Mountain Biking the Maze

What to Expect
By David Noland; Adapted from Travels Along the Edge
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Photograph of Canyonlands National Park

All the Maze bike-tour companies follow the same general five-day itinerary, although there are variations in trip start and finish points and time spent hiking in the Maze itself. The cycling routes generally start at the Hans Flat ranger station and proceed down the Flint Trail to the Maze Overlook. After hiking down into the Maze, riders pedal south to a campsite at Teapot Rock, from which there's an out-and-back day ride to Standing Rocks. The last day is a long, smooth, "cruisy" ride down to the dusty hamlet of Hite. Total distance covered is about 120 miles.

You'll ride 25 to 35 miles per day over dirt roads that, at times, are quite rough. Terrain is generally rolling, with some short steep sections, but there are no long, grinding killer hills. Hot weather can make this trip far more grueling. If you get totally exhausted, the four-wheel-drive pickup support vehicle and "sag wagon" is always available.

The pickup truck carries all the food, water, and gear. You'll carry only a light day pack or small pannier. All meals are prepared for you, but you'll be responsible for putting up and taking down your own tent, and washing your dishes. Outfitters typically provide full mechanical support—spare tires, parts, and such.

The weather is highly changeable, especially in the fall. Temperatures can range from blistering to bone-chilling. Rain and high winds are possible. (On my trip, a 60-mile-per-hour gust blew down a couple of tents and sent the lunch awning flying.)

Minor injuries—scrapes and bruises—are common among aggressive riders. A serious mishap would require a long, slow, bouncy evacuation. Saddle sores are a common malady of the unprepared.

The Maze route is a more technically challenging trip than, say, the popular White Rim Trail in the nearby Island in the Sky district. Although much of the route follows smooth dirt roads, parts are quite technical. (The entire trip is on dirt roads; there is no single-track.) You should be adept at rapid shifting, picking a line, weight transfer, and lifting the front wheel over small obstacles.

Raw mountain-bike beginners probably shouldn't take this. With some off-road experience, basic technical skills, and a modicum of courage, you'll do okay—although you'll often find yourself walking your bike for short stretches. Riders with intermediate technical skills will find this trip a bracing challenge and skill-builder. Advanced riders will rarely be challenged but will have a lot of fun.

Maze trips run in April, May, September, and October.

Recommended Reading:
Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey. An account of a lonely but rewarding year Abbey spent as a ranger in Arches National Park in the 1960s, when it was primitive and rarely visited.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 27 Oct 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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