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Bikepacking in Colorado. Riders: Lindsay Arne, Neil Beltchenko, and Philip Sterling. Photo: Greg Heil

Bikepacking in Colorado. Riders: Lindsay Arne, Neil Beltchenko, and Philip Sterling. Photo: Greg Heil

Bikepacking has taken the mountain bike world by storm, with the upper echelon of bikepackers continuing to shatter time barriers and pioneer incredible routes, and even many average mountain bikers are tackling sub-24-hour overnight trips. We first published this list of the Top 10 Bikepacking Routes in the US back in 2012 and since that time, the gear has exploded in quality and availability, participation has shot through the roof, and complete publications dedicated to the sport of bikepacking have arisen.

This list was long overdue for an update, so here are the current 10 best bikepacking routes in the US in 2016.

The Continental Divide

One of the best bike-legal portions of the Continental Divide Trail: the Monarch Crest in Colorado. The Tour Divide route passes close to here, but doesn't ride the Crest. Photo: Skoofer

One of the best bike-legal portions of the Continental Divide Trail: the Monarch Crest in Colorado. The Tour Divide route passes close to here, but doesn’t ride the Crest. Photo: Skoofer

This epic trail is roughly 3,000 miles long, stretching across the Rockies from Canada to Mexico, and there are at least two ways to complete the route.

The most popular way to ride the divide is to follow the Tour Divide route, also known as the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, which runs from Banff, Alberta to Antelope Wells, New Mexico. This route is distinct from the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), and consists mostly of gravel roads that crisscross the actual divide. Every year an unofficial race takes place on the Tour Divide, and it has become the proving grounds for bikepackers from around the world.

On the other hand, you could attempt to bikepack the Continental Divide Trail itself. The CDT trail is still a work in progress, but it already has way more singletrack than the Tour Divide. The problems?

  1. The CDT runs through numerous Wilderness areas, which are not bike legal and must be bypassed.
  2. It is significantly more difficult, due to technical trail conditions, extreme elevation change, and remoteness.
  3. In many places, the trail is poorly maintained, or basically does not exist.

Only a few people have ever attempted to through-bikepack the CDT in its entirety–it’s not for the faint of heart!

See Also
By Karlos Rodriguez Bernart
 

Colorado Trail

Photo: Bob Ward

Photo: Bob Ward

Stretching nearly 500 miles from Denver to Durango, the Colorado Trail cuts through the heart of the Rockies and features some the most challenging–and beautiful–singletrack you can imagine. Like some of the other routes listed here, portions of the trail are closed to mountain bikes, so detours are in order. Fortunately there are plenty of places to camp, and the route is well-marked, with trailheads at various intervals.

The Colorado Trail Race is held annually in July.

The Arizona Trail

Photo: Brent Knepper

Photo: Brent Knepper

The Arizona Trail (AZT) is an 817-mile route spanning from the Mexican border to Utah through deserts, mountains, and canyons. This adventurous route includes some incredible mountain biking in some spots, and some arduous route finding and hike-a-bike in others. Bonus: if you want to through-bikepack the AZT, you’ll need to carry your bike across the Grand Canyon, rim-to-rim, without letting your tires touch the ground.

Each April, mountain bikers race (unofficially) either a 300-mile or 750-mile section of the trail, which is a good opportunity to ride the route with others.

The first three routes on this list (The Tour Divide, Colorado Trail, and Arizona Trail) have come to be known collectively as the Triple Crown of Bikepacking.

Kokopelli Trail

Photo: Erik Proano

Photo: Erik Proano

If you’re a mountain biker you’ve heard about Moab, and you’ve probably also heard about the miles of singletrack in Fruita, CO. But did you also know you can ride your mountain bike from Fruita to Moab, off-road? The Kokopelli Trail is a 138-mile, multi-use trail that starts in Loma, CO (just a few miles northwest of Fruita) and ends on Sand Flats Road in Moab, UT, where it passes by Porcupine Rim and Slickrock trails, among others. While there’s no guaranteed water along the route, there are 8 small camping areas with toilets, and some even have picnic tables. Most folks count on a sag vehicle to deliver their gear, but with a little planning, a self-supported bikepacking trip is totally doable!

Tahoe Rim Trail

Photo: Greg Heil

Photo: Greg Heil

Officially 165 miles of singletrack, the Tahoe Rim trail features several sections that are closed to bikes–but even with potential detours it’s an amazing route! If the views of Lake Tahoe aren’t enough, the singletrack and alpine scenery make this a must-ride. Camping is generally plentiful in the surrounding National Forest, but you’ll need to do a little research to put together a solid custom route.

 

Eastern Divide

At this point, the Eastern Divide isn’t so much a defined route as it is an inspiring concept: an epic east coast bikepacking route that rivals the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (called “The Continental Divide” above). While backpackers already have the famed Appalachian Trail, the AT isn’t bike-legal, so some ingenuity is required to create this route. However, once completed it will take advantage of several routes that are already more established–some on this list, and some not yet mentioned: the Florida Divide, the Trans North Georgia, the Virginia Mountain Bike Route (a worthy 430-mile route in its own right), the Adirondacks, and the Cross-Vermont Mountain Bike Route.

White Rim

Photo: Erik Proano

Photo: Erik Proano

The White Rim trail in Moab is a 103-mile jeep road loop with conditions unlike anywhere else on earth. Truly rad riders can complete the loop in a single day but for mere mortals, there are several campsites along the way. Reservations often fill up a year in advance, so plan ahead! There’s also no water along the route, so it’s usually best to have a support vehicle.

 

Trans North Georgia

Riding the Pinhoti Trail in North Georgia. Photo: Jeff Barber

Riding the Pinhoti Trail in North Georgia. Photo: Jeff Barber

The Trans North Georgia is a 350-mile MTB route across North Georgia, starting at the South Carolina border and ending in Alabama to the west. If you’re thinking this might be a good beginning bikepacking route to tackle, think again–the Trans North Georgia boasts 56,000 feet of climbing, more than a quarter of the climbing along the 3,000-mile Continental Divide Trail! Portions of the Trans North Georgia route follow the 165-mile Pinhoti Trail, another good multi-day option available to bikepackers. Both routes stick mostly to National Forest land, where it’s easy to find camping and water sources.

Stagecoach 400

The Stagecoach 400 is best-known as a spring bikepacking race, but the 400-mile route is of course rideable outside of the competition. Essentially one big loop route extending from the Pacific Ocean into California’s desert interior and back, with roughly 31,000 feet of climbing and a plethora of harsh environments, the Stagecoach 400 is a challenge that attracts return visitors every year! Click here for more information.

Baja Divide

Photo: Nicholas Carman

Photo: Nicholas Carman

Technically this route begins in the US, but the vast majority of the riding takes place in the Baja Peninsula in Mexico. Also, we didn’t include the Baja Divide on this top 10 list based on popularity–it was just pioneered and mapped recently, and released to the world just this September. So while it’s not established in the sense of being a popular route, based on epicness alone it qualifies for a spot on this list: 1,700 miles of dirt roads and rustic trails following the spine of the Baja Peninsula from San Diego, CA to San Jose del Cabo, Mexico. Due to its southern location, this route could easily attract many bikepackers from North America when the other routes on this list are too cold or are buried in snow. For more information, be sure to read Helena’s overview of the Baja Divide.

Your Turn: Which of these trails is on your bucket list?

 

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# Comments

  • GoldenGoose

    Other than the Canal trail in DC, every single one of those is on my bucket list. (I think I’d go out of my mind riding a flat towpath for 180 miles.) I probably wouldn’t want to bikepack every inch of trail on the list but I certainly want to ride long sections of each. They’d all be on my bucket list even if this wasn’t a top 10 bikepacking route list.

    I guess I could technically check off the Trans North GA route since I have ridden 90% of the non paved sections at some point or another and 100% of the singletrack.

  • trek7k

    Nice. Yeah, that’s a totally acceptable way to do these routes if you ask me. It’s still a big accomplishment to ride every inch of one of these trails, even if it takes several trips.

  • maddslacker

    A friend and I are actually planning a group ride of Kokopelli’s trail this fall. We’ll be using vehicular support.

  • tarvisg

    I am missing two sections of the Bike friendly trail on the Tahoe Rim Trail. It took me two years to finally ride what I have. I’d like to go back and finish them, but I moved to Texas. The continental divide trail seems like a beast!!

  • brianW

    Just the other day I asked about hiking/mt biking on the Catamount Trail. This is a 300+ mile x/c ski trail in VT spanning from Canada to the MA border. It stays in the valleys mostly, unlike the Long Trail which is off limits to bikers, and stay on the ridge lines and peaks. Looks like parts are open during the summer months some are not.

    • jasonknight

      brianW, I’m new to MA and heard of a trail that went from here to Canada but have had zero luck finding anything. Would you mind helpig me out? You mentioned Catamount? Are there any others you know about or know how to find? Would greatly appreciate any help you could give. jasonknight

    • noreasterbackcountry

      http://www.catamounttrail.org/

      This is the trail that was mentioned, however some sections (like those through golf courses) are closed in the summer months. I’m not aware of anyone who has compiled a map of the rideable sections during the summer months.

  • topjimmy

    Thinking it would be cool to get a group together to maybe do the entire Pinhoti Trail sometime this spring. Would be a good start to trying to complete the entire Trans North Georgia one day.

  • skibum

    RE: the Maah Daah Hey

    The Buffalo Gap Trail provides a viable route around the Teddy Roosevelt National Park’s South Unit. However, there is a two mile stretch that clips a corner of the North Unit with no viable alternative as the area around the park boundary in that location is all private property with no trail. Some out-and-back is required from both sides if you want to complete all legal portions of the trail. It’s really kind of a bummer as that part of the trail sees almost no traffic whatsoever. Letting bikes through that short stretch would have negligible impact on anything.

  • TRIPLED06

    Taking my son out to Colorado to do 4 days on the Co trail in durango for his graduation late summer, early fall.Hermosa tours has it set up for a minimal cost. All you do is ride and when you get to camp they have it all set up for you. Just need to carry enough for a long day ride. We might do kokopelli also. Love taking a new adventure trip each year on the bikes.

  • Jarrett.morgan

    Those trails look like they have amazing scenery. I wish I had more free time to hit them up as well as big bend national park.

  • stumpyfsr

    All of the above. Mah Dah Hey will be the first one, since it’s closest to me

  • MrRodgers82

    Don’t forget you can tack on the Great Allegheny Passage trail onto the C&O Canal. Sure, its even more low-grade trails, but its in a beautiful area and will take you all the way to Pittsburgh. Consider it a nice warm-up for some of the stuff out west.

  • bravesdave

    I want to post here today to possibly draw some readers’ attention to this article which was written back in 2012. Great article. I would add to the list of backpacking trails for consideration: (1) the Centennial Trail in the Black Hills of SD, (2) the Ozark Trail in Missouri and Arkansas, and (3) Ouachita Trail (137mi) in Arkansas. I like the Ozark and Ouachita trails because they give you additional options to consider for the eastern half of the US and for the late fall and winter riding.

    • bravesdave

      I should have said for (2) above “the Ozark Trail and the Ozark Highland Trail in MIssouri and Arkansas”. This will someday be a premiere set of connected trails over 700 miles long.

    • bravesdave

      What a bummer. I see that the Ozark Highland Trail in Arkansas is not open to MTB. Oh well. At least the Ozark Trail in Missouri and the Ouachita Trail in Arkansas are open to MTB.

  • stenvanleuffel

    Great overview. I have a question, i would like to go for a bike packing trip in december of this year. Due to temperature, I’m looking currently at the stagecoach 400 route. Do you have any ideas whether that route is advisable or would you prefer the arizona trail in that time of year?

  • Greg Heil

    This article was last updated on Monday, October 3, 2016, at 8:25am MDT.

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