Just because winter weather is arriving doesn’t mean that mountain bike season is over. On the contrary, many regions in the south remain snow-free with miles of trails that are rideable year-round and just now starting to hit their prime. These areas can be hot in the summer, but in the winter, mild temperatures yield comfortable riding conditions—just make sure to check with a local bike shop or source about which trails are open and clear to ride in the winter. Red rocks in Moab, high desert in Sedona and temperate forests in Bentonville are established year-round mountain biking meccas—but chances are you’ve already heard of these popular destinations, and so has everyone else. So look a little farther off the beaten path—to Hurricane, Utah; Las Vegas, Nevada; Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona; and Brevard, North Carolina. While often overshadowed by their more popular neighbors, these places have the same great terrain, many miles of trails, and are likely to be uncrowded for riders who want to keep pedaling, long into the winter months.
Hurricane, located in the southwest corner of Utah, is an underground hub for singletrack. Its popularity has grown over the last few years, but the town and surrounding trails are still coveted as a local’s secret. Like its well-known neighbor, Moab, Hurricane boasts fun slickrock riding and mild winter temperatures in the low 50s. But the views in Hurricane include nearby Zion National Park. To soak up those sights, head to the handful of trail networks above town including Gooseberry Mesa, Guacamole and Wire Mesa. There’s also a huge variety of trails for all levels of riders. For a spin geared toward intermediate riders, check out the J.E.M. Trails. This popular network offers well-established dirt singletrack that combines great flow with mildly technical rocky sections. For those seeking an adrenaline rush, head over to Grafton Mesa. The trails here are for experienced riders who are comfortable with large drops, steep rock gardens and high-risk exposure. If you’re into IMBA Epics, the 24-mile Hurricane Rim Trail provides a smorgasbord of offerings in the area including jaw-dropping vistas, fast and flowy descents and some rocky climbs. Whatever you do, a beer and a flatbread pizza at River Rock Roasting Company (also a coffee shop) is a must. Sit on the back porch and enjoy the view.
Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona
Soaring temperatures make it almost impossible to ride in southern Arizona in summer unless you wake up at dawn to get a quick pedal in before the thermostat tops 100 degrees. But mild winter temps in the mid-to-high 60s make Phoenix and Tucson perfect destinations for winter mountain biking. Between the two cities—which are just under two hours apart—hundreds of miles of singletrack roll through a unique mix of sandy desert, rock slabs and dry dirt. In the Phoenix area, the Black Canyon Trail is a well-known 77-mile IMBA Epic that gets you out into the desert and among the cacti. It can be broken down into day-ride segments for every level of rider. The challenging trails in South Mountain are even farther off the beaten path and include the must-do National Trail and the tamer trails of McDowell Mountain Park. The 15-mile Pemberton Loop in the latter is an easy, but fun, option. Looking for great post-ride eats? The burgers at Chelsea’s Kitchen are top-notch.
In Tucson, the Full Lemmon Drop on Mount Lemmon links up several techy trails that plunge more than 9,000 feet and encompass everything from high alpine to desert floor. It’s not for the faint of heart, though, so make sure you’re up for the ride before setting out. Home Grown in Tucson will shuttle you up to the top and let you rip from there. For a mellower ride, head north to the Honeybee Canyon Loop. It’s 19 miles of relatively flat singletrack through the desert with sweeping views of the surrounding mountains. Timing your ride with sunset can make for a memorable adventure. For a hearty after-ride meal with local southwestern flavor, head to Teresa’s Mosaic Cafe.
Las Vegas, Nevada
While best known for its glitz and glamour, Las Vegas also offers some amazing singletrack riding within 30 minutes of the city center. Winter is arguably the best time to explore the vast network due to mild temps in the high 50s. With almost 300 miles of trails, Las Vegas riding incorporates rocky and challenging climbs as well as fast and flowy descents. Blue Diamond hosts the largest network of trails around Las Vegas with 50 miles of singletrack including 3 Mile Smile (its name says it all) to more technical and steep riding like the Hurl. Head east to Boulder City and you’ll find Bootleg Canyon, a display of sidehill riding, high-consequence downhill and super fun enduro and cross-country tracks. Looking for some designated downhill? Mt. Charleston, about 45 minutes outside of the city, is home to several whoop-worthy downhill lines including Tin Can Alley and Showgirl. Finally, if you want to try something a little different, latch on a bike light and go for a night ride. The city lights at night are stunning. Then, fill up with a delicious bowl of ramen at Ramen Hashi.
Brevard, North Carolina
Located about 45 minutes south of Asheville, Brevard is rapidly becoming a hub for mountain bike enthusiasts. In 2017, National Geographic named Brevard one of the top 20 mountain biking towns in America. With nearly 100 miles of trail and daytime winter temps averaging in the low 50s, it’s a unique destination—especially in the winter when humidity is down. Furthermore, the terrain in North Carolina is dramatically different from the singletrack in the southwest: Roots and tacky dirt are the norm here, and lush forest vegetation lines the trail. There are two main areas to explore in Brevard. The first is Pisgah National Forest with its network of relatively technical and hilly trails, including the hard-to-beat Pisgah Long Tour and The Great Eight Loop that encompasses tough climbs, creek crossings, and goat-track descents. The second area to explore is Dupont State Forest. The trails here are similar to Pisgah—rocky, rooty, hilly and technical—but there are actually a few stretches of fast and fun southeast slickrock to bomb down. Most Excellent is a fantastic 21.5-mile loop with great views and 2,100 feet of tough climbing and Best of DuPont is a less technical, but no less fun option for less experienced riders. For a filling meal with local color, head to The Square Root.
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