Grand Staircase Escalante 180-mile Loop

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The Grand Staircase, located in southwestern Utah, is an amazing place. The desert topography continually changes.  Every four hours or so, the landscape changes as one either descends or ascends the giant steps of the Staircase. I wanted to see the Grand Staircase backcountry before any changes to the current monument status.

I recommend this loop only for experienced back-country cyclists. This is not recommended for a “first” trip. The remoteness and lack of water are the main issues.

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We started cycling south from Escalante in the late afternoon of early June–and it was already quite hot. We rode for 3 hours before the first night of camping. Camping beside the Kaiparowits Plateau was a little eery, as there was not a single night sound–no crickets, no birds, no wind, nothing–other than the sound of your heart beating. That is total separation from the outside, when you can only hear the natural rhythm of your body.

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In the morning, it was supposed to be a quick descent into Big Water, an anticipated four hour bike. It was highly anticipated because we only had four water bottles left. Well, in the true spirit of bikepacking–big rides are not without some suffering.  We ran out of water 10 miles outside of Big Water, and it was nearly 100 degrees!  Note: we carried over 6 L of water each, plus camping gear, food, and emergency repair supplies. 6 L was still not enough!  In the cooler months, some streams may flow with scant water, but by June the streams were dry. The ones that still had water were very alkaline, and I’m not sure about the safety of drinking it.

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The loop from Escalante descending south to Big Water is 78-miles and we saw no one on this entire section. Big Water has one gas station with limited supplies, but at least they have water! From Big Water we cycled north for another 13-miles before camping for the second night. It was too warm to sleep with a quilt (a quilt is a semi-sleeping bag, with no zipper. It is lighter than many sleeping bags and quite versatile for side sleepers).  The morning glow can be seen on the hills below.

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From our second night, we biked up to Grosvenor Arch and then on to Kodachrome State Park, about 52-miles for the third day. After using wet wipes for the first two nights, it was heavenly to have a shower and all the water one can consume at the state park. From Kodachrome to Escalante is about 50 miles, for a total of the 180-mile loop.  One word of caution for this loop: water supplies can run out quickly as the road has deep sand which slows travel significantly. Carry more than you think you’ll drink. And don’t be shy to ask a passing four-wheeler for some water–they were always willing to spare a bit.

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Until the next adventure…