An Incredible Border-to-Border Bicycle Tour of Southern Utah
Welcome to Utah's segment of the U.S. Bicycle Route System.
Going west to east, the 506-mile (one way) Southern Utah route begins in Garrison, a tiny, unincorporated community at the Utah-Nevada border as USBR 79. There are no services in Garrison, so for self-supported cyclists, it’s best to stock up on food, supplies, and any necessary bike parts in a larger, more metropolitan area before beginning the journey. There are several towns in the Wasatch Front that offer shuttle services throughout the state, so you have the option to start or end at several different places along the route.
From Garrison, you’ll head east toward Milford on S.R. 21, also known as the Ely Highway; there are virtually no services between the two towns. This first leg is a bear, and though it ends at a slightly lower elevation than it begins, you’re in for three significant climbs in the first 75 miles of the trip. The best camping along this leg is in the Wah Wah Mountains, which are on BLM land. Start looking for established dispersed campsites on the north side of the highway at the top of the second big climb, about 45 miles in. Enjoy dinner under the stars and revel in your accomplishment.
The Ely Highway provides gorgeous, wide-open views of high desert, mountains, and chaparral on the remainder of its 30-mile course to Milford, which has a small market, several restaurants, and, if you are in the market for a comfortable hotel bed after all that climbing, a relatively inexpensive lodge. If you are looking to cover a few more miles, head through Milford and south to Minersville — it’s another 21 miles to the camping at the Minersville Reservoir.
In the morning, the initial climb out of Minersville is rewarded, at long last, with a long, cruiser descent for the rest of the 40 miles into Cedar City. Better yet, turn off S.R. 130 onto Gap Road and ride the backroads through Parowan Gap into its namesake town — the ancient petroglyphs are an Escalante Desert must-see. There’s camping at Yankee Meadows Campground, 10 miles outside Parowan. (The dirt road is navigable with a sturdy touring bike.)
USBR 79 continues from Cedar City up S.R. 14 to S.R. 148 and Cedar Breaks National Monument. This is one of the biggest climbs on the route before dropping down S.R. 143 to Panguitch.
The next leg of the journey offers the first glimpse of some of Southern Utah’s quintessential canyon country. USBR 79 turns into 70 on Utah's All-American Road, Scenic Byway 12. It's fewer than 30 miles to Bryce Canyon National Park. In the morning, take an hour or two for a mini-tour of the park via Bryce Point Road. While it's $30 to the enter park by car, it's only $15 on a bicycle. Following Bryce Canyon, it's a fun, cruiser descent into the town of Tropic.
From Tropic, continue northeast on the All-American Road Scenic Byway 12, which is well-maintained and has a reasonable shoulder all the way for the 50-mile ride into Escalante. The best camping in the area is a half-mile outside of town in Escalante Petrified Forest State Park — set up your tent on the shores of Wide Hollow Reservoir, and be sure to check out the fossilized wood and dinosaur bones before heading into town to resupply.
Head north on Highway 12 from Escalante to Torrey, which sits on the border of Capitol Reef National Park — this 76-mile leg gains 4,400 feet in the first 40 miles, so beginner and intermediate riders may want to consider breaking it into two days and staying overnight at one of a handful of motels in Boulder. Capitol Reef’s Fruita Campground is adjacent to stunning red cliffs, so it’s worth the haul.
It’ll be tough to tear yourself away from Capitol Reef, but there’s good news: the approximately 80 miles to Hite, at the edge of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, are almost entirely downhill on Capitol Reef Country Scenic Byway S.R. 24 and, from Hanksville, S.R. 95, also known as the Bicentennial Byway. There’s camping at the Hog Springs Campground, just north of town.
The remaining 113 miles to Monticello can be done in a number of ways, the best of which is to break the leg into two days and spend the night at the primitive campground in jaw-dropping Natural Bridges National Monument. Several short, easy hiking trails lead to natural arches and ruins, making Natural Bridges the ideal place to savor the end of the trip.
From Natural Bridges, it’s just over 60 miles to Monticello, home to plenty of restaurants where you can grab a late lunch and lodging where you can plan your next move. Make arrangements with one of several Moab-based shuttle companies (55 miles away) for a ride to the nearest airport, or, for those who can’t bear to end this phenomenal tour, stick around to explore the nearby Needles District in Canyonlands National Park.