Originally posted in Adventure Traveller April 13, 2021
The NEW Aquarius Trail Hut System offers a backcountry mountain biking experience like no other in the region. A system of five huts furnished with beds, a bathroom, and a fully stocked kitchen has been strategically placed along a 190-mile route through some of Utah’s most scenic backcountry – spanning from the peak of Brian Head at 11,307’ to the beautiful town of Escalante at 5,820’. This section of Utah is called “Color Country” and includes many well-known attractions such as Powell Point, Bryce Canyon National Park, Brianhead Ski Resort, Red Canyon, Aquarius Plateau, Dixie National Forest, the Hogback, Escalante National Monument and much more. Self-guided tours are available July-October and start at $889 per person for 6-days/5-nights. Escape Adventures offers a guided tour starting at $1,800 per person. Shorter trips are also available. For more information, visit https://aquariustrail.com/. Check out the video here.
The Aquarius Trail Hut System provides a luxury bikepacking experience, complete with showers, solar power for charging electronic devices, fully stocked kitchens with a refrigerator and freezer, lighting, hammocks, large decks, bathroom facilities, bicycle repair tools and stands, playing cards, fire pit, cozy sleeping arrangements, and more.
Riders enjoy singletrack, challenging jeep tracks, dirt roads, hidden lakes, and spectacular vistas. E-bikes are allowed at each hut so groups of mixed abilities can enjoy the same adventure.
“These unique huts were built using repurposed high-top shipping containers,” said Jared Fisher, Founder & Director of Escape Adventures. “They are spaced approximately 30 to 40 miles apart and accommodate 12 to 14 riders.”
Guests ride to Brian Head Peak, down Proctor Canyon and into the quaint little town of Hatch. They meander past the Tropic Reservoir and into Red Canyon, home of the infamous Thunder Mountain Trail and the Red Canyon Bike Path. The route explores all the Dixie National Forest has to offer, including a big climb up to the scenic Powell Point where John Wesley Powell surveyed Southern Utah. Days average between 35 to 40 miles of riding and 3,500 feet of elevation gain.
The Full Itinerary:
Day 1: Your adventure begins at Brian Head Peak (11,307), where you will descend the exciting Bunker Creek Singletrack. Mountain Bike Action Magazine rated this Singletrack as one of the top 10 best trails in America. It descends 2,885 feet over 12 miles to Panguitch Lake where you will catch an exciting and fun 15-mile route through ponderosa and juniper forests—dappled with ancient lava beds and rolling meadows—to the Hatch Hut in Hatch, Utah.
Day 2: Energize with a hearty breakfast for this morning’s invigorating eight-mile, 2,500-foot climb through Proctor Canyon to the top of Sunset Cliffs. This is the mountain border for the Bryce Canyon Valley. After viewing the stunning scenery, you’ll descend eight miles to Tropic Reservoir, and take a plunge in the crisp (yet refreshing) waters. Cruise a 19-mile section of the Great Western Trail to Red Canyon. Once you get to the hut take a little time for hiking or opt for the Cassidy Loop in Red Canyon. Enjoy the sunset over beautiful Red Canyon.
Day 3: Get ready for some of the best single-track in Utah–Red Canyon. From the hut, ride down Thunder Mountain Trail through the beautiful hoodoos of Red Canyon. From here cross Highway 12 and ride up to the Casto Canyon trailhead, passing many amazing views of Slate Mountain and Powell Point. Casto Canyon crosses a small creek bed up to 44 times before eventually meeting up with jeep roads that cross the high planes of Bryce Canyon country to Pine Lake Hut. Pine Lake is a nice relaxing lake where you can fish or swim and cool off for the evening.
Day 4: Today you will climb to the top of the Aquarius Trails namesake – the Aquarius Plateau. Get ready for the BIG climb -2,200 feet over 10 miles to the top of Barney Top 10,577 feet. On your way to the top, don’t forget to ride out to Powell Point (an optional 8-mile out and back ride to a vista overlooking southern Utah). Once back on route, continue onto Barney Top and across spectacular high meadows to the Aquarius Hut at Clayton Springs. If you are still thriving for another ride, opt to ride down to Barker Reservoir and back. The ride drops 500 feet to the reservoir so don’t forget you have a climb back to the hut.
Day 5: There are two different ride options from the Aquarius Hut to the midpoint at Posey Lake. Take the non-technical ride on Hell’s Backbone Road or choose the backcountry singletrack ride on the Great Western Trail. Each is vastly different. The dirt road option is across big open meadows with antelope roaming freely while riding along the mountain singletrack, you will be challenged to technical riding and more climbing (climb 2,500 feet and descend 3,300 feet over the first 15 miles). Choose to stop at Posy Lake where, time permitting, you might have the opportunity to do some hiking around the lake. From here choose dirt road or then ride cowpuncher 5-mile singletrack to Cowpuncher Guard Station and Blue Spruce Campground. From here both options collide into the ride up to Hell’s Backbone Bridge and across Box Death Hollow Wilderness and then finally descending to Hell’s Backbone Hut at Sand Creek.
Day 6: Passing through various vegetation zones, today’s ride borders the Box Death Hollow Wilderness. Continue riding along Hell’s Backbone Road until you reach Scenic Highway 12. From here it is a beautiful ride along the Hogback back to Escalante. Along the way, stop at Calf Creek and cool off in the crystal-clear waters. An optional 3-mile hike to Calf Creek Falls is a great side trip as well. This 128-foot waterfall is nothing shy of amazing! One big climb on the road after Calf Creek is followed by a gradual descent to Escalante to conclude your 190-mile adventure.