SALT LAKE CITY — If you're looking for a longer and more challenging bike route complete with remarkable views and access to communities in Utah, then you're in luck.
The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials recently approved a measure to designate five new routes that provide more than 550 miles of bike routes in Utah through its United States Bicycle Routes System.
The newly designated Utah routes include a preferred path to travel on bike through the entire length of the state to and from its borders with Arizona and Idaho using existing infrastructure, said Heidi Goedhart, the active transportation manager for the Utah Department of Transportation. The system was created to show riders how they can use existing bike-friendly streets, highways and trails to travel regional distances.
Utah now has about 960 miles of designated bike routes through the program with the addition of the five new routes, which is fourth behind just Minnesota, Ohio and Alaska among U.S. states, Goedhart added.
"This is really exciting," she said. "The designation makes it easier for recreational tourists that want to hop on their bikes with all their gear and kind of tour the country or a state, or a county or a city, and get some miles in and experience the landscape a little bit slow. (It) gives them a unique vantage point to see and smell the desert fauna or our northern Utah landscape."
The new routes are officially dubbed U.S. Bike Routes 77, 677, 877 and 679, as well as an addition to Route 79. Utah is already the home to Routes 70 and 79 — both in southern Utah — within the system.
Route 77 is the longest of the new routes at nearly 350 miles. It has terminuses at the Utah-Idaho border on 800 West in Lewiston, Cache County, and state Route 24 in Torrey, Wayne County. It actually meets with Route 70 in Torrey.
"This bike route kind of takes you from the forests and lush wetlands up by Logan and brings you all the way into Ogden, allows you to see the vistas across the Great Salt Lake," Goedhart said. "It allows you to experience the mountains of the Wasatch Front, and then you can kind of pick your own adventure and go on the west side of Utah Lake or go through Provo and experience the cultural richness and Utah County. And then it allows you to slowly make your way down into the desert and see the Mighty 5 (Utah's five national parks) by bike."
Route 677 is the sort of detour around Utah Lake. For cyclists traveling south, the 40.5-mile stretch breaks off from Route 77 at the Jordan River Parkway in Lehi. It directs riders to continue on the parkway trail before they turn at 2100 North. Riders continue on 2100 North before they turn south onto Redwood Road in Utah County. They continue in that direction west of the lake until it meets back up with Route 77 near Goshen.
Route 877 is another offshoot of Route 77. For riders traveling south, it begins between Richfield and Salina in Sevier County and continues more than 88 miles to Panguitch in Garfield County, where it meets the existing concurrent 70/79 Route.
An extension of Route 79 takes riders from the U.S. Highway 89 and state Route 12 junction near Bryce Canyon National Park south about 63.5 miles to Utah's border with Arizona. Then there's Route 679, which is the shortest of the new routes. It connects the concurrent 70/79 Route near Duck Creek Village, Kane County, with the new Route 79 segment at Long Valley Junction also in Kane County using state Route 14.
Altogether, the routes can take a cyclist to and from Arizona and Idaho without a rider getting off the designated paths. The previously existing routes already connected Colorado and Nevada with an east-west route through Utah. An interactive graphic of Utah's bike route maps can be found here
UDOT began planning for new routes about four years ago. Goedhart said it took "a lot of work and coordination" with governments, groups and entities to piece together the new routes. It worked with organizations like Move Utah and the national cycling advocacy group Adventure Cycling to coordinate with local governments, as well as Arizona and Idaho transportation leaders.
"We wanted to be conscious about where the routes, what considerations go into selecting the route, like the number of people already riding in those locations and how wide the shoulders are," she said. "Additionally, what the safety conditions are."
Some of that included reviewing data from existing bike routes and also how cyclists used roads in the state. Once everything was put together, UDOT submitted a proposal for designated bike routes in April. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials reviewed and approved the plan in May. Signs are expected to be installed in the near future to help show bicyclists preferred routes through a city, county or even the state.
Utah transportation officials weren't the only ones excited about the designation. State tourism leaders view the new designation as a big draw for people who want to experience the Beehive State and its natural beauty in a new way.
"Experiencing Utah by bicycle is a rewarding way to slow down, get off the highway, and explore the state's scenic beauty," said Vicki Varela, managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism, in a statement Monday. "These routes demonstrate the commitment of our state and local communities to build something better for both Utah residents and Utah visitors."