1,218 Mi.(1,960 KM)
% Rideable (time)
with Bikepacking Roots
The Plateau Passage is an adventurous, remote, and challenging journey from Las Vegas in the low Mojave Desert, over Utah’s central High Plateaus, and across the breathtaking and immense Colorado Plateau. The route climbs over isolated desert mountain peaks, meanders through canyons, passes through the mountain bike mecca of Moab, and then aims for the western edge of the Rocky Mountains. The final segment of the route negotiates several passes over 12,000 feet in elevation in the magnificent San Juan Mountains before descending to the eastern terminus of the Plateau Passage in Durango, Colorado.
The goal of this route is to highlight the immense tracts of amazing public land in this region, experience the ecological and geological transitions onto the Colorado Plateau and then into the high San Juan Mountains, and provide the opportunity for an isolated, solitary bikepacking experience in a region so devoid of communities and population centers. The Colorado Plateau landscape has inspired countless cultures, explorers, environmentalists, adventurers… the list goes on. This is one of the most special places in the American West, and it’s one that deserves to be appreciated, understood, and preserved.
The designed riding experience caters to mountain bikers – riders who enjoy backcountry singletrack, don’t mind some hike-a-bike occasionally, and relish seldom-ridden terrain. But that being said, this route is only ~20% singletrack due to the paucity of trails in this region. Linking up sections of trails are dirt roads and rough 4×4 tracks. And in regions carved up by canyons and impenetrable topography, occasional pavement riding is required. So while this route is dominated by faster riding on gravel roads and some pavement, do not underestimate the challenge and rigor of the 4×4 trails and singletrack that together make up half the route by distance.
In this guide, we first provide some general information about the route as a whole. Then each of the six segments of the route are described in detail, and detailed turn-by-turn directions are also provided. However, we strongly recommend that all riders taking on the Plateau Passage use the supplied GPS data for navigational purposes and the turn-by-turn directions as supplementary information and as a back-up navigational aid.
Difficulty: This is an adventure route in the truest sense of the words. With limited resupply options, limited water, and some very remote country, this is a challenging route. Don’t take any of these facts lightly. In order to tackle this route, you should be an experienced bikepacker with trip-planning and riding experience in the desert Southwest. This is rugged terrain with frequent climbs, some of which may be steep and unrelenting at times. There are technical sections that include narrow trail with regular obstacles, sustained steep grades; suitable for intermediate to advanced mountain bikers only.
- Ride out of Las Vegas and immediately into desert mountains
- Stunning riding and vistas on the Grandview Trail along the pink cliffs of thePaunsaugunt Plateau
- Powell Point and its unparalleled views of the southern Colorado Plateau
- Standing among lush meadows and springs and looking out at slickrock canyons farbelow
- Remote singletrack in the most unexpected places
- Traversing the Burr Trail Road through sandstone canyons and fins before climbing highinto the Henry Mountains
- Elk Ridge and the Robertson Pasture Trail high in the Abajo Mountains
- Quiet 4×4 roads through Canyonlands National Park before reaching Moab
- Abundant uranium and vanadium mine workings along the Uncompahgre Plateau on the Paradox Trail
- The Dallas Trail along the flanks of the jagged Sneffels Range before a precipitous dropinto the mountain town of Ouray
- Old singletrack and mining roads over high mountain passes en route to Silverton andDurango
- If this route isn’t enough, riders can connect to the Colorado Trail in Durango and continue onward to Denver!
- Ideal time of year: Late May to September. The Utah’s high plateaus (>10,000’ in elevation) can hold snow well into May and the high mountains in Colorado may be impassible until mid-summer. In June, the high plateaus and mountains will still be relatively cool (highs in the 60s to 80s °F), but the lower elevations will be hot highs of 90 to 100+ °F. Late summer monsoon thunderstorms can turn some sections of the route into impassible mud. And by September, sub-freezing nights and potential snowstorms return to the high elevations.
- This route begins at the Las Vegas International Airport and ends in Durango, Colorado. There are numerous transportation options into and out of both towns.
- From Durango, riders could continue northeast on the Colorado Trail to Denver. There is virtually no overlap between the Plateau Passage and the Colorado Trail routes.
- Beware of show-stopping mud during and after storms. Numerous sections along the entire route are subject to this (see segment descriptions for more detailed information about mud).
- The Virgin River Rim and Navajo Lake trails above Cedar City, UT are often clogged by spruce deadfall in the early season and may not cleared by the USFS until late June. Contact the USFS office in Cedar City (435-865- 3200) to check on the condition of these trails. And the Grandview Trail on the south side of the Paunsaugunt Plateau can face the same issue. Call the USFS office in Escalante (435-826-5499) for an assessment of current conditions. Detours are possible if needed.
- Beware of flash-flooding during and after storms. Never camp in dry washes.
- Recommended bike type: Trail-oriented mountain bike
Recommended printed topographic maps:
- Trails Illustrated #204 (Lake Mead National Recreation Area)
- BLM Arizona Strip Visitors Map West (free PDF download)
- Saint George/Springdale, Utah Trail Map (free PDF download)
- Dixie National Forest: Pine Valley and Cedar City Ranger Distracts map†
- Dixie National Forest: Powell, Escalante, and Teasdale Ranger Districts map†
- Trails Illustrated #702 (Cedar Mountain, Pine Valley Mountain) ††
- Trails Illustrated #714 (Grand Staircase, Paunsaugunt Plateau) ††
- Trails Illustrated #705 (Paunsaugunt Plateau, Mount Dutton, Bryce Canyon) †
- Trails Illustrated #267 (Capitol Reef) ††
- BLM Henry Mountains Map (free PDF download)
- Trails Illustrated #703 (Manti-La Sal National Forest)
- Trails Illustrated #501 (Moab South)
- Trails Illustrated #146 (Uncompahgre North)
- Trails Illustrated #147 (Uncompahgre South) Latitude 40 Southwest Colorado Trails
† These two broader scale Dixie National Forest maps provide slightly better coverage 3 (but less detail) than the four Trails Illustrated maps marked with ††
Please visit BikepackingRoots.org to download the complete guide for this route and to check for any route alerts or updates.
This route and associated information is just a starting point for your preparation, and your safety is your responsibility. Although this route, its GPS track, and route data were prepared after extensive research, their accuracy and reliability are not guaranteed. Check for current conditions, route updates, use your common sense, obey local laws and rules, and travel with alternative means of navigation. Bikepacking Roots, its directors, employees, and volunteers will in no way be responsible for personal injury or damage to personal property arising in conjunction with using this route. If you do encounter changed conditions or inaccuracies.
- As this is a backcountry route through public lands, there are plenty of camping opportunities en route. Please follow the LNT guidelines as well as all laws and codes pertaining to specific public and private lands.
- See the GPS map below for some camping opportunities.
- Longest stretch between resupply (miles/days): 230 miles / ~4-6 days
- Longest stretch between water sources (miles/days): 60 miles / 1+ days; stretches of 40+ miles between water are common
- Water sources on this route are limited and include many stock tanks that are most reliable in late Spring and late Summer. Waypoints for these are provided with labels like “poor” (unreliable, likely silty) and “good” (more reliable, cleaner water). DO NOT plan that every stock tank will have water, and carry more water than you expect to need. Water from some stock tanks is often silty and will clog water filters and is not amenable to UV water treatments. Carry a means of chemical water treatment like Aqua Mira or iodine, and have the ability to carry at least 2 gallons of water.
Segment 1: Las Vegas, NV to St. George, UT
Segment length: 203 miles Total climbing: 15,000 feet
Recommended number of days: 3-4+
Longest stretch between resupply (miles/days): 75 miles / ~2 days
Longest stretch between water sources (miles/days): 40 miles / 1 day (although it is 70 miles from Las Vegas to the next water immediately on route; water is available ~4 miles off route at two different campgrounds in that 70-mile stretch.)
Sin City and Utah’s Dixie, St. George, two cities with very different histories and very different atmospheres but both built in rather unlikely desert locations. The first segment of the Plateau Passage connects these towns via Lake Mead National Recreation Area, the Virgin River corridor, and the rocky Virgin Mountains. It’s dry desert riding through the eastern edge of the Mojave Desert. After riding through the suburbs of Vegas, the route crosses Las Vegas Wash, and suddenly you’re out of town and in barren desert. Twelve miles of 4×4 road through the canyons of Rainbow Gardens is followed by 50 miles of quiet, rolling pavement (the longest paved stretch of the entire route) through Lake Mead National Recreation Area and along the southern edge of the Muddy Mountains. Then the sandstone canyons of Valley of Fire State Park link up to the loose ATV trails through a stunning redrock canyon before the small towns of Logandale and Overton.
Northeast of Overton, the route climbs dirt road onto Mormon mesa and high above the Virgin River. The Virgin Mountains, the major topographic challenge of this segment, stand mightily to the east. Dropping off Mormon Mesa, a 4×4 track following powerlines for 10 miles leads to 8 miles of pavement to reach the town of Mesquite, known for its casinos and golf courses. It’s buffet dinners and cheap motel rooms might be of more interest to bikepackers. After Mesquite, getting over the Virgin Mountains involves a rugged 5,000-foot climb over 15 miles, a hidden Joshua tree forest, and a nice spring near the top of the climb. From the summit, 40 miles of mostly downhill 4×4 tracks leads into the St. George Basin, home to St. George, its cotton fields, and plenty of great mountain biking.
Segment 2: St. George, UT to Navajo Lake
Segment length: 147 miles Total climbing: 16,000 feet
Recommended number of days: 4-5+
Longest stretch between resupply (miles/days): 75 miles / 2+ days
Longest stretch between water sources (miles/days): 50 miles / 1+ days
The bustling and rapidly growing town of St. George has become the retirement capitol of Utah given its low elevation and relatively mild climate. Leaving town, the route follows bike path along the Virgin River and then a series of steadily smaller roads heading southeast toward the heart of the Arizona Strip. Through Warner Valley, 4×4 roads meander through very arid badlands and mesas (some relatively short sections of the route in this area get sticky when wet!) before climbing up the Hurricane Cliffs on what is known as the Honeymoon Trail. This steep trail is an old Mormon route used in the late 1800s by newlyweds from the remote regions hundreds of miles to the east traveling to the St. George Temple to have their marriages blessed. The Hurricane Cliffs themselves represent the western edge of the Colorado Plateau region. There’s no reliable water between St. George and Virgin, so plan accordingly.
Once atop the cliffs, the route heads north, joins the popular Gem Trail singletrack, and crosses the Virgin River at the tiny town of Virgin. And then the climbing starts, beginning at 3,000 feet and topping out at over 9,000 feet as the route begins to traverse the high plateaus of central Utah. The route up follows the Kolob Terrace Road through the northwestern part of Zion National Park past towering sandstone cliffs. After some high-elevation gravel roads, trail drops down rapidly to Cedar City. The final part of this segment climbs a paved road up nearly 4,000 feet to join the Virgin River Rim singletrack on the southern edge of the Markagunt Plateau. Midway through this trail is Navajo Lake, a small store, a campground, and a lodge.
Segment 3: Navajo Lake to Boulder Town
Segment length: 213 mi Total climbing: 22,000 feet
Recommended number of days: 5-6+
Longest stretch between resupply (miles/days): 106 miles / 2-3+ days
Longest stretch between water sources (miles/days): 35 singletrack miles / <1 day
This segment traverses southern Utah’s most scenic plateaus, the Markagunt, the Paunsaugunt, and the Aquarius Plateaus. Beginning on the Markagunt at Navajo Lake, the route continues on the rugged Virgin River Rim singletrack along the edge of the Pink Cliffs before dropping off the plateau on the Harris Rim ATV track. A gas station at Long Valley Junction provides a simple resupply option before climbing onto the Paunsaugunt Plateau, home to Bryce Canyon National Park. The route follows the edge of the plateau on the demanding Grandview Trail, sometimes up at the rim and other times well below it. Eventually, the route leaves the Grandview Trail, hops on the Skutumpah Road, and heads north into the small town of Tropic, named for its relatively mild winters, uncharacteristic for the region.
Leaving Tropic, a 2,000-foot climb up a highway along the edge of scenic Bryce Canyon 12 National Park is followed by rugged ATV track of the Great Western Trail, leading to Pine Lake Reservoir. A steep forest road climb tops out at over 10,000 feet atop the Aquarius Plateau at a junction for a mandatory side trip out to take in the vista from Powell Point. The views from there are absolutely unparalleled.
The final 75 miles of Segment 3 traverses the Aquarius Plateau, first along its edge on gravel roads before dropping off the side and following a mix of backcountry singletrack and 4×4 roads to a final descent into Boulder Town. The views are huge, temperatures relatively cool, water plentiful by comparison to most of the rest of the Plateau Passage, and the singletrack delightfully rideable in places and faint with downed trees in others. Boulder Town itself is a tiny community nestled at the edge of canyon country with a couple tiny stores, a motel, a few restaurants, and a fancy lodge.
Segment 4: Boulder Town to Monticello
Segment length: 234 miles Total climbing: 19,000 feet
Recommended number of days: 4-5 days
Longest stretch between resupply (miles/days): 233 miles / 4-5 days
Longest stretch between water sources (miles/days): 60 miles / 1+ days
Segment 4 is the most remote of the Plateau Passage, immediately entering canyon country, climbing over two isolated mountain ranges, and reaching Monticello some 230+ miles later. The scenery is spectacular, and the sheer scale of this Colorado Plateau landscape is difficult to fathom. There are no resupply options between Boulder Town and Monticello, and water is scarce, so careful planning is required.
The first 60 miles of the segment follow the relatively famous Burr Trail Road and Notom Road from Boulder Town toward Capital Reef National Park. The riding is generally fairly fast on these mostly graded dirt roads. But then the route turns upward and climbs 5,000 feet toward the peaks of the Henry Mountains on 4×4 roads. This was the final mountain range in the Lower 48 to be mapped. From Bull Mountain Pass, just a few hundred feet lower than the adjacent summits, a 4×4 road descent drops back down 5,000 feet, followed by another 1,000-foot descent on a quiet highway to the route’s Colorado River crossing near Hite. A former townsite, Hite now has little more than a gas station (where you can only buy gas!), a campground, and a ranger station for Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
After Hite, the route climbs gradually among redrock buttes and narrow canyons on 4×4 roads 15 toward Elk Ridge and the iconic pair of mesas known as Bears Ears. The views off both sides of this long, narrow ridgeline are dramatic, and the riding becomes relatively easy on the well- maintained graded road. Elk Ridge leads to the base of the Abajo Mountains (also known as the Blue Mountains), this segment reaches its terminus at Monticello by skirting around the southern side of the Abajos on graded dirt roads and a few miles of rugged ATV trail. Monticello is another small Colorado Plateau town but has a grocery store, lodging options, and numerous restaurants.
Segment 5: Monticello to Nucla, CO
Segment length: 231 miles Total climbing: 21,500 feet
Recommended number of days: 5-6+
Longest stretch between resupply (miles/days): 120 miles / 3+ days
Longest stretch between water sources (miles/days): 63 miles / 1-2 days
Classic Colorado Plateau canyon country continues in Segment 5 of the Plateau Passage with the world-famous landscapes of Canyonlands National Park and the Moab area. It starts in Monticello with an immediate 4,000-foot climb to the crest of the Abajo Mountains. The climb begins on pavement, turns to a graded, narrow gravel road for the second half, and then turns to a steep singletrack for the last grunt to a stunning saddle. Below, one of the greatest singletrack descents in the West awaits, descending 5,000 feet. At the bottom, the route turns west toward Canyonlands National Park. A spur to the Needles Outpost Store provides a water and resupply option, and then the road to Moab leads through Lockhart Basin. This quiet, 40- mile-long 4×4 track traverses beneath towering sandstone cliffs and above the Green River.
Rolling into Moab, the bustle of the desert tourist town and mountain bike mecca may be a bit overwhelming after days in the quiet desert. Moab offers just about any amenity needed by a bikepacker, and a 6,000-foot climb into the La Sal Mountains waits just outside of town. The climb is entirely on a quiet gravel road, topping out at La Sal Pass. On the back side of the La Sals, a network of moto singletrack followed by gravel road link up to Buckeye Reservoir and campground. At that point, the route joins what’s known as the Paradox Trail for the remainder of the segment. The Paradox Trail is a series of mostly remote, rough 2-tracks, 4×4 roads, and occasional trail linked together by the Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Association. After a traverse of Carpenter Ridge, the route dives down to the Dolores River on a very rough uranium haul road from the 1950s. The uranium and vanadium mining boom following World War II was huge in this area, and the evidence of the mines (including piles of radioactive tailings) is widespread.
The sprawling Uncompahgre Plateau looms above the Dolores River, and the Paradox Trail climbs up the plateau’s flanks before traversing countless drainages. The going is slow, rough, and stark in its beauty, but after 25 miles, the route begins to trend downward on newly- constructed Paradox Trail singletrack leading to just above the tiny community of Nucla, the end of Segment 5. Riders will find little more than a small market, a restaurant one mile off-route in Nucla, and plentiful guns (the town requires by law that every household have a firearm of some sort). But folks are friendly and the pace of life is comfortably slow.
Segment 6: Nucla to Durango
Segment length: 189 mi Total climbing: 23,000 feet
Recommended number of days: 4+
Longest stretch between resupply (miles/days): 94 miles / 2+ days
Longest stretch between water sources (miles/days): <30 miles / <1 day
The end of the Plateau Passage is not far away, but a few spectacular, tall, and jagged mountain ranges stand between Nucla and Durango. Segment 6 begins with a 4,000- foot climb to the crest of the Uncompahgre Plateau on a mix of more Paradox Trail singletrack, gravel roads, and 4×4 tracks. Once on the crest, the gravel Divide Road carries riders southeast toward the mighty San Juan Mountains. A brief descent to near the town of Ridgeway brings the route to the base of the Sneffels Range, and nestled at the base of these craggy peaks is the amazing mountain singletrack of the Dallas Trail. At the east end of the trail is the little town of Ouray, deep in one of the stunning valleys that earned this area the nickname of the American Alps. Ouray offers basic resupply options, restaurants, and lodging.
Beyond Ouray, more steep climbing awaits. It begins with a few miles on the scenic Highway 550 before aiming toward the sky and Engineer Pass on rough, popular 4×4 roads. Just before Engineer Pass proper, the route turns south, descends a steadily-improving gravel road to the old mining community of Silverton, and then the climbing resumes. Pavement leads to dirt road leads to a 4×4 track leads to an old pack trail to the summit of Rolling Mountain Pass at over 12,000 feet above sea level, the high point of the Plateau Passage. More singletrack follows, including the well-known Engineer Mountain Trail descent to near Purgatory Resort. A short dirt road climb leads to the ~20-mile-long Hermosa Creek Trail, and from the south end of that trail, there is a mere 20 miles of pavement to reach Durango, the end of Segment 6 and the eastern terminus of the Plateau Passage. Really ambitious riders may opt to begin the Colorado Trail in Durango and continue another 485 miles to Denver through the heart of the Colorado Rockies. But wrapping up the 1,200+ miles of the Plateau Passage will stand as in incredible accomplishment in and of itself.
Visit BikepackingRoots.org to download the complete guide for this route and to check for any route alerts or updates.