The Paradox Trail

Last week, some friends and I went on a bikepacking trip on the Paradox trail. The Paradox, along with the Kokopelli and the Tabeguache trails, is part of the Grand Loop, a much longer bikepacking route spanning Western Colorado and Eastern Utah. The Paradox winds its way through country that has a haunting Uranium mining history, which likely provided many of the “roads” that the Paradox uses. Although it’s an established bike route, we saw no one else traversing it in the 4 days we were there.

DSC02254We started on the East end, on the Uncompagre Plateau. From there, the route descends for many miles down onto Pinto mesa, with incredible views of the San Juan mountains and Lone Cone. From Pinto Mesa, the Paradox continues to descend to the town of Nucla. The once bustling town of Nucla does have a small market, open every day of the year except Christmas. We swung in for some last minute supplies, and also found some water before leaving town.

We headed North of town, back the way we’d come, to get to the new Paradox trailhead, also the start of a new, small singletrack trail system above the gun range. From there, the route winds through awesome high desert that goes up to the foot of the Uncompagre plateau, going through several drainages and over many ridges. It eventually drops you into Blue Canyon, and down to the Dolores River. After a couple fast highway miles, it crosses the river at Biscuit rock, and begins to head up Red Canyon.


Red Canyon is an incredible experience, and you’re also climbing like crazy straight to the top of Paradox ridge. From here, the route follows Paradox ridge directly towards the La Sal mountains and eventually becomes Carpenter ridge, ascending the whole time. A good thing to note is that Buckeye reservoir is the last camping for many miles at this point. After Buckeye, you pass through private land until just past the high point of the route, near Deep Creek.

DSC02413Now in proper high country terrain, we looked back at the Uncompagre plateau, and all the terrain we crossed to get here. The La Sals still had quite a bit of snow on them, right above us on the peaks. After winding around the East side of the mountains, the road quite good at this point, it spit us out right onto the Kokopelli trail. I remembered this intersection quite well from when I did the Kokopelli, as I’d looked down the road and wondered where it went. Now I was coming from that road, and heading the same way, towards Moab.

I was also excited to take my Myth Chimera on it’s first bikepacking trip. I really believe that fat bikes are the perfect desert bikepacking rig (maybe the best bikepacking rig period), and I’ve been excited to get the Chimera out and get some dust on it. It absolutely shined on this trip, and I can’t wait to get it out for more desert miles and many trips to come.DSC02348.jpg

All in all, the Paradox is a fantastic route. One of my favorites I’ve ever done, and a truly wild and remote part of the world. I’d recommend it to anyone interested in a not overly difficult bikepacking trip, as it’s both easier and has more natural water than the Kokopelli.

Trail Info

  • The Paradox can probably be ridden from about May until the first snows in the La Sals, perhaps October?
  • The route probably goes well at 3 days ride time, but 4 was great for us.
  • The most up to date route info is probably on the West End Trails Alliance website. Under the “Trails” section are 5 maps whose titles begin with “PT” for Paradox trail. Of particular interest is the Pinto Mesa to Tabeguache Creek map, as it’s the updated route, and different than what is found on MTB Project. Paper maps can also be acquired from WETA, which were very useful to us on this trip.
  • Expect a few steep but short hike-a-bike sections. The rest is ridable doubletrack and dirt roads.
  • Much of the route has great wild camping spots, excluding the section between Buckeye reservoir and Deep Creek, which is private property. Follow all leave no trace rules when camping in these areas.
  • Water. We found water at the following points along the trail, at the end of April: Tabeguache Creek, Spring creek (just puddles), Big Atkinson creek, Blue Canyon, Dolores River, Buckeye Reservoir, and at many points after Buckeye from snow melting off the La Sals. Your mileage may vary.

2 Replies to “The Paradox Trail”

  1. I was 1 of 7 riders who did the original Grand Loop ride back in 1994. The photos and writing brought back a lot of fond memories and I still frequent the trails of the West End. True wilderness mountain biking.

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