10 Bikepacking Races to Put on Your Calendar

Many of us riders love a good competition every now and then, but for some of us who may or may not have a few screws loose, a 100k race just isn’t enough. Bikepacking events have been gaining popularity lately with those who want to cover more ground and be self-supported while doing so. Here’s a rundown of 10 events that are worth packing your framebags and panniers for.

Go further on your mountain bike - Photo Courtesy of Tour Divide's Facebook page
Go further on your mountain bike. Photo: Tour Divide

Most of these events require the use of a SPOT Tracking device, which allows the race organizers to track your progress and keep tabs on you, should you need help. Also, if you want to preview the courses, I’ve been using the MyGPS Files web app to read the .gpx files that are provided on the event pages linked below. Adventure Cycling is also a great resource for planning your own trips, so be sure to check them out as well! Many of these events can also be run outside of the listed start dates, as an individual timed entry, so if scheduling doesn’t allow you to make the grand depart, you can still make an attempt on the record time.

The Tour Divide

  • Start and End Locations: Banff, AB to Antelope Wells, NM
  • Total Distance: 2,745 miles
  • Start Date: 2nd Weekend of June
  • Time to Finish: As long as it takes
  • File: GPX

Kicking off the list is the biggest and baddest of all bikepacking events, with entrants pedaling the entire Great Divide mountain bike route in the shortest (clearly this is a relative term) amount of time possible. The event kicks off in Banff, Alberta in mid-June and covers 2,745 miles with over 200,000 feet of elevation gain (about 7 Mt. Everests, for reference) and ends in Antelope Wells, NM. Cyclists will not only need to condition for several weeks of 16+ hour days in the saddle, but will also need to be adept at wilderness survival and first aid, backcountry navigation, proper food rationing, and be ready for all weather conditions. This is definitely not an event for those looking to try out bikepacking, but rather something to work up to. While not technically a race, there is an organized start each year and riders compete to break the record (currently held by Jay Petervary at 15 days, 16 hours, and 14 minutes) though for most, just finishing is a great achievement.

The Colorado Trail Race

  • Start and End Locations: Durango, CO to Denver, CO
  • Total Distance: 500 miles
  • Start Date: July 26, 2015
  • Time to Finish: ~10 Days
  • File: GPX
Bikepacking the Colorado Trail. Photo: stumpyfsr.
Bikepacking the Colorado Trail. Photo: stumpyfsr.

Coloradans are spoiled with some of the best mountain biking trails around. Many of those trails connect to the Colorado Trail, which runs from Durango to Denver. The Colorado Trail Race challenges riders to complete the entire 500-mile Colorado Trail entirely self-supported. With singletrack passing through desert conditions, high alpine sections at over 13,000 feet of elevation, and thick forests, be prepared to experience some of the best and most technical riding that Colorado has to offer.  If the varied terrain doesn’t present enough of a challenge for you, there’s always Colorado’s famously temperamental weather to contend with: be prepared to potentially face thunderstorms, hail, and if you’re (un)lucky, even snow.

Bikepacking the Colorado Trail. Photo: Stumpyfsr
Bikepacking the Colorado Trail. Photo: Stumpyfsr

The Arizona Trail Race

  • Start and End Locations: Parker Canyon Lake, AZ – Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, AZ
  • Total Distance: 300 or 750 miles
  • Start Date: April 3, 2015
  • Time to Finish: ~7 days (300mi) ~15 days (750mi)
  • File: GPX

The American southwest is, in my humble opinion, one of the most beautiful places in the world with stunning landscapes and geography that can’t be seen anywhere else on the planet. The Arizona Trail, which runs from the US/Mexico border to the Arizona/Utah border, provides an unforgettable route for mountain bikers to experience the southwest in a unique way. This is certainly a tough event though, with drastic elevation gains and sections that redefine “hike-a-bike.” As in, prepare to load your bike onto your pack, hike down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon (!!!), hike through the Grand Canyon, hike back out, and continue on to incredible singletrack. To get stoked for this ride, be sure to check out Aaron Johnson’s video of his 2014 experience:

2014 Arizona Trail Race from Aaron Johnson on Vimeo.

The Iditarod Trail Invitational

  • Start and End Locations: Knik Lake, AK – Nome, AK
  • Total Distance: 350 miles or 1,000 miles
  • Start Date: Late February
  • Time to Finish: ~6 days (350mi) ~10 days (1,000mi)
  • Entry Fee: $1,200 – $1,400 
Photo: Iditarod Trail Invitational
Photo: Iditarod Trail Invitational

This one is for riders who love logistics and also happen to have a masochistic streak. It also helps if you’re superhuman like the current 350-mile record holder, John Lackey, who covered the distance in 1 day, 18 hours, and 32 minutes, requiring an average speed of 8.23mph. On a fat bike. In the middle of winter. In Alaska. Competitors in the Iditarod Trail Invitational need (NEED) to be well-equipped to attempt the event, as conditions, at best, can be considered inhospitable with temperatures plunging as low as -60 degrees, whiteout conditions all but guaranteed, and with long stretches of uninhabited wastelands between checkpoints. Speaking of checkpoints, riders will need to plan their supply drops well in advance and get their drop packages to the event organizers who will then deliver the supplies via ski plane, in true Alaskan fashion. If you attempt and finish this event, you are, without question, a badass.

The Huracan 300

  • Start and End Locations: Ocala, FL – Ocala, FL
  • Total Distance: 350 miles
  • Start Date: Early March
  • Time to Finish: ~3 days
A flat tire is the least of your worries when there are alligators around - Photo courtesy of Singletrack Samurais Facebook page
A flat tire is the least of your worries when there are alligators around. Photo: Singletrack Samurai

After reading about the frozen tundras of Alaska, a ride through Florida may sound like an ideal way to thaw out. Florida may not be the first state that comes to mind when planning a mountain bike trip–mainly for the distinct lack of mountains in the sunshine state. However, the Huracan traces a route that includes over 100 miles of singletrack, along with plenty of doubletrack and abandoned roads, to create a grueling loop that riders can run either clockwise or counterclockwise. The route looks particularly fast, aside from when riders have to wade through the ominously-named Devil’s Creek, which is hopefully alligator-free before you attempt your crossing. For the Floridian rider looking for a bit more of a challenge, Singletrack Samurai Productions also hosts the Florida Divide, an 800-mile event that traces the eastern continental divide from Fargo, GA to Flamingo, FL, all the way down in the Everglades.

The Stagecoach 400

  • Start and End Locations: Idyllwild, CA – Idyllwild, CA
  • Total Distance: 400 miles
  • Start Date: Mid-late March
  • Time to Finish: ~5 days

Considered a great shakedown event for those looking to attempt the Tour Divide, the Stagecoach 400 is an intensely-technical ride in southern California. The route showcases southern California’s geographical diversity, with riders conquering steep mountains, braving harsh deserts, and then following California’s gorgeous coastline. Judging by the photos from riders who have completed the event, this is definitely a bucket list-worthy route that should make its way onto every avid bikepacker’s schedule. There are rumblings of a 500-mile version of the Stagecoach as well as updates on other events organized by the Southern California Enduro Series, so be sure to keep your eyes on their wonderfully-irreverent blog, here.

The Idaho Smoke ‘n’ Fire 400

  • Start and End Locations: Boise, ID – Boise, ID
  • Total Distance: 420 miles
  • Start Date: September 9, 2015
  • Time to Finish: ~4 days
  • File: GPX
Navigating through Idaho's vast national forests - Photo courtesy of the Smoke n' Fire web page
Navigating through Idaho’s vast national forests. Photo: Smoke ‘n’ Fire

Despite the somewhat dubious web address that may or may not be blocked by your office’s firewall, the Idaho Smoke ‘n’ Fire is absolutely a ride worth looking in to. Idaho is often overlooked by adventurers who are typically drawn to its neighboring states, but after researching this event, I am kicking myself for not visiting back when I lived in the lower 48. The loop sticks predominantly to dirt roads but also offers a fair share of fantastic singletrack as it winds its way through the Sawtooth and Boise National Forests. After reading ride reports and gawking at some of the incredible imagery from riders who’ve attempted the Smoke ‘n’ Fire 400, I think I may finally pay Idaho a much-deserved visit.

Highland Trail 550

  • Start and End Locations: Tyndrum, Perthshire, Scotland – Tyndrum, Perthshire, Scotland
  • Total Distance: 560 miles
  • Start Date: May 27, 2015
  • Time to Finish: ~8 days
  • File: GPX
The Scottish Highlands. Words fail me. - Photo courtesy of the Highland Trail Race webpage
The Scottish Highlands. Words fail me. Photo: Highland Trail 550

The previous events in our rundown have all been on US soil, but variety, as they say, is the spice of life. The Highland Trail 550 takes place in the achingly-beautiful Scottish Highlands and offers a great mix of flowing singletrack, technical rock gardens, and some hike-a-bike for when the going truly gets tough. How tough is tough, you may ask? Plan to gain almost 52,500ft in elevation over the course of the event. Luckily, the views will be well-worth your efforts. Also worth noting: this is the only event on the list where you may find yourself camping at a castle, which is pretty rad.

The Holyland MTB Challenge

  • Start and End Locations: Mt. Hermon, Israel – Eliat, Israel
  • Total Distance: 860 miles
  • Start Date: April 9, 2015
  • Time to Finish: ~10 days
  • File: GPX

Prior to writing this article, I had never thought to make a connection between the mountains of Israel and traversing them via bicycle. After reading about the Holyland MTB Challenge, however, Israel is now looking like an enticing destination for a bikepacking adventure. Cyclists will travel from Mt. Hermon in the north all the way to the Red Sea, passing through such historic areas as the Golan Heights, the Sea of Galilee, Mt. Carmel, Jerusalem, and the Negev desert. As entrants ride along punishing gravel roads originally laid by the ancient Romans, they will be treated to sights and experiences that are unlike anything else in the world.

The Freedom Challenge – Race Across South Africa

  • Start and End Locations: Pietermaritzburg, S. Africa – Wellington, S. Africa
  • Total Distance: ~1,430 miles
  • Start Date: June or July
  • Time to Finish: ~24 days
  • Entry Fee: ~$2,000
Ominous clouds in South Africa - Photo courtesy of the Freedom Trail webpage
Ominous clouds in South Africa. Photo: Freedom Trail

While most of the events on our list are self-supported and require no entry fee, sometimes it’s ok to accept a little help along the way. After all, the RASA does require riders to cover over 1,400 miles, crossing through 6 different biomes of South Africa, so I don’t think anyone can blame you for rolling into one of the 25 support checkpoints and being ecstatic that you survived another stretch in the saddle. Considered one of the more difficult events in the world of long distance mountain biking, those who complete the RASA within the 26-day cutoff will be rewarded handsomely with the coveted Freedom Challenge Blanket! Along with the bragging rights that come with crossing a country via bicycle, of course.

Now that you’ve had a chance to read about some of the best bikepacking events from around the world, get your bike adventure-ready and start training!

Other events worth looking in to:

Trans North California

  • Start and End Locations: Verdi, CA – Mendocino, CA
  • Total Distance: 400 miles
  • Start Date: October 10, 2015
  • Time to Finish: ~4 days

Allegheny Mountains Loop

  • Start and End Locations: Blacksburg, VA – Blacksburg, VA
  • Total Distance: ~400 miles
  • Start Date: October 1
  • Time to Finish: ~3 days

The Kiwi Brevet

  • Start and End Locations: Blenheim, NZ – Blenheim, NZ
  • Total Distance: 685 miles or 435 miles
  • Time to Finish: ~8 days

California Sierra Trail Race

  • Start and End Locations: North Auburn, CA – North Auburn, CA
  • Total Distance: 425 miles
  • Start Date: July
  • Time to Finish: ~7 days

Trans North Georgia

  • Start and End Locations: GA/SC Border near Dillard, GA – GA/AL border near Rome, GA
  • Total Distance: 350 miles
  • Start Date: August 22, 2015
  • Time to Finish: ~5 days