2014 is in the books and, having completed it, I have to keep telling myself, “Quality, not quantity.” Instead of hitting the 40+ new-to-me trails I normally cover in a typical year, the day job, family commitments, and the fact that I’ve now ridden most worthy locales within a day trip from home all conspired to limit me to less than 30. I did not make any trips east or north this year, limiting my travels to the four corners states. However, with the exception of Montana, these are far and away my favorite states for knobby-tired excursions. The quality of new finds was, on average, as good or better than a typical year, and I am once again blessed to have been able to turn cranks in so many wonderful places. Of my new “discoveries,” here’s the top 14 from ’14:
14. Whipple/Midland Hills, Buena Vista, CO
The Whipple Trails and Midland Hills Trails are actually two separate trail systems. Neither one is really big enough to rate a mention on their own, but since they are joined by a couple miles of old railroad grade turned nonmotorized dirt trail, I see the whole area as one big complex with marvelous scenery and a good variety of singletrack ranging from easy cruisers to techy fun.
13. Prospector/Church Rocks, St. George, UT
Accessible yet uncrowded, scenic and varied, what else could a mountain biker want? Although Church Rocks was being written up in Falcon Guides over a decade ago, it remains under the radar, which is a boon to those who hit it. It shouldn’t be your first ride in the St. George area, but once you’ve hit its more famous neighbors, this one should definitely go on your list.
12. Golden Open Space, Placitas, NM
This one was totally unexpected. The mountains above Santa Fe are stunning. The mountains above Albuquerque are magnificent. The hills between them are rather less inspiring. Nonetheless, I decided to give the off-the-beaten-path Golden Open Space a go, and was handsomely rewarded. The view from the undeveloped parking lot gives no hint of either the quality of singletrack or the unique and incredible scenery found along the trail, especially at its furthest reaches. Once again, you’re likely to get lonely on this trail, and I mean that in the best possible way.
11. Luke’s Trail, Price, UT
Luke’s Trail is actually a network of over a dozen named trails covering a surprising variety of geography in the Central Utah high desert. Locals built these trails for everybody and nobody: everybody because they are happy to share the fruits of their labor and nobody because few even visit this remote location. If you’re tired of Moab or Salt Lake crowds, detour here and have the hills to yourself.
10. 10k Trail, Albuquerque, NM
So named because it follows (roughly, it’s far from level) the 10,000ft contour on the backside of the Sandia Mountains, the 10K Trail is an excellent high altitude ride in and of itself. It also connects to many other Sandia Mountain trails, allowing for 3,000ft climbs and/or descents, a quick loop, or a totally epic day in the saddle.
9. Santa Clara Preserve, St. George, UT
The Barrel Roll trail in the Santa Clara Preserve has been on the radar for a long time, but more recent additions have made this a system worthy of any St. George visitor. Ignoring the less entertaining Barrel Roll and instead following the Sidewinder Trail will lead one to a lollipop route called Suicidal Tendencies which plummets off one mesa, flies through a valley, and climbs the next mesa before looping around and sending you back. While the name may be a bit of hyperbole, there is exposure and some challenging rock moves to be had. Overall, this one ranks high on both the fun and unique scales.
8. Sovereign Trail, Moab, UT
About a decade ago, Moab began a trail addition/expansion trend which, lucky for us, continues to this day. One of those early additions to the Moab Menu was the Sovereign Trail which provides a perfect mix of singletrack, slickrock, and stunts. It took me a decade to get there, but it was worth it and I look forward to a return trip.
7. Winsor Trail, Santa Fe, NM
Who wouldn’t like to drop 3,000 verts in under 10 miles? Although the Winsor trail starts as the base of the Santa Fe Ski Area, it’s still 3,000 feet above the city. Unless you want to pedal 17 miles up a harsh grade on a paved highway, arrange a shuttle. Mom always told me if I held my face in a position too long, it’d freeze that way. She was right; I’m still smiling.
6. Hogs Trails, Sedona, AZ
On a previous Sedona trip, I had ridden the backbone to this area–the Broken Arrow trail–which was excellent, but didn’t stand out among the area’s wealth of singletrack. With the addition of Hog Heaven, High on the Hog, and Hog Wash, this network is now on a par with Sedona’s best. It offers the same great scenery and challenge Sedona is famous for, but seems to have a more intimate feel. Maybe that’s why I saw more hikers than riders here—but don’t let that fool you; this is spectacular singletrack.
5. Devil’s Racetrack, Green River, UT
Hard to reach despite being less than a mile from I-70 (the exit is over 20 miles away and wanders through a bizarre array of sandy dirt roads before approaching the trailhead), the Devil’s Racetrack is one of those places you go if you want to ride something no one else has and yet have an awesome experience. The geologic feature that gives the trail its name is a forbidding chasm hundreds of feet deep which the trail skirts for much of its length. There is no rescue here, so bring plenty of water and a riding partner.
4. South Boundary Trail, Taos, NM
A 23 mile (or longer) epic with over 2,000 feet of climbing but over 5,000 feet of descending, the rightfully vaunted South Boundary Trail should be on everyone’s bucket list. There’s super-fast singletrack, raucous ridge tops, awesome aspens, and a final plummet that will force your butt behind your seat for miles. There’s also some tricky route finding among the crisscrossing trails and fire roads, so bring a local or a GPS.
3. Flat Pass, Moab, UT
Like many of Moab’s older routes, the Flat Pass bike route is shared with a traditional jeep track aptly known as Steelbender. Unlike Moab’s established routes, you won’t find any crowds on this one, even during the high season. Oblivious riders from all over ignore this one to their own detriment as it starts with some of Moab’s most impressive scenery and includes one of Moab’s most excellent descents, at times reminiscent of the Porcupine Rim, but without all (or even any) of the people.
2. Guacamole Trail, Hurricane, UT
On my first Hurricane trip, I fell in love with Gooseberry Mesa, declaring it my all-time favorite ride. On my second Hurricane trip, I discovered the mesa next door, Little Creek Mountain, and pondered whether it may be even better than the mighty Goose. This year, I completed the trifecta with the even-closer-to-Zion, even-more-great-variety, Guacamole Trail and its add on, Holy Guacamole. There is something new and entertaining around every one of this trails’ hundreds of bends, all with that spectacular Zion backdrop. It’s easy to get kind of lost here, but impossible to get completely lost. Ride until your heart’s content and then keep Zion on your right as you make your way back to the trailhead.
1. La Milagrosa, Tucson, AZ
This trail gets mixed reviews, but there’s no mixing in my mind. This is, hands down, my favorite new-to-me trail of 2014. Like the Winsor trail, for La MIlagrosa you need to arrange a shuttle if you don’t want to climb a couple thousand steep verts on a narrow highway. Even once at the trailhead, the first mile climb is ultra-stiff and will be largely hike-a-bike for anyone not possessed of both Lance’s lungs and Hans’s skills. But once on top, hold on, Nellie! The rockin’, raucous, rippin’ downhill takes no prisoners. Bring all you9 skills and suspension, and maybe body armor. There’s nothing truly deadly here, but the trail demands constant attention and respect. But each obstacle cleared will put a big smile on your face, especially if executed in rhythm and ready to roll into the next. Maintaining a centerline can be tricky but also necessary as the route is lined with nasty cactus ready to assault both tire and rider. Given that, there are some who don’t care much for this ride… I won’t say it is a “must ride,” but I can certainly recommend it without reservation to any aggressive, confident, and adventurous rider looking for something unique and captivating.
Your Turn: What awesome trails did you “discover” in 2014? Share them in the comments section below!