Great Divide Mountain Bike Route | Adventure Cycling Route Network (2022)

TRAIL GUIDE

Great Divide Canada showcases some of the most magnificent scenery in the entire Rocky Mountain chain. Paradoxically, certain portions seem more settled, or civilized, than many sections of the route to the south in the United States. One reason for this is that Great Divide Canada passes through a string of national and provincial parks, which, not surprisingly, attract a great deal of visitors.

The route begins in spectacular Jasper National Park, first heading not south but in a north-northeasterly direction for more than 30 miles (48 km) – your first on-the-ground evidence that the Great Divide truly is a circuitous route and by no means the quickest way to get there from here. Once out on the rolling plains, the route veers southeast, traversing prairies and foothills at the eastern foot of the Rocky Mountains to a point about 30 miles (48 km) northwest of Calgary, where it turns west to take aim at the mountains.

Starting in Jasper, the quieter of the two main Alberta National Parks towns, you are immediately cast into the wilds on the historical Overlander Trail. This singletrack trail does include two short challenging sections of hike-a-bike that would require you to remove and portage a BOB trailer. Alternatively, a cyclist could ride TransCanada Highway 16, which has wide, bike-friendly shoulders, all the way to Hinton. Just south of Hinton you are presented with an optional route with the Cadomin Alternate. This option avoids Hinton and its services, but you will be rewarded with a route that puts you right into the Rocky Mountains and passes by the historical coal mining town of Cadomin. Whether you choose to stay on the main route through Hinton or follow the Cadomin Alternate you will soon begin heading generally southward, the route from this point to Canmore will look like a saw blade on the elevation profile as you climb and descend over many small passes and drop down through many watershed valleys. Resupply options between Hinton and Canmore are very limited and hours are sporadic for what few options you do have.

Camping options along this section are plentiful with numerous official campgrounds and many great areas for random camping. Be aware that certain official campgrounds along this section do have “no random camping” buffer zones around them that you are not permitted to camp in.

Riding conditions between TransCanada Hwy. 16 and PR 1A can vary significantly with time of year and weather conditions, as the majority is gravel forest service roads. Expect a mix of freshly graded, packed solid and washboarded sections. While this section is a major forest service road, the volume of traffic is generally low, but be aware of possible log hauling activities or oil and gas traffic.

Once you reach PR 1A you will ride a paved secondary highway into Canmore, be aware that there is a short section of this highway that has no shoulder and can be busy with traffic.

As you enter Canmore you are presented with your last route option in this section of the route. Option 1 is to climb the spectacular but difficult (and often dusty and washboarded) Smith-Dorrien/Spray Lakes Rd. from Canmore to the Goat Creek trailhead. Option 2 has you following the paved Legacy Trail that connects Canmore to Banff.

From the bustling national park town of Banff, the Spray River Trail – an old fire road, actually – whisks you into country possessing a very wild and remote feel. A climb up the Goat Creek Trail then takes you to the Smith-Dorrien Spray Road, a primary and potentially dusty backcountry tourist route. The jaw-dropping scenery continues through Kananaskis Country and its Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. From there, a sustained climb up and over the Great Divide via a powerline route over Elk Pass delivers you to Elk Lakes Provincial Park. It’s a six-mile (9.6 km) ride from one trailhead to the other that would require more than 200 miles (322 km) of driving if you had to do it in a car, on roads!

Subsequently, you’ll continue on a dirt road to Round Prairie, where the route rolls onto the Elk Valley Trail (EVT), which it follows to and through the ski-resort town of Fernie, continuing all the way to Elko. From Elko, a series of paved and gravel roads, one of which proffers a brief glimpse down on the immense Lake Koocanusa, wend their way to Grasmere. Then it’s a 7-mile (12 km) ride on the highway to the international border.

The recommended supplemental maps for this section include the Backroad Mapbooks volumes entitled “Canadian Rockies” and “Kootenay Rockies BC.” They can be ordered at www.backroadmapbooks.com or by calling (604) 521-6277.

In the Canadian Rockies, the best time to plan for a mountain bike tour is that sweet spot after the snow has melted up high, but before wildfire season begins in earnest. This typically means sometime between late June and late July. If you’re planning your trip six months in advance, shoot for this window. Concerning the other end of the cycling season in Alberta and British Columbia, plan to be off the route by late October.

Regardless of when you strike out or how long you intend to be out, pack along raingear and cold-weather clothing. Snow or cold rain is possible any day of the year at some of the elevations encountered, and hypothermia is an ever-present possibility. Also remain vigilant of the fact that this is bear country, so carefully review the information detailed under “Remote Riding Conditions.”

If you plan to enter Montana on the route from British Columbia (or vice versa), know that all U.S. citizens crossing the U.S.-Canadian border in either direction need one of the following: a passport, a U.S. Passport Card, an Enhanced Driver’s License (EDL), or a NEXUS card. Visitors who are not U.S. or Canadian citizens will also need a visa. Visa requirements vary from country to country, so check for specifics at advcy.link/visaUSCanada.

Those younger than 18: For entering Canada or the U.S., if you are not traveling with your parents, it is advisable to carry a letter stating that they have granted you permission to visit.

Take along sufficient funds and plan to exchange currency at a bank, since stores or restaurants often don’t give the full exchange rate. Canadian Customs will allow you to carry a two-day supply of food into Canada duty-free. You may find U.S. Customs less relaxed about the transportation of food across the border. Also, if you are carrying prescription drugs, keep them in the original container from your pharmacist.

For other questions pertaining to crossing the international border, call 406-889-3865 (Port of Roosville, MT); or 604-535-5450 (British Columbia).

Cadomin Alternate

Avoids the unpaved, remote Robb Rd. and provides access to services in the small town of Cadomin along Forestry Trunk Rd./PR 40.

Flathead Alternate

A wilder option through the “Serengeti of North America”. Includes the notorious ascent (southbound) of “The Wall” out of the Wigwam River drainage. Services are extremely limited.

Canmore Cutoff

A shortcut from Canmore to Goat Creek, skipping the town of Banff.

Updated: Sep 10, 2021

Alert: Active Logging Notice

TRAIL GUIDE

This section of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route traverses the heavily timbered mountains and historic mining regions lying between the Montana-British Columbia border and the Montana state capital city of Helena. For purposes of acquiring the recommended supplemental maps, note that the section traverses four national forests. They are the Kootenai National Forest (406-293-6211), the Flathead National Forest (406-758-5208), the Lolo National Forest (406-677-2233), and the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest (406-449-5201). You may obtain the forest visitor maps for these at the individual forest offices or by visiting nationalforestmapstore.com or calling 406-329-3024.

In the Northern Rockies, the best time to plan for a mountain bike tour is that sweet spot after the snow has melted up high, but before wildfire season begins in earnest. This typically means sometime between late June and late July. If you’re planning your trip six months in advance, shoot for this window. Concerning the other end of the cycling season in Montana, plan to be off the route by late October. Snow can start flying as early as late September.

Regardless of when you strike out or how long you intend to be out, pack along raingear and cold-weather clothing. Snow or cold rain is possible any day of the year at some of the elevations encountered, and hypothermia is an ever-present possibility. Also remain vigilant of the fact that this is bear country, so carefully review the information detailed under “Remote Riding Conditions.”

If you plan to enter Montana on the route from British Columbia (or vice versa), know that all U.S. citizens crossing the U.S.-Canadian border in either direction need one of the following: a passport, a U.S. Passport Card, an Enhanced Driver’s License (EDL), or a NEXUS card. Visitors who are not U.S. or Canadian citizens will also need a visa. Visa requirements vary from country to country, so begin your search for specifics at www.cbp.gov.

Those younger than 18: For entering Canada, if you are not traveling with your parents, it is advisable to carry a letter stating that they have granted you permission to visit.

Take along sufficient funds and plan to exchange currency at a bank, since stores or restaurants often don’t give the full exchange rate. Canadian Customs will allow you to carry a two-day supply of food into Canada duty-free. You may find U.S. Customs less relaxed about the transportation of food across the border. Also, if you are carrying prescription drugs, keep them in the original container from your pharmacist.

For other questions pertaining to crossing the international border, call 406-889-3865 (Port of Roosville, MT); or 604-535-5450 (British Columbia).

New to this edition of GDMBR maps is a spur route from Seeley Lake to Adventure Cycling’s hometown of Missoula. At just a hair over 65 miles, this is a challenging route through a maze of steep terrain on a mix of surfaces including overgrown old logging roads and singletrack trail. The route is devoid of signage much of the way. While riding, proper attention should be paid to the maps. In addition, we heartily recommend using the Missoula Spur digital route data or our mobile app to zoom in and get the finer route details that aren’t immediately apparent at our map scale. See “Public Land Stewardship” on reverse to learn more about the lands traversed by the new Missoula Spur.

Public Lands and Camping

The route often travels on public land administered by a variety of federal agencies such as USFS, BLM, and COE as well as state lands managers. There are an abundance of established public campgrounds along the route. The amenities of these campgrounds range from reservable sites with RV hookups and showers, to first-come-first-serve sites with fire rings and pit toilets. Campgrounds are open seasonally and open/close dates will vary. Contact Ranger Districts to confirm status, especially in the shoulder season. To make reservations or get more information on individual US Federal campgrounds, call 877-444-6777 or visit www.recreation.gov.

In addition to established campgrounds, it is legal to camp on USFS or BLM land following the guidelines found here: advcy.link/dispersecamp.

The USFS and BLM also maintain and rent a number of cabins. Some of these are winter only rentals. Reservations are required. Many of these cabins are in high demand and booked many months, up to a year, in advance. To get more information and to reserve a cabin, guard station, or lookout tower, visit www.recreation.gov.

Remote Riding Conditions

The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route is a circuitous, madly meandering path, neither the shortest way from point A to point B, nor designed for those in a hurry to “get there.”

Many wild, remote stretches exist along the route that are not elaborated on here. High temperatures, lofty elevations, wild animals, inclement weather (including lightning storms, snowstorms, and extremely strong winds), wildfires, and other potential hazards are plentiful. Understand in advance how to prepare for and cope with them.

Piped water sources tend to be limited, so replenish your supplies whenever the opportunity presents itself. A high-quality water treatment setup should be on your equipment list. Plenty of surface water can be found along much of the route, but it should be ingested only after running it through a good water filter or using a chemical treatment.

(Video) Adventure Cycling Montana - Great Divide Mountain Bike Route

Pack along bug repellent, sunscreen, and a first-aid kit. Carry bicycle tools, a tire pump, and spare tubes. Be prepared for any possibility.

Most of the route is in bear country; both grizzly and black bear north of Pinedale, Wyoming, and black bear only south of there. You should carry bear repellent spray, available at outdoor gear shops in the larger towns along the route, and become familiar with its safe and proper use. Always be bear-aware, and follow these rules when camping (these will help ward of other unwanted visitors, such as raccoons and, at the very southern reaches of the route, javelina):

  • Store all food, garbage, and other attractants in a bear-resistant manner, well away from your tent. This can include hanging them in a stuff sack from rope slung over a high, isolated tree branch, or storing them in a bear-proof container provided at campgrounds.
  • Attractants such as food leftovers, fish entrails, and bacon grease should not be buried or burned in campfires. Leftover food and waste should be placed in a sealed bag or container and packed out with garbage. If leftover food or other attractants must be burned, do so in a contained cookstove or in an appropriate container over a campfire, then pack out the ash.

We discourage you from attempting to ride this route solo; in fact, a minimum group size of three is strongly recommended. If a rider is debilitated in the backcountry, you will want to have at least one person to stay with the injured/sick rider, and another to go for help. Most backcountry travelers now carry cell phones in hopes that they will be of use in an emergency situation – but be aware that reception is very spotty along much of the route.

While signs are sometimes referred to in the narratives, don’t count on them actually being present when you arrive at the designated spot. Signage disappears or changes more frequently than we might like. (And please alert us when you encounter missing signs so we can make the appropriate updates to aid future riders.)

Particularly in dry summers, portions of the route can become quite washboarded, making for uncomfortable riding conditions. In other places, the route is very rocky. How to prepare for such rugged conditions is each rider’s choice. Some go with fully suspended bicycles; others with a bike featuring a front shock only. Still others ride unsuspended bikes, counting on specialized frame features (such as the vibration reduction system built into the Salsa Cutthroat bicycle), shock-absorbing seatposts (like the Cane Creek Thudbuster,) and/or soft-riding tires pushing five inches in width (as in fat bikes) to soak up the shock. Some particularly hardy riders simply grin and bear it, with no shock-absorption features or add-ons on their unsuspended mountain or cyclocross bikes. (There are also riders who’ve done the route aboard fixed gear single-speeds; so, yes, there are masochists among us.)

Fifteen or twenty years ago, the outfit of choice for hauling gear on the Great Divide was most commonly a trailer, such as a B.O.B. (Beast of Burden). In the meantime, more and more riders have moved over to panniers or bikepacking setups, which include a creatively designed array of frame bags, handlebar packs, seat bags, and more. (To review a few of the solutions, go to the Cycling Equipment page in the Cyclosource section of adventurecycling.org, then filter by “Bikepacking.”)

Where designated campgrounds exist along the route, they are depicted on the map with a symbol, as are recommended campgrounds lying off the route. Sites in developed Forest Service campgrounds typically cost from $8 to $15. In general on Forest Service and BLM lands it is permissible to camp anywhere unless it is signed to the contrary. So, much of the time you will find yourself camping at informal, “dispersed” sites, which are free.

For many years, we advised riders to tackle the route only in a north-to-south direction, believing that this would provide a better window of opportunity in terms of weather and snow conditions. However, numerous individuals have since successfully ridden the route going from south to north, which is why we have taken the step of providing narratives for both directions of travel. Just be aware of these generalities: high country snow can be a barrier to travel too early in the season, even as far south as northern New Mexico; monsoonal rains (roughly July through September) can make portions of the route, especially in New Mexico, temporarily impassable; and anyone who successfully predicts the weather long-term along the Continental Divide is either lucky or a soothsayer.

And then there’s wildfire, which might be considered the polar opposite of a rainstorm (although they’re often ignited by lightning associated with thunderstorms). Wildfire can and has closed the route, at one time or another, in every state and province visited by the Great Divide. Each year is unique, obviously, so we advise that you regularly check current wildfire status by visiting the website of the National Interagency Fire Center, advcy.link/fireinfo, or by phoning them at 208-387-5050.

Due to the remote nature of this route we have developed a list of shuttle options for cyclists to get to and leave from the route. Some of these options are commercial operations, some are individuals that saw a need over the years and offer their services. The list may be found here: advcy.link/GDshuttle.

Here it is in a nutshell: In addition to having stout lungs and strong legs, to ride the entire Great Divide within a planned timeframe you’ll need to have on your side a little luck with the weather and other environmental conditions.

Good luck, and have fun; go easy on the land and be good to other backcountry travelers, whether they’re in a four-wheel-drive vehicle or on foot, trailbike, or horseback. Give us a call with your feedback, and don’t get too lost!

Missoula Spur

Rigorous ride through lands recently opened to public recreation after years of logging. Remote and steep, with some technical singletrack riding.

Rimini Alternate

16 miles shorter and avoids Helena. This alternate requires careful planning as services are very limited.

Updated: Sep 10, 2021

TRAIL GUIDE

This section of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route leads from Helena, Montana, to Colter Bay, Wyoming, by way of historic mining regions, the sprawling ranchlands of southwest Montana, and one of the crown jewels of our National Park System. The route also passes through the Redrock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge and incorporates the short, 72-mile section of the route claimed by Idaho.

The recommended supplemental maps for this section include the visitor maps for these national forests: Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest (406-449-5201), Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest (406-683-3900), and Caribou-Targhee National Forest (208-524-7500). You can purchase them at the individual forest offices or by visiting advcy.link/NFmaps or calling 971-263-3149.

13.2 of Idaho’s 75.9 miles are on a rail-trail conversion following the route of the old Oregon Short Line, which was responsible for delivering turn-of-the century tourists to Yellowstone National Park. The northern portion of this rail-trail is very bumpy and runs through soft volcanic soils that can make riding a challenge, so you might want to consider taking the Fish Creek Alternate route shown on the map. The riding on the southern portion is smoother. Also, note that Mack’s Inn (slightly off route) has the only well-stocked grocery between Butte and Colter Bay Village. The route then enters Wyoming, cutting between Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks on the relatively little-traveled Reclamation Road, also known as the Ashton-Flagg Road and/or Grassy Lake Road.

In the Northern Rockies, the best time to plan for a mountain bike tour is that sweet spot after the snow has melted up high, but before wildfire season begins in earnest. This typically means sometime between late June and late July. If you’re planning your trip six months in advance, shoot for this window. Concerning the other end of the cycling season, plan to be off the route by late October. Snow can start flying as early as late September.

Regardless of when you strike out or how long you intend to be out, pack along raingear and cold-weather clothing. Snow or cold rain is possible any day of the year at some of the elevations encountered, and hypothermia is an ever-present possibility. Also remain vigilant of the fact that this is bear country, so carefully review the information detailed under “Remote Riding Conditions.”

Public Lands and Camping

The route often travels on public land administered by a variety of federal agencies such as USFS, BLM, and COE as well as state lands managers. There are an abundance of established public campgrounds along the route. The amenities of these campgrounds range from reservable sites with RV hookups and showers, to first-come-first-serve sites with fire rings and pit toilets. Campgrounds are open seasonally and open/close dates will vary. Contact Ranger Districts to confirm status, especially in the shoulder season. To make reservations or get more information on individual US Federal campgrounds, call 877-444-6777 or visit www.recreation.gov.

In addition to established campgrounds, it is legal to camp on USFS or BLM land following the guidelines found here: advcy.link/dispersecamp.

The USFS and BLM also maintain and rent a number of cabins. Some of these are winter only rentals. Reservations are required. Many of these cabins are in high demand and booked many months, up to a year, in advance. To get more information and to reserve a cabin, guard station, or lookout tower, visit www.recreation.gov.

We ask that all riders follow the International Mountain Biking Association’s Rules of the Trail: advcy.link/IMBArules.

Finally, you are advised to purchase and pack along the book Cycling the Great Divide (available through Adventure Cycling Association). The guidebook contains a wealth of information on history, geology, and natural history that will enrich your experience as you go.

Remote Riding Conditions

The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route is a circuitous, madly meandering path, neither the shortest way from point A to point B, nor designed for those in a hurry to “get there.”

Many wild, remote stretches exist along the route that are not elaborated on here. High temperatures, lofty elevations, wild animals, inclement weather (including lightning storms, snowstorms, and extremely strong winds), wildfires, and other potential hazards are plentiful. Understand in advance how to prepare for and cope with them.

Piped water sources tend to be limited, so replenish your supplies whenever the opportunity presents itself. A high-quality water treatment setup should be on your equipment list. Plenty of surface water can be found along much of the route, but it should be ingested only after running it through a good water filter or using a chemical treatment.

Pack along bug repellent, sunscreen, and a first-aid kit. Carry bicycle tools, a tire pump, and spare tubes. Be prepared for any possibility.

Most of the route is in bear country; both grizzly and black bear north of Pinedale, Wyoming, and black bear only south of there. You should carry bear repellent spray, available at outdoor gear shops in the larger towns along the route, and become familiar with its safe and proper use. Always be bear-aware, and follow these rules when camping (these will also help ward of other unwanted visitors, such as raccoons and, at the very southern reaches of the route, javelina):

  • Store all food, garbage, and other attractants in a bear-resistant manner, well away from your tent. This can include hanging them in a stuff sack from rope slung over a high, isolated tree branch, or storing them in a bear-proof container provided at campgrounds.
  • Attractants such as food leftovers, fish entrails, and bacon grease should not be buried or burned in campfires. Leftover food and waste should be placed in a sealed bag or container and packed out with garbage. If leftover food or other attractants must be burned, do so in a contained cookstove or in an appropriate container over a campfire, then pack out the ash.

We discourage you from attempting to ride this route solo; in fact, a minimum group size of three is strongly recommended. If a rider is debilitated in the backcountry, you will want to have at least one person to stay with the injured/sick rider, and another to go for help. Most backcountry travelers now carry cell phones in hopes that they will be of use in an emergency situation – but be aware that reception is very spotty along much of the route.

While signs are sometimes referred to in the narratives, don’t count on them actually being present when you arrive at the designated spot. Signage disappears or changes more frequently than we might like. (And please alert us when you encounter missing signs so we can make the appropriate updates to aid future riders.)

Particularly in dry summers, portions of the route can become quite washboarded, making for uncomfortable riding conditions. In other places, the route is very rocky. How to prepare for such rugged conditions is each rider’s choice. Some go with fully suspended bicycles; others with a bike featuring a front shock only. Still others ride unsuspended bikes, counting on specialized frame features (such as the vibration reduction system built into the Salsa Cutthroat bicycle), shock-absorbing seatposts (like the Cane Creek Thudbuster,) and/or soft-riding tires pushing five inches in width (as in fat bikes) to soak up the shock. Some particularly hardy riders simply grin and bear it, with no shock-absorption features or add-ons on their unsuspended mountain or cyclocross bikes. (There are also riders who’ve done the route aboard fixed gear single-speeds; so, yes, there are masochists among us.)

Fifteen or twenty years ago, the outfit of choice for hauling gear on the Great Divide was most commonly a trailer, such as a B.O.B. (Beast of Burden). In the meantime, more and more riders have moved over to panniers or bikepacking setups, which include a creatively designed array of frame bags, handlebar packs, seat bags, and more. (To review a few of the solutions, go to the Cycling Equipment page in the Cyclosource section of adventurecycling.org, then filter by “Bikepacking.”)

Where designated campgrounds exist along the route, they are depicted on the map with a symbol, as are recommended campgrounds lying off the route. Sites in developed Forest Service campgrounds typically cost from $8 to $15. In general on Forest Service and BLM lands it is permissible to camp anywhere unless it is signed to the contrary. So, much of the time you will find yourself camping at informal, “dispersed” sites, which are free.

For many years, we advised riders to tackle the route only in a north-to-south direction, believing that this would provide a better window of opportunity in terms of weather and snow conditions. However, numerous individuals have since successfully ridden the route going from south to north, which is why we have taken the step of providing narratives for both directions of travel. Just be aware of these generalities: high country snow can be a barrier to travel too early in the season, even as far south as northern New Mexico; monsoonal rains (roughly July through September) can make portions of the route, especially in New Mexico, temporarily impassable; and anyone who successfully predicts the weather long-term along the Continental Divide is either lucky or a soothsayer.

(Video) Highlights from the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route

And then there’s wildfire, which might be considered the polar opposite of a rainstorm (although they’re often ignited by lightning associated with thunderstorms). Wildfire can and has closed the route, at one time or another, in every state and province visited by the Great Divide. Each year is unique, obviously, so we advise that you regularly check current wildfire status by visiting the website of the National Interagency Fire Center, advcy.link/fireinfo, or by phoning them at 208-387-5050.

Due to the remote nature of this route we have developed a list of shuttle options for cyclists to get to and leave from the route. Some of these options are commercial operations, some are individuals that saw a need over the years and offer their services. The list may be found here: advcy.link/GDshuttle.

Here it is in a nutshell: In addition to having stout lungs and strong legs, to ride the entire Great Divide within a planned timeframe you’ll need to have on your side a little luck with the weather and other environmental conditions.

Good luck, and have fun; go easy on the land and be good to other backcountry travelers, whether they’re in a four-wheel-drive vehicle or on foot, trailbike, or horseback. Give us a call with your feedback, and don’t get too lost!

Boulder Alternate

7.1 miles longer and follows I-15. This alternate avoids some of the most challenging terrain along the route. There is a climb/descent between Boulder and Jefferson City.

Divide Alternate

2.2 miles shorter and entirely on pavement. This alternate avoids the legendary Fleecer Ridge.

Fish Creek Alternate

6 miles longer, slightly more scenic and, though sandy in areas, it avoids the EXTREMELY soft volcanic soils of the Yellowstone Branch Line Trail. There is no water along the alternate.

Updated: Sep 10, 2021

TRAIL GUIDE

This section of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route begins in the magnificent Teton country and winds its way up and over a couple of high Continental Divide crossings before skirting the west slope of the Wind River Mountains en route to historic South Pass City. From there, the route drops into the Great Divide Basin on its way to Rawlins.

The recommended supplemental maps for this section include the visitor maps for these national forests and ranger districts: Bridger-Teton National Forest, Buffalo and Jackson Ranger Districts (307-739-5500); Shoshone National Forest, North Half and South Half (307-527-6241); and Bridger-Teton National Forest, Pinedale Ranger District (307-367-4326). You can purchase them at the individual forest offices or by visiting nationalforestmapstore.com or calling 406-329-3024. The route also crosses the lands of several BLM districts, so you may want to obtain the BLM 1:100,000 metric topographic maps for Pinedale, Farson, South Pass, Baroil, and Rawlins (307-328-4200).

More so than on any other portion of the route north of New Mexico, finding drinking water can be problematic between Pinedale and Rawlins. Great Divide veterans recommend stocking up in Pinedale (or Rawlins for northbound riders) and carrying at least three to four gallons per person – at a weight of 25 to 33 pounds – for the long, typically two-day ride. (See the narrative for more information on the distances between permanent water sources.)

The terrain changes dramatically over the course of these 365.5 miles between Colter Bay and Rawlins: from lofty mountain meadows, to sagebrush-covered cattle and pronghorn country, to high, dry desert that’s spectacular in its own right. While in some years it would be feasible to ride parts of this route in May, late spring storms over the high desert can be fierce, so it’s not recommended that you do so. Summer can bring exceptionally hot temperatures and strong winds. Regardless of when you strike out or how long you intend to be out, pack along raingear and cold-weather clothing.

Public Lands and Camping

The route often travels on public land administered by a variety of federal agencies such as USFS, BLM, and COE as well as state lands managers. There are an abundance of established public campgrounds along the route. The amenities of these campgrounds range from reservable sites with RV hookups and showers, to first-come-first-serve sites with fire rings and pit toilets. Campgrounds are open seasonally and open/close dates will vary. Contact Ranger Districts to confirm status, especially in the shoulder season. To make reservations or get more information on individual US Federal campgrounds, call 877-444-6777 or visit www.recreation.gov.

In addition to established campgrounds, it is legal to camp on USFS or BLM land following the guidelines found here: advcy.link/dispersecamp.

The USFS and BLM also maintain and rent a number of cabins. Some of these are winter only rentals. Reservations are required. Many of these cabins are in high demand and booked many months, up to a year, in advance. To get more information and to reserve a cabin, guard station, or lookout tower, visit www.recreation.gov.

Remote Riding Conditions

The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route is a circuitous, madly meandering path, neither the shortest way from point A to point B, nor designed for those in a hurry to “get there.”

Many wild, remote stretches exist along the route that are not elaborated on here. High temperatures, lofty elevations, wild animals, inclement weather (including lightning storms, snowstorms, and extremely strong winds), wildfires, and other potential hazards are plentiful. Understand in advance how to prepare for and cope with them.

Piped water sources tend to be limited, so replenish your supplies whenever the opportunity presents itself. A high-quality water treatment setup should be on your equipment list. Plenty of surface water can be found along much of the route, but it should be ingested only after running it through a good water filter or using a chemical treatment.

Pack along bug repellent, sunscreen, and a first-aid kit. Carry bicycle tools, a tire pump, and spare tubes. Be prepared for any possibility.

Most of the route is in bear country; both grizzly and black bear north of Pinedale, Wyoming, and black bear only south of there. You should carry bear repellent spray, available at outdoor gear shops in the larger towns along the route, and become familiar with its safe and proper use. Always be bear-aware, and follow these rules when camping (these will help ward of other unwanted visitors, such as raccoons and, at the very southern reaches of the route, javelina):

  • Store all food, garbage, and other attractants in a bear-resistant manner, well away from your tent. This can include hanging them in a stuff sack from rope slung over a high, isolated tree branch, or storing them in a bear-proof container provided at campgrounds.
  • Attractants such as food leftovers, fish entrails, and bacon grease should not be buried or burned in campfires. Leftover food and waste should be placed in a sealed bag or container and packed out with garbage. If leftover food or other attractants must be burned, do so in a contained cookstove or in an appropriate container over a campfire, then pack out the ash.

We discourage you from attempting to ride this route solo; in fact, a minimum group size of three is strongly recommended. If a rider is debilitated in the backcountry, you will want to have at least one person to stay with the injured/sick rider, and another to go for help. Most backcountry travelers now carry cell phones in hopes that they will be of use in an emergency situation – but be aware that reception is very spotty along much of the route.

While signs are sometimes referred to in the narratives, don’t count on them actually being present when you arrive at the designated spot. Signage disappears or changes more frequently than we might like. (And please alert us when you encounter missing signs so we can make the appropriate updates to aid future riders.)

Particularly in dry summers, portions of the route can become quite washboarded, making for uncomfortable riding conditions. In other places, the route is very rocky. How to prepare for such rugged conditions is each rider’s choice. Some go with fully suspended bicycles; others with a bike featuring a front shock only. Still others ride unsuspended bikes, counting on specialized frame features (such as the vibration reduction system built into the Salsa Cutthroat bicycle), shock-absorbing seatposts (like the Cane Creek Thudbuster,) and/or soft-riding tires pushing five inches in width (as in fat bikes) to soak up the shock. Some particularly hardy riders simply grin and bear it, with no shock-absorption features or add-ons on their unsuspended mountain or cyclocross bikes. (There are also riders who’ve done the route aboard fixed gear single-speeds; so, yes, there are masochists among us.)

Fifteen or twenty years ago, the outfit of choice for hauling gear on the Great Divide was most commonly a trailer, such as a B.O.B. (Beast of Burden). In the meantime, more and more riders have moved over to panniers or bikepacking setups, which include a creatively designed array of frame bags, handlebar packs, seat bags, and more. (To review a few of the solutions, go to the Cycling Equipment page in the Cyclosource section of adventurecycling.org, then filter by “Bikepacking.”)

Where designated campgrounds exist along the route, they are depicted on the map with a symbol, as are recommended campgrounds lying off the route. Sites in developed Forest Service campgrounds typically cost from $8 to $15. In general on Forest Service and BLM lands it is permissible to camp anywhere unless it is signed to the contrary. So, much of the time you will find yourself camping at informal, “dispersed” sites, which are free.

For many years, we advised riders to tackle the route only in a north-to-south direction, believing that this would provide a better window of opportunity in terms of weather and snow conditions. However, numerous individuals have since successfully ridden the route going from south to north, which is why we have taken the step of providing narratives for both directions of travel. Just be aware of these generalities: high country snow can be a barrier to travel too early in the season, even as far south as northern New Mexico; monsoonal rains (roughly July through September) can make portions of the route, especially in New Mexico, temporarily impassable; and anyone who successfully predicts the weather long-term along the Continental Divide is either lucky or a soothsayer.

And then there’s wildfire, which might be considered the polar opposite of a rainstorm (although they’re often ignited by lightning associated with thunderstorms). Wildfire can and has closed the route, at one time or another, in every state and province visited by the Great Divide. Each year is unique, obviously, so we advise that you regularly check current wildfire status by visiting the website of the National Interagency Fire Center, advcy.link/fireinfo, or by phoning them at 208-387-5050.

Due to the remote nature of this route we have developed a list of shuttle options for cyclists to get to and leave from the route. Some of these options are commercial operations, some are individuals that saw a need over the years and offer their services. The list may be found here: advcy.link/GDshuttle.

Here it is in a nutshell: In addition to having stout lungs and strong legs, to ride the entire Great Divide within a planned timeframe you’ll need to have on your side a little luck with the weather and other environmental conditions.

Good luck, and have fun; go easy on the land and be good to other backcountry travelers, whether they’re in a four-wheel-drive vehicle or on foot, trailbike, or horseback. Give us a call with your feedback, and don’t get too lost!

Jackson Spur

A scenic spur along the base of the Tetons to the town of Jackson.

Wind River Alternate

4.1 miles shorter and includes 7.9 miles of pavement. If you need services in Dubois, use this alternate.

Updated: Sep 10, 2021

TRAIL GUIDE

This section of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route begins in Rawlins, Wyoming. South of that windy, rough-hewn Wyoming community the high desert rises to meet the even higher Sierra Madre Range, leading the way into Colorado and Steamboat Springs, the first in a string of ski towns visited. After following the paved Blue River trail system through bustling Summit County and the town of Breckenridge, the route crosses the Continental Divide at Boreas Pass and descends into the broad, windswept basin known as South Park. South of the small town of Hartsel it climbs back into the mountains, then drops into the high-valley village of Salida.

The recommended supplemental maps for this section include the visitor maps for these national forests: Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest (970-870-2299), Arapaho National Forest (970-295-6600), Pike National Forest (719-553-1400), and San Isabel National Forest (719-553-1400). You can purchase them at the individual forest offices or by visiting nationalforestmapstore.com or calling 406-329-3024.

(Video) Great Divide Mountain Bike Route Day 5, Fatty Creek to Condon (June 22, 2022)

June can be a cold month at the higher elevations of Colorado, so we recommend not attempting to ride this section prior to early July. Due to high-country snowpack, some portions are not even passable in a typical year until that time. Regarding the other end of the cycling season, plan to be off the trail by mid-October at the latest. Regardless of when you strike out or how long you intend to be out, pack along raingear and cold-weather clothing. Snow or cold rain is possible any day of the year at some of the elevations encountered, and hypothermia is an ever-present possibility. Also be aware that after October 1, many private and USFS campgrounds close or have no water available. Call ahead to verify the situation if you are cycling after this date.

Public Lands and Camping

The route often travels on public land administered by a variety of federal agencies such as USFS, BLM, and COE as well as state lands managers. There are an abundance of established public campgrounds along the route. The amenities of these campgrounds range from reservable sites with RV hookups and showers, to first-come-first-serve sites with fire rings and pit toilets. Campgrounds are open seasonally and open/close dates will vary. Contact Ranger Districts to confirm status, especially in the shoulder season. To make reservations or get more information on individual US Federal campgrounds, call 877-444-6777 or visit www.recreation.gov.

In addition to established campgrounds, it is legal to camp on USFS or BLM land following the guidelines found here: advcy.link/dispersecamp.

The USFS and BLM also maintain and rent a number of cabins. Some of these are winter only rentals. Reservations are required. Many of these cabins are in high demand and booked many months, up to a year, in advance. To get more information and to reserve a cabin, guard station, or lookout tower, visit www.recreation.gov.

Remote Riding Conditions

The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route is a circuitous, madly meandering path, neither the shortest way from point A to point B, nor designed for those in a hurry to “get there.”

Many wild, remote stretches exist along the route that are not elaborated on here. High temperatures, lofty elevations, wild animals, inclement weather (including lightning storms, snowstorms, and extremely strong winds), wildfires, and other potential hazards are plentiful. Understand in advance how to prepare for and cope with them.

Piped water sources tend to be limited, so replenish your supplies whenever the opportunity presents itself. A high-quality water treatment setup should be on your equipment list. Plenty of surface water can be found along much of the route, but it should be ingested only after running it through a good water filter or using a chemical treatment.

Pack along bug repellent, sunscreen, and a first-aid kit. Carry bicycle tools, a tire pump, and spare tubes. Be prepared for any possibility.

Most of the route is in bear country; both grizzly and black bear north of Pinedale, Wyoming, and black bear only south of there. You should carry bear repellent spray, available at outdoor gear shops in the larger towns along the route, and become familiar with its safe and proper use. Always be bear-aware, and follow these rules when camping (these will help ward of other unwanted visitors, such as raccoons and, at the very southern reaches of the route, javelina):

  • Store all food, garbage, and other attractants in a bear-resistant manner, well away from your tent. This can include hanging them in a stuff sack from rope slung over a high, isolated tree branch, or storing them in a bear-proof container provided at campgrounds.
  • Attractants such as food leftovers, fish entrails, and bacon grease should not be buried or burned in campfires. Leftover food and waste should be placed in a sealed bag or container and packed out with garbage. If leftover food or other attractants must be burned, do so in a contained cookstove or in an appropriate container over a campfire, then pack out the ash.

We discourage you from attempting to ride this route solo; in fact, a minimum group size of three is strongly recommended. If a rider is debilitated in the backcountry, you will want to have at least one person to stay with the injured/sick rider, and another to go for help. Most backcountry travelers now carry cell phones in hopes that they will be of use in an emergency situation – but be aware that reception is very spotty along much of the route.

While signs are sometimes referred to in the narratives, don’t count on them actually being present when you arrive at the designated spot. Signage disappears or changes more frequently than we might like. (And please alert us when you encounter missing signs so we can make the appropriate updates to aid future riders.)

Particularly in dry summers, portions of the route can become quite washboarded, making for uncomfortable riding conditions. In other places, the route is very rocky. How to prepare for such rugged conditions is each rider’s choice. Some go with fully suspended bicycles; others with a bike featuring a front shock only. Still others ride unsuspended bikes, counting on specialized frame features (such as the vibration reduction system built into the Salsa Cutthroat bicycle), shock-absorbing seatposts (like the Cane Creek Thudbuster,) and/or soft-riding tires pushing five inches in width (as in fat bikes) to soak up the shock. Some particularly hardy riders simply grin and bear it, with no shock-absorption features or add-ons on their unsuspended mountain or cyclocross bikes. (There are also riders who’ve done the route aboard fixed gear single-speeds; so, yes, there are masochists among us.)

Fifteen or twenty years ago, the outfit of choice for hauling gear on the Great Divide was most commonly a trailer, such as a B.O.B. (Beast of Burden). In the meantime, more and more riders have moved over to panniers or bikepacking setups, which include a creatively designed array of frame bags, handlebar packs, seat bags, and more. (To review a few of the solutions, go to the Cycling Equipment page in the Cyclosource section of adventurecycling.org, then filter by “Bikepacking.”)

Where designated campgrounds exist along the route, they are depicted on the map with a symbol, as are recommended campgrounds lying off the route. Sites in developed Forest Service campgrounds typically cost from $8 to $15. In general on Forest Service and BLM lands it is permissible to camp anywhere unless it is signed to the contrary. So, much of the time you will find yourself camping at informal, “dispersed” sites, which are free.

For many years, we advised riders to tackle the route only in a north-to-south direction, believing that this would provide a better window of opportunity in terms of weather and snow conditions. However, numerous individuals have since successfully ridden the route going from south to north, which is why we have taken the step of providing narratives for both directions of travel. Just be aware of these generalities: high country snow can be a barrier to travel too early in the season, even as far south as northern New Mexico; monsoonal rains (roughly July through September) can make portions of the route, especially in New Mexico, temporarily impassable; and anyone who successfully predicts the weather long-term along the Continental Divide is either lucky or a soothsayer.

And then there’s wildfire, which might be considered the polar opposite of a rainstorm (although they’re often ignited by lightning associated with thunderstorms). Wildfire can and has closed the route, at one time or another, in every state and province visited by the Great Divide. Each year is unique, obviously, so we advise that you regularly check current wildfire status by visiting the website of the National Interagency Fire Center, advcy.link/fireinfo, or by phoning them at 208-387-5050.

Due to the remote nature of this route we have developed a list of shuttle options for cyclists to get to and leave from the route. Some of these options are commercial operations, some are individuals that saw a need over the years and offer their services. The list may be found here: advcy.link/GDshuttle.

Here it is in a nutshell: In addition to having stout lungs and strong legs, to ride the entire Great Divide within a planned timeframe you’ll need to have on your side a little luck with the weather and other environmental conditions.

Good luck, and have fun; go easy on the land and be good to other backcountry travelers, whether they’re in a four-wheel-drive vehicle or on foot, trailbike, or horseback. Give us a call with your feedback, and don’t get too lost!

Columbine Alternate

4.1 miles shorter, similar traffic volume on wider, potentially dustier road. Still very beautiful.

Updated: Sep 10, 2021

TRAIL GUIDE

This section of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route leads from Salida, Colorado, to the Conejos River outpost of Platoro, then onward into New Mexico, the aptly nicknamed “Land of Enchantment.” Here it traverses the remote, high-elevation Tusas Mountains before passing through three New Mexico villages straight out of Old Mexico: Cañon Plaza, Vallecitos, and El Rito. South of Abiquiu, a tough, 25-mile climb up Polvadera Mesa leads into the heavily forested Jemez Mountains, where elk and black bear are common residents. South of the town of Cuba the route winds through the carved maze of eroded terrain that separates Mesa Chivato and Chaco Mesa. From there it traverses the northwest flank of the San Mateo Mountains before dropping into the sprawling community of Grants.

The recommended supplemental maps for this section include the visitor maps for these national forests: Gunnison National Forest (970-874-6600), Rio Grande National Forest (719-852-5941), Carson National Forest (575-758-6200), Santa Fe National Forest (505-438-5300), and Cibola National Forest – Mt. Taylor Ranger District (505-287-8833). You can purchase them at the individual forest offices or by visiting nationalforestmapstore.com or calling 406-329-3024. Also recommended is the BLM 1:100,000-scale topographic map of Chaco Mesa (505-438-7542).

June can be a cold month at the high elevations of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico, so we recommend that you not attempt to ride this section prior to early July. The highest portions may not be entirely free of snow until that time, anyway. Regarding the other end of the cycling season, plan to be off the trail by mid-October at the latest. Regardless of when you leave or how long you intend to be out, pack along raingear and cold-weather clothing, because strong winds, cold rain, and even snow are possible throughout the riding season. After October 1, many private and USFS campgrounds close or have no water available. Call ahead to verify the situation if you’ll be cycling after this date.

Unsurfaced roads – particularly in the Tusas Mountains of New Mexico and those between Cuba and Grants – may be impassable when wet, due to the nature of the soils. In the case of summer thundershowers the roads will typically dry out within a few hours after the rain stops. However, if you arrive during a late-summer period of monsoonal rains, which can keep things muddy for days at a time, you may be forced to follow the Chaco Alternate.

This paved alternate provides access to Chaco Culture National Historical Park via mostly dirt roads that may be impassable in inclement weather. The park has camping, but no other services; water is available at the visitor center (505-786-7014 ext. 221). The campground is situated approximately 33 miles from Pueblo Pintado or 29 miles from White Horse, both of which lie along the alternate route. See the park website for directions and current conditions: www.nps.gov/chcu.

Drinking water is also a concern on the stretch between Cuba and Grants: From Cuba to Ojo Frio Spring the distance is 47 miles, and from Ojo Frio to San Mateo Spring it is another 50 miles. So stock up whenever you can!

Public Lands and Camping

The route often travels on public land administered by a variety of federal agencies such as USFS, BLM, and COE as well as state lands managers. There are an abundance of established public campgrounds along the route. The amenities of these campgrounds range from reservable sites with RV hookups and showers, to first-come-first-serve sites with fire rings and pit toilets. Campgrounds are open seasonally and open/close dates will vary. Contact Ranger Districts to confirm status, especially in the shoulder season. To make reservations or get more information on individual US Federal campgrounds, call 877-444-6777 or visit www.recreation.gov.

In addition to established campgrounds, it is legal to camp on USFS or BLM land following the guidelines found here: advcy.link/dispersecamp.

The USFS and BLM also maintain and rent a number of cabins. Some of these are winter only rentals. Reservations are required. Many of these cabins are in high demand and booked many months, up to a year, in advance. To get more information and to reserve a cabin, guard station, or lookout tower, visit www.recreation.gov.

Remote Riding Conditions

The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route is a circuitous, madly meandering path, neither the shortest way from point A to point B, nor designed for those in a hurry to “get there.”

Many wild, remote stretches exist along the route that are not elaborated on here. High temperatures, lofty elevations, wild animals, inclement weather (including lightning storms, snowstorms, and extremely strong winds), wildfires, and other potential hazards are plentiful. Understand in advance how to prepare for and cope with them.

Piped water sources tend to be limited, so replenish your supplies whenever the opportunity presents itself. A high-quality water treatment setup should be on your equipment list. Plenty of surface water can be found along much of the route, but it should be ingested only after running it through a good water filter or using a chemical treatment.

Pack along bug repellent, sunscreen, and a first-aid kit. Carry bicycle tools, a tire pump, and spare tubes. Be prepared for any possibility.

Most of the route is in bear country; both grizzly and black bear north of Pinedale, Wyoming, and black bear only south of there. You should carry bear repellent spray, available at outdoor gear shops in the larger towns along the route, and become familiar with its safe and proper use. Always be bear-aware, and follow these rules when camping (these will help ward of other unwanted visitors, such as raccoons and, at the very southern reaches of the route, javelina):

  • Store all food, garbage, and other attractants in a bear-resistant manner, well away from your tent. This can include hanging them in a stuff sack from rope slung over a high, isolated tree branch, or storing them in a bear-proof container provided at campgrounds.
  • Attractants such as food leftovers, fish entrails, and bacon grease should not be buried or burned in campfires. Leftover food and waste should be placed in a sealed bag or container and packed out with garbage. If leftover food or other attractants must be burned, do so in a contained cookstove or in an appropriate container over a campfire, then pack out the ash.

We discourage you from attempting to ride this route solo; in fact, a minimum group size of three is strongly recommended. If a rider is debilitated in the backcountry, you will want to have at least one person to stay with the injured/sick rider, and another to go for help. Most backcountry travelers now carry cell phones in hopes that they will be of use in an emergency situation – but be aware that reception is very spotty along much of the route.

(Video) Ride of The Trip!!! Great Divide Mountain Bike Route Day 6, Holland Lake to Seeley Lake (6/23/2022)

While signs are sometimes referred to in the narratives, don’t count on them actually being present when you arrive at the designated spot. Signage disappears or changes more frequently than we might like. (And please alert us when you encounter missing signs so we can make the appropriate updates to aid future riders.)

Particularly in dry summers, portions of the route can become quite washboarded, making for uncomfortable riding conditions. In other places, the route is very rocky. How to prepare for such rugged conditions is each rider’s choice. Some go with fully suspended bicycles; others with a bike featuring a front shock only. Still others ride unsuspended bikes, counting on specialized frame features (such as the vibration reduction system built into the Salsa Cutthroat bicycle), shock-absorbing seatposts (like the Cane Creek Thudbuster,) and/or soft-riding tires pushing five inches in width (as in fat bikes) to soak up the shock. Some particularly hardy riders simply grin and bear it, with no shock-absorption features or add-ons on their unsuspended mountain or cyclocross bikes. (There are also riders who’ve done the route aboard fixed gear single-speeds; so, yes, there are masochists among us.)

Fifteen or twenty years ago, the outfit of choice for hauling gear on the Great Divide was most commonly a trailer, such as a B.O.B. (Beast of Burden). In the meantime, more and more riders have moved over to panniers or bikepacking setups, which include a creatively designed array of frame bags, handlebar packs, seat bags, and more. (To review a few of the solutions, go to the Cycling Equipment page in the Cyclosource section of adventurecycling.org, then filter by “Bikepacking.”)

Where designated campgrounds exist along the route, they are depicted on the map with a symbol, as are recommended campgrounds lying off the route. Sites in developed Forest Service campgrounds typically cost from $8 to $15. In general on Forest Service and BLM lands it is permissible to camp anywhere unless it is signed to the contrary. So, much of the time you will find yourself camping at informal, “dispersed” sites, which are free.

For many years, we advised riders to tackle the route only in a north-to-south direction, believing that this would provide a better window of opportunity in terms of weather and snow conditions. However, numerous individuals have since successfully ridden the route going from south to north, which is why we have taken the step of providing narratives for both directions of travel. Just be aware of these generalities: high country snow can be a barrier to travel too early in the season, even as far south as northern New Mexico; monsoonal rains (roughly July through September) can make portions of the route, especially in New Mexico, temporarily impassable; and anyone who successfully predicts the weather long-term along the Continental Divide is either lucky or a soothsayer.

And then there’s wildfire, which might be considered the polar opposite of a rainstorm (although they’re often ignited by lightning associated with thunderstorms). Wildfire can and has closed the route, at one time or another, in every state and province visited by the Great Divide. Each year is unique, obviously, so we advise that you regularly check current wildfire status by visiting the website of the National Interagency Fire Center, advcy.link/fireinfo, or by phoning them at 208-387-5050.

Due to the remote nature of this route we have developed a list of shuttle options for cyclists to get to and leave from the route. Some of these options are commercial operations, some are individuals that saw a need over the years and offer their services. The list may be found here: advcy.link/GDshuttle.

Here it is in a nutshell: In addition to having stout lungs and strong legs, to ride the entire Great Divide within a planned timeframe you’ll need to have on your side a little luck with the weather and other environmental conditions.

Good luck, and have fun; go easy on the land and be good to other backcountry travelers, whether they’re in a four-wheel-drive vehicle or on foot, trailbike, or horseback. Give us a call with your feedback, and don’t get too lost!

Chaco Alternate

5.8 miles shorter, and paved the entire way. Use this ifyou're traveling during the late-summer monsoonal rain season or going to Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

Updated: Sep 10, 2021

TRAIL GUIDE

Once the southbound rider arrives in Grants, most of the route’s high mountain country is in his rear-view mirror (while it’s just barely started for the northbound!). South of the impressive badlands terrain of El Malpais National Monument the route visits Pie Town, famous for its… you guessed it. After skirting the barren Plains of San Agustin, then climbing across the exceptionally rugged mountains of the Gila National Forest – where each steep descent is followed by an equally steep climb – the route pulls into Silver City. Here the mountains end and the desert begins, surrounding you all the way to the door to Old Mexico.

The recommended supplemental map for this section includes that of the Gila National Forest (575-388-8201). You may obtain it by calling that number or by visiting nationalforestmapstore.com or calling 406-329-3024.

Unsurfaced roads – particularly those situated between El Malpais National Monument and the Gila National Forest’s Beaverhead Work Center – may be impassable when wet, due to the nature of the soils. In the case of summer thundershowers the roads will typically dry out within a few hours after the rain stops, so it will simply be a matter of sitting out the storm and its aftermath. However, if you arrive during a late-summer period of monsoonal rains, which can keep things soaking wet for days at a time, you may be forced to follow an alternative paved route.

Drinking water is also a concern on this stretch: South of Grants, the distance from the Bandera Ice Caves, where water is available, to Pie Town is 67 miles. However, the route does occasionally pass windmills which, when operating, feed water into stock tanks. The water is generally potable, but as a precaution it should be filtered. (Be careful not to keep cattle away from the tanks.) Also be aware that streams mentioned on the map may be dry. Your policy should be to pack along the minimum amount of water you think you’ll need for the 47- to 67-mile stretches, and refill if and when you encounter bonus water sources.

The northern parts of this section are generally passable from March through November. The final stretch from Silver City to Antelope Wells is open throughout the year, although late spring and early summer bring extremely high temperatures. Regardless of when you strike out or how long you intend to be out, pack along raingear and cold-weather clothing, because strong winds and cold rain are possible throughout the riding season.

An optional end to your ride may be made via the 47-mile Columbus Alternate from Hachita to the international border just south of Columbus. Regardless of which endpoint you choose, it’s advisable to check in advance with the U.S. Department of State for travel advisories regarding the border at travel.state.gov/.

Public Lands and Camping

The route often travels on public land administered by a variety of federal agencies such as USFS, BLM, and COE as well as state lands managers. There are an abundance of established public campgrounds along the route. The amenities of these campgrounds range from reservable sites with RV hookups and showers, to first-come-first-serve sites with fire rings and pit toilets. Campgrounds are open seasonally and open/close dates will vary. Contact Ranger Districts to confirm status, especially in the shoulder season. To make reservations or get more information on individual US Federal campgrounds, call 877-444-6777 or visit www.recreation.gov.

In addition to established campgrounds, it is legal to camp on USFS or BLM land following the guidelines found here: advcy.link/dispersecamp.

The USFS and BLM also maintain and rent a number of cabins. Some of these are winter only rentals. Reservations are required. Many of these cabins are in high demand and booked many months, up to a year, in advance. To get more information and to reserve a cabin, guard station, or lookout tower, visit www.recreation.gov.

Remote Riding Conditions

The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route is a circuitous, madly meandering path, neither the shortest way from point A to point B, nor designed for those in a hurry to “get there.”

Many wild, remote stretches exist along the route that are not elaborated on here. High temperatures, lofty elevations, wild animals, inclement weather (including lightning storms, snowstorms, and extremely strong winds), wildfires, and other potential hazards are plentiful. Understand in advance how to prepare for and cope with them.

Piped water sources tend to be limited, so replenish your supplies whenever the opportunity presents itself. A high-quality water treatment setup should be on your equipment list. Plenty of surface water can be found along much of the route, but it should be ingested only after running it through a good water filter or using a chemical treatment.

Pack along bug repellent, sunscreen, and a first-aid kit. Carry bicycle tools, a tire pump, and spare tubes. Be prepared for any possibility.

Most of the route is in bear country; both grizzly and black bear north of Pinedale, Wyoming, and black bear only south of there. You should carry bear repellent spray, available at outdoor gear shops in the larger towns along the route, and become familiar with its safe and proper use. Always be bear-aware, and follow these rules when camping (these will help ward of other unwanted visitors, such as raccoons and, at the very southern reaches of the route, javelina):

  • Store all food, garbage, and other attractants in a bear-resistant manner, well away from your tent. This can include hanging them in a stuff sack from rope slung over a high, isolated tree branch, or storing them in a bear-proof container provided at campgrounds.
  • Attractants such as food leftovers, fish entrails, and bacon grease should not be buried or burned in campfires. Leftover food and waste should be placed in a sealed bag or container and packed out with garbage. If leftover food or other attractants must be burned, do so in a contained cookstove or in an appropriate container over a campfire, then pack out the ash.

We discourage you from attempting to ride this route solo; in fact, a minimum group size of three is strongly recommended. If a rider is debilitated in the backcountry, you will want to have at least one person to stay with the injured/sick rider, and another to go for help. Most backcountry travelers now carry cell phones in hopes that they will be of use in an emergency situation – but be aware that reception is very spotty along much of the route.

While signs are sometimes referred to in the narratives, don’t count on them actually being present when you arrive at the designated spot. Signage disappears or changes more frequently than we might like. (And please alert us when you encounter missing signs so we can make the appropriate updates to aid future riders.)

Particularly in dry summers, portions of the route can become quite washboarded, making for uncomfortable riding conditions. In other places, the route is very rocky. How to prepare for such rugged conditions is each rider’s choice. Some go with fully suspended bicycles; others with a bike featuring a front shock only. Still others ride unsuspended bikes, counting on specialized frame features (such as the vibration reduction system built into the Salsa Cutthroat bicycle), shock-absorbing seatposts (like the Cane Creek Thudbuster,) and/or soft-riding tires pushing five inches in width (as in fat bikes) to soak up the shock. Some particularly hardy riders simply grin and bear it, with no shock-absorption features or add-ons on their unsuspended mountain or cyclocross bikes. (There are also riders who’ve done the route aboard fixed gear single-speeds; so, yes, there are masochists among us.)

Fifteen or twenty years ago, the outfit of choice for hauling gear on the Great Divide was most commonly a trailer, such as a B.O.B. (Beast of Burden). In the meantime, more and more riders have moved over to panniers or bikepacking setups, which include a creatively designed array of frame bags, handlebar packs, seat bags, and more. (To review a few of the solutions, go to the Cycling Equipment page in the Cyclosource section of adventurecycling.org, then filter by “Bikepacking.”)

Where designated campgrounds exist along the route, they are depicted on the map with a symbol, as are recommended campgrounds lying off the route. Sites in developed Forest Service campgrounds typically cost from $8 to $15. In general on Forest Service and BLM lands it is permissible to camp anywhere unless it is signed to the contrary. So, much of the time you will find yourself camping at informal, “dispersed” sites, which are free.

For many years, we advised riders to tackle the route only in a north-to-south direction, believing that this would provide a better window of opportunity in terms of weather and snow conditions. However, numerous individuals have since successfully ridden the route going from south to north, which is why we have taken the step of providing narratives for both directions of travel. Just be aware of these generalities: high country snow can be a barrier to travel too early in the season, even as far south as northern New Mexico; monsoonal rains (roughly July through September) can make portions of the route, especially in New Mexico, temporarily impassable; and anyone who successfully predicts the weather long-term along the Continental Divide is either lucky or a soothsayer.

And then there’s wildfire, which might be considered the polar opposite of a rainstorm (although they’re often ignited by lightning associated with thunderstorms). Wildfire can and has closed the route, at one time or another, in every state and province visited by the Great Divide. Each year is unique, obviously, so we advise that you regularly check current wildfire status by visiting the website of the National Interagency Fire Center, advcy.link/fireinfo, or by phoning them at 208-387-5050.

Due to the remote nature of this route we have developed a list of shuttle options for cyclists to get to and leave from the route. Some of these options are commercial operations, some are individuals that saw a need over the years and offer their services. The list may be found here: advcy.link/GDshuttle.

Here it is in a nutshell: In addition to having stout lungs and strong legs, to ride the entire Great Divide within a planned timeframe you’ll need to have on your side a little luck with the weather and other environmental conditions.

Good luck, and have fun; go easy on the land and be good to other backcountry travelers, whether they’re in a four-wheel-drive vehicle or on foot, trailbike, or horseback. Give us a call with your feedback, and don’t get too lost!

CDT Alternate

6.7 miles shorter than the main route; this alternate use 6 miles of the narrow and challenging Continental Divide Trail. Good technical riding skills are necessary here.

(Video) Mountain biking the Great Divide 2021

Columbus Alternate

An optional route to the border that includes the all-service town of Columbus and Pancho Villa State Park.

Updated: Sep 10, 2021

FAQs

How long does it take to do the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route? ›

Typical times to ride the entire route range from six to ten weeks. Logistical issues complicate riding the GDMBR. Reliable food and water sources on some portions of the route are over 100 mi (160 km) apart.

How hard is GDMBR? ›

Route Difficulty: While we awarded the GDMBR a difficulty rating of 5.5, it shouldn't be taken lightly. The surfaces and terrain that make up the GDMBR are largely gravel and dirt roads, and therefore not technical in nature. Most Tour Dividers cycle it with a drop-bar bike similar to the Salsa Cutthroat.

Where does the great divide start and end? ›

The most famous Continental Divide of the Americas is also called the Great Divide. It separates the watersheds of the Pacific Ocean from those of the Atlantic Ocean. It runs from Alaska, through western Canada along the crest of the Rocky Mountains to New Mexico.

How long does it take to ride the divide? ›

How long does it take to cycle the Great Divide route (GDMBR)? Reasonably fast riders can complete the Great Divide route in around 45 days, averaging 60 miles per day. Compare that to the record of the Tour Divide race which is 13 days, 22 hours, and 51 minutes and was set in 2016 by British endurance racer Mike Hall.

How much does it cost to do the great divide? ›

How much will it cost to thru-hike the GDT? Not including costs for your personal hiking equipment and travel costs to and from the trail, a good estimate is $2 per kilometre of trail to cover expenses for food, fuel and campground permits.

What kind of bike is good for the great divide? ›

The Bicycle Frame

Mountain bike frames are the most suitable for this terrain as they are durable, stable, and versatile. There is a lot of talk about what frame material is strongest, and there is one simple fact: the construction of the frame has a lot more to do with its strength than does the actual material.

How do I prepare for GDMBR? ›

Planning and Preparing

Study any needed maps and/or GPX files before departing. Call ahead to make sure resupply points are open, especially in smaller towns. Have an emergency plan for every point along the route. Whether you have a mechanical or injury, or you need to get back home asap, have a plan for what to do.

Can you ride the great divide on a gravel bike? ›

As far as a bike goes, you can do this route on a fully rigid gravel bike or a full suspension mountain bike, or some variation of the two. We are old school tourers who like rack and panniers, which we used.

What is the best time to bike? ›

Study has proven than morning rides can improve working efficiency in working place. Morning ride create more encouragement, freedom on the road and avoid mass traffic during peak hour. Heavy traffic and road safety is main reason to block you for doing cycling in the end of the day or after work.

What is the Tour Divide 2022? ›

The 2022 Tour Divide begins on Friday, June 10th at 8AM with over 200 riders following the 2,745-mile Great Divide Mountain Bike Route from north to south starting in Banff, Alberta, Canada and finishing at the US/Mexico border in Antelope Wells, New Mexico.

How many people attempt the CDT every year? ›

For the long-distance hiking community, the CDT is one-third of the “Triple Crown,” and annually, while the number is growing, approximately 150 ambitious travelers attempt to complete an end-to-end trek.

Can you mountain bike the CDT? ›

The CDT is primarily a hiking trail but that is no reason why it should not be a biking trail too. Unlike more codified routes or trails, the CDT is very much a “choose your own adventure” route.

Can you drive the CDT? ›

Last but not least, you can circle the Continental Divide, crossing it twice, on a driving tour through and beyond Wind River Country, Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, and more. This driving tour offers a stunning tour of the landscape and the rich culture of Wyoming.

What is the Baja divide? ›

The “Baja Divide” is a new but already established 2.735km long off-pavement bikepacking route, starting in San Diego, USA and following the length of the Baja California Peninsula all the way to San Jose del Cabo, Mexico. It crosses the Peninsula several times, connecting the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez.

How long does it take to do the CDT? ›

How long is the Continental Divide Trail? The trail is about 3,100 miles long. To put that number into perspective, if you walked 20 miles every single day, it would take 5 and a half months to get from the Mexican border to the Canadian border along the Continental Divide Trail.

Why is it called the Great Divide Trail? ›

The Great Divide is the major hydrological divide of North America. Along the GDT, the Great Divide separates water flowing into the Pacific Ocean to the west (via the Columbia River) from Hudson Bay (via the North Saskatchewan River) and the Arctic Ocean (via the Athabasca River) to the east.

Who won the Tour Divide 2022? ›

Sofiane Sehili Wins The Tour Divide 2022.

Who won the 2021 Tour Divide? ›

Jay Petervary

Can you ride a motorcycle on the Continental Divide Trail? ›

Motorcycle Route for Adventure Bikes and Dual Sport Bikes

The Great Continental Divide Adventure Route is a motorized route that follows closely along the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. This scenic trail runs from the USA/Mexico border into Canada and covers 2,767 miles of spectacular remote wilderness.

What kind of bike does Lael Wilcox ride? ›

Rene Herse Oracle Ridge 700×48 knobbies with Endurance casing. I keep them on all the time because they're fast and capable on both dirt and pavement.

How many people attempt the CDT every year? ›

For the long-distance hiking community, the CDT is one-third of the “Triple Crown,” and annually, while the number is growing, approximately 150 ambitious travelers attempt to complete an end-to-end trek.

Can you ride the great divide on a gravel bike? ›

As far as a bike goes, you can do this route on a fully rigid gravel bike or a full suspension mountain bike, or some variation of the two. We are old school tourers who like rack and panniers, which we used.

Can you mountain bike the Continental Divide Trail? ›

The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (GDMBR) is Adventure Cycling's premier off-pavement cycling route, crisscrossing the Continental Divide in southern Canada and the U.S. This route is defined by the word "remote." Its remoteness equates with spectacular terrain and scenery.

How do I prepare for GDMBR? ›

Planning and Preparing

Study any needed maps and/or GPX files before departing. Call ahead to make sure resupply points are open, especially in smaller towns. Have an emergency plan for every point along the route. Whether you have a mechanical or injury, or you need to get back home asap, have a plan for what to do.

Is the CDT harder than the AT? ›

The CDT is much more difficult logistically than the AT or the PCT. Resupply points are few and far between with at least 5 to 7 days or more between towns. Not only are there are fewer towns compared to the AT and PCT, but the trail does not go near them.

How long does it take to finish the CDT? ›

How long is the Continental Divide Trail? The trail is about 3,100 miles long. To put that number into perspective, if you walked 20 miles every single day, it would take 5 and a half months to get from the Mexican border to the Canadian border along the Continental Divide Trail.

How much of the CDT is complete? ›

To complete the trail in six months, hikers must average 17 miles per day. The CDT is now 95 percent complete. It's located on public lands for 95 percent of its length.

What is the best time to bike? ›

Study has proven than morning rides can improve working efficiency in working place. Morning ride create more encouragement, freedom on the road and avoid mass traffic during peak hour. Heavy traffic and road safety is main reason to block you for doing cycling in the end of the day or after work.

Can you drive the CDT? ›

Last but not least, you can circle the Continental Divide, crossing it twice, on a driving tour through and beyond Wind River Country, Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, and more. This driving tour offers a stunning tour of the landscape and the rich culture of Wyoming.

Can you bike the Appalachian Trail? ›

For those of you who have never gone Appalachian Trail biking, you are missing out! This year's ride will cover 1,473 miles to an elevation of over 84,000 feet from Georgia to Maine. Here are just a few breathtaking highlights we expect to hit on this year's tour.

How many people do the Tour Divide? ›

The 2022 Tour Divide begins on Friday, June 10th at 8AM with over 200 riders following the 2,745-mile Great Divide Mountain Bike Route from north to south starting in Banff, Alberta, Canada and finishing at the US/Mexico border in Antelope Wells, New Mexico.

What is the Baja divide? ›

The “Baja Divide” is a new but already established 2.735km long off-pavement bikepacking route, starting in San Diego, USA and following the length of the Baja California Peninsula all the way to San Jose del Cabo, Mexico. It crosses the Peninsula several times, connecting the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez.

Where is the Continental Divide in Colorado? ›

The divide crosses Wolf Creek Pass in southwestern Colorado in the San Juan Mountains, marked by a line symbolizing the division. The year round pass is very steep and is treacherous in the winter. The Lobo Overlook, at 11,760 feet, offers beautiful views of the divide.

What is the CDT? ›

The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (in short Continental Divide Trail (CDT)) is a United States National Scenic Trail with a length measured by the Continental Divide Trail Coalition of 3,028 miles (4,873 km) between the U.S. border with Chihuahua, Mexico and the border with Alberta, Canada.

Videos

1. How to Read Adventure Cycling's Traditional Maps
(Adventure Cycling)
2. How to Pack for the Great Divide Mountain Bike Ride | GDMBR
(Andrew Stout)
3. The Continental Divide Ride: The Hard Way
(Meerkat ADV)
4. 2021 Tour Divide B2B / Great Divide Classic: Roosville - Whitefish | Grand Depart Roll Out
(Dirty Teeth MTB)
5. Great Divide Mountain Bike Route Day 2, Polebridge to Hungry Horse via Glacier NP (June 19, 2022)
(Richard Moore)
6. Riding The Great Divide 2018 - Banff AB to Butte MT - 729 Miles
(PedalPower Adventures)

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