Best Way to See the New Bears Ears National Monument?

Ride Twin-track Roads on a Mountain Bike

A rider on Bears Ears tour follows a guide down past Boundary Butte on Day 3

Have you heard about Bears Ears National Monument, President Obama’s parting gift to the nation that he designated just weeks before leaving office? If you have heard of it, it’s probably due to the political uproar it caused within Utah’s arch-conservative congressional delegation. They’ve been making lots of noise about rescinding it. However, given historical precedent, odds are fairly good that Bears Ears will be with us for generations to come (neither Congress nor any US President has ever rescinded a previous President’s monument designation.)

Management of our country’s newest monument falls to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM,) holder of the largest share of land within Bears Ears’ 1 million-plus acres. They will do so in coordination with the US Forest Service (USFS,) which also has lands inside the monument.

Regardless of the politics around Bears Ears, this newly recognized national treasure is every bit as amazing as its sister parks immediately to the north, Canyonlands and Arches National Parks. Bears Ears contains (and protects) hundreds of ancient Indian ruins and rock art panels, and scores of intricate wilderness-quality canyons cutting down through the sandstone to the Colorado River. If you want to visit Bears Ears, there are many ways to do it, but perhaps the easiest and most intimate method is by mountain bike.

You could venture out on your own, doing the research in advance, rigging or renting your own camping gear and bikes, but on a guided mountain bike tour, you’ll be sure to see all the very best sites and views, and learn about what you’re seeing from expert interpreters. Plus, guides will tune your bike and create delicious backcountry gourmet meals at camp each night and morning (and you can leave the rigging to them!)

One such guided mountain bike tour is the 3-day/2-night Bears Ears Backcountry Weekend offered by Rim Tours. Their summer itinerary sticks to twin-track BLM and Forest Service dirt roads, so the riding itself is perfect for beginners and those who enjoy taking it easy.

Bears Ears Map

Day 1: It starts west of Blanding near the 8,000-foot Bear’s Ears Pass. A shuttle takes you directly to your first night’s camp, where you’ll pack a lunch, then ride a rip-roaring descent to the trailhead of your afternoon hike. On foot you’ll explore a spectacular and well-hidden cliff dwelling overlooking Arch Canyon. After the hike, you may choose the challenge of riding back up to camp or opt to save your energy for the days ahead and catch a ride with the support vehicle.

Back at camp, relax under the ponderosa pines and take in the view of Hammond Canyon while your guides take care of all the details.  Washbasins are available for cleanup and a solar shower is usually available for an evening during the trip. Scrumptious hors d’oeuvres and a delicious, healthy meal will cap off a perfect, action-filled day!

Day 2: Today you’ll traverse the Elk Ridge Plateau. Aspen meadows line your route as you make your way to Big Notch – a challenging climb but well worth it for the views at the top! After lunch, the riding is fast and fun as you descend towards Cathedral Butte. Your camp tonight overlooks Canyonlands National Park and is truly one of the most sensational campsites in the area. Mileage is approximately 25 miles.

Day 3: Your ride today is fast, fun and mostly downhill! You’ll lose over 1,000 feet of elevation as you descend toward Dugout Ranch. You’ll have lunch and check out the petroglyphs & pictographs at Newspaper Rock and then head back to Moab.

  • Tour Rating: Moderate - Physical demand is mostly moderate with several short sections of trail that are more strenuous.
  • Mileage: 20-25 miles per day
  • Terrain: Doubletrack with packed dirt, loose rock and a bit of sand
  • Technical Difficulty: Not a technically difficult ride but some obstacles and several climbs and descents.
  • Altitude: 8,500-5,500 ft