8 Amazing Routes for Your Next Bikepacking Adventure

Paige Triola
·8 min read
Photo credit: Claire Frecknall
Photo credit: Claire Frecknall

From Bicycling

For those who love the freedom of traveling by bicycle and the joy of sleeping under the stars, bikepacking is the ultimate escape. Part of this type of adventure’s appeal is its simplicity: just bring your sturdiest touring bike with securely mounted gear bags, plenty of food and water, and a ready-for-anything attitude.

You could set out for a solo trip, or bring your best trailblazing buddy along for the ride; pack light and enjoy a simple yet satisfying overnight, or take your sweet time pedaling across miles of pristine trails with breathtaking views... the possibilities are endless.

Beautiful bikepacking destinations abound all over the U.S. and world, but there are a few spots that stand out with their gorgeous natural scenery, ample camping opportunities, and super rideable terrain. So whether you’re planning your bikepacking getaway now or for when the COVID-19 pandemic makes travel less of an issue, keep these famed routes in mind for a two-wheeled trek of a lifetime.

Denali Park Road: Alaska

Photo credit: Álvaro Martín Oliva. Rodadas.net - Getty Images
Photo credit: Álvaro Martín Oliva. Rodadas.net - Getty Images

The preferred route of accomplished endurance cyclist and Alaska native Lael Wilcox, the 92-mile Denali Park Road consists mostly of gently rolling, easy-riding gravel and is the habitat of a variety of wildlife: moose, caribou, grizzly bears, Dall sheep, wolves, lynx and more. “Most of the road is above tree line—huge views!” says Wilcox. “It’s my favorite road in the world.” As a special bonus, the road is free of private vehicle traffic once you get beyond the first 15 miles. So, besides the occasional tour bus coming through, cyclists need not worry about cars whizzing by.

While most of this route is relatively low-key, there are a couple of challenging sections to be aware of. Be prepared to get your legs working on the climbs of Sable Mountain and Highway Pass—and don’t forget to pause and take in the truly stunning views of the park around you.

Camping: There are six established campsites along the road, as well as the option to do some backcountry camping (for which you will need a permit). You’ll need to keep at least a half-mile distance between your tent and the road, making sure your setup is out of view.

Baja Divide: San Diego to San José del Cabo, Mexico

If you’re able and willing to do an excursion with a longer time commitment, consider taking on the Baja Divide for a month and half of rugged riding through gorgeous Southwestern landscapes. Don’t expect much pavement—the majority of this nearly 1,700-mile route consists of dirt roads and sandy vehicle tracks, so you’ll want to saddle up on a bike with wider tires (3-inch tires are best).

Looking to divvy up the Divide? For those who don’t have several weeks to spare, there are four segments of the trail that offer a shorter (still spectacular) trip: try the Northern Sierra, Valle de los Cirios, Missions, or Cape Loop.

Camping: Opportunities for wild camping abound on this journey. Be mindful of the fact that long stretches of desert riding calls for carrying extra reserves of water, though the route is designed to provide riders with plenty of resupply points along the way.

White Rim Trail: Moab, Utah

Photo credit: Ershov_Maks - Getty Images
Photo credit: Ershov_Maks - Getty Images

Moab—with its jaw-dropping canyons and mesas and seemingly endless trail network—is a renowned must-ride location for mountain bikers, so it should come as no surprise that the White Rim Trail is on this list. This 100-mile joyride through the beautiful Canyonlands National Park typically takes bikepackers about three days to complete. Circling the stately Island Mesa with the Colorado River and Green River below, cyclists will enjoy riding a variety of surfaces, including dirt roads, gravel paths, slickrock, sand, and some rocky sections.

Camping: Cyclists must make reservations to use the designated campgrounds for overnight stays on the White Rim Trail. Because of the remote nature of this route, riders will need to be stocked up with enough supplies and sustenance to last the multi-day excursion—however, some choose to do this ride with vehicle support in order to carry less on the bike.

Colorado Trail: Durango to Littleton

Photo credit: amygdala_imagery - Getty Images
Photo credit: amygdala_imagery - Getty Images

The Colorado Trail is one of the most well-known and beloved bikepacking routes in the United States, and with good reason. Pedaling through the Rocky Mountains on dreamy singletrack with postcard-worthy views everywhere you look? Can’t go wrong.

This point-to-point route is about 500 miles long, takes cyclists about two weeks to complete, and can be ridden from Durango to Littleton (or vice versa). Unless you live at high altitude year round, you should expect to have your breath taken away by both the spectacular sights and the fact that you’re riding at 10,000 feet in elevation (with some hearty sections of hike-a-bike thrown in for good measure). The highest point of the trail will take you just over 13,000 feet, so stay hydrated with plenty of water mixed with electrolytes—it’ll be worth the climb.

Camping: There is no shortage of places to bed down for the night on the Colorado Trail. Both wild camping and a few designated campsites are available for you to pitch your tent along the way; however, it’s best to do some planning ahead to avoid camping on private land.

Sky Islands Odyssey: Southern Arizona

Photo credit: ca2hill - Getty Images
Photo credit: ca2hill - Getty Images

Mind the cacti and gape at the majestic Santa Rita Mountains as you tour Arizona’s Sonoran Desert by bike. The epic Sky Islands Odyssey route is 230 miles long in its entirety, but if you’d prefer to split up the adventure, there’s also the option of tackling The West Loop or The East Loop. These segments range from 125 to 170 miles, slightly more manageable distances for riders who might be limited by time or energy. Whichever portion of this route you choose, prepare to be wowed by the flora, fauna, and dramatic landscapes (forest, grasslands, desert stretches) of the Sky Islands bioregion.

The roads on this route consist of dirt, rock, gravel and sand, so make sure your bike’s tires are up to the task. And, as always in arid landscapes, don’t go thirsty—bring (more than) enough water for the amount of riding you plan to do each day.

Camping: Riders have the option of dry camping in some areas and taking advantage of the designated campsites located throughout the route. Note that some ranch areas require a permit if you’re planning to pass through or spend the night.

Hope 1000: Switzerland

While Switzerland is a dream destination for any cyclist, this particular route is for riders who love challenging themselves with relentless ascents. The Hope 1000 is a 632-mile (1,000-kilometer) stretch of trail and intermittent pavement that includes over 30 significant ascents. In total, expect to tackle almost 100,000 feet of climbing. Bikepackers are sure to sleep well on each night of this roughly 12-day journey.

Though the route is physically daunting, the idyllic scenery of Switzerland’s mountainous landscape—complete with glittering blue lakes, alpine meadows, and charming villages—is a worthy distraction. The roads and paths are quiet, peaceful, and easy to navigate with a number of resupply points along the way in the form of local eateries and grocery stores.

Camping: Cyclists shouldn’t have trouble finding places to camp in the sprawling countryside, and local residents tend to be friendly and welcoming to those traversing the route. You can also break up the routine with an occasional hotel stay if you’re craving a bed for a night.

West Loop: Slovenia

Photo credit: Claire Frecknall
Photo credit: Claire Frecknall

Cyclists hoping to plan a bikepacking trip abroad in the future would do well to put Slovenia on their bucket list, as this small Central European country is ideal for exploring by bike. Starting out in the capital city of Ljubljana, the 260-mile-long West Loop takes about a week (more or less) to complete. Riding terrain varies from cobblestone climbs to dirt roads to gravel paths, so you get a bit of everything on this exhilarating trek.

Avid bikepacking enthusiast and blogger Claire Frecknall describes her experience in Slovenia as quiet, peaceful, and low-cost, with the added perk of friendly locals. She vividly recalls her favorite segment of the journey: “The scenery from Kranjska Gora, over the Vrsic Pass and into the Soca Valley, is amazing, with the most beautiful, clean turquoise water.”

Camping: While Slovenia has laws against wild camping, many cyclists who have traveled this route do not encounter issues in setting up their tent in inconspicuous wooded areas or near quiet backroads (while being careful to leave no trace). You can also book a night or two in local Airbnbs in case a break from sleeping on the ground is desired.

South Chilcotin Mountains: British Columbia, Canada

Cycling through Canada’s South Chilcotin Mountains holds the promise of an unforgettable adventure for the rider who relishes wilderness getaways. Alternating between flowy singletrack and technical sections that require tough tires and your full attention, hard efforts are rewarded with dreamy views of alpine meadows, mountain lakes, and sky-piercing peaks zigzagging across the horizon.

“It’s such a unique destination,” says professional mountain biker Mark Matthews, explaining the thrill of a weekend ripping around trails in the Chilcotin Mountains. “It was honestly one of the best bike riding trips of my life; that was six years ago and I still think about it regularly.”

Camping: Visitors are free to camp in the backcountry, and there are a few locations with facilities. Remember that these are remote wilderness trails, so pack with an overprepared mindset (spare parts, extra food and water, etc.).

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