Five Rad Mountain Bike Rides in Southern Utah
The spring pilgrimage to Utah is a common trek for avid mountain bikers. They flock to the southern part of the state in search of dry trails and to avoid nasty east coast weather or the rainy Northwest. Moab is the well-known Mecca of Fat Tired Fun, but there are two-wheeled adventures splashed from there all the way to Las Vegas.
In April, I was lucky enough to spend a few weeks romping around on the splendid singletrack in southern Utah. Under blue skies, my tires crunched and whirred over miles of red rock until my legs burned from climbing and my neck creaked from rocky descents. Some days I rode solo, hours in the middle of nowhere where I could stop on a bluff and enjoy a solitary lunch. I also met up with friends from Oregon, Colorado, and California to form biker gangs bandying about enough acronyms to make a newbie rider’s brain bulge.
Here are the trails I’ll ride again when I return to Utah…which I certainly plan on doing! Even if you’re on a family trip or are cruising with a partner who doesn’t ride, I suggest that any mountain biker driving through the five national parks of Utah should bring a (full-suspension) bike with them to fully enjoy the fun.
- Porcupine Rim (Moab, UT) – first up, any mountain biker visiting Moab needs to shred down Porcupine. It’s one of the most famous trails in the U.S. (world?), and for good reason. The trail is miles of downhill fun that, depending on snow levels, starts as high as 11,000’ elevation and finishes at 4,000’ at the Colorado River. Along the way, the action heats up from silky singletrack into rockier terrain, finishing with riding to test the best riders. All the while, you’ll be craning your neck to catch views of the red rock valleys that make Utah famous.A tip: don’t be a Roadie Punk – pay $25 for a shuttle from one of the bros in town (Porcupine Shuttle is great, as is Coyote Shuttle) and let them drive your lazy butt to the bottom of the snowline. You’re going to have 20+ miles of downhill; save the vertical gain for your commute and weekly ride back home! You came to Moab to shred the GNAR, bro.
- JEM/Goulds Loop (Hurricane, UT) – sick of rocky drops and full-face helmets, and simply want to grin your face off? If JEM were a song, it would be a Green Day jam cranked to full volume. Pedal as hard as you can on this IMBA Epic and live it up! The trailhead is right outside Zion National Park, an easy hop free of tourist throngs in the park. Add Goulds/Hurricane Rim to the mix if you want a big (and very fun) day on the bike.
- Thunder Mountain (Bryce Canyon NP) – hoodoo rock spires, backcountry riding, and solitude are the name of the game on Thunder Mountain. Just a few minutes from the entrance to Bryce Canyon, this ride is a remote ride to a lunch spot overlooking the valley. If you see another person on the trail, I’d be surprised.
- Gooseberry Mesa (Hurricane, UT) – bikers rave about Slickrock Trail in Moab, but I’d rather ride the mesas around Zion National Park any day of the week. Why? Gooseberry is the same style of riding (up and down on grippy, rolling rock), but is more technical and fun, especially the South Rim trail. The mesa is accessed via a rough road that results in empty trails and solitude any hermit worth his bushy beard would enjoy, plus free camping. Did I mention sweeping views of the valley outside of Zion National Park? Gooseberry is the well-known mesa, but there are others, such as Guacamole Mesa, that are good fun as well.
- Magnificent 7 to Portal Trail (Moab, UT) – there’s a sign near a cliff edge on the Portal Trail that intones, “Walk your bike. People have died here. People like you. GET OFF YOUR BIKE.” Signs leading to Portal encourage turning around while you still can, shrilly proclaiming that you are approaching trails best ridden by <25 year old males with GoPros strapped to their heads. Don’t listen to them – Mag 7 through Portal is one of the most fun, physical and view-laced trails you’ll ever ride. Use your brain and walk the cliffs marked by warning signs, bring plenty of grub and water, and make this a must-do if you’re an advanced rider looking for an adventure around Moab. Shuttling to the top of Mag 7 (as they call it) and riding all the way out is a 20+ mile, all-day adventure through the rocky terrain around Moab that you won’t forget.
- Durango, CO trail systems. I enjoyed a week of exploring this high-altitude mountain biking destination while local riders I met showed my lungs who was boss. All the trails are accessed right from downtown; this is another IMBA Epic that anyone who enjoys biking will dig. Phil’s World, right across from Mesa Verde National Park (about 40 miles west of Durango), is another stellar area developed by local trail builders.
For trail guides, I recommend picking up maps at any of the bike shops in Moab. For the other rides, the Singletracks.com or Maplets app are great resources. Even without a map, you’ll figure it out…and if you don’t, then you’ll get to do a longer (if unplanned) ride! Bonus miles are the best. Take a picture of the trail head map and head out.
Here’s to two-wheeled fun in the wilds of Utah. Snag a spring break from the cold and wet; head to the red rock! Ride on, amigos.