Not only is Moab the first name most cyclists think of when asked about a “mountain bike destination,” it’s also one of the first places that comes to mind for a broad variety and quantity of gnarly trails. This reputation was earned in the early days of mountain biking as intrepid cyclists would explore the as yet largely undeveloped desert, following the tracks of various motorized users and, occasionally blazing entirely new routes. These early Moab riders were hard-core, willing to face vast, forbidding, waterless, exposed landscapes without the aid of artificial power. As such the trails they blazed were generally also not for the faint of heart–or those lacking in cycling and route finding skills.
Even the area’s main draw, the famed Slickrock Trail, proved to be too much for the average rider. As Moab’s name grew, riders would make the pilgrimage from points far and wide to ride what was supposed to be the quintessential mountain bike trail, Moab’s famed Slickrock. All too often, Joe Weekend Warrior would wander out onto the steep, grippy rocks only to find himself in over his head quickly and return with bike, body, or spirit battered and ego bruised. If he was foolish enough to take a non-riding spouse or his little tyke out there with him, the difficulties only multiply. Sure, there’s nothing actually mortality-inducing on the Slickrock Trail, but it is a bit much for the new or unprepared rider.
Add in a few other super gnarly routes like Amasa Back, the Moab Rim, and the genuinely deadly Portal Trail, and Moab’s reputation as a destination for none but the skilled and/or sketchy set became entrenched. Fruita came along touting its flowy smooth singletrack at 18 Road and the uber-friendly but gorgeous and entertaining Rustler’s Loop, and less intense riders found they could have a great time without white knuckles, and usually do it with an hour and a half less drive time from points east.
Times have changed. Moab still has the lingering reputation as an experts-only destination, but they have fully put into place the trails, both quantity and quality, to begin luring more casual riders while advancing their reputation as a destination for literally every possible level of rider. At first, it was just a trail or two, meaning a destination visitor would play out his options in just a day, maybe two. But now, Moab has no less than a half dozen outstanding novice/lower-intermediate rides to keep any new or casual rider entertained for as much as a full week. What’s more, these routes usually have adjacent trails with a slightly greater degree of challenge available. If you’ve ever thought about taking a bike vacation, but thought it may not be worth it because you don’t have the skills or fitness to get the most out of it, Moab has the goods to change your mind. Here’s the best of the desert just for you.
Intrepid Trail System at Dead Horse Point State Park
The basic ride here is a relatively level, flowing, nine-mile loop (best ridden counterclockwise, but either way will do) of mostly well packed desert singletrack. Over the course of the nine miles, the rider is graced with some of the best scenery Moab has to offer with views of the LaSal mountains. About a third of the route follows the contours of the mesa’s edge, but not too close, giving the rider the best of both possible worlds: awe-inspiring views without dangerous exposure. For new riders, there will be one definite dismount, and likely a couple more, but they are short, easily navigated, and will not disrupt overall flow or enjoyment of the ride. And just in case it promises to be too much, there is a convenient bailout point just a couple miles into the route, allowing for a much shorter, four mile loop that avoids any dismounts and never nears the edge of the mesa.
Remember that non-riding spouse? This is a fine place to take him or her riding. I brought my wife, who had never once sunk knobbies into dirt, and who has no affinity for extreme sports whatsoever, to this trail–and she had a marvelous experience. She didn’t even flinch at completing the longer loop rather than taking the bailout. Making this route all the more amazing is that despite its low level of difficulty, my son and I, both advanced riders, had an excellent time as well. This route truly is a marvelous accomplishment.
Stepping it up: For the rider who hits this and is left hankering for more, either in terms of mileage or challenge, there is an even newer set of trails across the park’s access road. There are two opportunities to extend the loop and expand the ride to Dead Horse Park’s west side on yet more high quality singletrack that starts to shade from pure green circle to slightly blue square.
EZ and Lazy Loop at Moab Brands Trails
The original Moab Brands network was comprised of the basic four trails named after cattle brands which were combined to spell “MOAB” (the Bar M, Circle O, Rockin’ A, and Bar B). The original network had a beginner option, but it came mostly in the form of an uninteresting bit of dirt road or some not-so-deadly, but annoyingly ledgy rock. More recently, the EZ and Lazy trails were tucked into the front side of the network, providing newcomers an easily accessible three mile loop, with some emphasis on the fun factor for the newer rider. Generally ridden counterclockwise, the simple route starts on EZ, following it to a rather confusing intersection. At that point, it’s time to look for the left turn toward Lazy which loops back to the starting point. EZ bobs and weaves along the base of a small ridge and Lazy carries the rider back on some swoopy singletrack above. Together, they make a very pleasant little loop suitable even for young children.
Stepping it up: Miles can easily be added by heading for the “brand” named trails, but the newer singletrack is far more interesting. If completely comfortable with EZ/Lazy, the next step is to head north from the EZ starting point on the North 40 Trail and to try your hand at a little downhill on the Maverick Trail. Ride North 40 up to the Maverick exit (Maverick is one way), fork right and wrap around to the Maverick entry. While it is all downhill and somewhat steep in places, Maverick is short enough that it won’t tire a timid rider, and it makes a good place to get used to that downhill, butt-behind-the-seat riding position. If the whole Maverick thing goes well, the next step is to go back, skip Maverick, and complete the North 40 loop. This will, however, introduce a few tricky spots that will have anyone below a confident intermediate hopping off a few times, but it is easily worth it for anyone with an adventurous spirit.
Klonzo Trail System
The Klonzo network is one of Moab’s recent additions, and is heavily focused on bringing more options to the novice rider. Like Dead Horse Point’s east and west sides, Klonzo is divided by the access road into south and north sides with the southern half being aimed at novice nirvana (although upper intermediate sections do exist in the network). The glory of south Klonzo for the new rider is that it’s easy to construct a variety of loops to suit mileage desires, the road is seldom far away as a bail out option, and most loops will include a nice mix of singletrack and easy slickrock. From the eastern parking lot on Willow Springs Road, new riders can take Midway to the all-easy collection of Carousel, Gypsy, Magician, and Wizard and return once sated.
Stepping it up: Even a beginner rider is likely to quickly outgrow the Carousel, Gypsy, Magician, and Wizard collection. Fortunately, south Klonzo has much more to keep things rolling. If the big four above are exhausted, head for North Klonzo and make a loop out of Borderline, Hot Dog, and Cross Canyon. To build skills on non-threatening, slightly technical trails, add in my personal favorite, Dunestone.
Horsethief Campground Trails
The combination of Wrangler, Rowdy, and Chisholm may be the most family-friendly set of all. All three combined come in just under three miles, and there’s nary a scary thing on them. But that’s not to say they aren’t a fun ride. The trails are well designed and they are as attractive as any others you’ll find in the red desert. These are the ultimate bring-your-kids trails. Fortunately, they originate from a convenient campground, and you’ll almost always find other families with kids’ bikes in each of the designated campsites.
Stepping it up: Chisholm, which branches off of the east end of Rowdy, connects at its other end to the larger Horsethief trail system, where many more miles of top quality desert singletrack await. At the end of Chisholm, add on the three mile Mustang loop which is solid intermediate territory and rides equally well in either direction.
Monitor and Merrimac
In the old days, the Monitor and Merrimac (named for two buttes which resemble the famed ironclad ships used in the American Civil War) route was nothing but a sandy slog fest. The newer route is a five mile lollipop loop that is about half slickrock, giving the novice rider plenty of time on Moab’s signature surface. There’s still some sand, but not so much as to deter anyone. Route finding, or just getting to the trailhead isn’t always straightforward, so it’s good to be handy with a map and/or GPS. Once there, though, the combination of easy but sometimes playful rock and the great buttes makes for a nice ride.
Stepping it up: There aren’t really any alternate route options here. If you’re looking to step it up, be on the lookout for features in the rock that might be fun to roll.
Lower Klondike Bluffs
The last entry on our list of easy-but-fun Moab rides is the seemingly ever-growing Klondike Bluffs trail system. Comprised of no less than 17 individually named trails, the area could be a little confusing to the new rider, but orientation really isn’t all that difficult. Think of the network as a ladder running from southeast to northwest. The long trails are the side legs of the ladder, while there are shorter connector trails between the long legs at almost regular intervals, kind of like rungs on the ladder. The eastern leg has the more difficult trails running along the top of the Klondike bluffs. The good news for novice riders is that there are actually multiple legs on the west end running closely parallel and easily connected into a very nice novice loop. Combining Jurassic, Jasper and Agate into one leg and returning on Dino Flow makes for a great beginner ride.
Stepping it up: If the aforementioned loop leaves you wanting more, go ahead and make the hop up to the next leg, EKG (so named because its path resembles the printout from an electrocardiogram). You will step up to some intermediate riding without throwing yourself into danger or panic. If that goes well, feel free to head up top, knowing that dome dismounts may be necessary for an unskilled rider. It’s easy to rack up the miles here, so be mindful of carrying enough water and knowing your physical limits and how quickly you can get back to your car from anywhere in the network.
The whole key here is that, no matter who you are, or who you’re traveling with, you shouldn’t let Moab’s well earned reputation for advanced riding deter you. Anybody can have a great Moab experience. But beware; once you go, you’ll want to go back . . . again, and again, and again. But that’s okay; the place is guaranteed to grow with you just as it grows on you.