Got mountain bike, will travel? Bryce Canyon and its surrounding secret gems beckon you.
Bryce Canyon, the land of bizarre hoodoos and elegant red rock spires, isn’t just for hikers anymore. Rejoice, mountain bikers, if you have not yet discovered the amazing singletrack in the forest land surrounding this lung-pumping, 9,000-foot national park jewel. There are miles and miles of gorgeous terrain on which to challenge yourself and your buddies as you test out your bad-ass bike. Note: in the Park itself, you can only ride on pavement. But venture out onto surrounding, less stringently protected public lands and you’ll encounter some sweet trails.
The main paved road through Bryce Canyon winds along 17 stunning miles to its end at Rainbow Point on top of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. The elevation ranges from 7,900-9,100 feet, so bring along your oxygen tank if you hail from a seaside locale. This is the only “trail” within the Park boundaries you can ride, but it’s a great way to see Bryce while exercising your lungs and legs.
Thunder Mountain Bike Trail in the nearby, and nearly equally spectacular, Red Canyon area is rated one of the world’s best rides for good reason. Find a way to shuttle cars and definitely start at the Coyote Trailhead parking area by the east entrance. Blast through the 3,000-foot vertical gain, 16-mile track while you breathe in the vanilla scent from the Ponderosa pine trees. You’ll end at the Thunder Mountain Trailhead after screaming yourself downhill. A must-do for every serious mountain biker, it’s not for the faint-hearted (parts of it are along steep drop-offs) or beginners.
If you can’t exactly bike the trails in Bryce, you can find a close facsimile by charging along the Casto Canyon Trail, which you can make as long or short as your legs demand (whine, beg, whatever). Filled with orange hoodoos similar to those poking up in Bryce and sheltered by that unbelievably blue Utah sky, this ride can stretch out by adding in the other sections detailed below. Take your camera along to snap the awesome scenery as you whiz by.
The Cassidy Trail, named after infamous local legend Butch Cassidy, offers a different and lesser-known version of the Thunder Mountain Trail. Cassidy Trail can be done in 5.5 miles as an out-and-back, but many riders combine it with the Losee Trail to make it longer, more intensive, and freakin’ fantastic. For the more extreme, loop it in with the Casto trail for a super-aerobic 20-mile push. Feel the burn!
Losee Canyon is a 2.9 mile trail—unless you connect it with one of the ones above. Then you’re on a secret world-class ride, especially if you loop Losee with the Cassidy Trail. Keep an eye out for horses and humans and remember who has the right of way (that would not be you). This ride is decidedly advanced, and it is well worth the shuttle trip or the loop.
Extras to consider:
Start at the Red Canyon Visitor Center, a mere 13 miles west of Bryce Canyon, for information and some of the ride trailheads. (Call 435-676-2676 for weather and trail info.) In the early summer months before monsoon season begins, horses using these trails tend to pound them into fine particulate matter that can unfortunately make it seem like you’re riding through powdered sugar.
If you’re a mountain biker, you might be sleepin’ in the dirt too, and loving it. Camp for free outside of Bryce in the Tropic reservoir area. (But don’t consider a dip into the water unless you want some up close and personal time with the resident leeches.) If you prefer, you can also pay a piddly amount to rest your weary bones with a few more accommodations at Sunset Campground inside Bryce Canyon or these local campgrounds. (There’s a little spring on the east side of the reservoir by this particular campground, by the road, that will do you for drinking water.) Should you require more high-class lodging, say a bed and shower, stay at the Best Western Ruby’s Inn just outside Bryce Canyon. Grab dinner to refuel after your ride at the Cowboy’s Buffet and Steak Room.
Finish off your day by tossing back, what else, a Fat Tire amber ale by the New Belgium Brewing Company. You can find beer easiest in the big cities leading up to your downhill adventures such as Salt Lake City and St. George.