There’s nothing like a long-haul route to get a bikepacker’s blood flowing a little faster. Border to border, coast to coast, or a big epic loop, it’s all premium material for the Big Rides bucket list.
Here in the United States we already have a few amazing long bikepacking routes. The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route is the most legendary, and the new Western Wildlands Route is just as epic. I usually define bikepacking as focused on unpaved riding, but if your interests extend to pavement we have a number of bike routes across the US too.
And yet, possibilities still abound! The US is vast and varied, and we definitely have not exhausted the potential for linking up pedal-powered adventures across our networks of trails and backroads. Happily some dedicated and passionate folks are still hustling to develop their unique visions for new long bikepacking routes, and the rest of us are here to dream about riding them once finished.
So if the thought of a few thousand miles of open road or trail in front of your wheels gets your heart beating a bit faster, pull out your bikepacking bucket list and get ready to take notes. Here are five work-in-progress bikepacking routes in the US to keep an eye on.
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Length: 5000 miles
Style: singletrack and dirt roads
Focus: a rugged, remote, scenic experience that evokes appreciation of the natural landscape
% complete: 95%
Estimated completion date: possible soft launch in 2023
Learn more: Bikepacking Roots
The word Orogenesis describes the geologic formation of mountains, which makes it the perfect name for this bold project aiming to be the longest mountain bike trail in the word. Stretching from the Washington border with Canada to the tip of the Baja Peninsula in Mexico, the route strives for a “more or less uninterrupted line for 5,000 miles along the western lip of the North American Tectonic Plate.”
I’ve been following this project with interest for several reasons, not least of which is that it passes through my home state of California. For a state with so much remote and scenic potential, we have relatively few established bikepacking routes in California. Some of our most stunning scenic trails are off-limits to bikes and it can be hard to find quiet routes through larger population centers. But Orogenesis, when complete, will trace a line down the entire length of California alongside our stunning Sierra Nevada mountains.
It’s been said that Adventure Cycling’s Sierra Cascades road touring route is like the Pacific Crest Trail for bikes, and that route does roughly parallel the famous hiking trail through many lovely places. But Orogenesis is a much more apt comparison. It prioritizes singletrack trails in remote and scenic areas, allowing for a wilderness experience more akin to long-distance backpacking than road touring. Their tagline “a new way on old ground” hints at the route’s goal of connecting riders to the land and its geologic and indigenous history.
Amazingly for a route of this scale, Orogenesis is already 95% complete! A big chunk of the northern section overlaps the existing Oregon Timber Trail, a premier long distance singletrack bikepacking route in Oregon, and the southern section through Mexico follows the existing Baja Divide route. Many sections in between link up existing stretches of backcountry singletrack and rugged dirt road.
Though impressive progress has been made, over 200 miles of gaps still need to be closed to complete the route. This will require an ambitious continued effort of advocacy and trail building. You can help it cross the finish line by donating to Bikepacking Roots.
Great Plains Gravel Route
Length: 3800 miles
Style: rural gravel roads
Focus: farmland, small rural towns, gravel riding and racing culture
Estimated completion date: late 2023
Learn more: article on Cycling Weekly
On a map of established border-to-border bike routes across the US, you can’t help but notice a glaring gap through the middle of the country. The Great Plains Gravel Route aims to fix that. When complete the route will stitch together rural backroads from the Texas – Mexico border all the way north to the border of North Dakota with Canada. And yes, that’s the direction you should ride if you want some of the region’s famous winds at your back.
There are folks who will say these are “flyover states” for a reason, but the route developers — a group of cyclists and event planners with deep connections to the Midwest gravel racing scene — beg to differ. The Great Plains may be known for flatness, corn, and headwinds, but the route designers hope to change this narrative by showcasing the subtle beauty, history, and small towns along the way.
This primarily gravel bikepacking route won’t require any technical riding skills, and a gravel or touring bike will be a great fit. Expect less climbing than on routes like the Great Divide or Western Wildlands, but plenty of smaller hills. You’d better like pedaling, because you won’t find many of the long descents or hike-a-bikes characteristic of more mountainous routes.
The route’s origins in gravel racing make a lot of sense in this region of open roads and distant horizons, and a racer’s focus on covering more ground in less time will no doubt feel appropriate to some thru riders. I definitely expect to see some races and FKT (fastest known time) attempts on this route. Nevertheless, the route designers hope riders will experience the beauty and diversity of the region from a bikepacker’s perspective, taking time for connection to the land and people along the way.
Great American Rail-Trail
Length: 3700 miles
Style: rail trails and other multi-use bike paths (and currently a lot of paved roads)
Focus: accessible traffic-free riding, connecting communities, American history
% complete: 53%
Estimated completion date: several decades!
Learn more: Rails to Trails Conservancy
You could call this more of a touring route than a bikepacking route, but I can’t resist including the ambitious Great American Rail-Trail project here. Once complete it will connect both coasts of the US from Washington, D.C. to Washington state with 3700 miles of multi-use recreation paths. That’s right, bike paths, with no motor vehicle traffic! This would make it the only established low-traffic way to bike across the US from coast to coast.
The Great American Rail-Trail is only 53% complete right now, and the incredibly ambitious goal will take decades to finish. In the meantime you can ride the proposed future routing on nearby roads. By leveraging over 125 existing rail trails you can already ride for hundreds of car-free miles on shorter sections like Washington’s Palouse to Cascades Trail, Nebraska’s Cowboy Trail, and the Ohio to Erie, GAP, and C&O Canal trails of the east.
A massive amount of time, advocacy, trail building, and most of all money will be required to make this ambitious dream a reality. To help speed it along, you can donate to the project here.
Lost Sierra Route
Length: 600 miles
Focus: rugged and scenic multi-use trails connecting communities and building a local recreation industry
% complete: ?
Estimated completion date: 2030
Learn more: Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship
Though it’s shorter than other routes in this list, I can’t resist highlighting this unique project in an area I adore: the Lost Sierra of California. And based on the technical singletrack I’ve seen in the region, 600 miles could be plenty! The eventual goal is to link fifteen small communities through mostly national forest land with singletrack trail open to everyone: hikers, bikers, equestrians, and even motor bikes. The easy logistics of a loop route and frequent small-town resupply could make this a bikepacker’s paradise! As with Orogenesis, the Lost Sierra Trail promises to add a new California bikepacking route to my home state, and I can’t wait.
Though most bikepacking routes strive to connect riders with local communities to some degree, the Lost Sierra Route is a byproduct of what the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship calls their Connected Communities project. Through trail building they hope to bring outdoor recreators into this economically challenged region where logging and mining jobs have dwindled, replacing those extractive industries with a recreation and tourism industry that’s both environmentally and economically sustainable. Trails and spurs would lead directly into downtown areas, and organizers envision a “passport” system encouraging trail users to visit local businesses for post-ride burgers or thru ride resupplies.
Sadly the Dixie Fire ravaged large sections of the Lost Sierra in 2021. This was a major setback for the project and the region as a whole, but the folks there are resilient and the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship team is not deterred. Once they rebuild what was lost in the fire they will continue to strive for the eventual Lost Sierra Route. You can help with recovery and trail building by donating to support their efforts.
Eastern Divide Trail
Length: 5950 miles
Style: dirt and gravel roads, some pavement, a little singletrack
Focus: scenic rugged riding with urban connections and a uniquely eastern vibe
% complete: 100%
Estimated completion date: early 2023
Learn more: bikepacking.com
Technically the Eastern Divide Trail is already finished, but just barely. The first thru ride was completed by Eddie O’Dea in October 2022, so now is the prime time for adventure seekers who are excited about trying a brand new route. The staggering linkup of nearly 6000 miles from Newfoundland, Canada down to the tip of Florida aims to showcase an off-pavement riding experience in nature through an otherwise developed area.
Though squarely in the bikepacking category, the Eastern Divide Trail is overall less rugged and technical than the Orogenesis and Lost Sierra routes. About 68% is unpaved, the vast majority on non-technical dirt and gravel roads and paths of varying quality. In the same way that Orogenesis will parallel the hiking-only Pacific Crest Trail, the Eastern Divide parallels the Appalachian Trail (which is also closed to bikes) and aims to provide a comparable experience for pedal-powered travelers.
The full route crosses a couple remote Canadian provinces before traveling the length of the eastern continental divide through the Appalachian Mountains and down the length of Florida. Though the eastern coast of the US is much more developed and urban than the middle and west, the Eastern Divide strives for a peaceful riding experience that feels connected to the region’s cultural, indigenous, and natural history and the many modern communities along the way.
I hope your bikepacking bucket list just grew a little longer! So many rides, so little time, right? A few of these bikepacking routes still have a ways to go, but we can keep them in the back of our minds, check on their progress, and donate to support them. With any luck they’ll be the routes the next generation of bikepackers is raving about.
More Bikepacking Resources
If you liked this article, be sure to also check these out:
- Western Wildlands Route: Section Ride from Idaho to Arizona
- Where to Find Used Bikepacking Gear at Cheap(er) Prices
- Choosing a Bikepacking Bike: Best Options for Each Riding Style
Or visit the bikepacking section for lots more.
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