You’ve seen southeastern Utah before, whether you’ve been there or not. The home of Arches and Canyonlands national parks, Dead Horse Point State Park, Castle Valley, and the Fisher Towers has been featured in dozens of movies. From Geronimo to Mission Impossible II to Thelma & Louise to the City Slickers sequel, nearly every conceivable genre has been shot in the red desert outside Moab. It’s not hard to see why: southeast Utah boasts some of the most jaw-dropping scenery you’ll find in the United States, and much of it is accessible by paved road — perfect for adventurous road cyclists.
Lots of southeast Utah road cycling routes are relatively flat, rarely with more than a few hundred feet of elevation gain, but don’t let that get your guard down — road cycling in the desert requires a great deal of advance planning. Once you leave Moab, you can go a dozen or more miles in any direction, without the luxury of cell service, let alone convenience stores, so you’ll need to bring along plenty of water and nutrition. Cyclists should also be equipped with a patch kit and spare tube, especially in the quieter tourist months, when it’s not unusual to see a couple of hours go by between passing cars. Avoid soaring summer temperatures, easily into the triple digits, by visiting in the spring or fall.
From Moab, there’s no shortage of spectacular day tours. An out-and-back trip to the end of the road in Arches National Park from downtown is about 40 rolling, gently graded miles round trip — with the exception of two steep hills, one of which features a couple of sharp turns. The ride also has several opportunities for quick side hikes to big names like Delicate Arch and Devils Garden. Be prepared to navigate heavy vehicle traffic in the park, often with a narrow or nonexistent shoulder.
A ride to Dead Horse Point, the southernmost point in its namesake state park, and back to Moab is about twice the Arches tour distance, and at its halfway mark, features far-as-the-eye-can-see views of the Colorado River. For a century-length ride, head to Canyonlands’ Island in the Sky District first, then loop back to Highway 313 into Dead Horse Point State Park. Not sure about doing both parks in a day? Make the trip out and reserve one of the state park’s three yurts or, for budget travelers, a $15 per night site at the Willow Flat Campground in Canyonlands. Either way, make time to watch the sunrise over iconic canyon country before you head back to town.
If you are looking for a break from the crowds, head to Monticello, 55 miles south of Moab on Highway 191. This makes for a great base camp for an overnight trip into Canyonlands National Park’s Needles District. Needles sees far fewer visitors than its neighbor to the north, and you’ll want to savor the views once you arrive.
The ride from Monticello to Needles’ Squaw Flat Campground is about 55 miles of mostly downhill travel with a handful of 4% to 6% grades. The campground has 26 first-come, first-serve sites at $20 per night. Each site includes a picnic table and fire grate — and, from spring through fall, access to a working water pump.
Tiny Monticello has some amenities, but it’s recommended that cyclists pick up required gear for any southeast Utah cycling tour in Moab, home of several top-notch bike shops and shuttle companies.