By Bill Plock
In south central Utah surrounded by National Parks, ancient river beds and views of what was once the floor of a great sea bed, lies a system of huts sheltering mountain bikers as they wind through the Escalante Plateau.
The area, more than twice the size of Rhode Island is bordered by Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef National Parks and Lake Powell. It offers a huge variety of terrain tempting all levels of cyclists to explore the high deserts, deep canyons, daunting plateaus and sandy washout basins. Coming from Colorado, a beautiful drive takes you from Green River, Utah southwest to the town of Escalante where the 190 mile Aquarius Trail Hut System ends. When you arrive, someone from Aquarius takes you and your bike West to Brian Head where the adventure begins.
The “huts” are shipping containers repurposed and carved up to make sleeping accommodations and a kitchen for 12 cyclists. As Jared Fisher, owner of Escape Adventures, who dreamed up this hut system says, “It’s like putting together a lego house. It takes four containers to make a “hut” and we cut them, install windows and doors and add the bunks and appliances.” The huts are “off the grid” operating by solar and propane complete with compostable toilets and showers. When all the expenses are accounted for, a hut will cost about $200,000 to build and install. They are serviced by staff each day bringing in fresh food, linens, and fuel.
Scattered on the Escalante Plateau National Monument, the huts are a welcome reprieve from some challenging days on single track and dirt roads taking riders up epic climbs to amazing views. They are fully stocked with gourmet food, snacks, beverages, water, showers and everything to make it as comfortable as possible. Guest can cook on the grills outside and cozy up to fire pits to take the high desert chill away.
The group I joined is mostly from Colorado and gather once in a while at destinations like this. They had a sag truck to carry some provisions and the group dog. All seemed to love the hut and the route and the abundance of food and snacks. Said one rider, “they even have Peanut M&M’s” which seemed to be an important provision.
The daily routes are between 25 and 40 miles with options for longer treks to scenic spots. After the group breakfast, riders had all day to make it to the next hut and when possible the sag truck would park somewhere in between with refreshments. Said Jeff Oehm of Lakewood, “The huts are well thought out and stocked with good food and comfortable beds. The trails and roads were great and very challenging in places. This part of Utah is stunning and so uncrowded, was well worth the drive from Denver.”
Fisher’s company provides destination, endurance oriented travel experiences all over the world and discovered this area about 10 years. He lives in Las Vegas, operates three bike shops and has built a company revolving around the bike. It took a while to get the permits to start installing the huts and connecting the trails. He said, “Covid actually helped push this project to the finish as the Forest Service was able to re-evaluate the situation and we got approval last year. This is our first year of operations and it’s gone very well. We have accommodated over 500 cyclists this summer. Any tour operator would be happy with that I think.”
The experience can be customized to accommodate a private group or open to a single rider with a variety of diets and food preferences. They also have bikes, and e-bikes for rent.
Check out this video to get a better perspective.