39° 10′ 39.85″ N, 108° 49′ 38.8″ W
THIS ADVENTURE GUIDE COVERS EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT BIKEPACKING THE FAMOUS 143-MILE KOKOPELLI TRAIL THROUGH THE DESERTS OF COLORADO AND UTAH.
Possibly one of the most well-known bikepacking routes in the USA (if not North America), the Kokopelli Trail is one of the best ways to explore the beautiful Colorado and Utah desert on your own two feet. Stretching 143-miles from the town of Loma, Colorado to the mountain biking hub of Moab, Utah, this long distance biking trail connects various singletrack, jeep trails, dirt roads and paved desert highways into one amazing, adventurous route.
Below is everything you need to know about bikepacking the famous Kokopelli Trail.
THE ULTIMATE ADVENTURE GUIDE TO BIKEPACKING THE KOKOPELLI TRAIL
\\ What is the Kokopelli Trail?
Touted as one of the classic bikepacking trails in the USA, the Kokopelli Trail (or Kokopelli’s Trail) is a 140(ish) mile route that starts near the town of Loma, Colorado before taking you through various desert biomes until reaching the popular town of Moab, Utah.
The route is mostly done on ATV and OHV roads, with only around 15% of the total mileage being made up of singletrack (and most of that singletrack is done on Day 1). So, while the trail is not necessarily technical - though technical sessions definitely do exist - its overall difficulty should not be underestimated.
Be prepared for awe-inspiring desert vistas, stunning canyons, rough, rocky roads, flowy downhills and quad-busting uphill's. Overall, the Kokopelli Trail is a fantastic way to explore the empty landscape that separates the beautiful towns of Loma and Moab through your own body power.
HISTORY OF THE KOKOPELLI TRAIL
The trail is named in honor of Kokopelli, a fertility deity who is venerated by some Native American cultures in the Southwestern United States (including in Utah). Like most fertility deities, he presides over childbirth and agriculture. Similarly, Kokopelli is also a trickster god, a master braider and a representative of the spirit of music.
The Kokopelli Trail was created by the Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail Association (COPMOBA) in cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the United States Forest Service (NFS) in 1989. Today, the trail mostly consists of either singletrack, 4x4 roads, or country roads (with a few short paved sections). While the trails are never too technical, what makes the route so challenging are the elevation changes: the lowest point is at 4,000 feet (1,200 meters), while two massive climbs reach elevations of 8,400+ feet (2,600 meters).
THE BEST TIME TO BIKEPACK THE KOKOPELLI TRAIL
According to Bikepacking.com, the trail is ridable from March or April until September or October (we did it the last week of October).
Two things to keep in mind when deciding on what time of year to do the trail are:
The summer heat can be brutal (temperatures often soar to over 100 degrees in July and August).
The trail might be a bit snowy at higher elevations (in the La Sal Mountains) during October. Always check trail conditions before setting out.
💬 INSIDER TIP: maybe it was because we did the ride in late October, but we found all of our camping gear would be soaked from dew by morning. Be prepared for wet sleeping bags and blankets and consider either sleeping in a tent (we cowboy camped) or at least having your SAG person lay out the gear to dry during the heat of the day.
BIKEPACKING THE KOKOPELLI TRAIL | THE RIDE
One of the first things you need to think about when planning to ride the Kokopelli Trail is how you are going to refuel - meaning where are you going to find water and how are you going to get more food. Luckily, the trail is not super hard to reach from various major roads - including Highway 128, the scenic route into Moab.
Therefore many riders choose to have a SAG vehicle accompany them on the trip. This allows you, the rider, to carry way less gear, including water and food since you will be meeting someone at the end of the day that will have all that stuff with them (this is what we did and we were so thankful we did by the end of Day 1). Learn more about SAG-ing below.
Another thing you need to keep in mind is your overall fitness. The trail is not technical - but it is hard. The climbs are steep and long and the temperature and sun exposure in the desert can be intense. Knowing how your body will react to the biking and landscape is important when planning out how far you want to go each day (we definitely overshot our expected fitness on Day 3). In our opinion, it is better to undershoot your abilities than to overextend yourself. If you are on the line of deciding between doing it in four days or five - go with five. You will not only likely enjoy the trail more (no one likes stressing about getting to camp before dark), you will also likely be more prepared for the tough stuff.
Once you have those two things figured out, it is time to actually plan the route!
Here is a breakdown of what you can expect for each day of riding, including where to start and end, the overall distance covered, the elevation profile and important information on camping and refueling.
❔ GOOD TO KNOW: this is based on our own experience riding the Kokopelli Trail during the month of October.
START | Loma, Colorado at the Kokopelli Trailhead
DISTANCE | ~42 miles
ELEVATION PROFILE | Start at 4,647 feet, top out at 5,003 feet and end at 4,320 feet. Steepest grade: 26%.
First, we feel like we need to put out a quick disclaimer. We did not start riding on the first day until almost 11:30 AM due to picking up bike rentals and doing some last minute bike repairs. Obviously, this late start did seriously hinder our overall riding - especially towards the end when we finished riding in the dark. So take it from us - start nice and early so you aren't stressing about completing the last 8 miles in the fading daylight.
Besides the late start, the first day of the Kokopelli Trail is a great introduction to what you can expect going forward. The views are incredible, the terrain is tough but manageable (especially if you decide to go the jeep route), and the overall riding is just fun.
❔ GOOD TO KNOW: right from the start you do have the option to either take the nice flat road from the trailhead (Hawkeye Road, aka the "jeep route") or head out on the singletrack trail. The latter, unsurprisingly, takes longer and is more difficult, but is also a lot of fun.
Once you get past the singletrack (around mile 10), the rest of the day is mostly on nice doubletrack or on wide dirt roads. Though be aware that there are still some tougher climbs ahead - especially one tough section around mile 30 that our whole group decided to walk.
Luckily, the last couple of miles of the day are actually on a paved road (BLM 191) and can be ridden very quickly - which is great if you find yourself in a similar position as us (nighttime, weak headlamps, exhausted bodies). The Westwater Boat Launch and Campground is a short 1.5-mile spur off of the main Kokopelli Trail. You can find bathrooms, fire pits and tables, but no water at the campground.
START | Westwater Boat Launch and Campground
END | Dewey Bridge
DISTANCE | ~34 miles
ELEVATION PROFILE | start at 4,320 feet, top out at 4,838 feet and end at 4,195 feet. Steepest grade: 11%.
After a rough Day 1, it seemed like a lot of our group was starting to question whether taking on the Kokopelli Trail was actually a good idea. For many of us, it was our first big, long mountain bike ride ever - not to mention by far the longest ride we had done the whole year (which is how we came up with the very fitting name "Couch to Kokopelli" for the trip).
So it is safe to say that our bums, as well as our backs and quads, were quite sore going into Day 2.
Luckily, Day 2 is likely the easiest of the four days of riding. There is very little technical singletrack, a lot of flat, winding dirt roads and some awesome views of the La Sal Mountains. The only real challenge of the day comes towards the end when you cross over Highway 128 and start to head up a long, gradual climb to the top of the mesa (it is around 5 miles uphill in total). From the top, it is a fun, scenic ride back down to the highway and then a short roll across Dewey Bridge and into the campground.
From the entrance to Dewey Bridge (the BLM road is Top of the World Safari Route) you can keep heading up a mile or so to find established BLM campsites, or go across the street to the Dewey Bridge Campground (and pay the fee).
💬 INSIDER TIP: there are some awesome campsites just up the road (~1 mile) that give you views of the surrounding desert as well as the Colorado River. Plus, the Top of the World Safari Route road is actually what you will be riding out on on Day 3.