There’s nothing like dropping your knobbies onto a new trail, and travel offers great opportunities to do so. Whenever I hit the road, I try to finagle a way to bring my bike with me. No matter what your route, there’s always a trail not too far out of the way. Our interstate highways in particular are wonderful in that they let us traverse the nation efficiently, possibly opening up some spare time for riding. Interstates and mountain biking don’t seem to naturally go together, but even on these thoroughfares, you’re never far from a ride. Here’s a look at some of the most accessible rides if you’re heading east to west on I-40.
1st Stop: Kitsuma trail, North Carolina
1-40 Exit: 64. Trailhead distance from exit: 1.5 miles
While Pisgah’s more famous blue chip rides are a bit more off the beaten path, you’re not giving up anything by picking up this trail instead. A tough 2000’ climb, a sustained, steep, rocky descent, and some road to complete the loop back to the parking lot gives you a classic Pisgah ride without putting much of a ding in your travel schedule.
2nd Stop: Union University Trail System, Tennessee
1-40 Exit: 80. Trailhead distance from exit: 1.3 miles
Tennessee doesn’t have a lot in the way of rides right off the interstate, but the intermediate-friendly, flowy trails on the west side of Union University are great for a quick fix. While there’s less than 5 miles currently available, the trails are flowy and will get you back on your way again without losing too much road time.
3rd Stop: Spadra Creek Nature Trail, Arkansas
1-40 Exit: 58. Trailhead distance from exit: 2.4 miles
A paved creekside trail connects to an additional four miles of singletrack loops. This one makes a good stop if you’ve brought junior’s bike along on the trip as well
4th Stop: Draper, Oklahoma
1-40 Exit: 169. Trailhead distance from exit: 4.4 miles
Mountain biking in Oklahoma City? Well, kind of. There’s over ten miles of singletrack here and it’s another great opportunity for bonding time with junior as there’s not much in the way of challenge or elevation change, but it’s nicely wooded and highly accessible. Since it’s right in OK City, it makes a nice before or after travel ride if you’re spending the night in tornado alley.
5th Stop: Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Texas
1-40 Exit: 70. Trailhead distance from exit: 33 miles
Okay, so 33 miles off the interstate may not be your idea of convenient, but just be glad there’s quality singletrack anywhere in the Texas panhandle—and this little gem is worth the detour. There are 25+ miles of fun and scenic trails for all ability levels in a place where you’d least expect it.
I included Tunnel Canyon in an article on mountain biking’s best climbs and I included Otero Canyon in an article on mountain biking’s best descents. What makes this so special is that you can hit them both in a single remote-feeling ride less than three miles from I-40 and still get to Albuquerque in time for a bowl of green chile and a Dos Equis before a good night’s sleep!
7th Stop: High Desert Trail System, New Mexico
1-40 Exit: 16 (or 20 for East trailhead). Trailhead distance from exit: 1.5 miles
Now, here’s some real bang for your interstate buck. Just a mile and a half from the freeway is the most excellent High Desert Trail System. There are three loops (like a figure 8 with an extra lobe) providing over 20 miles of leg-stretching singletrack.
8th Stop: Mt Elden, Arizona
1-40 Exit: 198 or 195. Trailhead distance from exit: 6 miles
Another interstate gem! After passing through the city of Flagstaff, you will arrive at Mt Elden, with its extensive network of outstanding singletrack including Schultz Creek and too many connections to count. It’s all here; quad-searing climbs (that already start at a tough 7,000 feet), long, speedy descents, rocky technical trails and buff, pine-needle covered routes. You can ride here for as little or as long as you want before completing your journey west.
Your turn: what are your favorite trails along the I-40 corridor?