Easy Riding: The Ultimate Motorcycle Tours

Arizona and Utah: The Great Southwest
  |  Gorp.com

The Great Circle Tour through Arizona and southern Utah may be America's ultimate open-road odyssey. You can hit five national parks in less than a week, viewing the most spectacular scenery in the West. A good starting point for the tour is Flagstaff, Arizona. Head north to the Highway 24 junction and turn east into Grand Canyon National Park. Excellent hotels and campsites are available, but book in advance between May and September. Double back from the Grand Canyon, then take Highways 160 and 163 northeast towards Monument Valley, situated near the Utah-Arizona border. (But don't attempt to take a street bike into the valley unless you want to be towed out). For relatively cheap lodging, try the San Juan Inn (435.683.2220) in the town of Mexican Hat, about 18 miles east on the banks of the San Juan River.

Just out of town, follow Utah 261 through the Valley of the Gods. (A section of this road is unpaved as it switchbacks up the face of a mesa.) After reaching the spectacular vistas at the crest, proceed north along 261 to connect with Utah 95. If you've got an extra day, go east and follow the sign to Moab and Arches National Park; if not, head west toward Glen Canyon and Lake Powell. The next 30 miles are motorcycling heaven—wide-open sweepers with excellent road surface. After Lake Powell, pick up Utah 24 towards Capitol Reef National Park. The park has an excellent campground, or you can find a motel down the road in the little town of Torrey. For the final leg of the tour, pick up Utah 12 south, which takes you way up to ridgeline—close to 9,000 feet—for some superb views. Highway 12 takes you through Bryce Canyon National Park and Mt. Zion National Park; both are spectacular and shouldn't be missed.

Although Arizona and Utah are year-round destinations, the most scenic motorcycling routes traverse relatively high altitudes (above 4,000 feet) where weather can be harsh and unpredictable. Anytime from late March through late October is fine, but May and September are ideal. In mid-April you may encounter chilly weather, blustery winds, and snow flurries in the high passes. July and August bring very hot temperatures to the lower elevations (Zion, Lake Powell, and Monument Valley).

There is no commercial tour which runs exactly the same route we've described, but Edelweiss Bike Travel (Tri-Community Travel, Wrightwood, CA 800.582.2263. www.edelweissbike.com) runs a nine-day, $2,300 tour that takes in the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Bryce Canyon Park, and Mt. Zion Park. Tours leave from Las Vegas. For a self-guided vacation, Western States Motorcycle Tours and Rentals (Phoenix, AZ 602.943.9030. http://members.aol.com/azmcrent) rents BMW, Harley, and Suzuki bikes for $65 to $175 per day, or $400 to $750 per week. Bikes must be rented from, and returned to Phoenix, Arizona. Registered Harley Owners Group (800.258.2462. www.hog.com) can rent Harley touring bikes at many Southwest locations, including Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Phoenix. Rentals start at about $95 per day, or $570 per week with a two-day minimum.

Paul McMenamin is the author, editor, and photo director of the original Ultimate Adventure Sourcebook.

Published: 21 Aug 2001 | Last Updated: 12 May 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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