Route Overview

Region

Idaho
Montana
Utah
Arizona

Miles

2,700

Days Out

40-65

Physical Difficulty

5/10

Season

Late Spring to
Mid-Summer

Elevation Gain

120,000'

Recommended Tire Size

≥ 2.2”

Technical Difficulty

4.5/10

Route Map

Route Details

The 2,700-mile Western Wildlands Route (WWR, formerly known as the Wild West Route) offers bikepackers a non-technical riding experience through the vast expanses of wild and public lands in the Intermountain West. Nearly 70% of the route is on public lands – 18 National Forests, 6 National Parks and Monuments, and 4 areas with Bureau of Land Management National Conservation Lands designation.

Riders will experience the incredibly remote mountains of western Montana and central Idaho, the desolate beauty of southern Idaho’s Snake River Plain, endless vistas from Utah’s high plateaus at 10,000 feet elevation, the canyon country of Navajo Nation and Grand Canyon region, and the towering Sky Islands and low Sonoran Desert of southern Arizona.

The WWR  balances scenic, remote, and enjoyable dirt riding with regular resupply opportunities in small communities. The route is more than 80% off-pavement, primarily following dirt roads and 4×4 tracks. Mountain bikes are strongly recommended – the dirt and gravel roads in this part of the United States are rarely well-graded. Expect steep, relentless climbs between 3,000 and 4,000 feet, with a few approaching 5,000 feet; rocky and loose surfaces; and intermittent stream crossings. The most wild sections offer 150+ miles of riding through rugged terrain and offer absolutely no services. For riders familiar with the iconic Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, the Western Wildlands Route offers a more rugged, remote, and wild experience.

  • What kind of bike should I ride? We recommend a mountain bike with tires at least 2.2” wide, ample sealant, low gearing and large brake rotors. You may also appreciate front suspension. Cyclocross and gravel bikes and trailers are not recommended for this route.
  • What’s the ideal time of year to ride the route? It depends on the section and the year. For southbound riders, a mid- to late-summer start is recommended. For northbound riders, a late spring departure is recommended. See the route guide for more details.
  • How long will the route take to ride? Plan on roughly 40-65 days of riding, but it depends on the rider. Don’t underestimate the ruggedness of this route.
  • Can I ride the route in either direction? Yes. However, the route guide is written for southbound riders.
  • How does the WWR compare to the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route? Based on feedback from riders who have done both routes, the WWR is more remote, more rugged, more challenging, and resupply locations are less frequent.
  • Is there much water out there? Surface water is generally readily available in Segments 1-3 and becomes sparser in southern Idaho and farther south. A minimum water capacity of 6 liters is recommended for Segments 4-9, and more may be required if traveling in summer heat. All surface water should be filtered, boiled, or treated chemically.
  • How far apart are resupplies and towns? Generally spaced 1-3 days apart (40-155 miles)
  • How do I get to and from the route? The route starts near Whitefish, Montana, and ends near Tucson, Arizona. Both towns have airports, Amtrak stations, and shuttle services to the terminuses. See the route guide for more details.
  • 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, or use the FarOut Smartphone App.
  • Is it easy to find places to camp? Yes, private campgrounds are common in the north, and dispersed camping is generally easy to find on the public lands the route passes through, but some sections pass through private lands where you would need permission to camp. See the route guide for more details.
  • What do you mean by “impassible mud”? Long stretches of the route can become absolutely impassible when wet – a bike’s wheels will not spin once clogged with this clay-rich mud. The individual segment descriptions identify most of these sections. Pay close attention to weather forecasts and carry extra food in case waiting for a road to dry out becomes necessary.
  • How do I get to either end of the route? See the travel recommendations in the route guide.
  • Will there be bears? Yes. The northern 250 miles is in grizzly bear territory, and most of the route is in black bear territory. See the “Bear Safety” section of the route guide for more information. 
  • Do I need any special permits? Yes, in Arizona. You will need a Recreation Permit from the Arizona State Land Department and backcountry/camping permit for the Navajo Nation. Not getting a permit is considered trespassing, and could jeopardize access for future riders. See the route guide for details.
  • Are you going to organize a race on the route?  We are not, and we ask that riders do not do any sort of racing on these routes. This route crosses private land and the Navajo Nation, and those permissions could be jeopardized by riders pushing limits and getting into trouble or by disregarding special regulations for these sections of the route, which are far more likely in race scenarios.
  • Get the PDF route guide and GPS data here.
  • Get the print and PDF route guides and GPS data here.
  • Get the maps on the FarOut smartphone app here.

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

  • Segment 2: The Yackus Creek Road detour has been created to bypass Maggie Butte Road, which has recently been “bulldozed into oblivion.” The detour is at approximately SoBo mile 125 (NoBo mile 200) and is 6 miles shorter than the main route. This reroute is included in GPS data version 2020 1.4 and 1.5, can be downloaded directly here (GPX track) and here (waypoints) or via RideWithGPS here, and is included in the Farout Guides WWR app.
  • Segment 4: Added Clay Gentillion’s cyclist-friendly lodging in Blackfoot, Idaho. Riders can stay in a camper trailer and should email Strayblog208 at gmail com in advance for address and details
  • Segment 6: Updated “Moab Alternate” junction waypoints names to “Bears Ears Alternate/Loops” junctions to avoid confusion. Bears Ears Loops will be released in summer 2020.
  • Segment 7: The Navajo Nation Permit fee has changed from $30/rider to $12/person/day. We recommend paying for 3 days ($36). Navajo Nation permits now available over the phone! Please contact the Little Colorado River Tribal Park office for updates (928-679-2303) to pay for your permit with a credit card. The permit itself will be sent to you via email.
  • Segment 9: The San Pedro Trail south of Tombstone and north of the Mexico border can get remarkably overgrown by tall grass in late summer and fall. In some years, the trail sees some maintenance and vehicle traffic that helps significantly, but in other years, the trail becomes unfortunately challenging to negotiate until the grass dies back in early winter. This detour follows gravel and quiet paved roads west of the San Pedro Trail until the final couple miles to the border (an out-and-back) – there is no public route to follow to reach the border wall other than this route – please do not use any of the nearby private roads.
  • Segment 9: If following the Sierra Vista extension between the Mexico border and Sierra Vista, one minor route change is in order was made due to a newly-installed gate in a private neighborhood.
  • Segment 9: Blue Dog Cycles in Tucson has closed.
  • Segment 9: Oracle Bicycle Company in Oracle is a new full service shop offering showers, rooms, and has a kitchen. 1880 American Avenue; (520)609-1838

Segments

  • Canadian Border to Superior, MT
  • 304 miles
  • 25,000’ elevation gain
  • 70% natural surfaces, 30% paved
  • 5-7 days out
  • Early July to late September riding season
  • 5/10 physical difficulty
  • 4/10 technical difficulty

Montana and northern Idaho’s lush and densely forested mountains are steep and quiet, and this segment of the WWR meanders from one large valley to the next and through numerous small communities along the way. Leaving the Canadian border, Segment 1 follows a mix of paved and gravel roads through the Tobacco Valley before rolling through forests to a high bridge across Lake Koocanusa. From there, the route climbs into the remote Purcell Mountains on quiet 2-track, eventually tying into maintained forest roads to reach the town of Troy and the Kootenai River Valley. South of Troy, the main WWR follows pavement south to Noxon Reservoir with a jaunt on rougher forest roads over Snake Creek Pass. Mellower paved and gravel miles follow the broad Clark Fork Valley past scattered services. A 3,000-foot climb on rougher forest roads takes riders over the crest of the Bitterroot Mountains at Porcupine Pass and into Idaho. Smoother gravel and pavement bring riders to the rejuvenated mining town turned tourist destination of Wallace. Gravel roads over Moon Pass lead back into the more rugged Bitterroots, past blackened snags burned in the great fires of 1910, and to the popular Route of the Hiawatha Rail Trail. This stunning gravel path follows old trestles and tunnels up and through the Bitterroot crest and back into Montana. The final miles of the segment gradually descend a mix of forest roads, old rail grade, and pavement through small communities of the Clark Fork Valley. Public lands and water sources are abundant on this segment, resupply options are relatively frequent, and with the exception of the Purcell Mountains, this segment is not particularly remote.

  • Superior, MT to Darby, MT
  • 326 miles
  • 31,000’ elevation gain
  • 80% natural surfaces, 20% paved
  • 6-8 days out
  • Early July to late September riding season
  • 7/10 physical difficulty
  • 5/10 technical difficulty

The Clearwater and Bitterroot country of central Idaho is particularly remote and rugged. Leaving the Clark Fork Valley from Superior heading south, a well-maintained gravel road climbs 3,000 feet back over the Bitterroot crest into Montana. A 25+ mile descent along the scenic Clearwater River leads to the tiny town of Pierce before 60 tough miles of exposed climbing on active and abandoned logging roads over the Clearwater Mountains before dropping steeply to the Selway River where limited services and numerous campgrounds are available. A 25-mile-long 4,700’ climb with reasonable grades takes riders out of the Selway Valley and toward the incredibly secluded and welcoming community of Elk City. East of there, the infamous and stunning Magruder Corridor and another crossing of the Bitterroot Mountains begin – 90 miles of rough and taxing dirt and 4×4 roads sandwiched between two of the largest Wilderness areas in the Lower 48. Do not underestimate this section – it is demanding, exposed, incredibly wild, and is one of the most remote sections of the entire WWR. Leaving Elk City, it is 125 miles with a whopping 14,000’ of climbing to the hopping and touristy town of Darby, MT. The final 35 miles of that are a paved descent to the end of the segment, some of which riders will retrace if continuing south on Segment 3.

  • Darby, MT to Hailey, ID
  • 289 miles
  • 23,000’ elevation gain
  • 80% natural surfaces, 20% paved
  • 5-7 days out
  • Late June to late September riding season
  • 6/10 physical difficulty
  • 4/10 technical difficulty

Segment 3 meanders through the diverse landscapes of central Idaho – the depths of the Salmon River Canyon, the Salmon River Mountains, the magnificent Sawtooth Valley, and along the Wood River Valley between the Boulder and Smoky Mountains. At the northern end of the segment, 35 miles of pavement takes riders out of Darby and onto well maintained dirt roads that climb high into the Salmon River Range before a precipitous 5,000’ plunge on a rougher 4×4 track into the Salmon River Canyon. At just 3,000’ elevation, the depths of this canyon can be blazing hot in summer. The route follows the gorgeous Salmon River Road for a few miles before gradually but steadily climbing south to Morgan Creek Summit on well-maintained gravel roads. Eventually, the coniferous forests give way to sage-covered hills en route to the friendly community of Challis. West of Challis, the old Custer Motorway, now a gravel road, climbs over Mill Creek Summit and then drops to the North Fork of the Salmon River. Here, riders can tour abandoned mining towns and an intact gold mining dredge. Continuing south, the gravel road again hits the Salmon River, and the route turns west on a busier paved road to reach the stunning Sawtooth Valley and the tiny tourist destination of Stanley. Riders will follow the ever-shrinking Salmon River toward its headwaters before climbing an old stagecoach road over Galena Pass and hop on the pleasant 2-track of the Herriman Trail along the Wood River. At the southern end of the segment, the ski resort town of Ketchum and the smaller and homier community of Hailey offer all services and bike shops.

  • Hailey, ID to the Utah state line
  • 342 miles
  • 15,000’ elevation gain
  • 70% natural surfaces, 30% paved
  • 5-7 days out
  • Mid-May to late September riding season
  • 4/10 physical difficulty
  • 4/10 technical difficulty

Segment 4 of the WWR has two distinct personalities – the flat, sunbaked Snake River Plain in the north and the small wrinkled mountain ranges near the Idaho-Utah border in the south. Water is scarcer than farther north in Idaho, and long sections of the segments from here south to central Arizona can become impassible when wet. The terrain is dramatically less taxing than the adjacent segments. After leaving Hailey and Bellevue, riders climb over Muldoon Summit and follow dirt roads south to the edge of the Snake River Plain. From there, a mix of gravel, paved backroads, and a bit of busier highway lead to Arco while tracing the northern edge of the arid plains. The blackened volcanic landscape at Craters of the Moon National Monument is well worth a stop. From Arco, the route strikes southeast toward the lone Big Southern Butte (the optional steep pedal/push to the top provides an unparalleled view of the region) and across the Snake River Plain to Blackfoot. In summer, temperatures can soar quite high on these shadeless plains, but miles of two-track and absolute solitude offer riders a very unique experience. After Blackfoot, the route leaves the Snake River Plain and climbs into hillier country along the Blackfoot River to Soda Springs and its carbonated springs and geyser. In the southernmost 100 miles of Idaho, the route climbs through the scenic Preuss Range before eventually descending to Bear River and the 20-mile-long Bear Lake. The segment ends at the Utah border, but no services are available there aside from a basic state park campground.

  • Utah state line to Soldier Summit, UT
  • 250 miles
  • 14,500’ elevation gain
  • 50% natural surfaces, 50% paved
  • 4-6 days out
    • Mid-May to late September riding season
  • 4/10 physical difficulty
  • 3/10 technical difficulty

Northern Utah represents a major transition along the Western Wildlands Route. To the north lie the rugged mountains and low plains of Idaho, to the east extend High Plains of Wyoming, and to the south tower the Uinta Mountains and the high-elevation plateaus that stand atop the much larger Colorado Plateau. Segment 5 of the WWR leaves Bear Lake behind, generally following Bear River toward its headwaters in the Uinta Mountains on quiet gravel and paved backroads. A bit of highway riding leads into the bigger town of Evanston, and from there riders have two options for continuing south. The first option is the main WWR through bustling Park City, but most of that option traverses private land, some of which is rural and some quite developed. The second option is the Mirror Lake Highway Alternate which is entirely paved and climbs over the stunningly beautiful Uinta Mountains on almost entirely public lands past countless lakes, campgrounds, and hiking trails. South of where these two options rejoin, the mountain roads become rougher and steeper as Segment 5 climbs back into the mountains and up to 10,000 feet, past Strawberry Reservoir, and ultimately to the segment’s end at Soldier Summit and its lone gas station.

  • Soldier Summit, UT to Kanab, UT
  • 337 miles
  • 24,000’ elevation gain
  • 85% natural surfaces, 15% paved
  • 6-8 days out
  • Late June to mid-October riding season
  • 6/10 physical difficulty
  • 5/10 technical difficulty

Segment 6 traverses along the western margin of the Colorado Plateau through Utah’s high plateau country. The climbs and descent are long, the views from up high are absolutely massive, and the geology becomes vibrantly colorful. Elevations range from 5,000 feet in the lowest basins to well over 10,000 feet atop the highest plateaus. For southbound riders departing Soldier Summit, a few miles of highway riding leads to the northern end of Skyline Drive, a 100-mile-long rugged and rough 4×4 road that traverses the length of the Wasatch Plateau. 6,000 feet of climbing leads to the steeply rolling ridge crest and dozens of miles of near-treeline riding. The route plunges 5,500 feet to the town of Salina before climbing more gradually along creeks and through higher sage-covered valleys to the scenic Fish Lake and the Awapa Plateau. A descent leads to the small town of Loa before another 3,000-foot ascent takes riders back into the pines atop the sprawling Aquarius Plateau. Bryce Canyon National Park and its famous amphitheaters and towers comes after another big descent into a high valley. The segment then gradually climbs to the southern end of the Paunsaugunt Plateau before dropping through a private ranch and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The southernmost 40 miles are the fastest of the segment on smooth dirt roads and pavement leading to the touristy town of Kanab. Water and resupply options are less frequent along this segment, so careful planning may be required. Long stretches of this segment are also impassible when wet, necessitating paying close attention to weather forecasts.

  • Kanab, UT to the Grand Canyon
  • 209 miles
  • 10,000’ elevation gain
  • 65% natural surfaces, 35% paved
  • 3-5 days out
  • Mid-April to late November riding season
  • 3/10 physical difficulty
  • 4/10 technical difficulty

Traversing northern Arizona, Segment 7 takes riders through a landscape of colorful sedimentary rocks, tall cliffs, deep canyons, and high-elevation grasslands. This segment also winds across 100+ dry miles of stunning Navajo Nation land in Marble Canyon and Little Colorado River Gorge Tribal Parks before reaching Grand Canyon National Park. For southbound riders, the route initially crosses a broad, treeless valley before climbing over the northern end of the Kaibab Plateau through juniper woodlands. The more challenging Kaibab Plateau Alternate dips farther south over the highest part of the Kaibab Plateau and through cool forests and meadows. East of the Kaibab Plateau, the dirt roads through House Rock Valley lead to a relatively quiet paved road that runs beneath the Vermillion Cliffs to Navajo Bridge and the Western Wildlands Route’s crossing of the mighty Colorado River.

South of the Colorado River, pavement continues onto Navajo Nation, and at the small community of Bitter Springs, the route turns west onto rougher 4×4 tracks and dirt roads amid grasslands, badlands, and canyon rims. This section of the route requires a Navajo Nation backcountry permit, water is absent, shade is scarce, and camping is permitted only in a few specific locations. Reaching the Navajo community of Cameron, riders cross the Little Colorado River before climbing toward Grand Canyon National Park. This gradual ascent is a mix of pavement, trail through Little Colorado River Gorge Tribal Park, and abandoned road grades. Segment 7 ends at Desert View Overlook with an overwhelming view into the depths of Grand Canyon. Water and resupply options are infrequent along this segment, so careful planning may be required. Long stretches of this segment are also impassible when wet, necessitating paying close attention to weather forecasts. Ample sealant is also recommended.

IMPORTANT: Navajo Nation backcountry permit absolutely required – see permit information and regulations below. Camping is only allowed in 4 specific locations on Navajo Nation, none of which are marked on the ground; a GPS and the segment’s waypoints are required to locate these camping areas.  An Arizona State Land Trust permit is also required.

  • The Grand Canyon to Globe, AZ
  • 344 miles
  • 22,000’ elevation gain
  • 70% natural surfaces, 30% paved
  • 6-8 days out
  • Early May to late November riding season
  • 3/10 physical difficulty
  • 4/10 technical difficulty

Segment 8 is a grand tour of 350 miles of what most folks don’t think of when they picture Arizona – grasslands, majestic peaks, endless pine forests, and broad views across seemingly endless mountain ranges. This segment also passes through classic Arizona destinations like Grand Canyon National Park, Flagstaff, and Sedona before ending among the iconic saguaros of the Sonoran Desert. After 10 miles of pavement along the Grand Canyon rim, gravel and relatively smooth 4×4 roads generally descend south and then gradually climb toward the San Francisco Peaks. A steep gravel climb and a bit of even steeper singletrack lead to mellower riding through aspen glades before descending to the city of Flagstaff. South of Flagstaff, abandoned railroad grades, 4×4 roads, and gravel roads through pine forests lead to a long descent through the red and yellow cliffs of the Mogollon Rim cliffs into very touristy towns of Sedona and Oak Creek Village. Beyond there, a 4,000’ climb returns riders to the pine forests. A section of incredibly rocky 4×4 track and then a pavement reprieve takes riders southeast back to the top of the Mogollon Rim cliffs and 40 miles of rim-edge riding on the rugged gravel Rim Road (this can be rather busy and dusty with traffic on weekends). The route then cuts directly south to the very rural community of Young, quiet rolling dirt road through the Sierra Ancha Mountains, and then dropping precipitously into the Sonoran Desert the Salt River (which is not actually salty). The final miles of the segment follow mostly paved roads into the copper mining town of Globe. Virtually all of this segment outside of communities is on public lands. Water sources are relatively infrequent for most of this segment, and many of the northern 200 miles of the segment can become impassible when wet.

  • Globe, AZ to the Mexican border
  • 292 miles
  • 21,000’ elevation gain
  • 80% natural surfaces, 20% paved
  • 5-7 days out
  • Mid-September to early May riding season
  • 6/10 physical difficulty
  • 5/10 technical difficulty

Southern Arizona’s high, isolated mountain ranges stand high above the surrounding low landscapes and valleys of the Sonoran Desert. Segment 9 climbs over two of these ranges while also following long, low-relief drainage divides and the San Pedro Valley to the WWR’s southern terminus at the Mexico border. The high elevations above 5,000’ provide a cool, forested reprieve from the warm desert temperatures often experienced between 2,000 and 4,000’ elevation. Riding this segment between late May and early September is not advised due to temperatures that exceed 100 °F on most days. For southbound riders leaving Globe, a steep climb immediately leads to the near the top of the Pinal Mountains before descending to the Gila River and San Pedro River Valleys and the copper mining town of Winkelman. Then the route climbs again to reach moderate-elevation dirt roads that lead to Oracle, home of Biosphere 2. South of Oracle is the Control Road that ascends 5,000’ of steep dirt road to the top of Mount Lemmon, one of the magnificent Sky Islands, and the tiny community of Summerhaven. A long, paved descent delivers riders to the edge of the sprawling city of Tucson, and a much shorter climb out of town over Reddington Pass takes the route back to the San Pedro Valley. For riders wishing to skip Tucson and Mount Lemmon, a short alternate through San Manuel bypasses 7,000’ of climbing.

The southernmost 115 miles of the route follow the San Pedro Valley upstream to the Mexico border, first on dirt and gravel roads to Benson and then on a mix of 2-track, 4×4 road, old railroad grades, and short sections of pavement past abandoned ranches, ghost towns, and touristy Tombstone. The final miles of the segment are through the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area among wetlands, cottonwood trees, and if riders are lucky, a flowing San Pedro River. These last miles are on the San Pedro Trail, a non-motorized trail that may be overgrown in places in late summer and fall; a 4-mile-long out-and-back jaunt is required to reach the Mexico border. The Sierra Vista Extension offers riders a route to connect to Sierra Vista, the nearest city to the southern terminus of the WWR. In the desert of southern Arizona, water is very scarce in most months, but water sources are generally regularly spaced along this segment. Resupply options are also regularly spaced, and although private land is prevalent along this segment, camping options on public lands remain readily available in most areas.