suspicions about the rating were correct!! (kristen on the surly)

  • kristen campbell

    it was suggested to us that we leave our car at the LDS church- the visitor center in escalante said not to park there, although there were vehicles collecting dust that were there after we finished our loop, so people are parking there for more than 5 days

  • Kurt Wold

    And a special thanks to you and your generous water bottle, Kristen, for making it possible to reacquaint myself with the higher gears in my Rohloff!

  • Yuto Watanabe

    Trip report – A group of 4 of us just finished the route this past week (May 9-12). We started at Grosvenor’s Arch, camped day 1 at where Death Ridge Rd meets Smokey Mountain Rd (40 mi), day 2 at Lake Powell (60 mi, long day, finished in the dark), day 3 at Hackberry Creek (45 mi, skipped trail south of Big Water, took road instead), and finished early on day 4 (15 mi). Start/end point was chosen mainly to have Big Water as a mid-point to resupply.

    Along the route there were some incredibly scenic areas, but there were also long stretches of the trail where not much can be seen. I think the most obvious of these areas is Horse Mountain/Death Ridge Rd – the terrain is unforgiving with seemingly endless ups and downs that require pushing the bike. If I could suggest one modification to the route, I think it would be better to travel from Grosvenor’s Arch to Cannonville and take Hwy 12 to Escalante – a group I met on the trail did this and they seemed pretty happy about the scenic route.

    Water – there is not much of it. As previously reported, the only good, reliable sources of water are the Paria River along Cottonwood Rd, tanks at Grosvenor’s Arch (all 3 tanks were full), and Lake Powell. Last Chance Creek was trickling – not sure how long it’ll be there. There was a large, stagnant pool of water in the ground (probably for cattle) 5 miles on Smokey Mountain Rd (37.58782, -111.60763) – probably could drink in an emergency. Because of the lack of water between Grosvenor and Lake Powell, prior to the trip we had Jim and Caitlin from Utah Canyon Guides to provide a water drop at our 1st campsite for a reasonable fee. I don’t think we would’ve felt safe to go that stretch without that water drop. We all carried 6-7L of water and wouldn’t recommend carrying any less. Weather was hot when we went (high 80’s in Escalante), though the clouds and breeze definitely saved us.

    Gas station has lots of frozen food to eat on the spot and some snacks to carry, so highly recommend to swing by and resupply.

  • Lare Wagner

    Any problems with doing this route around October / November ? Thanks for all answers