The first mountain bikes came to Moab in 1982, when they were used to herd cattle. That didn't work out too well, but within a decade or so, Moab had become the West's most noted mountain bike destination.
In addition to riding the famed and challenging slickrock trails (slickrock is the exposed sandstone that composes much of the land's surface here) that wind through astonishing desert landscapes, cyclists can pedal through alpine meadows in the La Sal Mountains or take nearly abandoned four-wheel-drive tracks into the surrounding backcountry.
Beware: The most famous trails—like the Slickrock Bike Trail—are not for beginners. Other trails are better matched to the skills of novices.
It's a good idea to read up on Moab-area trails before planning a trip here (heaps of books and pamphlets are available). You can also hire an outfitter to teach you the special skills needed to mountain bike in slickrock country or join a guided tour. The Moab Information Center's website (www.discovermoab.com) also has good information about bike trails.
Most people come to Moab to mountain bike between mid-March and late May, and then again in the fall, from mid-September to the end of October. Unless you are an early riser, summer is simply too hot for extended bike touring in these desert canyons. Be prepared for crowds, especially in mid-March, during spring break. The Slickrock Trail alone has been known to attract more than 150,000 riders per year.
If you've never biked on slickrock or in the desert, here are a few basic guidelines. Take care if venturing off a trail—it's a long way down some of the sheer cliff faces! A trail's steep slopes and sharp turns can be tricky, so a helmet is a must. Knee pads and riding gloves also protect from scrapes and bruises. Fat bald tires work best on the rock; partially deflated knobby tires do almost as well. Carry plenty of water—one gallon in summer, half a gallon in cooler months. Tiny plant associations, which live in fragile cryptobiotic soil, don't want you tearing through their homes; stay on the rock and avoid sandy areas.
MOAB Brand Trails
Four interconnected loops—Bar-M, Circle O, Rockin' A, and Bar B—form this newer trail system (totaling 11 miles) that's good for beginners or riders who are new to slickrock. The seven-mile Bar-M loop is easy and makes a good family ride, though you might share the trail with motor vehicles; try Circle O (3 miles, no motor vehicles) for a good initiation to slickrock riding. To reach the trailhead, head about eight miles north of town on U.S. 191 to the Bar-M Chuckwagon and park at the south end of their private lot.
Slickrock Bike Trail
Undulating slickrock just east of Moab challenges even the best mountain bike riders; this is not an area in which to learn riding skills. Originally, motorcyclists laid out this route, although now most riders rely on leg and lung power. The 2.2-mile practice loop near the beginning allows first-time visitors a chance to get a feel for the slickrock.
The "trail" consists only of painted white lines. Riders following it have less chance of getting lost or finding themselves in hazardous areas. Plan on about five hours to do the 9.6-mile main loop, and expect to do some walking.
Side trails lead to viewpoints overlooking Moab, the Colorado River, and arms of Negro Bill Canyon. Panoramas of the surrounding canyon country and the La Sal Mountains add to the pleasure of biking.
To reach the trailhead from Main Street in Moab, turn east and go 0.4 mile on 300 South, turn right and go 0.1 mile on 400 East, turn left (east) and go 0.5 mile on Mill Creek Drive, and then turn left and go 2.5 miles on Sand Flats Road.
Gemini Bridges (Bull Canyon) Trail
This 14-mile one-way trail passes through tremendous natural rock arches and the slickrock fins of the Wingate Formation, making this one of the most scenic of Moab-area trails; it's also one of the more moderate trails in terms of necessary skill and fitness. The trail begins 12.5 miles up Highway 313 (the access road to Dead Horse Point State Park), a total of 21 miles—all uphill—from Moab, and ends on U.S. 191 north of town, so you may want to consider a shuttle.
Several companies, including Coyote Shuttles (435/259-8656, $20), provide this service. Run in this direction, it's mostly downhill. Alternatively, a bike path parallels U.S. 191 from the Colorado River Bridge north of Moab to Highway 313.
Monitor and Merrimac Trail
A good introduction to the varied terrains of the Moab area, the 13.2-mile Monitor and Merrimac Trail also includes a trip to a dinosaur fossil bed. The trail climbs through open desert and up Usher Canyon, then explores red sandstone towers and buttes across slickrock before dropping down Mill Canyon. At the base of the canyon, you can leave your bike and hike the Mill Canyon Dinosaur Trail before completing the loop to the parking area. Reach the trailhead by traveling 15 miles north of Moab on U.S. 191 and turning west (left) onto Mill Canyon Road, just past Milepost 141.
Not every bike trail here is over slickrock; the challenging single-track Sovereign trail is good to ride in hot weather. The trail, which contains rocky technical sections, a bit of slickrock, and more flowing single-track, is shared with motorcycles. Several trailheads access this trail; a popular one is from Willow Springs Road. From Moab, travel 11 miles north on U.S. 191 and turn right onto Willow Springs Road, and then follow this sandy road 2.5 miles to the trailhead. To best see the options, pick up a map at a local bike store.
Mountain bikers have linked together a 142-mile series of back roads, paved roads, and bike trails through the magical canyons of eastern Utah and western Colorado. It's usually ridden from east to west, starting in Loma, Colorado, and passing Rabbit Valley, Cisco Boat Landing, Dewey Bridge, Fisher Valley, and Castle Valley before landing on Sand Flats Road in Moab.
Lots of optional routes, access points, and campsites allow for many possibilities. This multiday trip requires a significant amount of advance planning; www.bikerpelli.com is a good place to start this process.
Moab Bike Tours
Most of the bicycle rental shops in Moab offer day-long mountain bike excursions, while outfitters offer multiday tours that vary in price depending on the difficulty of the trail and the degree of comfort involved. The charge for these trips is usually between $125-150 per day, including food and shuttles. Be sure to inquire whether rates include bike rental.
Rim Tours (1233 S. U.S. 191, 435/259-5223 or 800/626-7335, www.rimtours.com) is a well-established local company offering several half-day (around $85 per person with two or more cyclists), full-day (around $110 with two or more cyclists), and multiday trips.
Dreamrides Mountainbike Tours (P.O. Box 1137, Moab, 435/259-6419, www.dreamride.com) is a high-end touring and bike-building business with small, customized group tours (about $225 a day and up).
Western Spirit Cycling (478 Mill Creek Dr., 435/259-8732 or 800/845-2453, www.westernspirit.com) offers mountain and road bike tours in the western United States, with about one-third in Utah. Moab-area trips include the White Rim, the Maze, and the Kokopelli Trail ($1200 for five days).
Another Moab-based company with tours all over the West is Escape Adventures (operated out of Moab Cyclery, 391 S. Main St., 435/259-7423 or 800/559-1978, www.escapeadventures.com), which leads multiday mountain bike trips, including one into the remote Maze section of Canyonlands National Park ($1270 for five days); some of the tours combine cycling with rafting, climbing, and hiking.
Moab Bike Rentals
Rim Cyclery (94 West 100 North, 435/259-5333 or 888/304-8219, www.rimcyclery.com) is Moab's oldest bike and outdoor gear store, offering both road and mountain bike sales, rentals, and service.
Mountain bike rentals are also available at Poison Spider Bicycles (497 N. Main St., 435/259-7882 or 800/635-1792, www.poisonspiderbicycles.com) and Chile Pepper (702 S. Main St., 435/259-4688 or 888/677-4688, www.chilebikes.com). Expect to pay about $40-60 per day to rent a mountain bike and a little less for a road bike.
Many mountain bike trails are essentially one-way, and unless you want to cycle back the way you came, you'll need to arrange a shuttle service to pick you up and bring you back to Moab or your vehicle. Also, if you don't have a vehicle or a bike rack, you will need to use a shuttle service to get to more distant trailheads.
Coyote Shuttle (435/259-8656, www.coyoteshuttle.com) and Roadrunner Shuttle (435/259-9402, www.roadrunnershuttle.com) both operate shuttle services; depending on distance, the usual fare runs $15-25 per person. Both companies also shuttle hikers to trailheads or pick up rafters.
© W.C. McRae and Judy Jewell from Moon Utah, 9th Edition