Utah is filled with iconic places. When it comes to road biking, Utah is more than iconic. Choose from hitting the asphalt amid powerful red rock scenery in one of Utah's Mighty 5® national parks, traversing thousands of miles of scenic backways and byways, reaching high plateaus, ascending majestic mountains, crossing lonely roadways in curvy canyons or finding yourself in wide open expanses beneath endless sky.
With a passion for outdoors matched only by a passion for sport, you must experience Utah by bicycle.
Here are seven classic routes that will introduce you to serious road cycling — at elevation.
1. SCENIC BYWAY 12 | Southern Utah | Up to 124 miles
This could be the most scenic ride of your life
Scenic Byway 12 is approximately 124 miles of relentless beauty and endless outdoor recreation. When the Tour of Utah bicycle stage race took on the nationally designated All-American Road for the first time, it solidified the road's status on the global stage. On a bicycle, it combines some gently graded touring opportunities with rapid descents and punishing climbs en route to racking up more than 10,000 feet in elevation. Riders can basecamp at Panguitch for the whole shebang, at several gateway communities along the way or their choice of state and national parks for select legs of the road. Whether you ride a single mile or all 124, you will not be disappointed.
2. ARCHES NATIONAL PARK & HIGHWAY 128 | Moab | Each up to 45 miles
Moab-area cycling accesses the true beauty of Utah's Red Rock Country
When a Denver-area magazine visited Moab they quickly recognized an astonishing truth: this world-renowned mountain biking mecca is also home to some of the finest asphalt adventures anywhere. The scenic drive through Arches makes it one of the more accessible parks, but you'll lament passing too quickly through this masterpiece of red rock geology. Best tour it by bicycle. Ride in from town, or park at the visitors center or cheat a little and skip the steep opening switchbacks and you'll find an out-and-back (with spurs to the Windows Section and Delicate) of about 40 miles that will leave you breathless for all the right reasons.
Alternatively, the rolling Upper Colorado Scenic Byway up state Route 128 follows a modestly trafficked path up the Colorado River along BLM lands with abundant camping and classic sandstone pinnacles that define this landscape. The entire byway runs 44 miles but many riders often cruise the 15 miles to the La Sal Loop Road to enjoy a cruise through Castle Valley before a return trip home (or an epic climb up the switchbacks of the La Sal Mountains, which 5280 magazine details from the opposite direction).
3. ALPINE LOOP | Middle Rocky Mountains | 20+ miles
Get acquainted with Robert Redford's Wasatch
Bookmark American Fork Canyon; you'll have plenty of reasons to return to this Wasatch gem. For now, ready your rubber for a climb from 5,000 feet at the mouth of the canyon to 8,000 feet at the summit of the Alpine Loop Scenic Byway on state Route 92.
The 20-mile highway passes Timpanogos Cave National Monument, Cascade Springs, Sundance Resort and multiple recreation stops on the Uinta National Forest en route to its return to the valley via the equally spectacular Provo Canyon. Most importantly, the Alpine Loop name honors an area that is both splendidly alpine, but reminiscent of the very Alps from which the word is derived. Though the road is narrow in spots, this is mountain road biking at its finest.
4. MIRROR LAKE NATIONAL SCENIC BYWAY | Uinta Mountains | 56 miles one way
Climb to fantastic heights among Utah's tallest peaks
Starting at nearly 6,500 feet in Kamas, Utah, will tell you something about this ride. You've officially entered the cycling land of Utah: Life Elevated. A 30-mile climb along the Upper Provo River to about 10,700 feet at Bald Mountain Pass is ahead, meaning Mirror Lake Highway is a ride for serious climbers. With countless campgrounds and trailheads to high mountain lakes dotting this byway, cyclists may choose to set up camp along the way, and enjoy segments to test their lungs and legs at elevation. The road from the Wyoming state line to the summit is no less scenic, and keeps riders at a higher elevation. Watch for wildlife ranging from groundhogs to the majestic moose.
5. CITY CREEK CANYON | Salt Lake City | 5.7 miles to top
From downtown to national forest in minutes
Few symbols better exemplify access and proximity than Salt Lake City's City Creek Canyon. An historically important source of drinking and irrigation water for the valley, City Creek remains an important watershed for Utah's capital city. On odd-numbered days, bicycles are welcome to enjoy a car-free canyon ride, taking on grades averaging 7 percent over the 5.7 miles, from the rolling stretches of the lower canyon to the steeper — and rougher — upper section.
6. SALTAIR | Great Salt Lake | 36 miles round-trip
A metropolitan to marsh flat ride to the onion-domed pavilion by the sea
A must-ride for residents and visitors to the Salt Lake area, the straight shot west from downtown Salt Lake follows the grand avenue North Temple to the airport bike path that through multiple gated restricted areas connects to the Salt Lake International Airport and an industrial park. The second half of the ride connects with the North Temple Frontage Road, which runs a parallel course with I-80 toward the Great Salt Lake. Though there's not much of a shoulder, cyclists will frequently have this road to themselves. Get to know the characteristic aroma of the Great Salt Lake then turn back to see the distant city and Wasatch Front.
7. LOGAN CANYON | Northern Utah | 39 miles one way
A shimmering surprise caps a tree-lined uphill ride
From 4,500 feet at Utah State University in Logan, riders will climb through Logan Canyon to 7,800 feet over 30 miles before being rewarded with a 10-mile downhill with incredible views of Bear Lake — the Caribbean of the Rockies. Stop for a famous Bear Lake raspberry shake and a burger in Garden City, which sits at nearly 6,000 feet. Riders should exercise caution as the shoulder is often narrow or nonexistent.
Another excellent ride in the area is the 51-mile loop around Bear Lake, which includes the Bear Lake-Laketown Scenic Byway in Utah and a dip into Idaho — and is relatively flat.
Visitor Information Centers across the state carry area-specific cycling information and maps. Cycling suggestions covered in this section represent only a sampling of the routes and terrain opportunities available for bicycle exploration. Click here for a printable one-sheeter with additional information on biking in Utah, with a focus on mountain biking opportunities.
• cyclingutah.com is a listing of bicycle shops, tours, festivals, races and events, including trail maps, forums and advocacy groups.
• bicycleutah.com is a resource for locating biking guides.