Kay is a Colorado cyclist and lives in Boulder. She likes a good adventure and maybe goes a little too far sometimes...

Moab is known as the epicenter of slickrock mountain biking, desert dirt biking, off road ATVing, and backcountry jeeping but we set out to find a different type of desert fun. Armed with a newly minted annual National Parks Pass, we put our road bikes through the test on the park roads. Here’s what we found…

Utah’s National Parks are gems for dream rides through the desert.
Located just 4 miles north of Moab, Arches NP is practically in the backyard. We rode the bike path to the park entrance and pedaled our bikes right up to the park entrance station where the ranger didn’t blink an eye as she checked our pass and waved us on. The park road is a 41 mile out and back with a couple of side options for an additional 4-5 miles each. I packed lightly with 2 water bottles and a gel but I would regret that decision. We got down to business right out of the gate as the road hairpinned its way up to the top of the mesa. Be a tourist and take a few minutes at the pullouts, you came for a workout but you also came to take in the views:)
Be a tourist and take a few minutes at the pullouts, you came for a workout but you also came to take in the views:)

From the top of the mesa the road drops down into a valley guarded on all sides by Courthouse Towers where massive red rock walls surround you. It feels like you’ve descended into a stone aged trial and await the verdict of silently watchful judges. (On the way back, stop at Park Avenue Viewpoint to see it all from above.)

From the top of the mesa the road drops down into a valley guarded on all sides by Courthouse Towers where massive red rock walls surround you.

 

The road then slants continually upward past Petrified Dunes and Balanced Rock to the Windows Section turn off. This side trip is definitely worthwhile because one of the most spectacular arches in the park, Double Arch, lies at the end of this road. (You can see most of the sights from the trailhead but if you want to get up close you may want to bring cleat covers for the short hikes. Most of the trails are easily accessible but cycling shoes can make it tricky.)
One of the most spectacular arches in the park, Double Arch.

A screaming downhill takes you to the next intersection and the turn off for Wolfe Ranch and a well preserved section of rock art. Distant views of Delicate Arch can also be seen from the end of this road.

A screaming downhill takes you to the next intersection and the turn off for Wolfe Ranch and a well preserved section of rock art.
Finally, back on the main road, another 6 miles of climbing through an area called Fiery Furnace leads to the turn around point at Devils Garden Campground. All of the major viewpoints have parking and restrooms but only Devils Garden has a water fountain where you can refill your water bottles. This route had more climbing than I anticipated, I should have brought more gels or a bar for the ride back.

April was a great time to ride Arches NP, the weather was cool and the crowds were thin. Cars and drivers were respectful of us two-wheelers as they turtled along at 20mph keeping pace with us. I have heard horror stories of summer crowds, bumper-to-bumper traffic, and RVs clogging the road; we had none of those issues but be forewarned the park roads are narrow, two lane strips with no shoulder.

CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK:
Even though it’s only a few miles removed from Arches, Canyonlands is a whole different beast and well worth riding to and through. This route is an 88 mile out and back from Moab but also has options to ride to Dead Horse State Park or Upheaval Dome for additional mileage. Once again, we took the bike path along Highway 191, riding past Arches, and winding our way up through red rock to the end of the bike path at Highway 313 where a left turn begins the climb up to the top. We had been told that Canyonlands was less busy than Arches but Highway 313 turned out to be a super highway with every type of Mad Max vehicle imaginable barreling down on us at 60mph. The shoulders were nice and wide but the surface was rough chip seal.

Highway 313 turned out to be a super highway with every type of Mad Max vehicle imaginable barreling down on us at 60mph

Spring riding conditions can be a mixed bag and this day we were racing a late winter storm. As we climbed higher, the winds picked up while the temperature dropped and the skies darkened. Once on top, the 360 degree view told us this was not the day we had anticipated. We decided to turn back just shy of Canyonland’s Island In The Sky visitor center but returned later in the day with the car to drive the park during a sleet storm of howling winds and frozen ice pellets. (I think we made the right call to cut the ride short:)

As we climbed higher, the winds picked up while the temperature dropped and the skies darkened.
Every peek over the edge induced vertigo but I couldn’t tear my eyes away.

Every peek over the edge induced vertigo but I couldn’t tear my eyes away. The landscape below me looked like the beautiful wreck of a disintegrating jigsaw puzzle. Literally as far as you could see there was nothing but wilderness. Another time I might forego most of Highway 313, park at the visitors center, and begin my ride from there. Also, the visitor center has a seasonal water fountain available from March to October so calculate that into your water plan.

OTHER OPTIONS:
There are a handful of other well known road bike routes in this area. Stop by Poison Spider Bicycles on main street and they’ll give you the current riding conditions. They clued us in to road construction on the LaSal Mountain Loop and gave us a handy pocket-sized map with mileages and elevations which was very helpful for touring a new area.  https://poisonspiderbicycles.com/

When I come back again I’d like to try any or all of these:
1. Needles Overlook Ride
2. Needles and Squaw Flats Ride
3. Trail of the Ancients
4. The Blue Mountain Loop Ride
5. LaSal to the Dolores River Ride
6. LaSal Mountain Loop Ride

PRO TIPS:
It’s not all about riding when you’re on the road… Some of the other trip highlights were:
1. Miguel’s Baja Grill – awesome Baja fish tacos, also try the mahi mahi salad, (comes with either homemade lime-cilantro or mango-miso dressing on the side; I got both and the combination was heavenly!). Elevated Mexican cuisine that will make you feel like you’re on the beach.  http://www.miguelsbajagrill.com/
2. Jeffrey’s Steakhouse – make a reservation, this place is small and fills up, you’ll see why when you hear the description of their American Waygu beef. We arrived early and had a cocktail upstairs in the Ghost Bar which was decorated like an old speakeasy with strains of Sinatra wafting through the air. Totally unexpected and totally delightful.  http://www.jeffreyssteakhouse.com/
3. Morning Glory Trail – a 4.5 mile round trip hike, was a great way to stretch our legs and see the rock faces up close and personal. Located off  Highway 128, this well marked trail begins at the Grandstaff Trailhead, (previously known as Negro Bill Trailhead). The trail scrambles over rock and criss-crosses the creek 10 times before arriving at the end of a box canyon with a beautiful natural bridge. The brigde spans 243 ft and is said to be the 6th longest stone span in the United States!

Desert blooms.
The Morning Glory Trail criss crosses the creek 10 times.

 

The natural bridge at the end of the box canyon.

4. Rock Water – located on Highway 128, (look for parked cars at the 1st pullout just a few yards east of the Highway 191 intersection), we found the local’s water source, a bubbling spring with water flowing straight from the rock. Natural, cold, clear, and delicious!

We found the local’s water source!