Flaming Gorge–Uintas National Scenic Byway and Dinosaur National Monument

The 730-mile Green River, the chief tributary of the mighty Colorado, has, over millions of years, created myriad recreational opportunities in northeastern Utah — including spectacularly deep canyons, multi-colored geologic formations, a reservoir, and what’s now a national monument, all of which are accessible from the seat of a road bike. The 120-mile ride along the Uintas Scenic Byway from Vernal, Utah, near Dinosaur National Monument on the Utah-Colorado border, to tiny Manila winds along the edge of the fossil-rich Uinta Mountains and past aptly named Flaming Gorge. With plenty of places to stop, rest, and take in the sights along the way, it makes it one of the best road rides in Utah.

The route can be ridden in either direction, but for bike tourists from out of town taking on the Uintas National Scenic Byway, it’s best started in Vernal. This way you can stock up on supplies, buy or outfit bikes at Altitude Cycle, and make any necessary shuttle arrangements.

Split Mountain Campground, on the banks of the Green River in Dinosaur National Monument, is an optimal starting point. Administered by the National Park Service, it’s open year-round and has water from April through October. It’s just under 20 miles from Split Mountain to the outskirts of Vernal, which means you’ll have plenty of time to make a stop at the Fossil Discovery Trail, a one-mile hike past countless fossilized dinosaur bones from the Quarry Visitor Center.

From the Vernal area, head north on Highway 191, also known as the Uintas National Scenic Byway for nine miles to the turnoff for Red Fleet State Park — there’s some shoulder most of the way, though cyclists should be ready to ride in traffic on this popular route. Make camp at Red Fleet, either in your own tent or in one of the park’s teepees. A 1.5-mile hike takes visitors past dinosaur tracks, best viewed in the late afternoon — or, if you prefer to rest your legs, rent a canoe, kayak, or SUP by the hour to explore the Red Fleet Reservoir.

Photo by Flickr CC Andrey Zharkikh*
Photo by Flickr CC Andrey Zharkikh*

In the morning, ride the two miles back out to Highway 191, and head north toward Red Canyon. This section contains the steepest and most prolonged climbs on the route — you’ll gain nearly 2,600 feet over 10 miles right out of the gate, some of it at grades as steep as 9% — but the rest of the day’s ride is mostly cruiser downhill. All told, it’s about 30 miles to the Firefighters Memorial Campground, dedicated to three firefighters killed in the 1977 Cart Creek Fire, just seven miles outside the tiny hamlet of Dutch John. Stretch your legs with an easy three-mile hike on the Bear Canyon Trail, which leads to stunning views of Flaming Gorge, or head into Dutch John (population 145) to stock up on fishing supplies.

From the Firefighters Memorial Campground, it’s 36 miles to the Utah-Wyoming border in Manila along Utah State Route 44, also part of the Uintas National Scenic Byway. Much of this section runs along Flaming Gorge, so named by John Wesley Powell’s 1869 expedition for its brilliant red cliffs — which, in the right light, almost appear to be on fire. Today, a reservoir of the same name, created by the 1964 damming of the Green River, stretches 91 miles upriver into southern Wyoming.

The dam, the reservoir, and the gorge itself are all part of Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, the final destination on this route. The Lucerne Campground, on the shores of the reservoir at 6,100 feet, has incredible views and great fishing access. Though Manila is tiny, there are a few restaurants and a small grocery store, where you can stock up before making the return journey.  

*Andrey Zharkikh