Originally posted in Men’s Journal
The scale and grandeur of the backcountry mountain bike route make it hard to put in proper perspective, or capture in words. We’ll try though, with 190 miles through national parks, hoodoo-filled canyons, mountain goat-dotted meadows, and dramatic Southwestern desert scenery covered upon the ride from Brian Head to Escalante, staying at the new Aquarius Trail
Five shipping container huts are spaced along the Aquarius Trail, which rolls through Utah’s most storied and scenic points, from Powell Point to overviews of Bryce Canyon National Park, Brian Head Ski Resort, Red Canyon, Aquarius Plateau, Dixie National Forest, Escalante National Monument, and more. Some sections of the trail are singletrack, some are just scenic, and you have options for easier or harder days along the way, with cold beers and other beverages waiting at each hut for your arrival.
The off-grid Aquarius Trail Huts are retrofitted shipping containers powered by solar, with full-size refrigerators and freezers that can be stocked for your group. The huts have bedding, towels for the cold shower, and everything else you need (except your clothes and your toothbrush), and each is divided into multiple bunk-rooms.
Book your stay, then throw a leg over your ride. From Brian Head, the route descends nearly 3,000 feet on Bunker Creek singletrack to Panguitch Lake. Navigate with a provided GPS track or a map as it meanders through ponderosa and juniper forest interwoven with ancient lava beds and rolling meadows to Hatch Hut, in the Headwaters section of the National Mormon Pioneer Heritage Trail, and the original Hatch homestead, settled in 1872.
A robust meal and a dreamy night will prep you for a big morning ride. It’s an eight-mile, 2,500-foot climb through Proctor Canyon to panoramic views atop Sunset Cliffs at the entrance to Bryce Canyon Valley. Eight downhill miles later, take a refreshing plunge into Tropic Reservoir before following the Great Western Trail to Red Canyon Hut for sweeping views of Bryce Canyon and stunning sunsets.
Day 3 starts with a descent through Red Canyon’s hoodoos on the flanks of Thunder Mountain before crossing Highway 12 and climbing to the Casto Canyon trailhead with views of Slate Mountain and Powell Point the whole way. The route crosses a small creek bed 44 times before it flows into Jeep roads on the high mesas of Bryce Canyon en route to Pine Lake Hut.
Fish or swim in Pine Lake before hitting Aquarius Trail’s high point on Day 4. It’s a 2,200-foot climb over 10 miles to the top of 10,577-foot Barney Top on the Aquarius Plateau, with an optional eight-mile detour to Powell Point for sweeping vistas of southern Utah you’ll never forget.
From Aquarius Hut at Clayton Springs, opt for backcountry singletrack on the Great Western Trail or a more chill pedal on Hell’s Backbone Road, which traverses open meadows frequented by free-roaming antelope. Both routes convene on Hell’s Backbone Bridge before Box Death Hollow Wilderness and the descent to Hell’s Backbone Hut at Aquarius Trail’s last hut at Sand Creek, and the exit to Escalante on Hell’s Backbone Road along Box Death Hollow Wilderness. Cool off in Calf Creek along the way, and even if your legs are tired, the three-mile detour to the 128-foot waterfall of the same name is worth the trip. Then, it’s one final road climb before the final gentle descent to end the tour in Escalante.
The Aquarius Trail is a self-guided trail and hut system developed and operated by Escape Adventures. Book a trip and you get a map and access to fully stocked huts. You carry clothing and personal items, but bedding, towels, food, and a full kitchen await you at each stop. Each hut sleeps up to 12 in two cabins, with a separate bathroom building with a shower, pit toilet, and hand-washing station. A storage area at each hut houses a generator to recharge e-bikes. $889 per person for six days five nights. Add $50 for beer. Group rates and shorter trips are also available. More info: aquariustrail.com