Biking from Salt Lake City to Lava Hot Springs
In the Utah-based adventure scene, bike touring remains relatively fringe. But a multi-day tour can be surprisingly accessible, uniquely adventurous and a wonderful way to enjoy a cool fall ride into the region’s rural areas. This five-day trip is based on my tour from Salt Lake City, Utah, to Lava Hot Springs, Idaho. We began the pedaling portion of our journey in Ogden, but if you’re game for more miles, you can easily start the ride in Salt Lake City.
Who can do this trip?
Anyone with a decent fitness base, some cycling experience and a good attitude should be able to make this trek. I’d racked up 550 miles prior to the trip, but my husband and fellow traveler, Peter Makowski, had only 40 under his belt. And remember, you’ll have at least 12 leisurely hours of daylight in which to make the miles disappear. Plan on keeping an average pace of at least 10 mph, including stops.
• A rear pannier set per rider will fit everything you need for a credit-card tour (where
cyclists carry gear and clothing but pay for meals and overnight lodging). If you plan
to camp, at least one person should have a front set.
• Pack both warm- and cool-weather bike clothing, as well as rainwear.
And a Buff—Buffs (headwear) are your BFF.
• Consider platform pedals with toe cages. Touring isn’t about performance,
and stiff-soled sneakers are much more practical than cleats on a trip like this.
• Pack enough food for two lunch stops and six snack stops per rider—this will get
you to Lava if you eat out for breakfast and dinner. And keep some energy gels
• If you’re lodging, be sure to let the hotel(s) know you’ll have bikes.
Salt Lake City to Lava Hot Springs. Route in greater detail HERE
Take the 6:25 a.m. Frontrunner train from Salt Lake City to Ogden Station, then pedal a few blocks to Even Stevens (2214 Washington Blvd., Ogden, 385-333-4194, EvenStevens.com/location/ogden) for some brioche French toast. After breakfast, ride down Washington and hop on Pleasantview Drive, a blissful backroad that deposits you on U.S. Route 89. The 14-mile stretch en route to Brigham City requires caution (read: steady traffic, narrow shoulder), but it’s flat, straight and quickly completed. The shoulder widens significantly at Sardine Canyon, which begins in Brigham City and crosses the Wellsville Mountains. This Cat 2 climb tops out at Sardine Summit, after which you’ll enjoy a swift descent into Cache Valley.
Before resting your weary legs in Logan, fill up on specialty pizza at Jack’s Wood Fired Oven (265 N. Main, Logan, 435-754-7523, JacksWoodFiredOven.blogspot.com/).
There are a number of wallet-friendly motels in Cache Valley, but for a memorable experience, book a room at the Old Rock Church Bed and Breakfast (10 S. Main, Providence, 435-752-3432, OldRockChurch.com). It’s worth it for the mountain views and made-to-order breakfast. If you’d rather pitch a tent, ride a short 5.5 miles up beautiful Logan Canyon to Bridger Campground (Logan Ranger District, 435-755-3620). Sites are $17 and include restrooms and running water. We had a great AirBnB experience in Smithfield—finding shared lodging online (with good reviews) is an option worth exploring.
Note: Logan has several good bike shops should you need a quick fix or spare part. I had a fender repaired at Sunrise Cyclery (138 N. 100 East, Logan, 435-753-3294, SunriseCyclery.net).
• Constitution Park (450 E. 700 South, Brigham City) is a nice place to pull over for a snack.
• Mantua is a charming farming community halfway between Brigham City and Sardine summit. Fill your water bottles and buy an ice cream cone at the Mantua Country Store (130 N. Main, Mantua, 435-723-1292). Steps away, Mantua Reservoir is a scenic spot to eat lunch and observe pelicans.
Fuel up with a breakfast burrito at Morty’s Cafe (780 E. 700 North, Logan, 435-535-3276, MortysCafe.com) before hitting the road. Today’s ride is long but stellar—you’ll enjoy low-traffic, rolling country roads most of the way to Lava Hot Springs. After breakfast, ride into Smithfield and then head toward the West Side Highway (aka State Route 252), a beauty of a road that begs for bikin’. Roll through Cornish and across the Idaho border, then connect Weston, Dayton, Clifton and Oxford. There’s not a bad view to be had on this 50-mile stretch, from the Bannock Range to the west to the Bear River Range to the east. Watch for eagles, hawks, kestrels, owls and ospreys.
At Red Rock Junction, you’ll hop on US 91 for 10 miles. It’s significantly busier than the peaceful West Side Highway, but the shoulder is ample, and you’ll quickly exit onto the more serene Old US 91. Take a right at Price Road, and you’re on the home stretch to Lava Hot Springs.
• The Woodward Country Store (42 E. Depot St., Weston, 208-747-3373) is a quaint spot to grab snacks and top off your water bottles.
• Make Oxford your lunch-stop goal—the surrounding scenery is especially breathtaking, and the little Oxford Park (8998 N. Westside Highway) has picnic tables.
• There’s a Sinclair right off US 91 in Downey should you need water or a real bathroom.
You’ll be pretty spent when you roll into Lava, but check into the Aura Soma Lava Cottage (196 E. Main, Lava Hot Springs, 800-757-1233, AuraSomaLava.com/the-cottage) or pitch your tent at Mary’s Place Campground (300 Bristol Park Lane, Lava Hot Springs, 208-776-5026, MarysRVCamp.com) and then walk to Riverwalk Cafe (695 E. Main, Lava Hot Springs, 208-776-5872) for some Thom Kha Gai or Massaman curry (tip: BYOB).
Celebrate your “Rest Day” by sleeping in, then step over to the Chuckwagon Cafe (277 E. Main, Lava Hot Springs, 208-776-5141) for a greasy-spoon breakfast. Afterward, explore the town a bit. At Dempsey Creek Trading Co. (89 E. Main, Lava Hot Springs, 208-776-5665, DempseyCreek.com) you can find buffalo bones, peace pipes and pottery. The Sunken Gardens (430 E. Main, Lava Hot Springs, 208-776-5221, LavaHotSprings.com/hotpools/sunken-gardens) offer relaxation among algal reef remains, wildflowers and birds. If you’re in Lava prior to Oct. 1, rent a tube at one of several spots on Main and float the Portneuf River—you can do the 10-minute float as many times as you like.
Exploring and swimming can work up an appetite—why not make lunch in your cottage kitchen? Mike’s Market (30 W. Main, Lava Hot Springs, 208-776-5067) has all the fixin’s, and you can also use this trip to grab some instant oatmeal for tomorrow’s breakfast and food for the ride home.
Spend the rest of the afternoon soaking in the hot springs tub on your cottage’s private deck, or head to the Lava Hot Springs Hot Pools (430 E. Main, Lava Hot Springs, 208-776-5221, LavaHotSprings.com/hotpools). When it comes time for dinner, don’t pass up the excellent Portneuf Grille & Lounge (255 E. Portneuf St., Lava Hot Springs, 208-776-5504, RiverSideInnHotsprings.com/portneuf-grill). Reservations required.
Relaxed and rejuvenated, you’ll be ready to hop back on the bike. Make a quick breakfast, check out and hit the road early. Today’s ride is the hilliest of the four, and you’ll start right off with Fish Creek Pass. Hang a right onto Idado Highway 34 toward Grace, then pedal on through Niter and Thatcher. This section was so pretty, we didn’t mind getting stuck behind a herd of cows. Because of what they leave behind, we were glad to have fenders.
There’s not much in the way of support between Thatcher and Preston, but the riding is some of the best on the trip—very few cars, rolling hills, open skies, and mountain views the whole way. The aspen-forest descent toward Preston had us singing and laughing like a couple of wackos. Pull over for a pannier sandwich in Preston, then hop on Highway 91 for the last 25 miles to Logan.
• The Sinclair on Main Street in Grace is a good spot for a bathroom break/water bottle reup.
• In Preston, there’s a park with picnic tables about a half a block off the route (98 W. Second North), and the Chevron on State is a good spot for a bathroom stop (193 N. State).
• Back in Logan, hit up Angie’s Restaurant for dinner (690 N. Main, Logan, 435-752-9252, AngiesRest.com). It’s open ‘til 9 p.m. on Sundays.
Monday is Thursday’s ride in reverse, and it’ll feel like a piece of cake at this point (minus that shoulderless section between Brigham City and Pleasantview Drive). We didn’t hit the road until 10:30 a.m., and we made it back to Ogden with plenty of time to shower at a friend’s place, go out for sushi rolls and sake at the wonderful Tona Sushi (210 25th St., Ogden, 801-622-8662, TonaRestaurant.com), and then take the 8:07 p.m. train ride—blissed-out—back home to Salt Lake City.