The 9 Best Winter Mountain Biking Destinations in the Southwest

By Mamatus (Own work)
By Mamatus (Own work)

While the Southeastern US is a popular mountain bike getaway for northeasterners and midwesterners during the dead of winter, riders in the northern rockies need an escape, too! Thankfully, the desert Southwest is flush with epic destinations that receive very little–or no–snow.

For the purposes of this list, I stuck to destinations in the two darkest zones of the map above, meaning that these destinations receive less than 12 inches of snow annually. The locations below are organized below from north to south, based on latitude.

Moab, UT: 38.57° Latitude

Dry slickrock in the foreground on Captain Ahab, the snow-capped La Sal mountains in the background--perfect winter mountain biking! Photo: Heysockmonkey
Dry slickrock in the foreground on Captain Ahab, the snow-capped La Sal mountains in the background–perfect winter mountain biking! Photo: Heysockmonkey

While the map above might lead you to believe that Moab gets plastered with 12-24″ (or more) of snow each year, it’s worth noting that that map isn’t entirely accurate. In fact, Moab receives an average of 10 inches of the white fluffy stuff, coming in below our 12″ threshold with room to spare. However, extremes reign in the desert, with the average low in January a mere 18 degrees and the average high, 42. However, temps warm up fast with an average low of 25 in February and a high of 51, and highs in March into the 60s

Many riders have begun singing the praises of Fruita and Grand Junction over Moab, but Fruita misses our list with over 13″ of snow annually, and Grand Junction just down the road is nowhere close, with over two feet! So while the riding is pretty fantastic on the Colorado Western Slope, Moab still reigns supreme for winter riding.

And the trails? Well, really, does Moab need an introduction? Moab is featured prominently in our list of the Top 10 Destinations in North America, and it’s not likely to lose its spot anytime soon. Low elevation classics such as Slickrock, the Amasa Back Area, and many more should be good to go all year, but the upper elevations of The Whole Enchilada get buried in snow and are only rideable during the summer. However, you can still access Porcupine Rim any month of the year.

San Jose, CA: 37.34° Latitude

Demo Forest. Photo: Justin70 Rider: AnnieG Trail: Ridge trail
Demo Forest. Photo: Justin70 Rider: AnnieG Trail: Ridge trail

The average snowfall in San Jose is a massive 0.0″. Ahh, now we’re talking winter getaway! Factor in January lows of 42 and highs of 58, with temps warming into February, and there is no reason not to ride dry dirt all year round here.

While nearby oceanside destinations like Santa Cruz might get all the love, I’d argue that you’re actually much more centrally located to all of the best riding if you base out of San Jose. You can easily drive over the mountains in about an hour and hit the UCSC trails in Santa Cruz, but the creme de la creme, Demo Forest, is actually on the San Jose side–about halfway in between. Finally, factor in the easy access up into the peninsula and all the fantastic riding there, such as El Corte De Madera, and really, it’s a no-brainer.

St. George, UT: 37.1° Latitude

Trail: Guacamole Mesa. Photo: mcreel
Trail: Guacamole Mesa. Photo: mcreel

St. George averages a meager 3″ of snow per year, with reasonable January temps of 26 (low) and 54 (high). And with epic scenery into Zion National Park as well as fantastic singletrack to mountain bike, St. George should feature highly in your list of possible places to visit this winter!

The iconic Gooseberry Mesa is a must-do in this region, but don’t leave out other lesser-known rides like the J.E.M. Trails, Zen Trail, Guacamole Mesa, and much more!

Las Vegas, NV: 36.12° Latitude

Bootleg Canyon. Rider: Aaron Chamberlain. Photo: Greg Heil.
Bootleg Canyon. Rider: Aaron Chamberlain. Photo: Greg Heil.

Now, I’m not usually one to promote Vegas for… well, any reason whatsoever, but desperate times call for desperate measures. With 0 inches of snow annually, an average low in January of 34 and an average high of 58, Vegas could actually be a great escape for winter MTB snowbirds. Add in the cheap flights from just about anywhere, cheap casino lodging, and finally trails that are actually quite accessible from town, Vegas may just be one of the more convenient winter getaways for folks who aren’t close enough to the Southwest to drive. And no one says you have to spend your vacation gambling on the strip.

Bootleg Canyon is by far the most renowned trail in the region, and while I wouldn’t call it world-class, it’ll provide at least a day or two of mountain biking. Add in other trails in the area, including Blue Diamond, Badger Pass, and more, and Sin City might just be the destination for your next mountain bike getaway.

Albuquerque, NM: 35.11° Latitude

White Mesa. Photo: Jerry Hazard
White Mesa. Photo: Jerry Hazard

While Albuquerque does receive some snow during the winter, at a bit less than 10″ annually it sneaks in under the wire for this list. Also, January lows of 23 degrees can still feel chilly in the morning, but with temps generally warming up to about 47 degrees by the afternoon, that’s a massive improvement over, say, Alberta.

And the riding? Fantastic. Yes, really. In case you missed it, we featured ABQ prominently on our list of the Top 10 Mountain Bike Cities in North America, along with several other cities on this winter list: San Jose and Phoenix. All of these spots are home to fantastic riding.

While some of the best-known rides around town might get snowed in in the winter, like the 10k trail, other low elevation haunts like the White Mesa Trail SystemSandia Mountains Foothills trails, Ellena Gallegos Open Space, and many more are generally good to go.

Sedona, AZ: 34.86° Latitude

"Riding the newly-legalized Sketch Trail in Sedona, Arizona." Rider: Amber Halvorson / @peacelovebicycles Photo: Matt Mcfee / Hermosa Tours
“Riding the newly-legalized Sketch Trail in Sedona, Arizona.” Rider: Amber Halvorson / @peacelovebicycles Photo: Matt Mcfee / Hermosa Tours

Yet another showing from our Top 10 Destinations list, Sedona does receive some snow–3.5″ annually–but the locals get outraged on the roughly two days a year when they can’t wear flip flops. Generally, riding here is a safe bet all winter long, with average low temps in January just under freezing at 31 degrees, and average highs of 56.

What can be said about Sedona riding that hasn’t already been written? Oh yes, how about the fact that the locals keep building and legalizing new singletrack all around the valley at a near-breakneck speed? If you rode in Sedona last winter, I can guarantee you there’s new (legal) singletrack to be ridden this winter. For example, check out the new Sketch Trail, pictured above.

Other Sedona classics that you can’t miss include Hangover, Hiline, and the Hogs.

Laguna Beach, CA: 33.53° Latitude

Mount Lowe. Photo: mreusser
Mount Lowe. Photo: mreusser

As you can probably guess from the name, Laguna Beach is located right on the Pacific in sunny Southern California. Again, probably guessed it, but annual snowfall is 0.0″, and January average lows are 43, with highs of 65.

You can find endless riding directly from Laguna Beach that requires no driving, such as Aliso and Wood Canyons and Laguna Coast Wilderness Park. However, there’s way more to ride than just those two well-known jaunts, and you can easily access all of the incredible riding in Orange County, such as The Luge and Whiting Ranch. Want to log a legit shuttle run in the mountains? Drive just a bit further north toward Pasadena and hit Mount Lowe.

Phoenix, AZ: 33.45° Latitude

Hawes Loop. Photo: 29er4ever
Hawes Loop. Photo: 29er4ever

Again clocking in with 0″ of snow, Phoenix is one of the warmest spots on this list, with average lows in January of 43, highs of 67, but temps warming considerably into February with 71/46 averages.

Phoenix is so flush with trails that I couldn’t possibly list them all, but to get you started, begin by riding at South Mountain park, head on over to McDowell next, and then consider Hawes Loop or the Sonoran Trail.

Tucson, AZ: 32.22° Latitude

50-Year Trail. Photo: ProjektRoam
50-Year Trail. Photo: ProjektRoam

The furthest-south location on this list, riding in Tucson is almost as good as riding in Mexico. With about 1″ of annual snowfall per year, and average lows in February of 38 and average highs of 66, they might as well not get any snow at all.

By far the best-known trail in Tucson is the 50-Year Trail, with Sweetwater Preserve, Fantasy Island, portions of the Arizona Trail, and Rail X Ranch also ranking highly–and there’s so much more exploring to be done!

It is worth noting that plenty of folks do venture to Mexico to ride during the winter. There’s plenty of mountainous singletrack to explore, especially in the Baja Peninsula, but for this list we chose to stick with the United States. However, if you want to take your MTB winter getaway to the next level, consider heading south of the border!

Feeling extra adventurous? Head all the way to the Southern Hemisphere and consider destinations such as Chile, Patagonia, Argentina, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa… the list goes on and on!

So what about you? Where are you heading to ride this winter?

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