If you’re heading from greater Los Angeles to interior Canada, then I-15 is your ticket. Heck, even if you don’t have a need to travel that direction, you may just want to use the highway to string together some great mountain bike trails. This North-South interstate route dishes up an exceptional treasure trove of singletrack riches.
1st Stop: Bootleg Canyon, Nevada
I-15 Exit: 27. Trailhead distance from exit: 23 miles
Las Vegas is so much more than just Sin City. Not far from town you can get your rocks off not at some “ranch,” but rather at a magnificent mound of singletrack. Bootleg Canyon, just above the town of Boulder City, truly has something for everyone from mild-mannered cross country routes to tough climbs and more challenging, rocky technical all-mountain routes up to full on, big travel and armor-demanding downhill runs. If you crave the latter, bring a shuttle driver or come on a weekend when the local bike shop runs shuttles at $5 a pop. This is cheaper and more satisfying entertainment than you’ll find anywhere in Vegas.
2nd Stop: Zen Trail, Utah
I-15 Exit: 5. Trailhead distance from exit: 3.5 miles
This is one of St. George’s newer routes, but no less excellent than any of the classic rides in the area. You’ll get a good workout as you make the steady climb up the butte, then you’ll face a variety of technical challenges as you traverse the upper rim. Lastly, you’ll get a rippin’ good downhill with everything from fast and furious to slow technical to big rollers that will test your nerve.
3rd Stop: Thunder Mountain, Utah
I-15 Exit: 57. Trailhead distance from exit: 66 miles. But, if you continue north and reenter I-15 at exit 95, your total additional mileage will still only be 66 miles.
Okay, so this one lies off Highway 89 rather than I-15, but the two run parallel so this really isn’t much of a detour—and it’s more than well worth it. Thunder Mountain is possibly the most unique and scenic ride I’ve ever done—and what’s under your knobbies isn’t too shabby either. The surrounding rocks will thrill your eyes as you ride the first few miles up a paved bike path paralleling the route into Bryce Canyon National Park. Then a dirt road delivers you to a delightful subalpine singletrack through a gorgeous ponderosa pine forest. After a few pleasant miles of climbing through the woods . . . BAM! You get slapped in the face with Southwest Utah’s most amazing topography—a narrow ribbon of trail meandering through great orange rock hoodoos and traversing spines on what can be described as “riding a giant creamsicle” (in color only—the surface is perfect hardpack). This is one of very few absolute can’t-miss-rides I recommend without reservation to anybody and everybody who is competent at turning cranks.
4th Stop: Blackhawk Trail, Utah
I-15 Exit: 248. Trailhead distance from exit: 12.8 miles
Wanna’ get away? Here’s your ride. Despite giving you 15 miles of pristine singletrack through beautiful alpine meadows and stunning aspen groves, within easy reach of I-15, this remains a seldom biked route. This is a cross-country rider’s dream.
5th Stop: Wasatch Crest, Utah
South Trailhead I-215 Exit: 6. Trailhead distance from exit: 17.4 miles
North Trailhead I-215 Exit: 4. Trailhead distance from exit (entering via the Big Water Trail): 9.3 Miles
The Wasatch Crest Trail follows the spine of the Wasatch Mountains on the eastern edge of Salt Lake City. There are numerous entry and exit points, allowing you to customize your ride to match your time and energy. Whatever route you take, the scenery from the top is fantastic and your descent will be memorable. This is one of those great backwoods resources that lies right next to a large metropolitan area—and a must ride for anyone passing through.
Ready to climb? Whether you take the Southern Skyline or the Northern Skyline Trail, you’ll face a relentless aerobic/anaerobic monster. But the scenery is excellent and once upon the ridge, you can see forever in all directions. Then, of course, you get all that descending to finish off. If you’re a real glutton, join the two for a mega-epic loop with over 5,800 vertical feet of climbing!
7th Stop: Gibson Jack/Valve House, Idaho
I-15 Exit: 63. Trailhead distance from exit: 5.2 miles
The Gibson Jack Trail can be done as an out-and-back on singletrack or as a loop with a few miles of pavement. If you take the pavement up, you can detour onto the Valve House route and turn the ride into a nice figure 8 by connecting to Gibson Jack after completing the Valve House loop. Valve House requires a couple more miles of climbing on dirt/jeep road and you need to have a sharp eye to spot the singletrack after reaching the high point. It is very sweet singletrack so it’s worth the effort.
8th Stop: Highland Continental Divide Trail, Montana
I-15 Exit: 111. Trailhead distance from exit: 8.9 miles
This is one of the more recently completed singletrack sections of the Continental Divide Trail. There’s nothing overly technical and no monster climbs or descents. But this is still a very nice trip through a beautiful Montana forest with a very backcountry feel despite its proximity to the interstate.
Most people don’t realize that Helena, Montana stands alongside any American city in terms of having both great quantity and quality of singletrack starting right at the city limits. Mt Helena has a full network of trails for all types of riders. Behind Mt Helena lies the Mt Helena Ridge with a number of approaches, so you can add some miles and an extra climb/descent along the way. Nobody finishes this ride without an ear-to-ear grin. If you’re looking for something equally appealing, but beginner friendly, try the nearby Eagle Scout Trail.
10th Stop: North Shore Trail, Montana
I-15 Exit: 280. Trailhead distance from exit: 14.6 miles
No, this is not so named due to any similarity to British Columbia’s famous North Shore. Rather, this trail follows the north shore of the Missouri River across the prairie East of Great Falls. Don’t let the word “prairie” fool you, however—there’s some challenging, rocky stuff here, some of with it serous exposure. The toughest technical move lies 50 feet directly over the river with no easy exit along the rock walls should you fall in—it’d be a long swim to the nearest portage. This is a wonderfully unique, scenic and entertaining ride, and the last real opportunity near the interstate before you hit the Canadian border.
I know there’s tons of other great riding along I-15, so these are just a few suggestions—which trails would you add to the list?