Bikerafting in the American West: Top 5 Bike Rafting Trips
Packrafting is great. If you’re reading this, you probably agree.
A packraft gives you the option to turn what would otherwise be a one-dimensional point-to-point adventure into something more. Instead of shuttling multiple cars around, paying for a shuttle, or hitchhiking back to where you started your trip, a packraft allows you to simply paddle back to where you started. As long as you plan your trips around waterways, every adventure can be a loop with a packraft.
Yes, you can do that on foot by hiking up a valley then taking the river back to where you started. But who’s to say you can’t do the same thing with a bike?
Bike rafting is exactly what it sounds like, packrafting with a bike. When you introduce a packraft into your bikepacking setup you’re no longer limited to following roads or trails. You're not even limited to staying on dry land anymore.
If you’re into making your own bikepacking routes, or dream of one day completing every bikepacking route on Bikepacking.com like us, it won’t be much more difficult to dream up your first foray into bike rafting.
What is Bike Rafting?
A little more about Bike rafting, first.
Bike rafting is a combination of bikepacking and packrafting. Bike packing is basically going on a backpacking trip but with your bike. A bike rafting trip can be a mixed route with some paddling and some pedaling. Or, it can be an “out and back” of sorts, where the “out” is on a bike and the “back” is paddling a packraft or vice versa.
With a packraft, you can extend your bikepacking trip farther than you could if you were simply pedaling. And with a bike, you can go places your packraft couldn’t take you. Combining these outdoor pursuits into one super adventure is a win-win.
Once you embrace bike rafting, you’ll no longer be limited to doing loops or shuttling multiple cars around. You’ll probably want to avoid those class V rapids with a bike strapped to the front of your raft, but you can certainly extend your adventure farther while bike rafting.
Figuring out a way to strap that bike to a packraft can be slow and cumbersome, but you’ll get the hang of it with some practice. We recommend Modl Infinity Tool straps for this since they also work with your bikepacking setup. This Bikeraft Guide will certainly help you with all things bike rafting, too!
Picking the right packraft is also important for bike rafting. You want small and light, for sure, but not too small and light. There has to be room for you and your bike, remember. We recommend the Twain Lite, Rogue R-Deck and Nirvana Self Bailing or Nirvana Spraydeck for most bike rafting adventures. We even have a full line of bikepacking bags specifically designed for bikerafting trips our site.
Okay, now for the fun part.
Top 5 Bike Rafting trips in the American West
The route: Ride With GPS
Bike section: 140 miles
Packraft section: 85 miles
Total mileage: 225 miles
The Kokopelli Trail is traditionally done as a 142-mile point-to-point bikepacking trip. If you’re looking for a premier desert bikepacking experience, the Kokopelli is probably on your shortlist of routes already.
The Kokopelli Trail crosses desert, canyons, and the La Sal Mountains just north of Moab. You’ll follow a mixture of singletrack and desert doubletrack, with a small amount of pavement going through the La Sals.
There are several challenges you’ll face when bikepacking the Kokopelli trail. There’s plenty of loose sand, challenging hike-a-bike sections, and steep terrain on exposed desert roads, to name just a few. You’ll also need to cache water in a few places unless you’re willing to scramble down to the Colorado River periodically. If you do this, filtering the silty water will be a different challenge.
By bike rafting the Kokopelli Trail, you’ll bring your own transportation to get back to where you started in Moab. This way, you cut out several hours of driving and the need to shuttle multiple cars to either end of the route. So, why not up the adventure and packraft back?
To ride the route, you start on bikes in Moab. You’ll pedal the 142 miles to the Loma Trailhead, then packraft the Colorado River back to where you started.
To raft the Colorado River, you’ll need to get a permit in advance for the Ruby Horsetheif canyon and Westwater Canyon section. The Ruby Horsetheif section is pretty mellow and rated class II. The West Water section has some Class IV rapids. But don't let that discourage you, you can always portage the section and ride your bike back on the Kokopelli trail.
And since the Kokopelli Trail crosses the Colorado River several times, you can always shorten this route if you don’t have an entire week to spend bike rafting. Riding from Moab to Dewey Bridge then packrafting back would be a great 2-3 night trip.
There is Colorado River access at West Water Ranger Station/boat Launch, Dewey Bridge, and the Loma Boat Launch Trailhead. There are endless possibilities once you introduce a packraft to your bikepacking trips. So, get planning.
We recommend at least caching water at the Rabbit Valley trailhead, this will be at the end of a hot, dry section coming northeast from Westwater Ranger station. The Rabbit Valley trailhead is just off I-70, 20 or so miles outside of Fruita. From here, it’s 20 more challenging miles of flowy singletrack, difficult hike-a-bikes, and rolling dirt roads to the Loma Trailhead.
Lake Powell Bike Rafting Loop
The Route: Ride with GPS
Bike section: 193 miles
Rafting section: 55 miles
Total mileage: 248 miles
This bike rafting route uses part of the Plateau Passage Bikepacking Route and northern Lake Powell to create a mixed surface bike rafting loop. As with many bike rafting trips, this route is adaptable to the amount of time you have.
This route technically starts and ends in Boulder, Utah, and is 244 miles total. Boulder is a full-service town, but if you’d rather shave some time off the bike portion of this trip you can start and end at Hite Crossing instead. By starting at Hite Crossing, you’d cut the bike portion down to 116 miles, making the total distance covered 171 miles.
Hite Crossing sits at the confluence of the Colorado and Dirty Devil Rivers and North Lake Powell. Here, there’s only a campground and the Hite Outpost, a small gas station and general store. It has cold drinks (including beer), snacks, and ice cream, but not much more.
Coming out of Boulder, you’ll head west across the Colorado Plateau on a mixture of paved and dirt roads. You’ll be treated to epic views of the Utah Badlands with Grand Staircase Escalante farther to the west. There is one monster 5,000-foot climb through the Henry Mountains just west of Hite Crossing, though. If you choose to start and end your loop at Hite Crossing you’ll be saving that climb for the end of your trip.
From Hite Crossing, you’ll packraft the northern section of Lake Powell to Bullfrog Basin. We all know how stunning the entire Glen Canyon National Recreation area is, but have you packrafted the northern sections yet?
From Bullfrog Basin, you’ll unpack the bikes and deflate your rafts. Then, it’s a relatively short 77-mile pedal on a mixture of pavement and dirt to complete the loop in Boulder.
If you want an even longer loop, you can raft farther down Lake Powell to Hole in the Rock. From there, you’d take Hole in the Rock road to the town of Escalante, and make your way back to Boulder.
Or, go even further on Lake Powell and make your way back to where you started via the Grand Staircase Loop bikepacking route. This would be an epically-long additional 80 miles of paddling Lake Powell plus another 100 miles if difficult riding to complete the loop in Boulder.
The area around Lake Powell and Grand Staircase Escalante is full of bike rafting possibilities.
Green River and White Rim Trail in Canyonlands Bike Rafting Route
The Route: Ride with GPS
Bike section: 140 miles
Rafting section: 33 miles
Total mileage: 173 miles
This bike rafting loop also starts and ends in Moab, but it explores the deserts and canyons southwest of town. It follows 173 miles of singletrack, desert doubletrack roads, and packrafts the Green River through Canyonlands National Park.
This route uses parts of the Hey Joe Safari bikepacking route to get from Moab to the Green River in Horseshoe Canyon. You’ll then packraft the Green River from Spring Canyon Bottom, through Horseshoe Canyon to Beaver Bottom, where you can scramble up to The White Rim Trail. You’ll then ride the White Rim Trail back into Moab. If you didn’t know, White Rim is a very popular bikepacking destination that circumnavigates much of the Island in the Sky in Canyonlands National Park.
You’ll start your trip in Moab, and ride through the Bar M Trail System. This trail system is a super fun network of flowy singletrack where you can pick a route based on how technical of a trail you want. Or, just stick to the dirt road along highway 191 since there will be plenty more challenges ahead.
After the Bar M trails, you’ll cross the highway and make your way west through a network of slick rock, dirt, and clay singletrack connected by dirt roads. Eventually, you descend to the canyon bottom and arrive at the Green River, Spring Canyon Bottom. From here, you’ll start the 33-mile packrafting portion of this bike rafting trip. This section of the Green River is mostly flatwater to Class 1 – it’s smooth sailing to Beaver Bottom. There are no designated campsites along the Green River, but there are some good flat spots along the banks to pitch a tent.
Once you’ve rafted to Beaver Bottom, it’s time to start pedaling the White Rim Trail. White Rim is a relatively easy dirt road to bikepack, but it’s long, hot, and dry. So, it won’t actually be easy. And, the scenery is Canyonlands.
A permit is required for rafting the Green River through Canyonlands. A permit is also required for overnight trips on the White Rim Trail. And, camping on the White Rim Trail is another logistical hurdle: there are backcountry “zones” (click to download map (pdf) of these zones) you can camp in along the trail. However, bikes are considered vehicles in Canyonlands National Park. So, you’ll have to stash your bike along the road and walk into the backcountry zones to legally camp there. If you want to camp with your bike you need to camp at designated vehicle campgrounds, which must be reserved well in advance.
The only water you’ll encounter on this route will be in the Green River, which is very silty. To drink this water you’ll need a method to purify the silty water. We recommend using a sediment bag to collect water, then letting it settle and using a water filter to filter clearer water off the top. Since water is so scarce out here, most people cache water for themselves on the White Rim Trail. You should cache water too unless you’re willing to carry multiple days’ worth of water, try to buy it off car campers, or pray for rain.
You can easily cache water off of Island in the Sky road, which is paved. We recommend caching water at Lone Mesa Campground for your first night’s camp. You should also cache water somewhere along the eastern side of the White Rim loop. The easiest way to cache water without a 4x4 vehicle on the White Rim Trail is to hike down the very steep Gooseberry Trail.
Like most backcountry trips in national parks, this requires a fair amount of advanced planning. But, all this extra planning will make the experience more rewarding in the end.
Lake Mead Bike Rafting Loop
The Route: Ride with GPS
Bike section: 127 miles
Rafting section: 47 miles
Total mileage: 174 miles
This bike rafting loop starts and ends in Las Vegas and uses another part of the Plateau Passage Bikepacking Route along with Lake Mead to create a mixed surface bike rafting loop. You’ll pass near the Muddy Mountains (pdf) , and catch a glimpse of Hoover Dam on the southern end of Lake Mead.
This route is very adaptable to the amount of time you have, where you want to start, and more. And, this is also the only route covered here that gives you the option to stay on pavement the entire time.
Even though the route “starts” in Las Vegas, you can start this anywhere along the loop that works for you. If you start and end in Vegas, the route is 174 miles. If you don’t need to start in Las Vegas and want to stick to pavement, then starting this loop in Overton or even Stewart’s Point dispersed camping area is a good idea. This would cut your total loop distance down to 100 miles or less.
By not riding out of Vegas you avoid the 4x4 road through Rainbow Gardens coming out of town, and the sprawl of the Vegas suburbs before that. The only other serious off-roading on this route is on the additional loop section through Valley of Fire State Park.
North of this park, you’ll be on loose, sandy ATV tracks, which wouldn’t be fun on tires narrower than 2+ inches. So, to stay on paved surfaces you should avoid this extra loop. The road through Valley of Fire State Park is paved, though, so you could check it out as an out and back if you want.
On the rest of the route, you’ll primarily be riding along rolling hills through a desert landscape on the paved and very scenic North Shore Road through Lake Mead National Recreation Area. After riding the North Shore Road, you’ll paddle back to where you started on Lake Mead.
You can choose your own adventure here. But with your bike and packraft, you’ll be prepared for whatever way you choose.
Great Divide Bike Rafting Along the Arkansas River Loop
The Route: Ride with GPS
Bike section: 48 miles
Rafting section: 28 miles
Total mileage: 76 miles
This bike rafting route uses part of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route and rafting the Arkansas River through Browns Canyon National Monument to make a loop. In these parts of the Arkansas, you encounter some class III rapids that you should be prepared for. But, there’s nothing intensely challenging on this stretch of the river, unless you’re on it during peak melt.
The bikepacking segment of the route loosely follows the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route between Salida and Buena Vista. But, the route diverts from the GDMBR to take Aspen Ridge Road (Co Rd 185) through the Pike and San Isabel National Forest. This dirt road skirts the edge of Browns Canyon National Monument, so you’ll get a preview of the canyon you’re going to raft through on the way back. And yes, large swaths of this road do pass through aspen groves.
Doing this loop counter-clockwise lets you get the one substantial climb out of the way first. It’s only 3,000 feet over 15 miles coming out of Salida. But, it gets steeper and rockier when you turn onto Aspen Ridge Road. After that, you’ll mostly be riding flat and downhill along Aspen Ridge all the way to Buena Vista.
There’s a great network of mountain bike trails you can hit coming into Buena Vista. These are optional, of course, but they allow you to mostly stay off the highway coming into town.
In Buena Vista, you’ll inflate the packrafts and set off on your return trip to Salida. As mentioned above, the Arkansas River does have some class III rapids through Browns Canyon. So, be prepared for that. The Kokopelli Nirvana Self Bailing and Nirvana Spraydeck are both capable of handling up to class III rapids, by the way.
Also, you don’t need a permit to raft Browns Canyon. However, Colorado Parks and Wildlife requests private boaters avoid these high-use days on the river.
If you’re looking for a longer bike rafting route while you’re in the area, check out the Colorado 14ers Bikepacking Loop. Or, just go hike some 14ers in the Collegiate Peaks while you’re here.
Bike Rafting Out West
Well doesn’t that make you want to load up your bike, your packraft, and all your camping gear? It sure does for us. So, let’s get pedaling, and paddling!