Mountain Biking in Moab, Utah
Atop Porcupine Rim. © 2002 Curtis Bullock
Mountain Biking in Moab, Utah
By Drew Gilligan
Twenty years ago Moab was a decaying mining town in the Utah desert and its streets were as empty as its failing uranium mines. Today the town booms with adventure seeking tourists from around the world.
Most people come to test themselves among the red sandstone canyons, mesas, and slickrock that has made the area famous. You may recognize some of its famous sites from the numerous movies and commercials filmed in the area.
Moab lies deep in Utah’s Canyon Country and getting there can be time consuming, but the journey is well rewarded. The nearest major airports are in Salt Lake City, Utah or Denver, Colorado and they are 236 and 355 miles away respectiively. Shuttle services are offered from Salt Lake, but the area has so much scenery you will want to explore it in your own car. Whether you come from Salt Lake or Denver it’s recommended you drive US 128 to get into town.
The Heart of Canyon Country
US 128 takes a traveler from bland high desert scrub brush on I-70 deep into heart of Canyon Country. You follow the Colorado River as it meanders through the towering sandstone cliffs and mesas of the Professor Valley. Some moments you feel as if you are transported the actual Biblical wilderness from which Moab takes its name and can imagine stumbling upon an ancient city like Petra at any moment.
Actually, ancient Anasazi cliff dwellings dot the remote canyons and ruins are easy to tour in nearby Canyonlands or Mesa Verde National Park. The weary traveler does not need to resort to cliff dwelling because US 128 is lined with federal campgrounds that provide an excellent place to watch the moonlight dance off the river and canyon walls.
Moab may have several national parks and the Colorado River, but the town earned it fame as America ’s mountain bike mecca. When bicyclists discovered an old ATV trail near a garbage dump over twenty years ago the town changed from a mining economy to a tourist economy. The town bustles with tourist friendly businesses from art galleries to coffee shops for a traveler to enjoy after a great ride.
The Slickrock Trail
The Slickrock Trail with its constant mix of steep climbs, steep drops, half-pipes and ledges will challenge most riders as they glide over the slickrock. Contrary to the name, slickrock is not actually slick rock! Your bike tires grip this rock as well as pavement and that allows you to travel as great speeds with great control. The trail is marked with a white stripe so you can find your way through red desert wilderness.
An easier ride that still has a leg-cranking climb and blindingly fast descent without the technical challenges of slickrock. I’ve ridden this trail with several first timers and they all found it very rewarding. This out and back ride goes up to the border with Arches National Park and passes great scenery and dinosaur tracks petrified in the slickrock. Locating the tracks requires looking for a rock circle some concerned people put around them.
Porcupine Rim could be the second most famous ride in Moab and it could easily be its best. I recommend riding it with a car to shuttle from town to the start because it saves you fifteen miles of road riding and eliminates some of the climb. From the start Porcupine Rim is a four-mile climb and an enjoyably technical eleven-mile descent. Views from the rim can be so spectacular they are disorientating. Atop the plateau you have clear vistas into the pristine desert that looks much the same as it did thousands of years earlier when the Anaszi roamed the area.
Going UP! © 2002 Curtis Bullock
The final descent of the ride you stand on begins four hundred feet about the Colorado River. The mighty river looks like a green ribbon where its life giving waters awaken the sleeping desert vegetation. This final descent is often too technical for most mortals and I would recommend walking down several gnarly spots.
After the Ride
The Utah desert can reach sweltering temperatures in midday and I recommend beginning your riding early and end before noon, however, this does not mean that you hibernate like desert rat for the day. I recommend a post ride brew, burger, and billiards at Eddie McStiff’s. They serve real beer with real alcohol and you usually don’t have to get entangled in Utah ’s complex liquor laws if you order food. It’s pretty easy to listen to the sign on the wall and get “McStiffed” on their fine brews, but you still have some driving to do.
After waiting out the midday heat with cool brew you should hit the road to one of the nearby national parks. Arches National Park lies just a few miles from town and offers hundreds of natural arches spanning from three feet to over three hundred feet. Taking a few hours to drive the park and hike several short trails to the various arches is recommended, however, you should save the end of the day for Delicate Arch. It is on the Utah license plates and a perfect place to watch the sunset. When orange sunset turns to the delicate purple of early evening you understand the innate spirituality of the desert.
Going DOWN! © 2002 Curtis Bullock
Bikes: Hauling a bike all the way out into the Utah desert is not always easy. Luckily, Moab has plenty of bike shops to help you out, however, I recommend Poison Spider at 497 North Main Street. They rent great rides at reasonable prices and even give you a free water bottle. The helpful folks at the shop have helped me with some free repairs and even looked the other way when I’ve brought back bikes in bad shape.
The Slickrock Trail is located in the state run Sand Flats Recreation area and for a $8.00 fee you can camp at one of its one hundred-five improved campsites.
Spring and fall are probably the best time to visit Moab because miss summer heat and winters still get chilly. A great time to visit is around Halloween as the world famous Moab Fat Tire Festival gets underway with night rides, parties, and contests. Learn more at moabfattirefest.com.
BLM campsites line US 128 and have a $10 use fee, however, these sites are often full in the high season.
Readers have commented on this article:
I just wanted to say that my girlfriend and I spent four days in Moab biking. We came all the way from Windsor Ontario Canada just across the river from Detroit Michigan. We flew our bikes there and had the rides of our lives. The Bike shops were fantastic and very helpful.
The trails were everything we imagined and more. I plan on going back very soon and encourage anyone who likes mountain biking to go..... it is the Mecca, no doubt about it!!!!
Dan from Windsor Ont.
I just wanted to say that I love the article, Mountain Biking in Moab, Utah. I have always wanted to go there being from Denver and I definitely think I'm going to take a trip this spring as recommended. I love the fact a bike shop was recommended as not to haul your bike and other things to do other than making it a trip just about mountain biking, but so many other things to do as well. Thanks for posting the article!!!
Jenny from Denver
The article I read regarding Moab and the high points was excellent!! I appreciated the helpful hints and feel the writer had a good basis from past experience! Thanks for the excellent article!
Suzanne from BC
Not a bad break down. We are planning a tri p this spring, I will be taking this with me.
Greg from Denver
I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed reading this article. I've been to Moab before and thought this was a highly informative and descriptive piece. Well done!
Lindsay from NYC