Biking Skyline Drive on the Wasatch Plateau

August 25, 2015

Related Topics: Ambassadors, Trip Reports

skyline drive

 

PROBAR Ambassador Christine Donaldson checks in with a report from a recent biking and camping trip in Utah:

Stretching across 100 miles of the Wasatch Plateau in Central Utah, the Skyline Drive dirt road provides views and access to forested mountains, alpine meadows, and beautiful lakes – all above an elevation of 9,000 ft. In order to bike the Skyline Drive, a 4-wheel drive support vehicle is necessary. There are no built-out camping areas, but having a vehicle that can carry all your food and gear makes it an almost luxurious experience on the 4-5 day mission.

 

skyline drive

 

I got the invite on this trip about two weeks before it started. My dad and our family friends had planned it several months beforehand, and then a buddy of theirs had to bail. They needed a 4th person to help take turns driving the support van, and someone who could keep up with them on a bike.

Luckily I had dusted off my brother’s old Cannondale Jekyl this year and started mountain biking more regularly. I ride my road bike around 3 or 4 times a week so I knew my bike fitness would be okay. I was nervous that biking at 10,000 ft elevation would have me huffing and puffing for air, but interestingly I didn’t really feel the altitude until the 4th day in when my body started getting tired.

 

skyline drive

 

We rode about 25 miles a day in order to finish the trip in 4 days. Every afternoon the van would pull ahead and go find a camp spot, keeping track of the distance where we’d finish for the day. These spots were usually little clearings in the Aspens that sometimes contained a rock fire ring. The only other people we crossed paths with were the shepherds (with their sprawling flocks of sheep) and the occasional family on an ATV, day-tripping from the little canyon towns below the plateau. I was shocked that Skyline wasn’t more crowded, but we were there at the beginning of August when the rain storms start more frequently. I would bet that July is a lot more crowded.

 

skyline drive

skyline drive

 

The mountain biking is not technical on this route – there is no single track and it’s generally all a wide, smooth, dirt road. There are a few sections where the road is not maintained and water run-off creates divots or obstacles. What’s challenging about this road is that (at 10,000 ft, mind you) there are lots of long steady climbs. It seems like you climb a lot more than you descend until you get to the last 25 miles of the road, where it’s basically all downhill.

 

skyline drive

 

Between the views, the wildflowers, and the wonderful camp dinners each night, the experience is entirely uplifting – despite the long days of physical exertion. There is only one thing that you must be very, very, very cautious about. Rain…

The rain came early in the morning of our last day. When it rains on the Wasatch Pleateau, the dirt transforms into the deepest, stickiest, slipperiest mud you’ve ever seen. We knew going into the trip that if it started raining, we’d need to evacuate the van immediately. The van would probably sink into the mud and stay there forever if we didn’t. Luckily we drove down to a lake off of Skyline the night before in order to find a camp site out of the wind. We packed up camp early in the morning and found the closest exit canyon road. The mud was more slippery than ice in some spots, but the van made it down safely. We celebrated our escape with a big diner breakfast in a little mining town called Price.

We finished up our time in Utah with a few days in Park City. It was nice to try my hand at the built-out single track trails. We also spent a few days on road bikes to switch it up a bit. Coincidentally the Tour of Utah was happening while we were there! I’d love to go back and ride Skyline with a group of friends again! Every time I go back to Utah I never want to leave.

 

skyline drive