Five2Ride: 5 of the Best MTB Trails in New Mexico

photo: Bob Ward
photo: Bob Ward

Although I don’t actually live in New Mexico, I spend a great deal of time there and it has become like a second home. Thanks to a work schedule that often takes me south of the (Colorado) border, I’ve had the privilege of riding over 40 trail systems in this most underrated of mountain biking destinations. New Mexico doesn’t have world-renowned destinations like Cali, Colo, Utah, or Carolina, but it does have a surplus of stellar singletrack, awesome scenery, and a wonderful lack of crowds, even in high season.

Many may write it off as marketing hyperbole, but I think New Mexico is known as “The Land of Enchantment” for a very good reason. I didn’t see it at first, having lived in some of the most beautiful geographies in the United states. But this land of deserts and mountains, pinion and juniper, and endless Georgia O’Keefe sunsets gets under your skin. When you leave, it beckons you back. The vibe is laid back, the air is astonishingly clean, the food spectacular, and the memories impossible to forget.

As you may have guessed, there’s tons of great singletrack in such a place, and while limiting our must-ride list to 5 may not be quite as difficult as doing so for Colorado, it’s still a tough task, and many great rides will be left out.  What follows is a hopelessly incomplete list, but still a great intro by which you too can discover the wonders of “The Land of Enchantment” on a set of knobby tires.

Angel Fire Resort (Angel Fire)

Yankin' and Bankin' at Angel Fire Resort (photo: Mike C.)
Yankin’ and Bankin’ at Angel Fire Resort (photo: Mike C.)

For those in the know, Angel Fire Resort has the best lift-served riding in the Southwest. Fortunately, you need not be an armor-clad downhill gnar monster to enjoy these downhill trails. There are excellent options for the less adrenaline fueled. What’s more, the resort is also host to some excellent cross country riding. For the true long-range hammerheads, it’s possible to cruise Angel Fire and then proceed over to the South Boundary trail (see below) for a mega-epic.

“Amazing! Worth the trip, money, effort and time. This resort offers it all: a place to sleep, eat, and shred! Several options on the trails for you to pick. Lift ticket is affordable, and after a short trip to the top you can pick your poison. Smooth and fast or blasting fast with big jumps and gaps! Several challenging obstacles for you to encounter.”  -MTBCrash29

 High Desert Trails (Gallup)

The author rounds a switchback below a butte in the High Desert Trail System
The author rounds a switchback below a butte in the High Desert Trail System (photo: John Stewart)

The High Desert Trails get you out of the mountains and into the desert. Lying at the far west end of the state and almost directly below Fruita (which sits near Colorado’s eastern border), the High Desert Trails have a very Fruita-like feel to them.  There are three stacked loops of flowy desert singletrack hopping onto, off of, and all around a series of mesas, while cleverly incorporating natural features into the route. High Desert is home to the annual Dawn ’til Dusk endurance race, and makes for a far more interesting race course than most.

“Awesome trail built by mountain bikers for mountain bikers. Combo of Kokopelli and west Sedona only faster.” -J-Dogg

Otero Canyon (Tijeras)

Tunnel Canyon West Ridge
The West Ridge trail to the top of Otero Canyon is a technical climber’s paradise.

While Otero Canyon is technically nearest the tiny pueblo of Tijeras, part of its glory lies is due to being literally just minutes from the edge of New Mexico’s largest city, Albuquerque. But make no mistake, this is an awesome trail independent of accessibility; it would be worth seeking out even if it was highly remote. Also, don’t be fooled by the title; while people generally refer to riding in this area as going to Otero Canyon, the actual Otero Canyon trail is but one segment in a massive trail complex spanning the entire breadth of the Manzanita Mountains southeast of the city.

There is truly something for everyone here with big–yet entertaining–climbs, miles upon miles of cross country riding, and super sweet descents composed of everything from hero dirt hardpack to blocky rock chunk. Anybody can build a loop that will hit them right in the singletrack sweet spot.

“Otero Canyon trails are pretty awesome. There’s plenty of climbing with some climbs being easy and others being fairly technical. The good news is that once the climbing is over with there’s some amazing downhill. Because there are so many switchbacks on the downhill, it does take a while to get back down so it doesn’t just fly by.

A word of advice though: wait until the snow has melted in the area. Plenty of cliffs with downhill icy sections is a recipe for pain… or excitement if you’re into that.” -Nathanael Orona

South Boundary Trail (Taos)

Do these shorts make my aspen look big? (photo: Kyle Fisch)
Do these shorts make my aspen look big?
(photo: Kyle Fisch)

The standard 22-mile South Boundary route, usually done as a shuttle, will throw a little of everything at you. It starts with a stiff, rocky climb to over 10,700ft, then there’s some route finding for the adventurous, followed by miles of fast bench cut through a gorgeous mix of pines and aspens, and finishing with 2,600 vertical feet of gnarly plummet to the valley floor. This ride is truly epic and should be on every serious rider’s bucket list.

“This trail is as advertised. I never get sick of reading articles in magazines about this ride. Epic singletrack, epic DH, epic trail all together. Great trail in the fall with all the aspens in the area.” -Hawkeye1846

White Mesa (San Ysidro)

Some of the unique White Mesa topography (photo: Fatbike1)
Some of the unique White Mesa topography (photo: Fatbike1)

While White Mesa isn’t one of my personal favorites, I have no problem listing it as one of New Mexico’s must-rides. It is hugely popular with others, it’s ranked number one in the state here on Singletracks, and it is in one of the most unique bits of geography you’ll ever sink knobbies into. The Bureau of Land Management deserves high praise for carving these eight miles of quality singletrack out of this otherwise unused bit of land. Most riders relish hammering out the fast hardpack while passing the empty but scenic desert.

“Won’t give it an “Epic” rating, because it’s not, but it is absolutely a “Must ride” [– that] rating is fair. This is a trail where you have a sum of the parts add up to more than any single part. Beautiful scenery, unique, good trails, and remote area. If you are in the Albuquerque area, do not miss this ride!” – GBD49

As I said at the onset, five is not nearly enough for this wonderful state, so here are some quick hits on a second five to give you more options should you be fortunate enough to find yourself in the Land of Enchantment:

  • Devisadaro Loop, Taos: A killer climb like few others, but so well worth it.
  • Los Alamos County Trails, Los Alamos: Big network passing through a huge burn scar. Surreal.
  • Winsor Trail, Santa Fe: Wicked good downhill run from Santa Fe Ski Area to the city’s edge.
  • Rim Trail, Cloudcroft: Aerobic hammerfest in New Mexico’s southern mountains.
  • Golden Open Space, Golden: cool system with great scenery and no people near Albuquerque.

More information