Recommended Tire Size
September – Mid-October
and rough gravel
The Capes of the Canyon on the North Rim takes riders from the desert base of Vermillion Cliffs National Monument at 3100 feet to the subalpine meadows and sprawling aspen forests of the Kaibab Plateau at 9200 feet. In-between, it weaves a circumference dirt tour of North Rim viewpoints along the edge of the Grand Canyon.
The Capes of the Canyon on the North Rim takes riders from the desert base of Vermillion Cliffs National Monument at 3100 feet to the subalpine meadows and sprawling aspen forests of the Kaibab Plateau at 9200 feet. In-between, it weaves a circumference dirt tour of North Rim viewpoints along the edge of the Grand Canyon. Capes include Navajo Bridge, Badger Creek Rapids, Gunsight, Jumpup, Sowats, Thunder River, Crazy Jug, Monument, Parissawampitts, Fence, Locust, Timp, North Timp, Fire, Swamp, Point Sublime, Bright Angel, Point Imperial, Vista Encantada, Angel’s Window, Cape Royal, Nankoweap/Saddle Mountain, Marble Viewpoint, East Rim, Dog, Buck Farm, Bedrock, Twentyseven Mile Rapids, and down in the Canyon at Lees Ferry. The route starts at Lees Ferry where riders can touch the Colorado River to begin and later finish their rides. Look forward to multiple views of the esplanade along the Kanab Creek Wilderness, the possibility of sleeping in old Forest Service cabins at Jumpup and Big Springs, riding across the arid plateau of House Rock Valley, peering over the bench of Marble Canyon, and seeing high-altitude meadows cupped by conifers.
The goal of the route is to hit every bike-legal track that takes a rider to views of the Grand Canyon along the North Rim, Kaibab Plateau, and Marble Canyon. It provides an additional tour of the Colorado Plateau by way of an extensive network of forest service roads that wind through ponderosa, spruce, firs, aspen, sage, tablelands, and plateaus in and near the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni National Monument and the Kaibab National Forest. This route offers remote high-country riding down seldom-visited roads, a chance to bike singletrack along the Grand Canyon at Rainbow Rim, multiple opportunities for dispersed camping at the rim edge, sections of the Arizona Trail, and, for those who store their bike on top, the chance to hike down into the inner gorge at notable trailheads within Grand Canyon National Park.
The recommended tire size is 2.5″-2.8″ with a minimum tire size of 2.3″. The North Rim Capes is intended to be ridden in a counterclockwise direction. The route travels down a trove of Forest Service roads and old double-track. Some Forest Service roads are regularly maintained, wide, lightly graveled, and sometimes hero dirt. The spurs off of these carry riders down smooth, chunky, to somewhat decayed doubletrack – especially out to the most remote capes of the route where vehicles infrequently travel. The dirt roads in Grand Canyon National Park are especially poorly maintained. I’ve been told the USFS puts spending priority on their unpaved roads, while the NPS has their unpaved roads on the bottom of the spending list. Overall, there can be extended sections of washboard, ruts, and chunk with ample babyheads. Some of the viewpoints that the North Rim Capes utilizes are very remote and are often littered with tree blowdowns come early summer. The deadfall will get removed, but anyone traveling in the early season may have to go around/over trees until agencies clear them up.
If any rain/snow is forecast, most of the unpaved route will become peanut butter/death mud and impassable in places. Leave No Trace and avoid riding at these times until the route dries out. In addition, flash flooding from precipitation is a real possibility in the lower portions of the route around the Marble Platform and House Rock Valley – stay safe and stay out of washes or low areas at those times.
The technical difficulty of the route is due to the abundant spread of surfaces that range from pavement, to smooth dirt, to ultra-chunky double-track. There are most certainly stretches where several miles will be rugged and rocky. There are also miles of gorgeous, wide dirt roads coursing through the woods or across plateaus.
The physical difficulty is mostly due to the climbing. Make no doubt, this route is hilly and often steep. The North Rim Capes travels across the mountainous folds of the Kaibab Plateau; the route ascends to 9200 feet from the Colorado River at 3100 feet. Although most of the roads are gradual, there are long climbs at times. And most salient, almost every cape has to be reached by traveling one-way down a dirt road that invariably descends several hundred to a thousand+ feet. This means that you must immediately turn around and climb back up to rejoin the route’s loop. You will think about this each time you head to a cape. But take succor in knowing that those views of the Grand Canyon are well worth it.
- Paved: 21.5%
- Smooth Gravel: 0%
- Rough Gravel: 31%
- 4×4 Road: 40%
- Singletrack: 7.5%
Water is scarce along this route. The Kaibab National Forest is considered the driest national forest in the United States. Although the North Rim is higher than the South Rim and consequently receives an average of 25.8 inches of moisture a year, most quickly percolates through the porous rock of Kaibab Limestone that makes up the upper layers of this area. Within the canyon, water exits through numerous springs, but up on top, it’s a relatively dry area. Springs may require you to stash your bike on the rim to hike down and retrieve water. The tablelands and canyonlands around the Vermillion Cliffs, House Rock Valley, and Buckskin Mountain are true desertscapes with little reliable surface runoff or pools. Plan to carry several liters of water, sometimes enough to last at least 24 hours and more than you think you’ll need should you arrive at a source and find it dry.
Definite water can be found at Lees Ferry Campground, Fredonia, Jacob Lake, Big Springs, Demotte, and the North Rim Village area in GCNP. Beyond that, water is mostly found in dirt cattle tanks, metal cattle tanks, springs, and Arizona Game and Fish Water Catchments. The AZGFD Water Catchments help provide water to wildlife in the ever-drying environment of the southwest under climate change. There is no camping within 0.25 miles of AZGFD Wildlife Tanks (or other water sources). This route requires riders to dry camp. Be prepared to load up at water sources so that you can camp far away from them.
There is no dispersed camping within the boundaries of Grand Canyon National Park. However, there is an established camping site at the North Rim Campground. The North Rim Campground near the village has a fantastic hiker/biker site for walk-ups arriving by foot or bicycle. The hiker/biker site is shared with other cyclists and backpackers and costs $6 per night per person. The North Rim Campground is conveniently located next to the North Rim General Store and is only a short ride away from the lodging, restaurants, and Post Office (M-F, May 15 – October 15, 8:00 am – 12:00 pm, 1:00 pm – 5:00 pm) in the village. Lees Ferry Campground is located within Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and also requires camping in the established campground. This campground is first come, first served.
If you want to stay at the primitive campsites along the rim within the boundaries of Grand Canyon National Park at Fire Point, Swamp Point, or Point Sublime, you will need to reserve backcountry permits through the GCNP Backcountry Information Center ahead of time. There are limited sites at each location.
Outside of GCNP in the the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni National Monument, Kaibab National Forest, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, and House Rock Valley, excellent and numerous dispersed camping abounds. The North Rim is truly one of the most remarkable places to disperse camp right up against the edge of the Canyon at so many locations for those making the remote trek out. Just make sure to pay attention to boundary lines between Grand Canyon National Park and the Kaibab National Forest.
There are several food resupplies on this route. However, they are greatly spaced. The distance between Fredonia and Demotte alone is 238 route miles (and even breaking that distance up with the side-trip up to Jacob Lake still leaves a distance of 174 miles from there to Demotte). The remote nature of this route means riders need to carefully plan how much food to carry and to expect several days between resupplies.
Fees and Permits
- Grand Canyon National Park requires a fee for entry. No cash, credit/debit only. ($35 for a vehicle; $20 for a bicycle).
- Glen Canyon National Recreation Area requires a fee to get to Lees Ferry. It is an automated fee machine. No cash, credit/debit only. ($30.00 for a vehicle; $15 for a bicycle).
- Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni National Monument, Kaibab National Forest, and Vermillion Cliffs National Monument have no fees.
- A Recreational Land Use Permit is required for any travel or camping on Arizona State Lands. Apply for and pay for one before you head out on the route. Carry it with you.
ParkingPark your vehicle in the paved long-term parking at Lees Ferry. There is signage at the area, and there is a POI for it on the RWGPS map. Parking is for 30 days max. Although the Parking Limit says 14 days, I’ve been told it’s treated loosely because this is also where rafters leave their vehicles for a 30-day Colorado River trip. Make sure to leave your Park Pass/Permit visible on your dashboard.
In the occasional event that the parking lot is filled up, reach out to some of the lodges nearby (Marble Canyon, Lee’s Ferry, Cliff Dwellers). No promises, but I’ve found that if you patronage the business by staying the night, they’ll be more willing to work with you (especially if you offer to pay to safely leave your car).
Other Important Information
- Hunting Season: Starts in September and goes through December. The Kaibab National Forest on the North Rim is considered one of the best mule deer hunting areas in the United States. Hunting season is a big deal here, and the forest will be filled with hunters looking for deer and bison. Expect to see more trucks, backcountry campers, ATVs, and individuals on foot. WEAR ORANGE and make yourself visible as you ride. Be smart and be seen during hunting season. Wildlife Tanks may have more hunters scoping them out.
- Dark Skies: Grand Canyon National Park is an International Dark Sky Park. This means that you can expect to have anywhere between Bortle Class 1 – 3 night skies overhead (even better night viewing during a new moon). The Bortle Class Scale is used to rate night skies on their clarity and lack of light pollution. A Bortle Class 1 is the darkest possible and there are several locations along these routes where, should you camp, you will have this level of darkness. Here, night skies will be virtually unimpeded by artificial light.
- Fences: There may be “cowboy fences” on this route, which consist of barbed wire wrapped around vertical wooden branches that are strung across roads. They can be opened by removing a loop of wire on one side. Most importantly, leave fences as you found them; re-close them if they were closed.
- Black Bears: There are black bears, which means you need to properly store your food at night using a bear-aware method. This is also good for the…
- Hantavirus and Plague: Bubonic plague and hantavirus are frequent enough amongst the rodent population that you should avoid their saliva, feces, urine, and direct bodily contact. Be careful when entering old cabins and caves, where droppings are plentiful and ventilation is limited. These are prime areas for possible contraction of these diseases.
- Bugs: Mosquitoes and biting flies can be abundant on this route in the forest valleys and drainages where moisture and standing water collect. This will be especially true in the summer and early fall, especially if precipitation has been plentiful.
Access Bikes are STRICTLY forbidden below the rim in the inner gorge of the Grand Canyon. DO NOT RIDE YOUR BIKE DOWN INTO THE CANYON – you will get fined, it is illegal, and you will hurt the perception and opportunities of other bikepackers on this route. There are certain trails on top that are also off-limits to bikes; this route expressly avoids them. No cross-country travel in Grand Canyon National Park; practicing Leave No Trace means staying on established trails, roads, and paths.
Finally, respect tribal land and do not ride without permission in either the lands of the Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians just outside of Fredonia or the Navajo Nation (Diné) just across the Colorado River at Marble Canyon. This route stays explicitly within land domains where riding is public and legal. Although it may approach boundaries with the surrounding tribal nations, you should never ride onto the reservations without securing tribal government permission. Doing so otherwise is disrespectful and unlawful. I must note that although this route stays on “public lands,” the formation of Grand Canyon National Park involved the forced removal of tribes such as the Havasupai, and they have endured legal battles to keep their vastly smaller chunk of land out of their historical precedent. Know the land you are riding on is traditionally theirs, know their current reservation boundaries are smaller than where they historically inhabited, and know where you are riding to keep yourself both legal and respectful.
Forrest Radarian created and stewards this route. Here is a little about Forrest in his own words:
I live and work at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon as a high school science teacher for the only public preK-12 school located in a National Park. I am passionate about teaching, working with students in the sciences, and connecting them to the outdoors. I bike and hike extensively in the area, and I’m committed to riding, refining, and stewarding routes on both Rims. I plan to continue to bike both routes yearly, work with my connections in the Park and Forest Service, and update route information in a timely fashion.
The Capes of the Canyon are the first set of bikepacking routes I’ve formally created for publication. When I first moved to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon several years ago, I was elated by the hundreds of miles of bike-legal dirt roads, doubletrack, and Arizona Trail singletrack winding around both Rims. What began as a personal goal to bike to every viewpoint and remote vantage of the Grand Canyon became a slowly evolving vision of connecting each Cape overlook by a set of extended bikepacking routes. Riding the Capes of the Canyon became an exercise in pouring over maps, scouting, exploring side roads, working with local private property owners, building conversations with NPS and USFS personnel, and taking feedback from other cyclists who rode the routes.
I first got into bike touring back in 2014 when I participated in the Great Ohio Bicycle Adventure and furthermore when I toured the Pacific Coast Highway in 2015. The tour of the PCH got cut short when my wife and I were hit by a car in the southern reaches of the route. We returned to finish, but the desire to adventure by bike off-pavement became stronger when I stumbled on dirt-specific bikepacking. I’ve since ridden a number of bikepacking routes around my home in Arizona and the surrounding southwest in addition to a thru-hike of the Arizona Trail in 2019.
Be sure to check out Forrest’s full webpage to read more about his bikepacking adventures.
Forrest has offered to be available to answer questions if you are planning a trip on this route. We encourage you to be respectful of Route Stewards time though and to review publicly available materials first before reaching out with questions.
Please also get in touch with any updates on route conditions that may be relevant to other riders.
Please submit your questions and comments on the route via the contact form below.
This route traverses the traditional lands of the Havasupai Tribe, Hopi Tribe, Hualapai Tribe, Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians, Las Vegas Band of Paiute Indians, Moapa Band of Paiute Indians, Diné (Navajo Nation), Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah San Juan, Southern Paiute Tribe, The Pueblo of Zuni and the Yavapai-Apache Nation.