Recommended Tire Size
September - October
and rough gravel
The Capes of the Canyon on the South Rim provides a backcountry ride through the southern landscape of Grand Canyon National Park and Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni National Monument. From pinyon-juniper grasslands blanketing the base of Red Butte to towering ponderosa stands along the Coconino Rim that spill to limestone at Canyon edge, this route provides bikepackers an opportunity to see the Grand Canyon region.
The Capes of the Canyon on the South Rim provides a backcountry ride through the southern landscape of Grand Canyon National Park and Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni National Monument. From pinyon-juniper grasslands blanketing the base of Red Butte to towering ponderosa stands along the Coconino Rim that spill to limestone at Canyon edge, this route provides bikepackers an opportunity to see the Grand Canyon region. The goal of the route is to hit every bike-legal track that takes a rider to views of the Grand Canyon along the South Rim. The bonus is a backcountry ride though the arid evergreen woodlands and exposed highland geology of the Colorado Plateau along the way. Capes include the Little Colorado River Gorge, Desert View, Navajo, Lipan, Moran, Grandview, Duck on a Rock, Shoshone, Yaki, Pipecreek Vista, Mather, Yavapai, Trailview Overlook, Maricopa, Powell, Hopi, Mohave, The Abyss, Monument Creek Vista, Pima, Hermit’s Rest, South Bass, and Havasupai.
Riders start in the conifers of Tusayan, AZ before descending to grasslands for a perimeter ride around sage-swathed Red Butte. Heading east, cyclists ride through ponderosa forests and across the vast pinyon-juniper savannas of Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument before climbing to the high point of the route at 7,500 feet near Grandview and its namesake fire tower. Here, bikepackers can catch glimpses of the red-washed Canyon heart through the dark evergreens of the forest. Riders descend and trace the base of the Coconino Rim before getting a view of the Little Colorado River Gorge. After entering Grand Canyon National Park, bikepackers get their first expansive view of the Canyon at Desert View. Catch glimpses of the Colorado River pulsing with sediment down its spine. Cyclists continue along a spread of twenty-two South Rim capes, ride out through plains of sage to remote South Bass, and then plunge back into the forest before returning to Tusayan. For bikepackers camped at the more remote areas on the route, stare up at the stars each night for exceptional Dark Skies and clear views of the Milky Way.
The recommended tire size is 2.5”-2.8” with a minimum tire size of 2.3”. The South Rim Capes is intended to be ridden in a counterclockwise direction. The route mostly sticks to forest service dirt roads. These roads can be smoother, broad, and are frequently better-maintained near highways and pavement. The roads found deeper in the heart of the Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument quickly become less-maintained doubletrack that feature sections of washboard, ruts, and limestone rock. There are sections of more primitive rutted-roads out by South Bass Trailhead and Havasupai Point; the National Park Service rarely upkeep these roads. Some portions of the more remote dirt roads on the route can have tree blowdowns over the winter: be prepared to go around these obstacles. Most of the capes on this route are reached via the large stretches of pavement built along the South Rim. The pavement is in good condition, but there is very little shoulder. Be defensive, wear bright colors, and use flashing lights. When possible, the route takes paved bike paths throughout the South Rim Village.
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 possibility in washes or low areas – stay safe and stay out of those locations during monsoon rain dumps.
The technical difficulty of the route is due to the abundance of 4×4 roads that the South Rim Capes utilizes. The route travels a mix of wide, maintained 2WD USFS dirt roads, limestone chunky 4×4 doubletrack, and frequent pavement along the Rim. A lot of the roads are serviced yearly by the National Forest Service, but some rarely have work done and can become rutted/eroded in wet conditions. More on notable eroded sections can be found under “Surface Conditions” below.
The physical difficulty is mostly due to the climbing. Most of the route is found on the regularly rolling terrain of the Coconino Plateau that stretches between Flagstaff and the South Rim. The elevation profile of the route puts the low point at 6000 feet near Anita Station in the southwest corner and the high point at 7500 feet at Grandview Tower and again at Desert View along the northeast portions. In-between, riders can expect to climb and descend regularly across hills and drainages. And most salient, almost every cape has to be reached by ascending one-way up a road to the Rim. 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: 20%
- Smooth Gravel: 0%
- Rough Gravel: 43%
- 4×4 Road: 36.5%
- Singletrack: 0.5%
Water is scarce along this route. The Kaibab National Forest is considered the driest national forest in the United States. Although the South Rim receives an average of 15.56 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 dry area. 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 in the town of Tusayan, at Desert View in GCNP, and in Grand Canyon Village within GCNP. Beyond that, water is mostly found in dirt cattle tanks, metal cattle tanks, 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 are several well-established sites including Desert View and Mather Campgrounds. Desert View does not have hiker/biker sites, so plan to reserve ahead of time if you want to camp there. Mather Campground in Grand Canyon 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. Mather Campground is conveniently located next to the Post Office (M – F, 8 – 3:30 pm), the General Store, a Chase Bank ATM, Yavapai Lodge + Tavern, and a bus stop.
If you want to stay at the primitive campsites along the rim at South Bass Trailhead or near Havasupai Point, you will need to reserve backcountry permits through the GCNP Backcountry Information Center. There are limited sites at each location found in Zone SE3.
Outside of GCNP in the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni National Monument/Kaibab National Forest, excellent and numerous dispersed camping abounds. Make sure not to camp in the noted Private Properties and pay attention to boundary lines between the National Monument and Grand Canyon National Park.
Outside of the start and end in Tusayan, there are only 2 food resupplies mid-route. Riders need to plan several days of food between these points.
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).
- Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni National Monument/Kaibab National Forest has 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.
Park your car for the duration of the route at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center – IMAX in Tusayan, AZ. You may park anywhere on the paved parking area, but not the gravel lot. Make sure to check into the Visitor Center with your (a) car make, (b) car model, (c) license plate number, and (d) expected return date; just let them know you’re riding the COTC. If the center isn’t open, leave a note on your dashboard saying, “Bikepacking the Capes of the Canyon Route – Expected return date XX/XX/XXXX.” The Center is open seven days a week from 9 am – 6 pm.
Other Important Information
- Hunting Season: Starts in September and goes through December. Hunters will mostly be seeking deer and elk. 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.
- 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 dropping are plentiful and ventilation is limited. These are prime areas for possible contraction of these diseases.
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 Havasupai or the Navajo Nations. 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. Although this route stays on “public lands,” the formation of Grand Canyon National Park involved the forced removal of 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, double track, and Arizona Trail single track 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.