Aspen glades, singletrack along the rim of Grand Canyon, open meadows, quiet 2-tracks, and some beautiful miles of Arizona Trail - this route in northernmost Arizona is a wonderful one to escape the summer heat of the surrounding lower elevations. This is variation of the classic Kaibab Monstercross Loop put together in the early 2000s from various trips by Dave Chenault, Dave Harris, Scott Morris, Chad Brown, and others, and this loop was used several times for the Prescott College Geology through Bikepacking course. The loop is nearly 100% dirt, nearly 100% on public lands, and 100% guaranteed to make you grin.
The loop is most generally started at the northern side at the crossroads of Jacob Lake or where the Arizona Trail crosses Hwy 89A just a couple miles to the east of Jacob Lake. There’s a trailhead for parking at the latter location, and in Jacob Lake, the USFS generally allows a vehicle to be left in the parking lot of the visitors center there (but please check in with the USFS folks there before doing so!). The route description here is for a counter-clockwise ride, although either direction would be just fine on this route. From there, a well-maintained dirt road rolls west and then drops down off the top of the Kaibab Plateau, and the route turns south on a short section of deserted pavement that leads to a 25-mile stretch of rougher 1-lane forest road and 2-track leading right to the rim of Grand Canyon at Parriswampitts Point. This is a beautiful spot to camp, and it’s also where the route joins the singletrack of the Rainbow Rim Trail. Note that the most reliable water along this first section of the route is at Parriswampitts Spring, ~5 miles before Parriswampitts Point and slightly off route in the bottom of a small canyon.
The Rainbow Rim Trail is the only bike-legal singletrack along the rim of Grand Canyon! It meanders along the edge of the canyon, mostly in the forests, in and out of drainages that drop into the Canyon, and occasionally pops out into the open for some absolutely huge panoramic views. This trail is rough and rocky in places, and the limestone can be sharp (more than a few tire sidewalls have been sliced here). The 20 miles of Rainbow Rim Trail are the slowest and most technical of this entire loop. When leaving Timp Point near the southern end of the trail, riders have the option of riding ~5 additional newer miles of the Rainbow Rim Trail or taking a parallel forest road when climbing east away from the Canyon Rim.
The route crosses over the highest part of the Kaibab Plateau where you’ll hit 9,200′ before descending to Highway 67. At this road crossing, the North Rim Country Store, Demotte USFS Campground, and the Kaibab Lodge are all a mile to the north. If heading to that area, riders could opt to take FR216B to FR216 to the Arizona Trail, a more direct way of reconnecting to the loop to continue north. Also at this road crossing, riders could head south for ~15 miles to visit the North Rim in Grand Canyon National Park. A hiker/biker-specific camping area in the main campground offers gorgeous views into Grand Canyon. The Arizona Trail also leads to the same location in the National Park, but that section of trail is notorious for many, many downed trees.
East of Highway 67, the route climbs for ~4 miles to its intersection with the Arizona at a beautiful viewpoint that overlooks the Marble Canyon platform to the east. The final ~27 miles of the loop follow the Arizona Trail north from here, and it’s some of the most rideable Arizona Trail in the state! There are, of course, still some short, steep hike-a-bikes in places (and one longer one), but much of the trail is rolling singletrack through meadows, over low ridges, and through an old burned area that offers big views to the east of the Vermillion Cliffs and Paria Plateau. Reliable water sources are limited along this section of trail, so plan carefully.
Summers on the Kaibab Plateau are a gorgeous time to ride this loop, offering respite from the heat of the surrounding lower terrain. Autumn is also beautiful when the aspens turn yellow and the nights begin to drop below freezing; note that hunting season on the Kaibab in autumn can be a bit busier, so make sure you wear bright clothing so you’re visible!
Resupply options along the loop are limited to the cafe and very small store at Jacob Lake and the North Rim Country Store on the southern end of the loop. That store, however, is only open seasonally, so verify that they’re open when you’re planning your trip.
Reliable water sources are a bit tough to come by on the Kaibab Plateau as the underlying limestone is incredibly porous and swallows up surface water quite efficiently. Many springs that were reliable in past decades have also become unreliable. BUT, there are enough reliable water sources along this route to make water stress a non-issue! See the GPS data for the route for more information about the locations of these sources and their general reliability. Note two key springs on either end of the Rainbow Rim section of the route are slightly off route.
Virtually the entirety of this route is on public lands managed by the Kaibab National Forest, and dispersed camping is allowed anywhere along the loop aside from in the vicinity of Jacob Lake. There also are developed USFS campgrounds at Jacob Lake and across the road from the North Rim Country Store on the southern end of the loop (there’s also a lodge at this location).
Photos by Kurt Refsnider
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