Cycling La Sal Loop Road Utah - an exceptionally scenic bike climb.
Ride 16.9 miles gaining 4,411’ to elevation 8,337’ at 4.8% average grade.
This is an “Oh My!” ride - it is spectacular. Come to Moab for the mountainbiking, stay for the road biking!
We begin this climb 15 miles north of Moab on Hwy 128 at the southeastern border of Arches National Park, and are treated immediately to colorful rock formations that have made Arches one of the most popular and scenic National Parks in the U.S. For the first 7 miles we are flanked by spectacular red sandstone bluffs, approaching, then passing at mile 4.5 the amazing natural wonder Castleton Tower (a 400’ red sandstone tower perched atop a 1,000 Moenkipi-Chinle cone [created as the sea receded millions of years ago from the Utah plains - this breathtaking site alone is worth the trip - magnificent!).
We turn right at mile 10.7 and continue on La Sal Loop Road. Around this point, the surroundings begin to change with the classic Utah southeastern red bluffs giving way to an alpine setting (Pinyon and juniper trees, then oak and finally larger pines and aspen). This climb takes us through the La Sal Mountains (second highest mountain range in Utah). While the La Sal Mountains top out just shy of 13,000’, the paved road (our route) tops out at 8,338’. At about the 11 miles mark the pavement begins to show its wear (a bit deteriorated as of April, 2016 - common in remote Utah roads at snow level and above) and we experience alpine settings consistent with the Rocky Mountains.
At mile 13 we enter Manti-La Sal National Forest and tackle the first of 2 sets of swithbacks (the second at mile 16). These switchies offer us a good view back at the beautiful route we just travelled and just 2 more miles to the summit and finish of this spectacular climbing experience.
Enter the National Forest at mile 12.4
1,270,886 acres; established 1903 by Teddy Roosevelt.
Steepest ¼ mile begins at mile 1.1 (10.5%) and steepest mile at 10.7 (8.2%)
Roadway surface and traffic: Traffic is mild and the roadway surface is good, although it is a bit rough for the last few miles. We rank this as a very safe ride. There is a good parking at the beginning of La Sal Loop Road right off of Hwy 128
La Sal Loop Road Out and Back from Castle Valley
Continuing past the summit at about mile 18, we lightly descend for 6 miles down to Mill Creek Hydro Crag area at mile 23. Here, we are in a fascinating and beautiful glen that is a paradise to rock climbers. Continuing on for another 15 miles we enter Spanish Valley, Utah - the turnaround point for the out-and-back - 77 miles, 9,100’ of climbing. Bring plenty of water and provisions because there are none along this route (caution - it is not advisable to do this route without SAG support during the summer).
An exceptional organized event that includes the La Sal Loop Road (Castle Valley) climb is the Moab Gran Fondo, which is held in the first Saturday in May each year (Moab Gran Fondo), usually attracting in the range of 500 or so riders. This 65 mile course starts in Moab features the Castle Valley Route summarized above, but instead of an out-and-back, this route is the full “loop.” (the route is roughly outline here - Map). The official website summarizes the ride as follows:
“The La Sal Mountain Loop Road features an amazing variety of canyon country scenery. The 65-mile long route follows the Colorado River for a while, then it heads to the La Sal Mountains through beautiful Castle Valley. The route through La Sals provides incredible views of the 12,000+ foot peaks and the red rock valleys far below. Finishing the loop takes one back to Moab via Spanish Valley Drive.”