Poll

After going from Tucson to Glacier, and doing the Going-to-the-Sun Road, what would you rather recommend? (supposed there's not enough time for both)?

Continuing into Canada up to Jasper
4 (100%)
Doing the Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway
0 (0%)

Total Members Voted: 4

Author Topic: Route Tucson to Glacier [AZ, UT, CO, WY, MT]  (Read 2826 times)

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Offline Stefan_E

Route Tucson to Glacier [AZ, UT, CO, WY, MT]
« on: October 17, 2022, 02:48:57 pm »
Dear fellow cyclists,

2024 I am going to be the first time in the US, cycling from south to north. My plan is to start in Tucson, AZ, in mid March, going to Grand Canyon and the National Parks in Utah, arriving mid may in Yellowstone N.P. when the South Entrance opens and in late May / early June in Glacier N.P.

I am from Munich, Germany, 36 years old and an experienced cyclist. For 2800 miles I plan about 3 months.
You can see the route:  here (works in Firefox, not well in Safari).

I would be happy about some input concerning the route and season:

- Is it too early? I could do it later, but the intention was to do the trip mostly before Memorial Day.

- Did I choose any Highways that are outright unpleasant to cycle on? Especially on these ones, which are not ACA recommended routes: 
    - AZ 77 from Oracle to Globe
    - AZ 87 coming from Roosevelt Lake to Payson
    - AZ 87 / AZ 260 from Payson to Camp Verde
    - Red Rock Scenic Byway to Sedona, AZ 89a to Flagstaff
    - US 180 Flagstaff to Grand Canyon
    - US 89 Mount Carmel Junction to Bryce Canyon Junction
    - US 191 Monticello to Moab
    - Interstate 70 from junction with UT 75 to outskirts of Fruita, bikes are probably allowed?
    - CO 139 (Douglas Pass Road) from Fruita to Rangely
    - US 40 Rangely to Vernal
    - US 191 / UT 44  Vernal to Flaming Gorge
    - WY 530 Flaming Gorge to Green River
    - Unpaved Green River La Barge Road / Greys River Road from La Barge to Alpine through Bridger-Teton National Forest, possible with a touring bike?
    - US 89/191 to Jackson
    - Yellowstone in mid May has probably already a lot of car traffic, but if you’re used to it, it’s still ok?
    - Unpaved Road along Red Rock Lakes to Lima (possible with a Touring bike?)
    - Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway (also unpaved?)
    - MT 1 Anaconda to Drummond

- In June I could continue up to Jasper in Canada or take Amtrak to Harpers Ferry and do another two weeks on the Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway.  Are the Canadian Rockies much different from Glacier, or would you rather suggest doing the skyline drive?

Thanks in advance for tips and feedback, I surely appreciate it and will report back. It’s still some time, but I am kind of a planning fetishist, that’s why I’m so early…  ;D
« Last Edit: October 26, 2022, 01:43:28 pm by Stefan_E »

Offline BikeliciousBabe

Re: Route Tucson to Glacier [AZ, UT, CO, WY, MT]
« Reply #1 on: October 17, 2022, 03:17:46 pm »

    - Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway (also unpaved?)
    - MT 1 Anaconda to Drummond


The Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway was paved in, IIRC, 2008.  I've ridden it three times south (from MT 278) to north (MT 43 at Wise River).  It's a great ride.  In that direction, only the last 5 miles to the nearly 8,000' summit are challenging, but they are not super hard.  (One you pass the ski area.)  Maybe 4-5 miles after the summit there is a pretty alpine meadow section.

I have also ridden MT 1 from Anaconda to Philipsburg three times.  There was more traffic going up the last time (2016), but it was manageable.  It's a nice ride once you get out of town.  Stop to take in the views around Georgetown Lake.  The decent down from the lake area is manageable (Make sure you stop and look back while in the canyon section.) and has never been busy traffic-wise.  Philipsburg is a nice town.  The campground/motel there is pretty nice.  If the same woman still owns the place, she's terrific. Good grocery store basically right across W. Broadway from the campground/motel and good ice cream in town.

Where are you planning to go after Drummond?  If heading towards Missoula, there are some unpaved options instead of MT 1 to Drummond that are really cool:  Skalkaho Pass to Hamilton or Rock Creek Road to the Clinton area.  I have ridden both fully loaded on my Surly LHT with 37c tires.
« Last Edit: October 17, 2022, 03:20:33 pm by BikeliciousBabe »

Offline Stefan_E

Re: Route Tucson to Glacier [AZ, UT, CO, WY, MT]
« Reply #2 on: October 17, 2022, 03:38:56 pm »
Awesome, thank you!

Where are you planning to go after Drummond?  If heading towards Missoula, there are some unpaved options instead of MT 1 to Drummond that are really cool:  Skalkaho Pass to Hamilton or Rock Creek Road to the Clinton area.  I have ridden both fully loaded on my Surly LHT with 37c tires.

271 to Helmville -> Clearwater -> Great Parks North to Glacier. Seems more direct, but could go over Missoula as well.

I fixed the link in my first post, so you can see it yourself if you like.

Offline BikeliciousBabe

Re: Route Tucson to Glacier [AZ, UT, CO, WY, MT]
« Reply #3 on: October 18, 2022, 09:06:32 am »
A couple of things...

1. There are segments of MT 83 that have no shoulder.  The first one is a bit north of MT 200 until the town of Seeley Lake.  There can be traffic outside the early morning hours.  I have only ridden it south from Seeley Lake starting very early, when traffic wasn't bad.  The other section is much father north, around the Swan Lake area.  IIRC, that segment is around 12 miles long.  In other places, the shoulder can be relatively narrow but usable.  If you need water and a restroom, there is a ranger station in Stillwater State Forest.  It will be on your left, four or so miles after the Hungry Bear restaurant (nice spot for lunch).  I have stopped at the ranger station twice.  Same woman working both times.  She was really nice.

2.  Before you get to Seeley Lake you will pass Salmon Lake State Park.  It's one of MT state parks that have special cyclist camping areas.  Wayfarers State Park in Bigfork is another that you will pass.  I have stayed there twice.  Terrific area for cyclists, with shaded tent pads, covered picnic table with power outlets, food storage locker, drinking water and bike repair clamp.  Just make sure you buy a shower token when you first enter the park if you don't have enough quarters or you will have to repeat some hills.  At the north end of Seeley Lake there is a motor lodge that also has camping (with showers) in the back.

3.  Absolutely DO NOT take MT 206 north from MT 35.  No shoulder and A LOT of fast traffic.  I can draw you a map showing the way I went to Columbia Falls.  There is some unpaved riding, but it's easy.

4.  DO NOT take U.S. 2 from Columbia Falls to W. Glacier.  There is a section before Hungry Horse that has no shoulder.  Also, the traffic will be loud and annoying even when there is a shoulder.  MT 486 to Blankenship to Belton Stage to Lake 5 is the way to go.  There are a couple of miles of dirt, but they are easy.  Once you get back to U.S. there is a bike path at some point that takes you to W. Glacier.  Another option with more dirt is to stay on Belton Stage to U.S. 2.  Keep your eyes peeled for bears back there.  Seriously.

5.  U.S. 89 between St. Mary and Kiowa will likely be quite busy.  MT 49, a/k/a Looking Glass Hill, is a nice ride.  There is a great view of Lower Two Medicine Lake.

Offline Stefan_E

Re: Route Tucson to Glacier [AZ, UT, CO, WY, MT]
« Reply #4 on: October 18, 2022, 11:07:19 am »
1., 2: Very nice tips, thank you.

3. I checked it on Google, looks in fact terrible. Your map would be much appreciated.

4. Looks like there is a new (?) shared use path that starts around one mile before Hungry Horse, so only 2 miles without shoulder. Will still be unpleasant, so your alternative is good to know.

5. And apparently no shoulder as well. Could take the 464 to Browning, doesn't matter where I get on the train.

Offline BikeliciousBabe

Re: Route Tucson to Glacier [AZ, UT, CO, WY, MT]
« Reply #5 on: October 18, 2022, 02:54:42 pm »
This is how I came down in 2017:

https://ridewithgps.com/routes/23235312

As you can see, I was on 206 for a bit.  If I did this today, I would take River Rd. at mile 536 to Colombia Falls Stage to Kelley to Middle at mile 539.

Also, at mile 552.4, I would cross MT 35 and take Riverside until it meets up with MT 35 again. So much quieter and more scenic back there. (Of course, you would be going in the opposite direction.)

Offline Stefan_E

Re: Route Tucson to Glacier [AZ, UT, CO, WY, MT]
« Reply #6 on: October 18, 2022, 03:12:02 pm »
This is how I came down in 2017:

https://ridewithgps.com/routes/23235312


Nice, thanks a lot, I added it to my route.

Offline ray b

Re: Route Tucson to Glacier [AZ, UT, CO, WY, MT]
« Reply #7 on: October 19, 2022, 04:10:15 pm »
A great trip. Have fun.

All good including comments on Northern Montana around Seely Lake and Colombia Falls - too many folks from California and Texas now own places in the area, and think the roads need to be driven like they do back home. Even the unpaved gravel roads suffer too much traffic as soon as they are passable.

I don't recall a shoulder on 64 coming out of Rangely (toward US 40 and Vernal).

I've recently done Colorado 139 (Douglas Pass) on the motorcycle - I don't recall a shoulder, and there are some blind switchbacks with guard rails that keep you trapped on the road,  which might give you pause if you do it on a weekend with traffic. That said, your early start might keep you out of trouble if you are running in May.

3 brief thoughts:

1.  You might be 4 weeks ahead of where you want to be for weather and snow conditions - but then, I've toured AZ and eatern, inter-mountain Utah in March/April to avoid traffic and have had a great time - in spite of some cold nights and somewhat short days. I would try to get to the Canadian border late June at the earliest. For example, Going to the Sun Highway in Glacier National Park did not open this year until 13 July due to snow pack. Usually, it opens around Memorial Day with significant snow packed on either side of the road and significant run-off of water (or ice some mornings) across the road. For most visitors, a run down (and/or up) this route feels mandatory. (Summer lodge staff - mostly college students - used to have a ritual midnight ride down the road once a month on the full moon.) Also, in a recent  episode, a bunch of unprepared Tour Divide Racers (riding south from Jasper) got caught in a snow storm around Elkford mid-June and had to be pulled out by Fernie Search and Rescue. (Note - the grand depart for the Tour Divide race is the second Friday in June.)

2.  Although I like a lot of your route and the thought you've put into it - I also recommend taking a look at David Plasket and Barbara Breuning's book Great Divide Road Bike Route: Cycling Mexico to Canada (I've read the book, but opted to take the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route on my most recent trip to the area.) Once you hit Grand Junction, CO, you will not be too far off this route, which sticks a little closer to the tallest moutains, ski areas, and National Forests (inexpensive camping). On the other hand, this might put you closer to tourists and traffic.

3.  The gravel roads can be a little tricky to predict as one never knows when they will be graded or re-gravelled or how fine or deep the gravel will be. A modern road touring bike with 37 mm tires (or more) should have no problem.

Keep a journal; take pictures; write the book; have fun.



“A good man always knows his limitations.”

Offline ray b

Re: Route Tucson to Glacier [AZ, UT, CO, WY, MT]
« Reply #8 on: October 19, 2022, 05:04:04 pm »
Are the Canadian Rockies much different from Glacier, or would you rather suggest doing the skyline drive?

Oh - and I forgot to vote.... (Perhaps you should put this up with a link to a surveymonkey poll https://www.surveymonkey.com/)

Banff/Jasper

The Canadian Rockies from Banff to Jasper expose a lot more granite and glaciers, and they are somehow more dramartic than most of the US Rockies. I'd recommend the foray into Canada. Crowds are usually less than Northwest Montana, and the scenery can be dramatic.

For the cost of a train ticket through Chicago to Washington DC (about 60 miles from Skyline Drive), I would consider the luxury, mid-trip break of wandering around the paved bike paths among the resort towns of Vail, Copper Mountain, Keystone, Dillon, Silvertorne, and Frisco. Put yourself in a lodge with a sauna and pool and take some easy 3000 meter mountain days without the luggage on paved trails. https://www.summitcountyco.gov/1130/Recreational-Pathway Just a thought.

That said - though I would try to leave this decision for the train station at Whitefish, tickets are sometimes scarce - especially if you want a sleeper. You should decide as soon as you can if you are tired of snow and bear precautions and whether you want 1-2 days along the (only 170 km) Skyline Road with warmer climes, crowds, dogs, and bugs of the the Appalachian region.  (For train travel out of Whitefish, you will likely need to make a reservation a few weeks in advance and pack your bike - usually plenty of used boxes on hand at the station, and if you need guidance, the folks at Glacier Cyclery in Whitefish have been helping out for close to 40 y. The Whitefish Bicycle Retreat is about 20 miles out of town, but the folks there can also help with logistics, and I heard they were running free shuttles to Depot Park at the train station. Althoiugh I once spent time working in Whitefish over 30 y ago, I now avoid it like the plague due to expense and crowds. If you enjoy coffee - Montana Coffee Traders still does great job of roasting and service. Although it looks good, avoid the grocery store sushi..., which should almost go without saying. That decision cost me 3 nights in Colombia Falls in recovery.)

Enjoy your planning.
« Last Edit: October 19, 2022, 05:25:26 pm by ray b »
“A good man always knows his limitations.”

Offline Stefan_E

Re: Route Tucson to Glacier [AZ, UT, CO, WY, MT]
« Reply #9 on: October 20, 2022, 07:13:37 am »
ray b, thank you very much for your detailed tips and general advice! Very helpful.

You're right about deciding it on route wether continuing into Canada or doing the Skyline Drive / Blue Ridge. Why not a poll? Do you open a new threat for polls in this forum or should I add it here?

I can see the weather problem, luckily I am quite flexibel, so I could start later or stay some time in the south. Cold nights and shorter days would be still a good trade off to avoid crowds and traffic at least a little bit.

Offline BikeliciousBabe

Re: Route Tucson to Glacier [AZ, UT, CO, WY, MT]
« Reply #10 on: October 20, 2022, 02:43:08 pm »
I'll volunteer one more option in MT if you have the time and are so inclined to go off the beaten path.  From Philipsburg, you can climb over the ridge (make a left onto Rte. 348, just after the Sinclair gas station) and then descend down to Rock Creek Road. After you cross the creek you make a right at the T and off you go.  The road runs through forest along a blue ribbon trout stream.  Moose sightings are not uncommon.  I saw a bald eagle each of the two times I rode it.  30 miles of easy, unpaved surface and then another 10 of paved to take you I-90.  No climbing.  There are 4 or 5 U.S.F.S. campgrounds with water along the road.  No other services along the road except an outfitter that sells coffee and snacks, but that is not until after the pavement picks up. So, if you want to camp in the forest you will have to pack from Philipsburg. Or, there is, or at least was, a private campground with restaurant just before you get to I-90.  There is some indication that the restaurant is temporarily closed.  Might just be closed for the season.

From there, you could either go east to Drummond to pick up you planned route or west to Bonner to pick up MT 200 to take you to MT 83.  The former requires about 12 miles of riding on east I-90 (Yes.  It is legal.), where you can exit and take the frontage road to Drummond.  The latter requires about 3 miles of riding west on I-90 to Clinton.  From there, there is a frontage road to (marked 210 on Google Maps) to Clinton.
« Last Edit: October 20, 2022, 02:47:24 pm by BikeliciousBabe »

Offline Stefan_E

Re: Route Tucson to Glacier [AZ, UT, CO, WY, MT]
« Reply #11 on: October 20, 2022, 04:12:55 pm »
From there, you could either go east to Drummond to pick up you planned route or west to Bonner to pick up MT 200 to take you to MT 83.  The former requires about 12 miles of riding on east I-90 (Yes.  It is legal.), where you can exit and take the frontage road to Drummond.  The latter requires about 3 miles of riding west on I-90 to Clinton.  From there, there is a frontage road to (marked 210 on Google Maps) to Clinton.

I once again added it, the route along the creek looks very nice. Wouldn't dare to do such routes without a good advice.


Offline BikeliciousBabe

Re: Route Tucson to Glacier [AZ, UT, CO, WY, MT]
« Reply #12 on: October 24, 2022, 09:42:26 am »
From there, you could either go east to Drummond to pick up you planned route or west to Bonner to pick up MT 200 to take you to MT 83.  The former requires about 12 miles of riding on east I-90 (Yes.  It is legal.), where you can exit and take the frontage road to Drummond.  The latter requires about 3 miles of riding west on I-90 to Clinton.  From there, there is a frontage road to (marked 210 on Google Maps) to Clinton.

I once again added it, the route along the creek looks very nice. Wouldn't dare to do such routes without a good advice.
Sorry.  Messed up.  210 takes you from Clinton to Bonner where you can pick up MT 200 to MT 83.

The GF and I fortuitously found about Rock Creek Rd. during a loop tour out of Missoula in 2011.  We had planned to stay in Philipsburg near the end of the trip and the go over Skalkaho Pass.  There was a massive washout on the road that we knew about before we started.  Our plan B was to go through Drummond to get back to Missoula.  A couple of days into the trip we stayed at Elkhorn Hot Springs on the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway.  A guy saw me wearing a cycling cap and struck up a conversation.  That someone was Casey Greene, who was working in the routes department at ACA back then.  He told us about Rock Creek Rd.  I rode it again in 2016.


Offline Stefan_E

Re: Route Tucson to Glacier [AZ, UT, CO, WY, MT]
« Reply #13 on: October 24, 2022, 12:00:41 pm »

Sorry.  Messed up.  210 takes you from Clinton to Bonner where you can pick up MT 200 to MT 83.

The GF and I fortuitously found about Rock Creek Rd. during a loop tour out of Missoula in 2011.  We had planned to stay in Philipsburg near the end of the trip and the go over Skalkaho Pass.  There was a massive washout on the road that we knew about before we started.  Our plan B was to go through Drummond to get back to Missoula.  A couple of days into the trip we stayed at Elkhorn Hot Springs on the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway.  A guy saw me wearing a cycling cap and struck up a conversation.  That someone was Casey Greene, who was working in the routes department at ACA back then.  He told us about Rock Creek Rd.  I rode it again in 2016.
[/quote]

Nice. No problem, I figured it out alright.

Anyone's input to my route is still welcome!

Offline jamawani

Re: Route Tucson to Glacier [AZ, UT, CO, WY, MT]
« Reply #14 on: October 24, 2022, 10:49:11 pm »
Stefan -

I live in Wyoming, taught college in Montana.
Have biked almost every paved road and many unpaved roads in both states.
I've done 8 major tours of the West up into western Canada and all the way to Alaska.

2005 - in the early days of digital
https://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/?o=3d2&doc_id=1168&v=sM

First - if given the choice between the Canadian Rockies and Skyline Drive it's no even a choice.
If you are from Germany, Skyline Drive is like riding in the Harz and about as busy.
Icefields Parkway is moderately busy, but there are forest roads you can take that are incredible.
Think of the Hohe Tauern without all the development and people.
From Jasper you can take the train to Vancouver -
Or continue west to Prince Rupert and Haida Gwai - home of the Haida people.
Then take the ferry south to Vancouver Island.

Next - Mid March is kinda early ro start - especially when you hit the high elevation in N. Arizona.
Flagstaff's average temps for April 1 are 12C / -5C with 45 cm of snow in March and 18 cm in April.
Total winter snowfall of 225 cm - most of which will still be on the ground.

Here's a website with climate info for the western states - (in Fahrenheit and inches)
https://wrcc.dri.edu/Climsum.html

The North Rim of the Grand Canyon does not open until May 15 - which is probably too late for you.
But it indicates how much snow there is and how long it takes to melt.
And the North Rim has only 10% of total tourist visitation - and is magical.
Still, the South Rim is gorgeous and has hiker/biker campsites.
During the North Rim season you can shuttle you bike/gear and hike across the canyon.
I'va done it almost a dozen times - but you will be too early.
You should see if you can hike down to Phantom Ranch from the South for 2 nights and explore.

Arizona does not have many paved back roads - even unpaved roads that are good choices.
And because Arizona is growing so fast, the traffic can be iffy.
Hwy 87 - esp. north of Payson is 2-lane, mostly without shoulders.
Plus it has heavy traffic (20,000 AADT) and you will be climbing.
(The last time I did it I was going south/downhill.  AADT - average annual daily traffic)

US 89 north of Cameron has a feature that is very dangerous for cyclists.
It is a 2-lane highway with wide shoulders - BUT -
Whenever they have a passing lane it uses up the shoulders on both sides.
Plus, there are deep rumble strips on the tiny shoulder that remains so you have to use the lane.
But. cars & trucks are going extra fast to pass. (9000 AADT)

The speed limits on these two roads is 65 mph (105 kph) - but most people go 75 mph (120 kph).

My sense of AADT -
Less than 1000 - Excellent
1000-1999 - Good
2000-2999 - Fair, shoulders helpful
3000-4999 - Poor, shoulders needed
5000+ - Difficult, shoulders essential
Others are more comfortable with higher traffic and narrow roads.

Hwy 89A north of Sedona is very scenic, but very narrow.
Plus you usually have a guardrail or rock wall right on the edge.
So you can't escape off the road in a difficult situation. AADT - 6500-7500
It is also very scenic for drivers - who may not be looking carefully for cyclists.
The one good thing is that the speed limit is 40 mph  (65 kph).
Major construction on the Oak Creek switchbacks thru 2023.

Connecting to Kanab, Utah - especially if the North Dim is still closed -
US 89A will have much less traffic iwth a lovely crossing of the Colorado at Marble Canyon.
A bit tougher, with a good deal of climbing & switchbacks to the upper plateau.
But the downhill to Fredonia doesn't have many tight curves and you can fly.

Should stop here and talk about other states later, if you wish.

Best - Juan

Google maps pix of each tough highway section.
Pic in the inner canyon of the Grand Canyon - 2019 tour.


« Last Edit: October 24, 2022, 10:59:03 pm by jamawani »