Western Wildlands Route
2,700 Mi.(4,345 KM)
% Rideable (time)
with Bikepacking Roots
The 2,700-mile Western Wildlands Route offers bikepackers a non-technical, expedition-scale riding experience that immerses one in the vast expanses of wild and public lands in the Intermountain West. Nearly 70% of the route is on public lands: 18 National Forests, six National Parks and Monuments, two tribal parks, and four areas with Bureau of Land Management National Conservation Lands designation. Riders will experience the incredibly remote mountains of western Montana and central Idaho, the desolate beauty of southern Idaho’s Snake River Plain, endless vistas from Utah’s 10,000-foot plateaus, the canyon country of Navajo Nation and Grand Canyon region, and the towering Sky Islands and low Sonoran Desert of southern Arizona.
The Western Wildlands Route balances scenic, remote, and enjoyable dirt riding with regular resupply opportunities in small communities. The route is more than 80% off-pavement, following primarily dirt roads and 4×4 tracks. Mountain bikes are strongly recommended – the dirt and gravel roads in this part of the United States are rarely well-graded, smooth gravel ribbons. Expect steep, relentless climbs, rocky and loose surfaces, and intermittent stream crossings. The most wild sections offer 150+ miles of riding through rugged terrain and offer absolutely no services. For riders familiar with the iconic Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, the Western Wildlands Route provides a more rugged and remote experience. The route also features numerous alternate options, as well as extensions from both termini to the nearest transportation hubs.
The geography, weather, and terrain are incredibly diverse along the Western Wildlands Route, and each can pose significant challenges to riders. Most of the nine segments of the route include climbs with between 3,000 and 4,000 feet of elevation gain, and a few climbs exceed 5,000 feet. The miles in Montana and most of Idaho are very mountainous, feature deep canyons, abundant water, regularly spaced resupply options in small communities, and are almost entirely on public lands. Southern Idaho and northern Utah traverse lower elevation landscapes with less demanding riding, less water, and notably more private land. The route climbs over a series of high plateaus in central and southern Utah, spending many miles near 10,000 feet elevation. Services and water become less frequent, and the route returns to being almost entirely on public lands. Many miles of the route in central and southern Utah also become impassable when wet.
Northern Arizona’s canyon country is magnificent and remote, and water remains scarce. The terrain across Navajo Nation, past Grand Canyon, and beyond is less demanding than Utah’s high plateaus, but shade is sparse in the grassland-dominated region. The route becomes rougher and more challenging in Arizona’s forested Central Highlands. Southern Arizona’s Sonoran Desert is extremely hot during summer months between 2,000 and 4,000 feet high, but water, resupply options, and communities become more frequent, and a few tall mountain ranges provide refuge from the heat.
Route Development: The Western Wildlands Route has been developed by Bikepacking Roots, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to supporting the growing bikepacking community. A cadre of bikepackers envisioned a new Canada-to-Mexico route at various times, including Matthew Lee, Scott Morris, Casey Greene, Kaitlyn Boyle, and Kurt Refsnider. Identifying the best alignment for this new route involved extensive reconnaissance by Kurt Refsnider, recommendations from other mountain bikers, input from local residents along the route corridor, and suggestions from land managers with the Forest Service and BLM. Bikepacking Roots is deeply appreciative of and honored by the collaboration that formed with the Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation Department and the Navajo Y.E.S. non-profit as part of the Navajo Nation Trails Initiative, as well as from all the individuals who provided input on the route at the Navajo Nation Trails Conference in 2017 and 2018. More than 40 bikepackers test rode the route in 2018 and provided feedback for refinement, recommendations for bike-friendly services, and built awareness of the Western Wildlands Route in communities along the way. And the route could not have been developed without the generous financial contributions from the members and partners of Bikepacking Roots, in particular Salsa Cycles and Revelate Designs.
Note: This is a low-resolution GPX file for the main stem of the Western Wildlands Route. For the most up-to-date high-resolution GPS tracks of each route segment, alternates, and extensions, as well as the full suite of 1,500+ waypoints, please visit Bikepacking Roots.
- Of the 2,700-mile-long route, 2,200 miles are dirt and nearly 1,900 miles are through public lands managed primarily by the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management
- National Parks, Monuments, and Conservation Lands – Craters of the Moon, Bryce Canyon, Grand Staircase-Escalante, Grand Canyon, and San Pedro Riparian Conservation Area
- Riding along rivers in all parts of the route – the Clark Fork, Clearwater, Salmon, Big Wood, Blackfoot, Bear, Colorado, and San Pedro
- Small communities with wide-ranging histories and friendly residents
- Following old trading and migration routes, trails, wagon roads, rail grades, and motorways
- The remote Magruder Corridor of central Idaho – 100+ miles sandwiched between two of the largest Wilderness areas in the contiguous U.S.
- Utah’s incredibly scenic high plateaus and Skyline Drive’s 100+ miles of riding near 10,000 feet elevation
- Crossing 100+ miles of Navajo Nation’s powerful canyon country and high grasslands on remote roads adjacent to the upper reaches of Grand Canyon in Marble Canyon and Little Colorado River Gorge Tribal Parks
- Arizona’s Central Highlands and Sky Islands – cooler pine-covered refuge above the Sonoran Desert heat
- Can the route be ridden in either direction? Most certainly so!
- What’s the ideal time of year to start? Generally, for SoBo riders, a mid- to late summer start is recommended. For NoBo riders, a late spring departure is recommended. This, of course, depends significantly on a rider’s anticipated pace.
- How does the WWR compare to the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route? Based on feedback received from riders who have ridden both routes, the WWR is more remote, wild, rugged, and challenging, with less frequent resupply locations.
- What should be expected for weather? Riders should be prepared for sub-freezing overnight lows at higher altitudes and temperatures of at least 100°F at lower elevations. Generally, days in June and early July are clear and warm. From mid-July to mid-September, afternoon thunderstorms become more frequent. After mid-September, autumn sets in, and early season snowstorms can impact higher elevations of the route.
- Is there “death mud” out there? Long stretches of the route in Utah and Arizona can become absolutely impassible when wet – a bike’s wheels will not spin once clogged with this clay-rich mud. Pay close attention to weather forecasts and carry extra food in case waiting for a road to dry out becomes necessary.
- Will there be bears? Yes. The northern 250 miles is in grizzly bear territory, and most of the route is in black bear territory.
- Do I need any special permits? Permits are required for the Arizona segments of the route – a State Land Department recreation permit for all of Arizona and an absolutely mandatory backcountry/camping permit for the Navajo Nation section in northern Arizona. Current information about Navajo Nation permits and regulations can be found here.
- How do I get to either end of the route? Whitefish, Montana, and Tucson, Arizona, are the nearest transportation hubs to the route’s termini. Shuttle services are available.
- What kind of bike is ideal? The Western Wildlands Route is a mountain bike route. Any other style of bike is not advised, and trailers are not recommended.
- Is it easy to find places to camp? With 70% of the route on public lands, dispersed/wild camping is readily available along most of the route. Official campgrounds are common in Montana and most of Idaho and are less common to the south. On Navajo Nation in northern Arizona, camping is restricted to a few designated locations.
- Are there many established campgrounds along the route? Yes, particularly in Montana and Idaho. These are all indicated in the detailed waypoint data and digital route guide. Potable water is commonly not available in established campgrounds on public lands.
- Is there much water out there? Surface water is generally readily available in Montana and most of Idaho. From southern Idaho south to Mexico, water becomes much sparser, and a minimum water capacity of six liters is recommended.
- How far apart are resupplies and towns? Generally, resupply options are spaced 1-4 days apart (40-155 miles)
- Additional information about the Western Wildlands Route can be found here.
- The most up-to-date high-resolution GPS tracks and the compilation of 1,500+ waypoints are available at no cost to Bikepacking Roots members (membership is free!). The GPS tracks include all segments, alternates, and extensions. Waypoints include water sources, campgrounds, resupply locations, communities, bike shops, lodging options, medical facilities, hardware stores, public libraries, and more.
- An 85-page digital route guide is available here with a $20 donation. The guide includes overview maps of each of the nine segments, extensive trip planning information, educational content, and detailed logistical information about water, resupply locations, camping, permits, and more. The format of the guide is viewable on computers, tablets, and smartphones.
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