Dip your toes into #VanLife and dive fully into some of the country’s most iconic mountain biking.
Ever dreamt of road-tripping your way from epic ride to epic ride? Of course you have. What about living the #VanLife, complete with Instagram stardom? Whether you’ll admit it or not, we know we have. So we got to thinking: What if we could do both—galavant around classic mountain bike destinations in tricked-out campervans—without quitting our jobs and buying vehicles the price of houses?
Thanks to a new wave of adventure vehicle rental services located near major metropolitan airports (think: cheap flights), that dream is now an attainable reality. Below, we’ve put together three bucket list mountain bike road trips that explore the redrock canyonlands of Moab, the dark, magical forests of Oregon and Colorado’s rocky high country outside of Denver. Ship your bike out ahead of time (via Bike Flights or Shipbikes.com), hop on a flight, pick up your van and hit the road—it’s that simple.
Desert Southwest: Moab, Utah
Tick some all-time classics while you roam the desert in comfort and style
The trip: Three days starting and ending at Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC)
The van: Reserve “White Van,” an all-wheel-drive Chevrolet Express 1500, from Bascecamper Vans ($119 per day). The vehicle seats five (with seat belts) and sleeps four thanks to its built-in bed and a Tepui Kukunam ruggedized rooftop tent. Add a hitch-mounted bike carrier at no extra charge. Hop on the train at the airport to pick up your van from Basecampers’ headquarters. Pick up the van as early as 9 a.m.; you pay for the whole day regardless of the pick-up time, so book an early flight.
Day 1: Navajo Rocks Chaco Loop
As you arrive with a half-day to burn, dive into this flow-filled 18-mile loop with 1,500 feet of vert and technical pockets to boot. Keep your eyes on (and wheels off) the cryptobiotic crust: a biological soil that’s crucial to the ecosystem and can take up to 50 years to grow back after being disturbed.
Fuel up: Pop into town and pick up a 12-pack Mix It Up Variety Box from Moab Brewery, the town’s sole microbrewery, for the campsite. Red Rock Bakery & Net Cafe has delicious sandwiches and coffee plus the best ambiance if you need to catch WiFi. Warning: The hours are early—6:30 a.m. to 2 or 3 p.m.
Where to camp: Willow Springs is a dispersed camping zone (undeveloped) on BLM land with low crowds, no cost, tons of campsites, an enclosed pit toilet and an expansive view of the desert. It’s located just 15 miles north of town along US 191, an ideal position from which to attack the following rides and relax around a fire each night (just remember to pick up some firewood on the way!)
Day 2. The Whole Enchilada
This 34-mile dream ride delivers a world of terrain over the course of a full-day adventure: high alpine views, towering sandstone cliffs, and rolling crimson slickrock. The route starts at 11,126 feet and drops close to 8,000 feet with only 1,500 feet of ascent. Park your rig at Grandstaff Canyon Trailhead, pedal the bike path into town and hire a shuttle to drop you off at Geyser Pass Trailhead. Coyote Shuttle and Moab Cyclery are two great up-lift options.
Fuel up: There’s no better way to cap off the best ride in the world than with a burger, milkshake and tots at Milt’s Stop’n’Eat, a Moab cult classic.
Day 3: Mag 7
Get an early start for the grand finale: a 22-mile point-to-point with epic canyon views. The Little Canyon segment jumps up in difficulty; walk the no-fall zones! “This will be on my must-do list when I return to Moab again,” said MTB Project user Justin Nixon. Not interested in the double-black rated Portal Trail at the end of this ride? Opt of the slightly less technical, far less exposed Poison Spider Trail instead.
Pacific Northwest: Portland, Oregon
Explore the magical forests of the PNW in a palacial pop-top
The trip: Five days starting and ending at Portland International Airport (PDX)
The van: A pop-top-equipped Ford Econoline Sportsmobile from Roamerica with room for up to four adults and four mountain bikes ($175-$215 per night, 3-night minimum during low season: Oct-April). Add a two-bike hitch rack for $15 per day.
Day 1: Oakridge—Box Canyon
“A lot of locals from Bend go to Oakridge to avoid trail crowds—the mountain biking there is really, really good and Box Canyon is super fun,” said Roamerica Co-owner Gretchen Bayless. Enjoy the views of Three Sisters on this 14-mile lasso.
Where to camp: Continue east to camp near the next day’s trailhead, on the southwest shore of Paulina Lake ($18 per night).
Pro tip: “In Oregon and Washington, you can pull off on any fire road and camp which is a nice option—that’s usually what we do,” said Bayless. Also, hike to the primitive Paulina Hot Springs on the lake’s southeast shore.
Day 2: La Pine—Newberry Crater Rim Trail
Wake up at Paulina Lake, a bright blue body of water that fills the caldera of Newberry Volcano as a result of 500,000 years of volcanic activity. Take the 20-mile loop with epic views around Paulina and East Lake. “The singletrack is great, but the views are even better,” said rider Chad Hartley.
Where to camp: At the South Shore Campground of glacier-fed Suttle Lake, nestled by Douglas fir and Ponderosas ($18 per night). Bonus points: Take a chill, 3.2-mile walk on Suttle Lake Shoreline Trail.
Day 3: Mt. Hood—Timberline to Rhododendron
A point-to-point with 4,400 feet of descent makes for a nice, mellow ride mid-trip. Take the Mt. Express Shuttle from Rhododendron up to Timberline Lodge ($2 per trip), where you can park during the ride. Still got some gas in the tank after that mostly downhill ride? Take a short side-trip to Sandy Ridge to sample one of the most impressive purpose-built trail systems on public land. Did we mention perfectly-sculpted berms and tabletops?
Fuel up: Head into Hood River to grab dinner at Solstice, a primo wood-fired pizza joint right on the Columbia River, before wandering over to Cicci Gelato for dessert (espresso over vanilla gelato, Bayless recommends).
Where to camp: Tucker Park, a Hood River County-run facility, has campsites ranging from $20-$30 per night. Looking for more seclusion? Venture south, toward Parkdale, to find a dispersed campsite in the Mt. Hood National Forest.
Day 4: Hood River—Post Canyon Hot Lap
The 10-mile Post Canyon lap weaves together fluid singletrack, zigzag ascents, and banked turns.
Pro tip: Get a post-ride pastry and coffee fix at bike-enthused Stoked Coffee Roasters on the Hood River Waterfront before heading to camp.
Where to camp: Ten miles east of Hood River is Memaloose State Park with hot showers ($19/night).
Fuel up: In Moiser, enjoy dinner at Rack & Cloth, which serves cider and pizza with ingredients made from the owner’s farm.
Day 5: Hood River—Syncline
Rise early to get in a final ride before venturing back to Portland: Cross Hood River Bridge ($1 toll fee) into the Washington side of the gorge and shred Syncline. Be sure to check out Little Moab Trail, “a small slice of the southwest along an almost constant rock garden,” according to MTB Project contributor Brock Warner.
Pro tip: If you need to loosen up before more travel, Yoga Samadhi Columbia Gorge is a gorgeous studio with great teachers.
Rocky Mountain: Denver, Colorado
Sample the bounty of big mountain riding just outside of the Mile High City
The trip: Five days starting and ending at Denver International Airport (DEN)
The van: A rugged 4×4 Sportmobile with swanky interior from Adventure Travel Sport Rentals ($350 per night). This off-road-capable campervan will take you and up to three friends just about anywhere in the Colorado High Country. Add a bike rack ($50 per day) or even a high-end mountain bike (starting at $25 per day). Airport pick-up and drop-off available at no extra fee.
Day 1: Little Scraggy Trail Loop
After a quick one-hour drive from the city, tuck into this new school 13-mile loop in the Buffalo Creek Trail System, where the area’s camping and views are equally incredible.
Where to camp: While you could fork out the $18 for a developed site at the Buffalo Creek Campground, your tricked-out Sportsmobile would feel much more at home at a dispersed campsite along nearby Forest Road 550. You’ll camp here tomorrow night, too.
Fuel up: Swing through the Natural Grocers or Whole Foods on your way into the mountains to stock up on delicious food for three nights of off-grid camping.
Day 2: Buffalo Creek Big Loop — IMBA EPIC
Yesterday’s jaunt on Little Scraggy just scratched the surface of Buffalo Creek Riding. From rollers to pines and drops, steer out a 24-mile major loop on this IMBA Epic: “A nice tour of some of the best of Buffalo Creek that’s mostly smooth singletrack with some climbing,” said local rider and MTB Project co-founder Mike Ahnemann. Because most of the trails on this loop are made up of decomposed granite, Buffalo Creek is ridable almost year-round (save for the few days right after a two-foot dump of snow).
Day 3: Kenosha Pass
While this classic can see snow as early as mid-September, it’s been known to stay rideable into mid-November. Time it right and you’re in for one of the best displays of fall colors in the Centennial State.
Where to camp: Take advantage of your van’s four-wheel-drive capability to find an idyllic site along nearby Hall Valley Road (CR 60).
Day 4: Staunton State Park — Full Clockwise Loop
Explore one of the newest state parks in Colorado with a 20-mile loop and 3,000 feet of ascent. The trails venture past gorgeous hills and unique rock formations, meadows, Elk Falls, and a 20th-century sawmill. ($7 day pass).
Fuel up: Head to Golden, Colorado, to grab a bite at the Sherpa House Restaurant and Culture Center.
Pro tip: Enjoy an evening at Earth Treks ($20 day pass) with light bouldering, yoga and a hot shower to stretch out the muscles; open until 11 p.m.
Day 5: Apex Park and/or White Ranch Open Space
With such great riding right from town, why not double dip? It’s your last day, live a little! Apex Park features a 10-mile loop featuring equal parts technical, loose rock and incredibly whimsical singletrack through thick, old-growth forest.
Pro tip: The best trails for descending at Apex are only rideable on even numbered days, so plan accordingly.
White Ranch’s 14-mile, 2,800-foot Technical Descent Tour features a stiff climb to a scenic meadow with expansive views of the plains and downtown Denver. The rowdy singletrack descent is speckled with rock gardens, switchbacks and technical drops through mixed pine and desert-like terrain.
Fuel up: Check out New Terrain Brewing to sample a few pours from the taproom before popping over to Abejas for dinner: The restaurant serves up hearty and delicious plates such as Caramel Lacquered Duck and Braised Lamb Shank.