My Top 12 Trail “Discoveries” of 2013

I had the good fortune to be able to ride 45 new (to me) trail systems in 2013. Having ridden so many trails (405 trail systems to date), one might think it would be hard to find as-yet untracked venues worthy of a visit. But there are so many great trails out there that I …

I had the good fortune to be able to ride 45 new (to me) trail systems in 2013. Having ridden so many trails (405 trail systems to date), one might think it would be hard to find as-yet untracked venues worthy of a visit. But there are so many great trails out there that I could ride another 45 new trails every year until I turn 100 and still not exhaust the possibilities!

Here’s a dirty dozen destined for my personal pantheon of trail greatness, first experienced in 2013. Two are old standbys in the biking world, five are up-and-comers, and five will likely remain obscure, despite their greatness.

The Old Standbys:

Shredding the Geronimo downhill on Phoenix's South Mountain

1. South Mountain, Phoenix, AZ

Easily in my all-time top five for technical challenge, this one is also tons of fun if you’re up to the challenge. Its location within the city of Phoenix and accessibility just add to this trail’s stature.

How does seven continuous miles of this sound?

2. Greens Creek, SalidaCO

This alternate line off the famed Monarch Crest plunges over 3,000 vertical feet over seven miles through deep, dark forests, over narrow, rocky, rooty tread. You may feel the need to look over your shoulder for orcs, but you’ll need to keep every bit of your focus on the trail.

The Up-and-Comers:

The Highline Trail is awesome on many levels

3. Highline, Sedona, AZ

This relatively-new addition to the Templeton/Baldwin area in the shadow of magnificent Cathedral Rock on Sedona’s southwest side pegs the meter for technicality, scenery and, most importantly, fun. Sedona’s best loop just got better.

A perfect example of the confidence-building techy bits on the Chuckwagon Trail

4. Chuckwagon, Sedona, AZ

Unlike Highline above, this newest addition to Sedona’s official trail list is intermediate heaven. The trail abounds with moderate technical challenges, which will build the skills and boost the confidence of improving riders… without them even realizing it since they’ll be having so much fun enjoying the amazing Sedona backcountry scenery (which is usually reserved for more accomplished riders). It’s so much fun, you’ll want to extend your ride by continuing on the adjacent–and equally excellent–Mescal and Aerie trails.

Sweet Sonoran singletrack at the base of the Superstition Wilderness in Gold Canyon

5. Gold Canyon, Gold Canyon, AZ

Anyone who thinks deserts lack natural beauty, or even fauna, needs to ride here. The variety of desert plant life is astonishing, and the backdrop provided by the Superstition Mountain Wilderness is gorgeous. Rounding out the total package is a well-designed and varied trail network worthy of this grandeur.

One of the entrances to the Hardscrabble Mountain trail network (Singletracks photo by Jeff)

6. Hardscrabble Mountain, Eagle, CO

Eagle is making a strong push to join Colorado’s already distinguished list of mountain bike destinations. In recent years, the Boneyard has gained popularity, and now, it’s time for Hardscrabble Mountain to enjoy similar popularity. This broad, round-topped mountain has over 50 miles of singletrack and doubletrack with dozens of worthwhile routes. While the “World’s Greatest” trail is a bit over-named, it remains an excellent downhill, and the climb up Abrams Ridge will delight any hammerhead.

One of the overlooks along the Palisade Rim

7. Palisade RimPalisade, CO

While this trail sits just east of the town of Palisade, it’s close enough to Fruita to be part of the itinerary for any Fruita trip. The trailhead is literally within a stone’s throw of I-70, yet the trail itself quickly ascends to the top of the near-vertical rock face on one of the most challenging climbs you may ever face. Once on top, two loops await to entertain you with rocks, exposure, views, and lastly, the exceptional descent back down that vicious climb you started with.

The Obscure Ones

Great climb in great scenery in the Red Fleet trails--all that remains is the great descent!

8. Red Fleet, Vernal, UT

I call this the ride that has it all: tough climbs, joyous descents, fast and flowy, rough and technical, and jaw-dropping scenery, all in equal measure. Most riders will love every last mile of this trail network, and every rider will love at least part of it. Combine the outer trails into a large loop and ride clockwise for best results. Vernal’s just not on the way to or from anything, so despite having a few destination-worthy trail networks, this northern Utah town will remain out of the way.

Looks innocuous enough, but 4,000 verts of climbing await on the Bangtail Divide--don't worry, it'll be worth it

9. Bangtail Divide, Bozeman, MT

Start by climbing 4,000 verts, ride the length of the Bangtail Ridge, alternating between beautiful woodlands and open meadows with 360 degree views of surrounding mountain ranges, then plummet down the other side. Either shuttle, or close the loop with eight miles of pavement.

It's hard to find fault with the Faulty Trail

10. Faulty Trail, Cedar Crest, NM

Lying on the backside of the Sandia Mountains east of Albuquerque is a superb, challenging network anchored by the Faulty Trail. This trail is well-known in New Mexico, but unheard of outside it. Despite its excellence, it’s one of the less-ridden trails in the area, since it’s no longer doable as a loop due to curtailed access across private property. Even so, this one is well-worth a go if you’re looking for lots of adventure and few people.

11. Guaje Ridge, Los Alamos, NM

Los Alamos had the potential to become a major mountain biking destination until a massive wildfire ravaged the area. While having an uncontrollable fire approach one of our national nuclear laboratories is somewhat disconcerting, the loss of precious singletrack is positively depressing. Despite the carnage, the Guaje Ridge route remains an exceptional ride. While some of the route traverses sandy ruins, much of the trail remains high quality, and a rider can view both the effects of the fire as well as the natural process of recovery.

Enjoying part of the descent on the "Ridge of Doom" at Jumbo Mountain

12. Jumbo Mountain, Paonia, CO

Mtbikerchick put this on her wish list for 2014, and with good reason. If it was anywhere near a population center, Jumbo would be a famous destination. While Jumbo isn’t the biggest mountain in Colorado, it’s big enough to give your lungs, legs, and stamina a test. The fauna is classic southwest Pinon and Pine—imagine Phil’s World tilted on an angle and you start to get the idea.

Honorable Mentions

While the following five are not necessarily among my all-time greats, I would be remiss in not mentioning them, as they were very pleasant surprises and are worthy of any rider’s knobbies.

Rocks and vertical relief abound at Palo Duro Canyon . . . in Texas!

Palo Duro Canyon, Canyon, TX

The second-biggest canyon in America has some excellent singletrack.

Kansas rocks at Fancy Creek

Fancy Creek, Manhattan, KS

Rocky in the extreme, continually challenging, and in northeast Kansas!

Jumping Cholla at Fantasy Island (Singletracks photo by AK Dan)

Fantasy Island, Tucson, AZ

Mostly flat, with little more than some sandy washes for vertical relief, this one is super swoopy and fast. Do you have the guts to play chicken with the cholla?

Great ridge top cruising on the Telegraph Trails

Telegraph Trails, Durango, CO

With the surrounding San Juan mountains harboring some of the most epic rides on the planet, why would anyone ride here? Because this is an excellent trail network, that’s why. In this case, accessibility is not a sign of inferiority.

Flowy tread on the Haymeadow race course in Eagle, CO

Haymeadow, Eagle, CO

Specifically constructed as the Colorado NICA championship course, this is also a wicked-fun 5-miler.

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Your Turn: What awesome trails did you “discover” in 2013? Share them in the comments section below!