Despite the relatively low amount of elevation gain over 53 miles, this route is absolutely NOT for beginner gravel cyclists.
The 5-mountain rating was given because of the difficulty of the road surface and because of the extreme remoteness. Please read all of the other notes below before heading out on this ride.
The unique desert landscape is beautiful, awe-inspiring and incredibly quiet. You'll see towering rock formations, as well as wide open views of the mountains in the distance.
We saw cows, mule deers and pronghorn, but hardly another person. Besides a 3-mile section on US Highway 191, there was so little traffic, we could count the number of cars on one hand.
The sense of adventure and challenges are huge on this ride, and while 50 miles is not the longest ride, you'll have a big sense of accomplishment when you complete the loop. (This would be a perfect training ride for the White Rim 100-mile trail.)
Sand is always expected on desert roads, but knowing you will encounter it never makes riding it any easier. We had to hop off the bike and walk for only about 1/4 mile of the 53 miles due to sand, which isn't that much, but we also fishtailed and struggled though plenty of other areas along the way. You need to be constantly vigilant of sand pits and sand that collects in the tire ruts. The VERY few cars we saw did cause quite a lot of dust as they drove by- thank goodness there were so few!
Our least favorite part of this ride was the three mile stretch of pavement on US Highway 191. There is a decent shoulder but traffic is fast moving at 50 mph and includes semis, campers and trailers. If at all possible, we would recommend doing this on a weekday, and never on a peak/holiday weekend, as 191 is one of the main roads into Moab.
Do this ride if you want a remote and adventurous Utah dessert gravel riding experience. Expect epic views and challenging terrain that will leave you with a huge sense of accomplishment when you finish.
We parked in the overflow parking area of the Exxon/7-eleven gas station located right off the highway in Thompson Springs. We were able to use the bathroom and pick up last min supplies (like the sunscreen we forgot to pack!). If the gas station happens to be closed, there is a Welcome Center with bathrooms and vending machines just east of the Thompson Springs exit off of the highway. Alternately, there is parking just after you go under the highway and up a hill on BLM land where several campers were parked.
This route is extremely remote. Besides the gas station at the beginning, there are absolutely no services whatsoever. NO water. NO bathrooms. NO cell phone service. For safety, we recommend doing this ride with a small group of riders and carrying a satellite SOS device like the Garmin inReach Mini. Make sure you preload the GPX file prior to starting this ride, and pack more water and nutrition than you think you will need.
We really ONLY recommend doing this route in the Fall, weather permitting. Summer heat would make this ride miserable and unsafe because of the desert exposure. Spring-time might be an option; However, you could tell from ruts that this does get messy and muddy during certain times, and mud would make the route impossible. Doing this route in the Fall means temperature will be cooler and while surfaces will likely be dry and sandy, these are the best conditions to hope for on this route.
Road conditions include, smooth dirt roads, sand, chunky/rocky gravel, rough and rutted double track and dried desert soil that crackles under your tires. With all that, wider tires with low tire pressure will be best. We rode it with Panaracer Gravelking SK+ 38c gravel tires and we were mainly ok, except in a few places where the sand had been blown and was especially deep.
The first 25 miles are all generally downhill, but the roads are particularly rugged and in some cases, had we not had our GPS guidance, we would scarcely know we were on a road/trail. Don't expect your speeds to be terribly high, and don't be alarmed if the first half takes you longer than anticipated.
Looking for a great place to stay in Moab that caters specifically to cyclists? We recommend the Radcliffe Hotel. All of their rooms have in-room bike storage racks, they have a bike washing station on the premises and they even give you a special gear towel to wipe off your bike off in the room. Besides all that, the rooms are beautiful and comfortable, they have a pool, hot tubs and fire pits. Their restaurant, Il Posto Rosso, is incredibly delicious too.
Laura Karpinski and Rose Barcklow are the creators of Gravel Bike Adventures. Click on the About page to learn more about them.