Mountain Bike Great Fall/Winter/Spring Destinations

Mountain Bike Destinations, Great Fall/Winter/Spring

As someone who spends 12 months a year traveling the world coaching mountain biking, mountain biking and racing I have my favorite spots! I will start with the continental United States and deep winter (Mid-December through Feb.). When 90% of the country is freezing there are a few spots I love to ride in.

The number 1 spot is actually Phoenix, AZ! Before you judge let me tell you about mountain biking in Phoenix, it is incredible. Phoenix is by far the best big city in the country for mountain biking. In Phoenix (not off in distant suburbs) are two great riding areas and one pretty decent mountain biking area. When you add in the suburbs, Scottsdale, Mesa, Cave Creek, Glendale and Black Canyon you could ride for over a month and never repeat a trail (but that would be lame because the trails are so good you will want to repeat them). They don’t have daylight savings  time in Arizona so the sun sets a 5:30 on the shortest days of the year and the winter weather is amazing, warm (mid 60′s are the average high temps in the coldest month of the year, January)  and sunny. If it does rain it just makes for better riding as the rain makes the mountain bike trails tacky and fast.

Coaching World Champ Ross Schnell at South Mountain, Jan. 2010

We will start with South Mountain. At over 16,000 acres (for comparison Vail Resort is the largest single mountain ski resort in the US at 5,289 acres) and over a thousand vertical feet it has great trails for advanced beginners to pros. South Mountain is my favorite place to ride in Phoenix as it has some of the rockiest, most challenging trails in the country that always keep me on my toes. They claim 51 miles of trails but I bet there are double that if you include the super challenging ones like Old Man Trail.  Despite being in the city of Phoenix South Mountain is never that crowded as Phoenix does seem to the most outdoorsy city (this mountain would be mobbed if it was in Denver or Salt Lake City). South Mountain also has great views in all directions and cool cacti everywhere.

Next is the Dreamy Draw/Trail 100/Camel Back/Phoenix Mountain area (locals will use any of those 4 names to describe the area). Although not as big as South Mountain the terrain is pretty similar with fun, flowy, flatter trails and very steep and technical trails. A very fun and underrated area to ride.

Right between Phoenix and Tempe is Papago Park which doesn’t have the elevation or size of the other parks but has some fun flowy trails scattered about as well as a little free-ride jump area.

For great camping and fun advanced beginner/intermediate trails check out McDowell Park. There is $6 day use fee but the trail head has a shower! The main mountain bike focus trails are short loops with a lot of fun corners and dips. Not as challenging as South Mountain but very fun if you crank the speed up a bit. They also have trails that can be linked to form epic rides including the punishing Quadruple Bypass ride that some sadistic locals enjoy.

Sport Loop at McDowell, Jan. 2010 Camp

North of Phoenix off of I-17 is the Black Canyon Trail which has several trail heads and will one day go from Flagstaff to Tucson. It has quite a few fun sections all not far from I-17.

My number 2 Spot for deep winter mountain biking is a tie between Tucson, AZ and Sedona, AZ.  Tuscon has warmer weather and better night life while Sedona has a lifetime of great trails and incredible scenery but colder weather (usually about 10 degrees colder than Phoenix or Tucson). Both Tuscon and Sedona are also less than 2 hours from Phoenix making it easy to hit all three in a week.

My number 3 spot for deep winter mountain biking in the continental US is Boulder City, NV. Boulder City has the famous Bootleg Canyon mountain bike park (known for it’s challenging downhill trails but it also has some fantastic cross country trails). Visit the most well stocked bike shop I have ever seen, All Mountain Cyclery for advice on trails to ride and any upgrades you are seeking. It is also 20 miles from the Las Vegas airport and 30ish miles from the great “Cottonwood Trails” Southwest of Vegas.

Joey Schusler railing a turn at Bootleg Canyon, March 2007 Camp

For late fall and late winter riding (Mid-November through December and mid-February through April) all of the above are great with Sedona and Boulder City warming up quite a bit.

Other favorite late fall and late winter destinations are Austin, TX, Albuquerque, NM, Saint George/Hurricane, UT and most of California.

Austin has friendly people, great music and really good trails. No huge elevation gains or losses but fun flowy trails at Walnut Creek (with a great pump track), one of the most technical trails I ever ridden at City Park and fun trails you can ride right from downtown in the Green Belt. Some famous road racer lives in Austin too!

Albuquerque has trail options in many different environments. Check out White Mesa for cool desert canyon singletrack and Sandia Peak for high alpine wooded singletrack. Be sure to stop in Bike Works for local trail advice.

Saint George/Hurricane, UT is home to the famous Gooseberry Mesa Trail as well as many less famous but very fun trails. Great high desert riding from singletrack to Red Bull Rampage jumps and drops. Say hi to Quinten and DJ at Over The Edge in Hurricane and they can update you on trail conditions and recommend rides.

Although the late winter can be the rainy season in California there are good trails from San Diego all the way to Oregon there. Do some research online before heading out to California. My favorite areas inland San Diego (Nobel Canyon area), the Laguna Hills, the Santa Monica Mountains, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Santa Cruz (I haven’t explored much North of their yet).

I have purposely left out a lot of great trails and areas near those above as we live in a big, beautiful country, go out and explore! If you have a favorite winter spot or two tell us about them!

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4 replies
  1. Larry Placido says:

    Hey Gene,
    The weather in Northern CA has been rather good. The trails here in the Bay Area have held up with what little rain that has come through here.

    Just north of the Santa Cruz area a little ways, there are a ton of great riding areas, especially at Skeggs Point (El Corte de Madera Preserve). Go to the East Bay, there is Mount Diablo, Black Diamond, etc. Just north of San Francisco is Mount Tam, Camp Tamarancho, etc.

    So yeah, the riding here in the Bay Area is plentiful and diverse. A little of everything to challenge a rider. The only thing we really don’t have here is downhill. But go farther up North you can find that at Lake Tahoe (Northstar) or Downieville, to name a few.

    Cheers!
    Larry

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Thanks Larry! I have heard of a few of those rides, will have to check them out next time I visit my brother in San Jose.

      Reply
  2. Kris says:

    Great article! I saw you only mentioned late fall and late winter. How are these destinations mid winter? I’m trying to get out and ride all winter long this year :)

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Kris, the best mid winter destination is Phoenix as there is no daylight savings time so the sun sets around 5:30 on the shortest days and hit will have the warmest weather. All the other ones could be good to, it just depends the week. I have seen high 60′s at Bootleg canyon, Sedona and Tucson in January and I have seen it snow in all those places in Jan.

      Create a great trip,

      Gene

      Reply

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