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Best Gravel Events and Destinations for 2022

Get your gravel on this year and explore some of the most amazing gravel events and destinations from New England to California.

Written by: Bruce Lin

Published on:

Posted in:Guides

Where’s the good gravel at? Well, if you live in the U.S. it’s everywhere, you just need to find it. With thousands upon thousands of miles of unpaved roads spider-webbing across the country, there’s no reason gravel riders need to stick to their local loops. So get out and explore! But where do you start?

Cyclists are probably aware of gravel’s crown jewel, Unbound Gravel in Emporia, Kansas, as well as the other “monuments” of gravel. So instead, let’s take a look at a few smaller, but high-quality independent events and some lesser-known destinations. Hopefully we’ll give the newcomers plenty to dream about, and maybe even surprise a few grizzled gravel vets.

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Best gravel events

Grounded Nebraska

Grounded NebraskaPhoto: SnowyMountain Photography

Roca, Nebraska: June 25
Described in three words: Pastoral, picturesque, pleasant
Difficulty rating: Hard, but not as hard as escaping the world’s largest corn maze.
Distance options: 125 or 60 miles

Grounded Nebraska starts in the small village of Roca, which could be considered Emporia’s equally handsome but less famous brother. Riders will experience Nebraska’s rural beauty, endless skies, and some darn good gravel roads. Just don’t assume that Nebraska is flat! The full 125-mile course has plenty of rolling hills that add up to a healthy 5,000 feet of climbing. The finish line is a festival with plenty of beer, food trucks, and fun events for the whole family. Best of all, Grounded is giving bigger prize purses to women and non-binary racers, as well as donating a portion of each registration to the Lincoln Indian Center.

With terrain similar to what riders face in Unbound Gravel, choosing a fast gravel bike that has been proven successful in Kansas is always a safe bet. Keep things light, efficient, and comfortable so you can go the distance.

The right ride:

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unPAved of the Susquehanna River Valley

Lewisburg, Pennsylvania: October 9
Described in three words: Race, recover, repeat
Difficulty rating: Really hard, then pretty chill, then really darn hard, then chill again.
Distance options: 120, 90, 50, or 20 miles

unPAved is a bit different than your average gravel race. The full course is 120 miles but the final race times are determined by six timed segments totaling 43 miles. For those familiar with enduro mountain bike racing or Grinduro, this isn’t a new concept. It gives riders a more relaxed racing experience, where they can start at their leisure (between 7 and 9 a.m.), hang with friends, go all-out for the timed sectors, and then regroup before the next one. This way, the party-to-race ratio is balanced, and you have plenty of time to admire the gorgeous old woods of Bald Eagle State Forest while you cruise through Amish country.

Because race results are based on timed sectors, riders have some freedom to experiment with their equipment. A bike that climbs well is good, but it’s also fun to run tires and components (like dropper posts) that will enhance confidence on downhill sectors.

The right ride:

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Lost and Found

Lost and found gravel

Photo: John Watson

Portola, California: June 4
Described in three words: Grand alpine wilderness
Difficulty rating: How good are you at climbing? Eh, you’ll live. 
Distance options: 101, 61, or 39 miles

Lost and Found takes riders right into the Sierra Nevada mountains to explore some of California’s most beautiful and remote alpine valleys. The full 101-mile course provides a lung-burning 8,000 feet of elevation gain and is 80% unpaved. There’s a good mix of tacky dirt and loose gravel, and though the climbs are difficult, each one ultimately opens up to an incredible vista filled with nothing but trees and mountains. Plus, you’ll be supporting the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship, a non-profit organization that builds and maintains trails in the area so cyclists can experience world-class events like Lost and Found. 

These rugged roads can be tough on bodies and bikes, so some riders choose to ride mountain bikes. Fortunately, modern gravel bikes with big tires provide plenty of comfort and capability, especially when equipped with a bit of suspension.

The right ride:

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Best gravel riding destinations

Los Angeles, California

Los Angeles Gravel bike Verdugo MountainsPhoto: John Watson

Described in three words: Sunny, epic, unexpected
Difficulty rating: Anything’s easier than LA traffic.
Best time to visit: When the rest of the country is cold.

I know what you’re thinking, “LA? Really?” Yes, really! The Radavist founder, John Watson, put Los Angeles high on his list, so it’s definitely worth checking out. Once you leave the valley behind you’ll discover roads that lead to big dirt climbs and hundreds of miles of unpaved roads that are closed to cars. From Glendale, one of many cities that border LA, you can enter the Verdugo Mountains, which Watson called, “A gateway to true, southern California mountain riding.”

To skip across the hard-packed surfaces, loose sand, and ruts, you’ll be best served by a fast and efficient gravel rig. Easier gearing would be good for the big climbs. 

The right ride:

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Sun Valley, Idaho

Described in three words: Wild, wild, west
Difficulty rating: Pick goods lines and you’ll be fine.
Best time to visit: Late summer, early fall.

Sun Valley has hundreds of miles of rugged gravel to explore. The roads here are off the beaten path, even by gravel riding standards. Roughly bench-cut into mountain sides, these untraveled forest roads offer amazing views and even a glimpse of what the American West looked like before modern settlers came. It’s also home to the “queen of pain” herself, Rebecca Rusch and her namesake event, Rebecca’s Private Idaho. But you don’t need to race a "monument" to have an excuse to visit.

Navigating the rocky gravel found here requires thoughtful line choices and an appetite for adventure. You don’t need massive tires, but a bike with a little extra compliance can make big rides much more pleasant.

The right ride:

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Burlington, Vermont

Burlington Vermont GravelPhoto: Spencer Powlison

Described in three words: Classic New England 
Difficulty rating: Smooth as a spoonful of Ben and Jerry’s.
Best time to visit: June, maybe leaf-peeping season.

Burlington is the prototypical New England college town with plenty of hippies, locavore cuisine, historic churches and buildings, a thriving music and arts scene, oh, and gravel! You’ll need to ride out of town to find the good dirt, but according to ex-pro turned gravel messiah, Ted King, Vermont riding is “as good as it gets.” I also have a weird obsession with covered bridges and Vermont has over 100 for gravel riders to hunt down for the ultimate mid-ride photo op. 

The dirt is typically very smooth, so any gravel bike will do, but I’d suggest one with plenty of options for bolting on bags, just so you can carry more gear and stay out in the beautiful foliage covered hills as long as possible.

The right ride:

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Boulder, Colorado

Described in three words: More than road
Difficulty rating: Bring your biggest granny gear.
Best time to visit: Early-to-mid-summer.

Boulder isn’t just for roadies. TPC's hometown has a plethora of hard-packed gravel roads that climb straight into the mountains. Before gravel was even gravel, pro roadies were using these “secret” roads to train. Now the secret’s out. Boulder’s much easier to access than Steamboat Springs (the home of another monument, SBT GRVL), and it’s the perfect place to visit for anyone looking to challenge themselves on Colorado’s high-altitude, steep AF roads. 

Anything from an endurance bike with 32mm tires to a 45mm tire gravel bike will be great. If you plan to connect canyons via the old mining roads, it’s always better to go big. Just make sure you have the gearing to handle 20% grades.

The right ride:

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Of course, there isn’t enough room here to cover all the must-ride gravel events and destinations. What’s on your calendar for 2022? Let us know in the comments!

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