Mountain Biking in Utah

A classic trail in Northern Utah

The Mecca of Mountain Biking is Moab, Utah.  The main reason for this is the slickrock trail on the edge of town.  Petrified sand dunes of another era once gave motorcycles a challenging course over the slickrock terrain, and with the invention of the mountain bike it provided an ideal place for the transformed bikes.  Slowly word got out about the slickrock trail and other trails in the area and this sleepy town became the place to be for mountain bikers.  Motel and restaraunt and other building surged with the rise of biking tourism.  While it was great news for the chamber of commerce it was bad news for bikers as Moab became a victim of its own success.  The crowds are larger and less experienced than before and so the overall quality of the experience was less than what it was in years past, however that does not mean you cannot have a quality experience.  To obtain the best experience I suggest avoiding the main season of April through October and go during the offseason.  It will be cooler and cheaper at the Motel during the off season, and if you are dressed appropriately there will be no problems.

A quick review of two guide books to Mountain Biking in Moab will assist you in finding other rides in the area besides the world famous slickrock trail.

Mountain Bike America Moab: An Atlas of Moab, Utah's Greatest Off-Road Bicycle Rides by local guide Lee Bridgers
379 pages, Maps, photos and side stories about the area
ISBN 0-7627-0702-X
Publisher:  Globe Pequot Press, Guilford, CT
Cost: $17.95
41 rides are described in this book and each ride has the following attributes:

  • Starting Point
  • Length in miles
  • Approximate Riding Time
  • Difficulty Rating
  • Trail Surface
  • Lay of the Land
  • Elevation Gains and Map showing the rise/fall of trail
  • Land Status
  • Other Trail Users
  • Best Season to Ride the trail
  • Directions to Trailhead
  • Map of trail
  • Environmental Concerns
  • Detailed Description of trail
The book offers a great overview of rides in the area from a local guide, who has been on the trails and knows what he is talking about.  In addition to the core purpose as a trail guide the author offers up some local history and folklore and plenty of pictures to help you get a feeling for the area.  The author also takes the unusual step of mentioning some of the environmental concerns of the area such as avoiding some of the fragile desert soils and sticking to the trail.  Sound advice as these trails are on public lands and could be closed to mountain bikers if the damage becomes too great.   The rides range from beginner to the extreme.  Deseret riding has lots of sand and even less shade so always be prepared.  One of the few books that offers exclusive treatment for Moab area rides.

The second book is Mountain Biking Moab Pocket Guide:  42 of the Area's Greatest Off-Road Bicycle Rides by David Crowell.
239 pages including maps of trails
ISBN 0-7627-2799-3
Publisher:  Falcon an Imprint of Globe Pequot Press, Guilford, CT
Cost: $10.95

This smaller guide offers the basic details of each ride, how to get to the trailhead and maps of the trails.  As a quick reference this book is great, however lacks some of the detail that the larger book above can offer due to its size. 

The book provides the following information about each ride:

  • Location
  • Distance
  • Approximate riding time
  • Physical Difficulty
  • Technical Difficulty
  • Trail Surface
  • Highlights
  • Maps (which USGS map covers the area)
  • Finding the Trailhead
  • Map of Trail
  • Details of Ride
  • Elevation Chart
  • Alternate Routes
A great compact description of what to expect and if you want a just the facts type of guide this will exactly provide that.  What I have done is to photo copy the trails I might go on from the book and then take the pages with me on the trail that are applicable and I have a handy reference whenever I need it. 

I enjoy Moab not only for its bike riding possibilities, but for the parks nearby.  Arches, Canyonlands and Dead Horse Point park all have something to offer.

Slickrock on Bartlett Wash Trail

There are plenty of other places to go in Utah besides Moab.  Most trails consist of hiking trails or 2 WD or 4WD dirt roads or paths that were used previously by farmers, miners, and others.

Grosvenor's Arch

Grosvenor's Arch is composed of light yellow and white sandstone.  It resides within the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.  The arch is located about 10 miles from Kodachrome Basin State Park in south central Utah.  You can park inside or just outside the park as a starting point.    The ride is over an alkaline desert landscape with little vegetation, but you are rewarded in the end with a fantastic view of the arch, which is actually a double arch in that there are two distinct arches side by side.  The arch extends quite a ways as my standing height in comparison to the arch shows.

One early season favorite ride of mine is Antelope Island.  An Island in Utah?!  Yes.  There are several islands in the Great Salt Lake and two of them, Antelope and Stansbury Island are accessible by mountain bike.  Antelope Island is located west of Layton, Utah and is a few miles west of Interstate 15.  You pay your $8 fee per vehicle or less if you would like to ride the bike across the 7.2 mile causeway.  I have done that too, but with the knobbly mountain bike tires on the smooth pavement you get quite a work out.   Avoid the crowds and horses by going during the week and misssing the weekend.  To the east of the trailhead parking area is the White Rock Bay trail, which is a 7.5 mile loop over mostly smooth terrain with some spots of sand.  About half way you have a choice of going up the hill and off to two alternate routes to Elephant Head (another 2 miles) or the Split Rock trail.    One hill on the trail is so rocky and sandy you have to get off and go up it on foot.  I suggest the latter part of March and the first 2-3 weeks of April to go as the weather is cooler and the crowd numbers smaller.  If you go later in April or later in the year ALWAYS wear insect repellent that has DEET in it as the no-see-ums and the mosquitos are terrible once they come out.  There is some wonderful scenery with the mountain capped mountains all around you and the lake around you.  If you are lucky you may see some wildlife such as bison, coyote, big horn sheep and various birds. 

On the White Rock Bay Trail at Antelope Island

Since about 1892 a herd of bison has been maintained on Antelope Island and their number is over 500.  Late one afternoon the sky was darkening and a storm was approaching when I was about half way through the trail when I saw a fellow biker off to the side of the trail in some yoga position meditating with his eyes closed.  As I went past him I began traversing a hill and I took a peek back and here they came -- about sixty bison came running over the horizon and literally surrounded my transcendental friend.  Well you can image his surprise when he heard the thundering hooves coming towards him.  He made it out, but only after the bison moved on.  If you miss the bison out in the open you can see some of them in the corral that has been set up with some food to attract them.  One of the most memorable moments on the island was seeing about 50 head of bison going straight down the hill at full gallop.  I thought those scenes were something of the nineteenth century, but you can see them here at Antelope Island.

To explore other Utah trails I suggest picking up one of the several guide books written by Gregg Bromka

At the Bartlett Wash Trail north of Moab

Links on Utah Tourism and Mountain Biking 

Mountain Biking in the Southwest 

Discover Utah! 

Utah Travel and Adventure Online 

Discover Moab 

Cycling Destinations

Online Index of Utah Trails

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