Where To Sleep on The Tour Divide

Someone asked me this by email. Here’s what I said:

If you’re thinking of trying to pick which towns to sleep in, that is probably a bad idea. You’ll be off-plan pretty soon, so you might as well wing it the whole way.

In general, it’s much quicker to sleep out than to get a motel. If you get a motel, then you have a shower and breakfast and coffee and chill out. If you sleep in the dirt, you get up and ride! You can easily go a week without washing unless you get heavily soaked and need to wash/dry your gear. Even then, places like The Outdoorsman in Butte will dry kit out for you.

When you’re picking places to sleep, having a roof is good even if the sides are open so picnic areas are nice.

Make sure you look at the maps of bear activity in Canada, Montana, and Wyoming (Matthew sent these out last year) so that you can judge the risk. Read up on camping in bear country.

Camp low when you can. Most of the downhills are fast, so if you get through a mountain pass around bed-time put in an extra 1/2 hour or so to lose some elevation. As afternoon comes on, make sure you have enough water for the night. I’ve had dry bivvys before where I’ve had to make 300ml or so last all night and a few hours into the next day – best avoided if you can.

The ACA maps have some suggestions on places that might make good camp sites, those spots are good ones.

Sleeping in (non-stinky) campground toilets is handy in bear country or snow.

If you’re serious about racing it hard, you will ride right past places that would be nice to sleep/resupply just because the timing hasn’t worked out e.g. I did Pinedale to Rawlins without resupply or a bed in-between. South Pass City and Atlantic City were closed when I went through, but I knew that was going to happen and had planned for it in Pinedale. Every time you get a restaurant meal, you can get your maps out and make those sorts of decisions.

Be careful who you share a motel room with. There’s no point in paying for a room and then being stuck with a bunch of stinky snoring riders just to split the bill. Fine if it works, aggravating if they keep you up all night.

If you’re going hard, you should get past Sparwood and camp out on the first night. Lots of people will get a room in Sparwood, but if you want to get the jump on them, you’ll have to go through.

Lastly, get a loud alarm. I slept through me watch alarm repeatedly last year.

10 comments to Where To Sleep on The Tour Divide

  • John Foster

    Good advice Aidan. I got a good laugh on your last line because I slept through my watch alarm all the time. Got up really late (by Divide standards) a few times. lol. Always felt good after a nice coma type sleep in the woods though.

  • 🙂 Thanks, John.

    I have yet to find out what the loudest watch alarm available is, but I’ll be looking it up before my next multi-day race.

  • Bob

    Are there decent bivy spots between Sparwood and Corbin?

    • Sorry, I can’t remember exactly.

      I had a damaged tyre in 2010 so I slept in Elkford before getting a replacement and flying past Sparwood the next day. I wasn’t really looking around that much since I was trying to make up for lost time.

      In 2011, the re-route took us to Fernie instead of Corbin.

      • Bob

        Thanks, Aidan,

        I’d forgotten about the tyre problem in 2010. You certainly have had more than your share of mechanical difficulties on the Divide. Will you be returning this year?


        • No, I’m definitely not riding the Divide this year. I’ve got my own project to ride in the UK http://www.aidanharding.com/ewe

          I don’t plan to ride the Divide again. It’s good, but twice is enough and if all you’re trying to do is break a record or win, it’s too costly (in time and money) to keep going back to when circumstances beyond your control could easily derail the attempt.

  • Bob

    Just read your EWE write-up. Sounds like crazy fun, not sure which of those words to put the emphasis on, though.

  • Mark

    Here’s the solution (I hope) I came up with about over sleeping for the TD this year…a watch that beeps and vibrates. I figure something vibrating on my wrist should get me up pretty quickly. I’m purchasing one next week: Timex Expedition Vibration Alarm watch.


    • I just bought one of those watches myself. It has successfully woken me up at home but I haven’t had chance to test it in a sleep-deprived bivi yet!

  • Mart

    Light weight soloution to this is might be an elastic band
    Extend the strap with the band so you can put the alarm round your head, next to your ear
    Cant fail to hear it then

    Good luck with the EWE