Riding the Interstate: The I-40 Road Trip Edition

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.

Sweet Kitsuma singletrack lies close to I-40 in the Tarheel State (Singletracks photo by dcinraleigh)

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.

Gully berms in the Union University Trails (Singletracks photo by kennethjensen82)

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.

One of the features on the Spadra Creek Nature Trails (Singletracks photo by 1X7Heaven)

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

Family-friendly singletrack in Oklahoma City (Singletracks photo by RoadWarrior)

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.

Yes, Virginia, there is singletrack in the Texas Panhandle (Singletracks photo by RoadWarrior)

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.

Some of the techy climb from Tunnel Canyon to Otero Canyon

6th Stop: Tunnel Canyon and Otero Canyon, New Mexico
1-40 Exit: 175. Trailhead distance from exit: 2.6 miles

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!

Looking down on some sweet High Desert singletrack

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.

Mt Elden extends its invitation for you to ride countless miles of gorgeous singletrack (Singletracks photo by mtbgreg1)

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?

Related posts:

  1. Riding the Interstate: The I-15 Road Trip Edition
  2. Riding the Interstate: The I-70 Road Trip Edition
  3. Mountain Biking the Interstate: The I-25 Road Trip Edition
  4. The Great Western Road Trip, 2012: Recap
  5. How To Plan the Perfect MTB Road Trip

12 thoughts on “Riding the Interstate: The I-40 Road Trip Edition

  1. Tremendous write up. One of my favorite things to do is travel. Sometimes specifically for mountain biking. But when that isn’t possible I like to bring the bike and squeeze in a ride. Love that you included the distance from the interstate. It’s possible to travel hundreds of miles on the interstate in the same time it takes to go a fraction of that on local roads.

  2. I’ve heard good things about the Blue Clay Road trails in Wilmington, NC, just a stone’s throw from the eastern end of I-40. Looking at the map there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of singletrack on the western end of I-40; I guess that’s because it’s pretty much the Mojave Desert. :)

  3. Very cool write up. I make an annual trek on I-40 from VA to Little Rock, AR each year to visit family. The last few years I have taken my bike to ride the local LR trails. Now I’ll be plotting and planning how to include these in our trip. As far as LR goes, the Burns Park trail system is only a couple minutes off of I-40 making it easy to get in a few fun miles if passing through.

  4. Excellent write up. I would agree with the above…as far as Arkansas, there are three excellent trail systems right off of I-40 in Little Rock and North Little Rock: Burns Park, Allsop Park, and Camp Robinson. Some other favorite interstate rides in other states: Ocala/Santos off I-75 in Florida, Oak Mountain off I-65 in Birmingham, Blankets Creek off I-75 in Atlanta, Apex/Chimney Gulch off of I-70 in Denver, Coldwater Mountain off I-20 in Alabama, 18 Road in Fruita off I-70, and Tanasi off I-75 in Tennessee. What a great country we live in!!

    • I suspect skibum has a few more Interstate editions in store for us… But I’d add the Pinhoti Trail off I-75 and Switchgrass off I-70. Heck, you could probably spend an entire summer just riding the trails near I-70 in Colorado/Utah. :)

      • **for some reason I’m not finding the “comment” button for the post but can reply to cements**
        Awesome. It would be neat to have locations sorted by interstate route, and I love the way it’s done here.
        I haven’t ridden any of these but a couple were on my list and TX East they all are now.
        There’s more trail right in OK C close to secondary freeway rt 74 which is supper cool that I’ve done.http://www.singletracks.com/bike-trails/bluff-creek-trail.html
        I’ve also got the Little Rock ones on the list.
        As far as other Inst hwys not mentioned, Off 80 ext 199, about 5 miles, I liked the interesting Potters Pasture. http://www.singletracks.com/bike-trails/potters-pastures.html Have MTB will travel :D

      • Indeed, more to come. It would be easy to do multiple articles on just Colorado alone, but the I-70 edition will continue the pattern of keeping some spacing and balancing out geography. I’ll do my best to hit the high points in each area. Interestingly, most of the stuff in Utah is far enough off the interstate to be a stretch for this type of criteria.

  5. Add to the I-40 list, Hamilton Creek Park Exit 219 in Nashville. Great well-signed loop, only 3-4 miles South of 40. Also Bent Creek in Asheville area, 20 mile plus network, about 5 mile from I-40

  6. Flagstaff is Arizonas summer riding gem as there are lots of trails on the mountain, Arizonas most beautiful and usually cool riding. To the south is Sedona and it’s many beautiful trails, to the north the scenic Grand Canyon. Rainbow Rim Trail is a long drive but it’s spectactular. There are several trails in Kingman. A network on the Hualapi Mountain and also Monolith Gardens and the Camp Beal Loop.

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