Lockhart Basin Road, Utah

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Dirt touring routes south of Moab?  Surely, there are more than a few ways to figure it, but the Colorado River, Highway 191, and the LaSal Mountains make for some natural barriers.  Leaving town toward the south on the Lockhart Basin Road is an obvious choice.

The Lockhart Road is a Jeep track, or ORV route, one amongst a bevy of classic Moab routes.  Thankfully, all but the most technical of these rock-crawling Jeep routes are ideal for riding.  While the Lockhart Basin Route is signed as a “Most Difficult” route for motor vehicles, thanks to a few stair-step rock features scattered with boulders, the route is almost entirely rideable chunky doubletrack, with some fast dirt road riding in between.  From the center of Moab to Highway 211 at the south, the route requires one big day, or two leisurely days of riding.  Water is scarce– none is officially available on route– and even in cool October days, we were careful to watch our water consumption, choosing foods that do not require rehydration and sipping our bottles conservatively.  The total distance from Moab to Hwy 211 is about 60 miles, along some of the most scenic, accessible, legal riding we have found anywhere.  We left town with about 14L of water between the two of us.  If it sounds like the riding is getting better and better for us, that’s because it is.  Coming and going, via Moab, makes for some great riding.  

Thanks to Cass for the initial route recon, back in the fall of 2009.  That summer, he and I crossed paths for the first time at the Off the Chain Co-op in Anchorage, AK.  He visited our humble trailer along the banks of the Nenana River a few weeks later after riding south from Deadhorse.

Leaving Moab at dark, we shoot for some public land.  Camping in the west has spoiled us.

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We awake to the sounds of a small spring only several miles from Moab.  An early start is becoming more common, as food and water scarcity challenge us to keep moving at a healthy pace.

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Seemingly, it is 30 degrees in the shade, but 70 degrees in full sun.  Clear skies at 5000ft make October an excellent month to visit Utah.

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Our first climb reaches toward Hurrah Pass, less than 1000ft above.  Then, we drop down toward the Colorado River on the Lockhart Basin Road.

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Leaving the Kane Creek drainage, toward Chicken Corners.

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Up to Hurrah Pass.

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Since landing in Denver, I’ve done extensive work on our bicycles to get them back into top (well-used) condition.  Most notably, this includes new cables and housing, and some new drivetrain parts.  To replace worn chainrings on my crank, I ordered a new RaceFace Ride crank for about $100.  A new Shimano SLX derailleur was included to replace the uninspiring slop in the previous rear derailleur, which had been cobbled together from parts in New Mexico.  In haste, I ordered a newer 10sp SLX derailleur, which didn’t like my friction shifters and 8sp cassette and chain.  The system functioned, technically, although 10sp gear utilizes a different cable pull from the shifter (much like SRAM equipment), requiring a real big push of the thumb to access the climbing gears.  The eventual solution is a used $20 Shimano XT derailleur from Moab Classic Bike,  a hip little shop in a town obsessed with high-tech all-mountain machines.  The SLX unit is shipped home in a box with some other stuff.  The big ring — all 44 unnecessary teeth– is removed, in favor of: chainring to rock clearance, a shorter chain for crisper shifting, and a little less weight.  Works great, with less room for mud to hide when the trail gets thick.  For now, 32×22 rings up front, and an 11-32 8sp cassette in the rear.  That’s 16 gears!  

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The view from the top, near Hurrah Pass, looking down on Kane Creek.

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An unspectacular feat– the climb to Hurrah Pass is small change compared to the climbs on the Kokopelli Trail.

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The otherworldly vistas are unlike anywhere we’ve ever been, certainly a long way from Ukraine.  Note the broadly curving anticline, of the arch-like curvature of the sedimentary layers.

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This might be the best weather of the year.  Riding temperatures are perfect.  Nights are cool to cold, but we are well prepared for much colder weather. 

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Stick to the Lockhart Basin Road, as the route to Chicken Corkers cuts right, toward the Colorado River.

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This is where the trail gets tough.  Excepting these few pushes over chunky, rocky, boulder-filled slickrock canyons, the route is extremely rideable.  Just a few unrideable pushes in this section, before riding back onto something more like a ‘road’.

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A road in there somewhere…

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Rideable, once again.

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The route is easy to follow, especially as all two or three major junctions are signed– there aren’t too many places to get lost.  However, we were following a GPS track of the route, so navigation was a breeze.  A few rock cairns help locate the route along the way.

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The basin is a broad topographic low, adjacent to the Colorado River, characterized by canyons and valleys, and the resultant ridges and spires.  The route follows the edge of the canyon the entire way, hugging steep cliff walls for miles.

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While constantly undulating, the route hovers right around 4500ft.

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There is no shortage of chunky road to navigate, although most of it is fun to ride quite fast.  We’ve enjoyed these rides, like the Kokopelli Trail, that blend wide-open dirt roads and rough technical tracks.

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Shadows grow longer, for a memorable early-evening descent.

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Lael claims this might be her favorite ride ever!

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A six mile road leads down to the Colorado River, but to preserve our southward trajectory, we stick to the main road.  It looks like a worthwhile detour. 

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Ride until dark, camp, ride again.  Overland travel by bicycle in the west has a nice rhythm.

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Moments before dark, Lael laces up her shoes for a run.  Not a day passes that she doesn’t aim to go running, often for an hour or more.

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Sunset, and sunrise are worth a few moments of our time.  So are the stars, and the mornings, and afternoons, and evenings– never a bad time of day or night, this time of year.NicholasCarman0001 915

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In addition to rocky, chunky tracks, sandy washes are also best navigated on larger tires.  

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Back on Highway 211, we detour several miles to the west to pick up some water.  The Needles Outpost is a private facility near the entrance to Canyonlands National Park.  Water is available in gallon jugs for a price.  Free water is available inside the park, a few miles further, for a $5 entrance fee.  Riding east on Highway 211, you should encounter surface water in several places along Indian Creek, although cattle ranching in these parts mean a reliable purification or filtration system is necessary.  Not sure is these streams run dry mid-summer.  Water levels seem good this time of year, or perhaps just this year.  

At least the water is still cheaper than gas, which goes for $6.50 a gallon.  Edward Abbey, who was a park ranger in these parts, would be happy to see the price of fuel.  

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Continuing south, we have our eyes on Elk Ridge Road over the southern portion of the Manti-LaSal National Forest, which eventually connects to Highway 95.  From the end of the Lockhart Basin Road, the Needles Outpost is 4 miles west; the beginning of Beef Basin/Bridger Jack Mesa Roads (to Elk Ridge Road, FR 88) is about 8 miles east on Hwy 211, with a pit toilet and information board at the head of the road.  Monticello is about 45 miles from here.

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Lael devours the last few pages of her novel, Pretty Boy Floyd, by Larry McMurtry. to save weight in her pack.  She’s already carrying the replacement novel by Tom Robbins, purchased for 50 cents at the Moab Public Library.  She loves the Moab library.

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She leaves it on the message board at the head of Beef Basin/Bridger Jack Road, amongst notes from climbers and hunters.  The area is a very popular climbing destination.

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Into the mountains!

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20 thoughts on “Lockhart Basin Road, Utah

  1. I really enjoyed reading your post and the photos – it brought back memories. Years ago, my husband & I backpacked Canyonlands (before we had children & they are grown now) and it was so pristine. It was the best camping we ever experienced. 🙂

    • Rusty, We feel so close as well!–bummed to have been missed the wedding. If you have any time in November, please come join us for some riding. We should be in AZ most of the month. A friend from Santa Fe will be joining in Flagstaff next week if you can make it. We should be riding some combination of the AZT, Coconino Route, and the Black Canyon Trail. Hi to everyone in ABQ!

    • It’s been a treat. We’re enjoying our third late summer/fall riding in the wide open west. It would be fun to ride out here with kids. There are many rural paved roads and well-maintained dirt roads to explore, amongst some of the same scenery we’ve been enjoying. Some of the national parks might even offer some good riding. I’ve heard Zion has some nice traffic free routes.

    • I am quickly spoiled by the new GPS, even if I still curse the interface and Garmin software at times. Finally, and with efficiency, I loaded tracks for AZT, Coconino, Black Canyon, etc. I’m starting to think that Arizona might be better than CO!

      Utah silence is amazing.

  2. Hi, sorry to be a bit off topic but after reading all your previous post about your Euro travels what do you think would be the best resource to find long distance trail riding in Portugal or Spain? Any good sites or forums. I have to go over in December and want to make the most of the hop across the Atlantic. Thanks so much,

    • That is, if we ever get to AK…there is too much great riding and sunshine between here and there, all it all seems to be in AZ and MX. Maybe we’ll cross paths in the next few months.

  3. Nick!! I’m in Moab, researching my route towards Glen Canyon. I found a great route off of Kane Creek that turned into Lockhart Road, and was researching the condition of the road. 7-8 sites down I found your post on Google! I really appreciate the beta on this. I was just gpx’ing it for myself. Any chance you have access to share the gpx route you got from Cass to save me a step? Also, how was Elk Mountain Road? I was seeing a few ways through that area to get back down to either 95 or 276. Google Beta routed me on another FSR than Elk Mountain Road, but I’ve been screwed before following Beta without REAL beta from a human. Sounds like y’all went 95 and back up through Hanksville? Would you do that again if you were me or take 276 to cross the ferry and take the Burr Trail across to Boulder (my original thought)?

    • Scott,

      I don’t have the GPX track, which I did not receive from Cass, but unearthed from an OHV/4×4 forum somewhere on the web. You’ll probably find it in Google, although I had to sign up for the forum with an e-mai address, etc. Also, maps are available at that popular outdoor store in the middle of town, the one with the “Free Water”. I think I also bought either a LaSal USFS map, or something in the National Geographic series. If you have decent Utah base maps on the GPS I’m not sure the maps are necessary for the Lockhart Basin Route, although the climb up to Elk Mountain Rd includes some places which could be confusing. We made it nearly to the highest point on that ride, up to almost 9000ft, before rain turned the road into muck. We cleared our tires and turned back to ride around the area through Monticello and Blanding. The original plan was to continue to the other side of the mountain and on towards the AZT at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. There is a small store outside the Needles entrance to Canyonlands NP, which is not recommended unless you really need something. Best to stock up in Moab.

      On the south side of this area, look for the Comb Wash road en route to Monument Valley, if you are headed that way. Not sure about routes through the reservation, as the usual rules apply. Some roads are generally passable and public, while others may be gated or otherwise unfriendly. Also, much of the res in this area included dry dusty high plains. Time may be better spent in the pines of the plateau to the west. We hitched nearly 100 miles across the reservation due to some devastating headwinds. Sounds like you might be headed to the UT/AZ border to catch the AZT from the northern terminus.

      Have fun!

      • As you say, connect Kane Creek Road to Lockhart Basin. Navigation is pretty simple, with two or three essential signs along the way. Otherwise it would be hard to get lost I think. The last sign indicates a 6mi detour to the CO River, near the end of the route. I wished I had dropped down to camp there for the night; it might have been very nice. Also, you can expect one technical rock-crawling section, which is actually mostly rideable but would be tough on 4 wheels.

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