Route Overview

Region

Missouri to California

Miles

2,208

Days Out

30-55

Physical Difficulty

4/10

Season

Spring to Early Fall

Elevation Gain

80,536’

Recommended Tire Size

> 2”

Technical Difficulty

4/10

Route Map

Route Details

The Pony Express Bikepacking Route begins in St. Joseph, Missouri and covers more than 2,200 miles as it makes its way to Sacramento, California, crossing Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and California along the way. 85% of the route is on dirt and gravel with a few car-free bike trails to get riders through major cities. But some sections, particularly in the mountains of Nevada, are rough, rocky, and are decidedly not dirt or gravel roads.

History is alive and well along much of the route, with the remains of original Pony Express stations still visible in many places, and commemorative markers along the way denoting important landmarks, graves, and important information.

Division 1 Highlights

  • Various Museums: Patee House, Peak’s Livery Stables, Seneca Pony Express Museum, Marysville Pony Express station, Hollenberg Pony Express station, Rock Creek Pony Express Station, Fort Kearny
  • Rolling glacial hills of northern Kansas and southern Nebraska
  • Miles and miles of low traffic gravel
  • Ample developed camping and resupply

Division 2 Highlights

  • Scotts Bluff National Monument
  • Gateway geographic icons: Courthouse and Jail Rocks and Chimney Rock
  • Widening views and changing geography as riders climb towards the South Pass
  • A period wagon collapsed roadside and marked and unmarked graves from the era
  • Increasing solitude and large swaths of land

Division 3 Highlights

  • Traversing the summit of the original South Pass
  • Ice cream in Farson, Wyoming
  • Church Butte and the northern boundary of the high-elevation Red desert sagebrush steppe in Wyoming
  • Piedmont Kilns and ghost town in Wyoming
  • Pristine gravel through the foothills of the Uintah Mountains
  • Awe-inspiring views of the Wind River Range
  • Union Pacific Rail Trail around Echo Reservoir
  • Expansive views of the west desert from atop Big Mountain Summit

Division 4 Highlights

  • Nearly 400 miles without resupply between Lehi, Utah and Austin, Nevada
  • Original station ruins
  • West desert of Utah and the numerous mountain ranges of Nevada
  • Traversing the Great Basin in its entirety
  • Some of the darkest night skies in the world
  • In many ways the route covers area that is more isolated now than at the time of the Pony Express operation

Division 5 Highlights

  • Continued dark night skies and remote high desert riding
  • Middlegate Giant Burger Challenge
  • Riding through a decommissioned bombing range
  • US Air Force jets from Naval Air Station Fallon
  • Fort Churchill and Buckland Station
  • Original station ruins
  • Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada mountains
  • Pony Express Singletrack out of South Lake Tahoe
  • What kind of bike should I ride? We recommend a mountain bike with tires at least 2” wide, ample sealant, and low gearing. Cyclocross and gravel bikes could be ridden on Divisions 1 and 2, while front suspension will be appreciated in Divisions 3, 4 and 5.
  • What’s the ideal time of year to ride the route? Generally, westbound riders should start in late spring or early, and eastbound riders should start in late spring from Sacramento, earlier if starting from Reno, but it will depend on the year’s snowpack. See the route guide for more details.
  • How long will the route take to ride? Generally 30 to 55 days, but it depends on the rider.
  • Do I need any special permits? A permit is required to cross the Pathfinder, Dumbbell, and Sun ranches in Division 3, which may take 30 to 60 days to process. A permit for stove use is required when dispersed camping in any California national forest. See the route guide for more details.
  • Are there any specific safety considerations on this route? (1) There is limited water in Divisions 3, 4 and 5. Pack at least 6-8 liters of capacity, plan carefully, and carry more than you expect to need. (2) There are limited resupply opportunities in Divisions 3, 4, and 5, with one stretch of 388 miles between stores. Plan carefully. (3) There is constant sun exposure and limited shade along most of the route. We recommend wearing a UPF sun shirt or sleeves. (4) Long stretches of the route can become absolutely impassible when wet. Pay close attention to weather forecasts and carry extra food in case you need to wait for a road to dry out. (5) Black bears can be encountered anywhere along the route in Wyoming, Utah, and California. Safe bear camping practices should be used in these states. See the route guide for more details.
  • What is the longest distance between water sources? 77 miles. See the route guide for more details.
  • What is the longest distance between resupplies? 388 miles in Division 4, significantly less in Divisions 1, 2, and 3. See the route guide for more details.
    • Is it easy to find places to camp? Yes. Developed campgrounds are prevalent in Divisions 1, 2 and the first half of 3. Dispersed camping is easy to find in Division 4 and 5. See the route guide for more details.
  • Can I ride the route in either direction? Yes, although the guidebook is written from west to east.
  • How do I follow the route? These routes are not marked on the ground in any way. You will need to load the route data onto a GPS unit.
  • Why didn’t you include x road/area in these routes? There are infinite possibilities for creating routes. Our choices include a range of considerations that aim for the most enjoyable riding experience possible. 
  • Are you going to organize races on any of these routes? No. We also ask that until the route becomes well established, individuals refrain from any sort of racing.

The route will be released in late January or early February 2023. Subscribe to our newsletter for the latest updates.

If you encounter any inaccuracies or changes please let us know at [email protected]

  • No route updates at this time.
  • Jan Bennett, for their route vision, reconnaissance and development.
  • This route passes through the traditional lands of the Osage, Kickapoo, Kansa, Jiwere, Pawnee, Cheyanne, Arapahoe, Lipan Apache, Eastern Shoshone, Shoshone Bannock, Western Shoshone, Goshute, Northern Paiute, Washoe and Nisenan peoples.

Segments

  • St. Joseph, MO to Ft. Kearny, NE
  • 330 miles
  • 10,634’ elevation gain
  • 89% natural surfaces, 11% paved
  • 5-9 days out
  •  Early spring to Late Fall riding season
  • 3.5/10 physical difficulty
  • 1.5/10 technical difficulty

Crossing rolling hills carved over eons by retreating glaciers, the Pony Express traverses the rich and fertile farm lands of northern Kansas and southern Nebraska. Division 1 consists of nearly 90% dirt and gravel roads that follow section lines around farming and ranching communities, winding northwest towards the broad, flat, and sandy Platte river. Both primitive and developed campsites can be found, along with more comfortable lodging in the numerous small communities along the way. Riders would be remiss to assume that this stretch of the route is flat, as many times the roads were carved with a more direct route in mind than a more gradual, easy going thoroughfare.

  • Ft. Kearny, NE to Horseshoe Creek Station, WY
  • 473 miles
  • 11,355’ elevation gain
  • 60% natural surfaces, 40% paved
  • 6-12 days out
  •  Early spring to late fall riding season
  • 3.5/10 physical difficulty
  • 1.5/10 technical difficulty

Staying to the south of the mighty Platte river, and on country gravel roads, the Pony Express bikepacking route continues to make its way northwest across southwestern Nebraska and into eastern Wyoming. Population centers become more spread out and public lands start to become more prevalent. The same geologic formations which the emigrants used to denote their upcoming Rocky mountain passage come into view with Courthouse and Jailhouse rocks, along with Chimney Rock and the Scotts Bluff national monument. Register Cliffs, a social media wall of times past, is an interesting stop, along with the Guernsey Ruts left behind by the hundreds of thousands of wagons as they started their arduous climb towards the South Pass. The first mountain ranges of the route come into view on the horizon and the skies start to feel immense as riders cross into Wyoming, just as a sense of isolation and remoteness starts to settle in.

  • Horseshoe Creek Station, WY to Salt Lake City Station, UT
  • 535 miles
  • 21,987’ elevation gain
  • 66% natural surfaces, 34% paved
  • 7-13 days out
  •  Late spring to early fall riding season
  • 3.5/10 physical difficulty
  • 3.5/10 technical difficulty

Crossing nearly the entirety of Wyoming, Division 3 takes riders through Casper, Wyoming before turning southwest towards the original South Pass. This high elevation sagebrush steppe can leave riders feeling a true sense of isolation and will provide an ideal testing grounds for remote travel and adequate preparation. Water sources become more scarce and riding conditions become more challenging. Upon exiting the South Pass riders will find themselves skirting the northern stretch of the Red Desert, accented by the Church Bluffs outside of Granger. As bicycles are not allowed on I-80 through Echo canyon, the original route of the Pony Express, a lovely jaunt along Chalk Creek on beautiful, and lightly traveled gravel roads, brings riders to the foothills of the Wasatch mountains, and the daunting climb in the footsteps of the Donner party towards Big Mountain Summit. Tough single track awaits those who wish to challenge themselves, while a decidedly easier ride along the highway offers a respite for those wishing to arrive in Salt Lake City with a bit less effort.

  • Salt Lake City Station, UT to Roberts Creek Station, NV
  • 363 miles
  • 18,857’ elevation gain
  • 96% natural surfaces, 4% paved
  • 5-9 days out
  •  Late spring to early fall riding season
  • 3.5/10 physical difficulty
  • 5.5/10 technical difficulty

Restocking and resting in Salt Lake City before heading out into the west desert and the Great Basin of Utah and Nevada would be a wise choice before taking on Division 4 (and 5) of the Pony Express bikepacking route. Upon leaving the suburbs of Salt Lake city riders will be faced with nearly 400 miles of high desert riding without resupply directly available along the route. Detours of 30-40 miles, one way, are required if riders do not have adequate provisions on hand. Traveling over sometimes sandy and rocky terrain, and along vast stretches of public land, those wishing to tackle this stretch of the route will be rewarded with some of the darkest night skies left in the world, along with terrain that has little changed since the time of the Pony Express over 160 years ago. In some instances there are even fewer people out here than there were back then thanks to a move towards city living. Water becomes a precious resource, especially in the exceedingly hot summer months of July and August. This stretch of the route is not to be taken lightly. Be prepared for slower progress and the ability to repair and self-rescue as it is entirely possible to go days without seeing another person.

  • Roberts Creek Station, NV to Sacramento, CA
  • 419 miles
  • 25,568’ elevation gain
  • 69% natural surfaces, 31% paved
  • 5-11 days out
  •  Late spring to early fall riding season
  • 5.5/10 physical difficulty
  • 5.5/10 technical difficulty

Continuing across the Nevada desert, riders will eventually make their way out of the Great Basin as they climb a stretch of the historic Kingsbury Grade towards the cool air and pristine clear waters of South Lake Tahoe. Leaving Robert’s Creek ranch the route heads southwest, across the decidedly difficult terrain of the Toiyabe mountain range, the longest range in Nevada. Water remains scarce, as does resupply, though more frequent burger joints dot the landscape reminiscent of small oases on the horizon. Rough, rocky stretches of two-track are punctuated by longer sandy stretches, making for continued slower travel. Upon reaching South Lake Tahoe, riders would normally have the option of some tough, technical single track as they head down the west face of the quite imposing Sierra Nevada range.

Recent fires have devastated this area of the country making for slow single-track travel due to downed trees. A gravel and paved alternative covers ground a bit further north than the Pony Express single track and US-50.

Upon reaching Camino, riders will be on 70 miles of maintained bike path, including the gem that is the El Dorado rail-to-trail, as they make their way to the finish in Old Town Sacramento.