Outbound Collective logo

Everything You Need to Know About Bikepacking the Kokopelli Trail

Here is the ultimate guide to bikepacking the famous Kokopelli Trail, a 143-mile biking route through the empty desert of Utah and Colorado.

By: Madalyne Staab + Save to a List

Possibly one of the most well-known bikepacking routes in the USA (if not North America), the Kokopelli Trail is one of the best ways to explore the beautiful Colorado and Utah desert on your own two feet. Stretching 143-miles from the town of Loma, Colorado to the mountain biking hub of Moab, Utah, this long distance biking trail connects various singletrack, jeep trails, dirt roads and paved desert highways into one amazing, adventurous route.

Below is everything you need to know about taking on the famous Kokopelli Trail.

\\ What is the Kokopelli Trail?

Touted as one of the classic bikepacking trails in the USA, the Kokopelli Trail (or Kokopelli’s Trail) is a 140(ish) mile route that starts near the town of Loma, Colorado before taking you through various desert biomes until reaching the popular town of Moab, Utah.

The route is mostly done on ATV and OHV roads, with only around 15% of the total mileage being made up of singletrack (and most of that singletrack is done on Day 1). So, while the trail is not necessarily technical - though technical sessions definitely do exist - its overall difficulty should not be underestimated.

Be prepared for awe-inspiring desert vistas, stunning canyons, rough, rocky roads, flowy downhills and quad-busting uphill's. Overall, the Kokopelli Trail is a fantastic way to explore the empty landscape that separates the beautiful towns of Loma and Moab through your own body power.

History of the Trail

The trail is named in honor of Kokopelli, a fertility deity who is venerated by some Native American cultures in the Southwestern United States (including in Utah). Like most fertility deities, he presides over childbirth and agriculture. Similarly, Kokopelli is also a trickster god, a master braider and a representative of the spirit of music.
The Kokopelli Trail was created by the Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail Association (COPMOBA) in cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the United States Forest Service (NFS) in 1989. Today, the trail mostly consists of either singletrack, 4x4 roads, or country roads (with a few short paved sections). While the trails are never too technical, what makes the route so challenging are the elevation changes: the lowest point is at 4,000 feet (1,200 meters), while two massive climbs reach elevations of 8,400+ feet (2,600 meters).

\\ The Nitty-Gritty

Total Distance: 142 - 150 miles (230 - 241 kilometers); the distance definitely depends on what trails you exactly do (there are many options along the way), including whether you take the singletrack or jeep road on Day 1 and what route you choose to do on Day 4 to reach Moab.

Time: 3-5 days depending on your fitness and desire to ride hard. 

Difficulty: ⅘, mostly due to the length, sun exposure and long climbs.

Elevation Profile: 13,595 feet uphill and 14,058 feet downhill.


\\ Planning Guide

One of the first things you need to think about when planning to ride the Kokopelli Trail is how you are going to refuel - meaning where are you going to find water and how are you going to get more food. Luckily, the trail is not super hard to reach from various major roads - including Highway 128, the scenic route into Moab.

Therefore many riders choose to have a SAG vehicle accompany them on the trip. This allows you, the rider, to carry way less gear, including water and food since you will be meeting someone at the end of the day that will have all that stuff with them (this is what we did and we were so thankful we did by the end of Day 1). Learn more about SAG-ing below.

Another thing you need to keep in mind is your overall fitness. The trail is not technical - but it is hard. The climbs are steep and long and the temperature and sun exposure in the desert can be intense. Knowing how your body will react to the biking and landscape is important when planning out how far you want to go each day (we definitely overshot our expected fitness on Day 3). In our opinion, it is better to undershoot your abilities than to overextend yourself. If you are on the line of deciding between doing it in four days or five - go with five. You will not only likely enjoy the trail more (no one likes stressing about getting to camp before dark), you will also likely be more prepared for the tough stuff.

Once you have those two things figured out, it is time to actually plan the route!
Here is a breakdown of what you can expect for each day of riding, including where to start and end, the overall distance covered, the elevation profile and important information on camping and refueling. Note: this is based on our own experience riding the Kokopelli Trail in October.

DAY 1
Start: Loma, Colorado at the Kokopelli Trailhead

End: Westwater Boat Launch and Campground 

Distance: ~42 miles

Elevation Profile: start at 4,647 feet, top out at 5,003 feet and end at 4,320 feet. Steepest grade: 26%.

First, we feel like we need to put out a quick disclaimer. We did not start riding on the first day until almost 11:30 AM due to picking up bike rentals and doing some last minute bike repairs. Obviously, this late start did seriously hinder our overall riding - especially towards the end when we finished riding in the dark. So take it from us - start nice and early so you aren't stressing about completing the last 8 miles in the fading daylight.

Besides the late start, the first day of the Kokopelli Trail is a great introduction to what you can expect going forward. The views are incredible, the terrain is tough but manageable (especially if you decide to go the jeep route), and the overall riding is just fun.

GOOD TO KNOW: right from the start you do have the option to either take the nice flat road from the trailhead (Hawkeye Road, aka the "jeep route") or head out on the singletrack trail. The latter, unsurprisingly, takes longer and is more difficult, but is also a lot of fun.

Once you get past the singletrack (around mile 10), the rest of the day is mostly on nice doubletrack or on wide dirt roads. Though be aware that there are still some tougher climbs ahead - especially one tough section around mile 30 that our whole group decided to walk.

Luckily, the last couple of miles of the day are actually on a paved road (BLM 191) and can be ridden very quickly - which is great if you find yourself in a similar position as us (nighttime, weak headlamps, exhausted bodies). The Westwater Boat Launch and Campground is a short 1.5-mile spur off of the main Kokopelli Trail. You can find bathrooms, fire pits and tables, but no water at the campground.

DAY 2

Start: Westwater Boat Launch and Campground

End: Dewey Bridge

Distance: ~34 miles

Elevation Profile: start at 4,320 feet, top out at 4,838 feet and end at 4,195 feet. Steepest grade: 11%.

After a rough Day 1, it seemed like a lot of our group was starting to question whether taking on the Kokopelli Trail was actually a good idea. For many of us, it was our first big, long mountain bike ride ever - not to mention by far the longest ride we had done the whole year (which is how we came up with the very fitting name "Couch to Kokopelli" for the trip).

So it is safe to say that our bums, as well as our backs and quads, were quite sore going into Day 2.

Luckily, Day 2 is likely the easiest of the four days of riding. There is very little technical singletrack, a lot of flat, winding dirt roads and some awesome views of the La Sal Mountains. The only real challenge of the day comes towards the end when you cross over Highway 128 and start to head up a long, gradual climb to the top of the mesa (it is around 5 miles uphill in total). From the top, it is a fun, scenic ride back down to the highway and then a short roll across Dewey Bridge and into the campground.

From the entrance to Dewey Bridge (the BLM road is Top of the World Safari Route) you can keep heading up a mile or so to find established BLM campsites, or go across the street to the Dewey Bridge Campground (and pay the fee).

INSIDER TIP: there are some awesome campsites just up the road (~1 mile) that give you views of the surrounding desert as well as the Colorado River. Plus, the Top of the World Safari Route road is actually what you will be riding out on on Day 3.

DAY 3/4

Start: Dewey Bridge

End: Rock Castle Campground (if doing it in 1 day)

Distance: ~42 miles*, we did 36.6 

Elevation Profile: start at 4,195 feet, top out at 8,585 feet (highest point on the trail) and end at 7,000 feet at the campground. Steepest grade: 9%.

This is by far the hardest day of the trip so definitely plan accordingly. We recommend getting up nice and early so you can ride for the full amount of daylight hours. Or, if you are like us and are taking the day a bit slower than expected, consider splitting it into two separate days (making the trip five days of riding instead of four).

The start of Day 3 is along the Top of the World Safari Route, a wide jeep road that gradually climbs for miles up into the surrounding red rock mesas. The climb is never steep - but it is loooong. Take it nice and slow and focus on getting into a sustainable cadence. And drink lots of water.

We decided to take our lunch break around mile 89, right after a nice, rocky downhill section that left a few of us a bit bruised. The section right past this spot is known as Rose Garden Hill and man is it a doozy.

The trail itself is still an "ATV" route, but quite frankly only a madman would head up or down it. It is steep, super rocky (with boulders included) and just sketchy. On our way down - walking our bikes of course - we met a very nice couple who were attempting to take their ATV up the hill. They got about 3/4 of the way before calling it. We ended up bartering with them for some more water (we were starting to run dangerously low for how far we still had to go) in exchange for helping them turn the vehicle around so it didn't flip back down the hill.

INSIDER TIP: make sure to bring more than the common 3 liters of water per person on Day 3. You not only will be climbing more, but the sun's rays also seemed to be more intense up top.

After Rose Garden Hill, it is another long, rolling section with some tougher uphills and some fast, rocky downhills. This area of the trail is probably the most technical section of the day, so definitely make sure you have all your wits about you before starting out.

Soon you will reach Onion Creek Road around mile 93. This is the only spot on the trail during Day 3 that you can actually bail and head back down to Highway 128 (which will eventually lead you to Moab). It was here that we started to discuss whether it was smart to keep going - including taking on the biggest hill of the day - at such a later hour (it was already 3:30 PM).

In the end, after talking it over, we all decided it was smarter to head back down to the highway and try to get a hold of our support vehicle and just catch a ride to the campsite for the night.

While it sucked to bail on the entire route, after riding down Onion Creek Road - and taking in the extraordinary views of the surrounding red rock canyons - our disappointment quickly ebbed. By the time we reached Highway 128 we all agreed that that section was one of the prettiest parts of the trip and maybe even one of the prettiest roads in the Moab area.

GOOD TO KNOW: this section of the trail, near Onion Creek Road, is a popular spot to camp and separate the one day of climbing into two. There are plenty of BLM camping areas along the road.

DAY 4/5

Start: Rock Castle Campground

End: Moab!

Distance: ~21 miles depending on how you want to head down to town; not including the Porcupine Rim Trail (14.7 miles)

Elevation Profile: start at 7,000 feet, top out at 8,300 feet, end at 4,389 feet in Moab. Steepest grade: 16% up and 18% down.

If you separated Day 3 into two days and camped around Onion Creek, then you should have about another 20 or so miles until you reach Rock Castle Campground. This section of the trail does include likely the hardest climb of the route, as well as the highest point of the entire Kokopelli Trail.

Or if you decide to follow our quick little detour and instead catch a ride to Rock Castle Campground (or you are a total badass and finished the whole riding between Dewey Bridge and Rock Castle Campground in one day) you can wake up on Day 4 and know that you only have around 21 miles until you reach Moab!

And, if that wasn't enough to get you excited, know that a large portion of the last day is actually downhill. Woot.

In fact, after completing one last climb - which measures around 7 miles - you are treated to a number of downhill route options. One of the most common routes is to take on the Porcupine Rim Trail, which starts out on Sand Flats Road and curves around for 14.7 miles before spitting you out on Highway 128.

Otherwise, you can add in a bit of singletrack to your downhill descent or just keep it simple and ride all the way down to Moab on Sand Flats Road (rated green/easy).
Soon enough, the trail will finish at Millcreek Road, which is just a short ride away from downtown Moab. Once there, you can find plenty of restaurants (we are big fans of Gilberto's and their kickass salsa), breweries and cafes to refuel and celebrate at.

Congrats, you finished the Kokopelli Trail!

\\ Camping

One of the best things about the Kokopelli Trail is the availability of campsites. This includes both free spots (often along the trail in BLM areas) and more established paid campgrounds. During our four day trip we stayed at two established campgrounds and one BLM spot (for two of the nights).

The camping areas we stayed at were: Westwater Boat Launch and Campground (Night 1, $20 /night), Dewey Bridge (Night 2 and 4, free) and Rock Castle Campground (Night 3, $20 /night).

According to some sources, there are 8 campgrounds available along the trail so if you are looking to only stay in established campgrounds the entire time you totally can. For example, just across the street from Dewey Bridge (a popular free BLM camping area) is the Dewey Bridge Campground ($20 /night) or you can also keep heading up the dirt road from the bridge - which is part of the Kokopelli Trail - and stay at Cowskin Campground (which may or may not be free).

GOOD TO KNOW: there is no water available at any of the Dewey Bridge camping areas, though there are pit-toilets.

A good way to figure out where to camp along the ride is to either check out the BLM website, which lists all campgrounds as well as important information like fees, whether there is water and bathrooms and basic directions, or to go on Google Maps and search along the route.

\\ Food & Water

There is very little water available along the trail so your best bet is to either have someone carrying water with them (a SAG) or before starting out on the trail drop off water along the way. While you do follow the Colorado River for much of the first two days of the ride, oftentimes you are too far above the river to make grabbing water a viable option and honestly, the river is so muddy that filtering might not even make sense.

While riding, it is smart to carry at least 3 liters of water per person - more if you are doing it in the hot summer months. The two of us carried just over 3 liters and this was just enough to make it through (we actually needed more on Day 3).

INSIDER TIP: we also suggest bringing one water bottle full of electrolytes since you will likely be sweating alooooot (heat stroke and headaches really are a biking buzzkill).

As for food, just like with water, you will not have any options for picking up food along the way. The whole trail is practically in the middle of nowhere and besides a few trains and old school ranches you will likely see no sign of people.

Here is a quick breakdown of what food we brought with us on the trail (note this is for 2 people):

  • 2 bagels with hummus for lunch
  • 4 handfuls of trail mix
  • 1-2 handfuls of dried apricots and dark chocolate covered almonds
  • 6 Nutri-Grain bars (granola bars)
  • 6 packs of fruit gummies


As for food at camp, we were lucky enough to do the ride with an awesome group of people who had planned all of the dinners for us. We also made sure to have quick snacks available for that hungry period between riding and dinner (chips and salsa were our go-to). For breakfast we made breakfast burritos with eggs, frozen potatoes, spinach and cheese. And then of course lots of coffee (always).

\\ SAG or No SAG

One of the most important things to figure out early when planning to do the Kokopelli Trail is whether you are going to do it self-supported - meaning you will have to either carry all your gear with you along the ride or stash supplies along the way beforehand - or if you are going to have someone SAG for you.

Simply put, a SAG - which stands for “support and gear” - is someone who often drives a vehicle filled to the brim with all the supplies you could need and who meets you at the campgrounds at the end of the day (bonus points if they are amazing and also make you dinner). We were lucky enough to have Luke’s mom be our SAG and man she was an absolute life-saver (she made us dinner, started a fire and helped dry out our sleeping gear).

While some people might scoff at the idea of not doing the trail self-supported, in the end, it totally comes down to your preference on how much you want to carry along the trail, how much comfort you want at camp, and whether you want someone to be within range if something seriously goes wrong.

We obviously were super glad to have someone helping shuttle our gear, fill up water jugs, get a fire going at night and even help make dinner. It just helped us not stress those extra things (like water, food and camping) while riding the trail - which made everything much more enjoyable. Obviously, some people might feel differently - but for us a SAG helped make riding the Kokopelli Trail that much more fun.

\\ Good to Know


Maps & GPS Guides

Even though the Kokopelli Trail is pretty well-known and has a good number of signs, we still 100% suggest downloading a map of the trail before heading out. There were numerous times while riding that we saw signs that had been run over by ATVs and therefore didn’t clearly point to which trail to go on. There were also just times that we second guessed ourselves and had to clarify with the electronic map. Finally, and this might just be a personal preference, it is also kind of nice to know how far you have come and how far you have to go while out riding.
A few apps that our group used were:

  • Mountain Bike Project: a popular choice and one that shows you where you exactly are on the trail, as well as your elevation and mileage.

  • Trailforks: similar to Mountain Bike Project, just the trail is split into specific sections. It also shows other activities like trail running, Nordic skiing and ATV routes.

  • Gaia: a personal favorite of ours, this in-depth map feels more like a topo map - meaning it will show more information on the landscape, including elevation.

Preparation

The Kokopelli Trail is 143 miles long through tough desert terrain. Meaning don't take it lightly when planning. Our group definitely went in with little preparation and while 5 of the 7 people did end up finishing the trail* (two people ended up dealing with knee pain, including Madalyne), we all agreed that a bit of training would have likely made some parts of it more enjoyable. * minus the second tough climb on Day 3 that we bailed on.


We suggest heading out on a couple of longer mountain bike rides beforehand to prepare your body for what it will feel like to ride for many miles at a time (especially how tough it will be on your bum after sitting in the saddle for 20+ miles). Also, there is something to be said about preparing yourself mentally to take on such a long ride.
Interestingly enough, we actually found our mental state to be just as exhausted as our physical state by the end of Day 1. We got to a point where we actually (quietly) talked about not finishing the trail.

Riding 143 miles in four days is hard. There is no doubt about it. So if you can help offset that pain and discomfort by doing a few training rides beforehand you will definitely not regret it.

Season

According to Bikepacking.com, the trail is ridable from March or April until September or October (we did it the last week of October).
Two things to keep in mind when deciding on what time of year to do the trail are:

  • The summer heat can be brutal (temperatures often soar to over 100 degrees in July and August).

  • The trail might be a bit snowy at higher elevations (in the La Sal Mountains) during October. Always check trail conditions before setting out.

INSIDER TIP: maybe it was because we did the ride in late October, but we found all of our camping gear would be soaked from dew by morning. Be prepared for wet sleeping bags and blankets and consider either sleeping in a tent (we cowboy camped) or at least having your SAG person lay out the gear to dry during the heat of the day.


Packing

Because we had a SAG for the entirety of the ride, we were able to pack a bit more loosely - aka bring everything we might possibly need. This included a fair amount of clothes (see our full list below), riding shoes and camp shoes (Crocs seem to be making a comeback in this department), plenty of snacks, a heavy camera and a few GoPros. We also were lucky enough to have our van to sleep in for 3 out of the 4 nights, so we didn't need to pack much camping gear.

CLOTHING

  • 1 pair of bike shorts (padded)
  • 1 pair of regular shorts (just in case)
  • 1 pair of tights to wear over the bike shorts, especially during the chilly mornings
  • 2 wicking t-shirts (short-sleeved)
  • 2 wicking sun shirts (long-sleeved)
  • 1 light jacket
  • 1 thick jacket or puffy to wear at camp
  • 1 rain jacket
  • 1 set of pj's or thicker tights for sleeping
  • 3 pairs of socks, including 2 for riding (one thick pair for camp)
  • 2 sports bras (if female)
  • 4 pairs of underwear

Not bad to have (if space allows): another pair of tights or comfortable pants for when hanging around camp, another light jacket (like a fleece) for those in-between temperature moments, and more socks (the trail can be wet/muddy in parts).


We had always had the Kokopelli Trail on our adventure bucket list. So as you can imagine, we were super stoked to finally make the dream a reality. After 4 days of riding around the desert (technically 3 for Madalyne) we finished the trail and celebrated with a large campfire, a delicious veggie curry and plenty of Halloween candy (we happened to finish the trail on October 31st).

The Kokopelli Trail is, in our opinion, one of the best ways to get in touch with the empty, somewhat barren landscape that seems to stretch for miles in all directions from the border of Colorado and Utah. This open desert feels like a landscape forgotten, unchanged by the progress of man, unhindered by modernization. For much of the ride you will be alone. Just you, your fellow riders and maybe a few pronghorns if you are lucky.

So if you are looking to escape the hustle and bustle for a bit and instead get back to nature, definitely consider taking on the Kokopelli Trail.

We just want to say a big thank you to the group of people we got to do this amazing trip with. Without them the trail - would likely have been a lot less fun. Also, many of the photos above are from this awesome group of people so I feel like we need to thank them doubly.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

Do you love the outdoors?

Yep, us too. That's why we send you the best local adventures, stories, and expert advice, right to your inbox.

Recent

Get outdoors, but make it gay

Erica Zazo

Eddie Bauer has you covered with the Guide UPF 2.0 Shirt

Britany Greenwalt

4 Outdoor adventures to take in Illinois this Summer

Erica Zazo