The 6 Best Moab Mountain Bike Trails To Become a Better Rider
by Lily Krass - Backcountry skier, mountain biker, hiker, and Jackson Hole local
Unique slickrock terrain. Spectacular desert scenery. Tons of tracks. If you want to progress with your mountain bike skills, do yourself a favor and spend a week in Moab.
Table of Contents
Table of Contents
A fall trip to Moab is always the highlight of my mountain bike season. At first glance, the mountain biking in Moab seems borderline insane. Before I’d ever made the trip, I remember staring in awe at photos of friends riding on what looked like another planet, their tires clinging to walls of near vertical red sandstone. It seemed remarkably convoluted where the trails ended and the cliffs began. Moab mountain biking trails seemed intimidating to say the least.
But after my first visit eight years ago, I learned that Moab is a solid place to push the boundaries of your riding and tap into your reckless side. There’s also more to Moab mountain bike tours than the adrenaline junky scene it’s known for. It’s a great place to scare yourself a little bit if you’re into that, but it’s certainly not a requirement. Sure, the vertical rock rolls and exposed ledges make for the best photos, but some of the most fun I’ve ever had on a bike has been flying down mellow stretches of slickrock.
A huge variety of trails allow for a gradual progression, and the duration of some of the bigger adventure rides always helps me feel more and more confident on my bike as the days go by. Now, I try to take a trip twice a year, and they always get a little longer each time. Moab is the best mountain biking location in Utah and once you start making the pilgrimage, it’s impossible to stop.
Here are a few of the best Moab mountain biking trails to kick off your trip.
1. Navajo Rocks
TOP WARM-UP TRAIL
Pros and cons
A little bit of everything for advanced and intermediate riders
Great views of the La Sal Mountains
Experience the flow of Moab slickrock
Not a true beginner trail
The Navajo Rocks area has a little bit of everything and is my favorite place to get warmed up on day one. The scenery is beautiful up here. I like to take a snack break on top of some of the high points on the Rocky Tops trail to look out at the La Sals, which are usually still capped with snow in the spring. There’s dirt, slickrock, a few challenging tech sections, and some flowy descents. It’s enough to keep advanced riders entertained while letting more intermediate riders get their feet wet in the world of desert riding. A few off-camber sections and short but steep climbs introduce the unique feeling of riding on slickrock, and always help remind me how to trust my bike in this new environment.
I wouldn’t consider this a true beginner trail (Check out the Moab Brand Trails closer to Highway 191 for never-ever riders) but it’s a great place to start if you’ve got a little riding under your belt already.
Slickrock on Ramblin’ is my favorite section of the trail in Moab
I like to park at the overflow lot, east of the main Navajo Rocks parking lot and start on Rocky Tops to ride the whole thing clockwise. The entire loop is about 17 miles, but if you’re looking for a sub 10-mile loop, ride Rocky Tops to Middle Earth, cross the road, and hop on Ramblin to finish it out. You’ll be in for about 1,000 feet of climbing total and around 9 miles. The fast and swoopy waves of slickrock in the middle of Ramblin’ is one of my favorite sections of trail in all of Moab.
Navajo Rocks has enough to keep advanced riders entertained while letting more intermediate riders get their feet wet in the world of desert riding.
Despite its name, it’s got great traction for riders
Natural Selection viewpoint is the perfect place for a rest
Careful to not explore and get lost off trail
Some sand traps to watch out for
The Slickrock trail is perhaps the most famous trail in Moab, and most will agree that it lives up to its reputation. Riding up and down the steep, rolling bulges of red rock above town always gives me the surreal feeling that I’m on another planet. When I first came to Moab, I quickly learned that the slick red rock that covers Moab’s desert landscape is not, in fact, slick at all. It’s one of the tackiest, grippiest surfaces I’ve ever ridden. Slickrock is so grippy that I’ll frequently be mid-climb before realizing that my bike is nearly vertical, and I haven’t even noticed.
Slickrock is ideal introduction for beginners to gain confidence
Slickrock was the first trail I ever rode in Moab. While it was a challenge as a beginner-intermediate rider, it’s kind of like a crash course in desert riding (hopefully without too much crashing!). You’ll come out far more confident on your bike after the nine-mile loop. I highly recommend doing the short one-mile Slickrock practice trail before embarking on the whole lollipop loop. It takes just a few minutes and is a nice gentle introduction to what’s in store.
My advice for biking Moab’s desert features
Because it’s mostly rock and not traditional single-track, white dashes on the slickrock help you navigate the trail. You can veer off trail a little bit if something looks fun to ride down or jump off, but if you get too far off the trail it can sometimes be hard to find your way back. There are also a fair amount of sand traps between slick rock features. They look pretty benign but can swallow your tires and throw you off balance, so keep a heads up for those.
To get to Slickrock, drive through town and up to the Sand Flats Recreation area. A day pass for a private vehicle is $5 or $10 for a full week — plenty of time for multiple mountain bike tours in Moab.
Slickrock was the first trail I ever rode in Moab. While it was a challenge as a beginner-intermediate rider, it’s kind of like a crash course in desert riding (hopefully without too much crashing!).
MTB MOAB - Slick Rock Trail with Seth's Bike Hacks and BK-XC | The Singletrack Sampler
Gain a 8,000-feet descent with only a 1,000-foot climb
Shuttle service allows for an almost completely downhill ride
Advanced riders can do the monstrous 64-mile loop!
Few bail points mean riders need to be in it for the long haul
Always cold at peak, so bring layers
The initial 1,000-foot climb is grueling, but worth it
Riding the Whole Enchilada is like a right of passage for most mountain bikers. The world-famous shuttle trail is a spectacular way to spend a day, travelling from the high alpine all the way down to the Colorado River via around 30 miles of technical singletrack. Since there is snow in the La Sals for much of the year, the shuttle from town drops you as high as conditions permit. If you’re determined to ride the entire thing, it’s best to visit in the fall when the snow has melted out.
Endurance is key to this bucket-list trail for mountain bikers
A brutal 1,000-foot climb up Burro Pass kicks things off, where you’ll top out at 11,126 feet before descending almost 8,000 feet back to town. The difficulty of the Whole Enchilada comes mostly from the duration. There’s plenty of rock tech and a few hike-a-bike sections, but the terrain is mellower than most black-rated trails in the Moab area. Still, it’s easy to get in over your head, especially if someone has a mechanical.
Especially for the uninitiated, the Whole Enchilada is the perfect trail in Moab to hire a mountain biking guide and gain peace of mind.
My advice for staying safe, warm and prepared for adventure
If anything goes wrong, you’re a long way from town so make sure everyone in your group has adequate food, water, and basic repair tools. Even the bail points down the access roads end up taking forever, and aren’t actually much easier than just riding the whole trail. I’ve found it’s best to ride it with a smaller group since the more riders you have in your party the longer everything takes. I’ve made the mistake of not bringing enough warm clothes, which is easy to forget when it’s 80 degrees in Moab. Burro Pass is above 11,000 feet and is almost always cold.
Some choose to self-shuttle through the Sand Flats Recreation Area to just ride the 11-mile Porcupine Rim section, the last segment of the Whole Enchilada. Cruising down endless drops and ledges on Porcupine during sunset is an experience every rider should have at least once.
The world-famous shuttle trail is a spectacular way to spend a day, travelling from the high alpine all the way down to the Colorado River via around 30 miles of technical singletrack.
Moab 2017: Best of The Whole Enchilada in 10 Minutes // Mountain Biking in Utah
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The Whole Enchilada - Good to Know
Difficult, advanced to expert
Everything. It is after all, The Whole Enchilada
Best intro area
Ride the last 11-mile section Porcupine Rim section for an introduction
Camping in Sand Flats, $20 per night; Check 26 campgrounds in the Moab area
Punchy climbs and tight corners make trail ideal for lapping
Watch out for Jeep trails—Cliff Hanger is especially popular
Best for intermediate and advanced mountain bikers
I could be perfectly content coming to Moab and just riding Captain Ahab over and over again. The Amasa Back area has some of Moab’s best enduro-style riding with fast descents over steep rolls, drops, and ledgy features. To access Upper and Lower Ahab, you’ll climb the Hymasa trail, a quick and fun climb over slickrock with some punchy sections. Overall, get ready for a really doable ascent.
My recommendations for riding Lower and Upper Ahab
The first time I rode in this area I felt pretty intimidated by Ahab and just rode Hymasa as an out and back. It was the perfect warm up for the big ledges and drops on Lower Ahab. From the top of Hymasa you can hop on Upper Ahab, which still has some climbing interspersed with fun rock tech. Lower Ahab is pure gravity all the way down to the creek. If you want a shorter loop, you can just ride the lower section.
Like many of Moab’s mountain biking trips, Captain Ahab is fun to ride a few times as you learn to trust what’s around each corner and where to keep your speed. I like to just lap the lower section sometimes. You’ll cross tons of Jeep trails up here (Cliff Hanger is a famous Moab 4×4 trail) and during the high season you’ll likely see some overly confident drivers cruxing out on large rock steps.
If you want to add on to the loop, a quick out and back to Pothole Arch via a mile or so on Cliff Hanger is a fun way to extend the ride.
Captain Ahab was built as a labor of love, by technical mountain bikers for technical mountain bikers and it shows.
Plenty of variety for technical rides or short loops
Mellow short loops offer beginner-friendly trails
Perfect for groups with varying abilities
Easy access to the trail from your car
Not as much flow in certain areas — bring a map or a guide!
The Klondike Bluff network features more than 50 miles of singletrack for a diverse mountain biking tour near Moab. You’ll find ample opportunities for longer more technical rides and short but sweet loops. For this reason, Klondike Bluffs is one of my favorite spots to ride with a group. I like how short the trails are since you can link up a long, techy ride, or keep it mellow with short loops with beginner-friendly options. It’s a great choice with groups of varying ability levels, too
I ride the system counterclockwise starting at Dino Flow
I like to start on Dino Flow and then climb Baby Steps to gain the top of the ridge. There’s no wrong way to do it, but I like to ride the system counter clockwise, linking different trails and always ending with the Alaska trail. Alaska has a little climbing before a short but fast, rocky descent. It’s challenging but mellow enough to get going pretty fast.
End your Moab trip by looping Klondike Bluffs
Since you’re so close to the car the whole time, I like to make a day out of it and ride a bit, come back to the car for lunch, and ride some more. The Klondike Bluffs system is about 20 minutes north of Moab, so it can also be a good option for a quick ride on your last day before heading home.
I usually park at the north trailhead (there are two Klondike Bluffs trailheads) since there are more spots and the road is a little smoother.
The Klondike Bluff network features more than 50 miles of singletrack for a diverse mountain biking tour near Moab. You’ll find ample opportunities for longer more technical rides and short but sweet loops.
Klondike Bluffs - Good to Know
Beginner to advanced
Singletrack, non-motorized trails!
Best intro areas
Dino Flow for blue rated, Agate West for green rated
The Mag 7 point-to-point trail is (unsurprisingly) a linkup of seven downhill trails. It runs over 21 miles and down 3,300 feet from the top of Highway 313 to the Colorado River. It’s also an incredible descent of 21 miles if ridden all the way. You’ll discover some exposed riding, beautiful canyon-rim views, and fast ledgy sections. Mag 7 is a blast if you’re looking for a challenging downhill experience since there are only a few sections of climbing. Keep in mind, as you work your way down, the exposure and difficulty increases.
How to make my favorite Upper Bull Run section even better
Upper Bull Run is my favorite segment of the trail, the perfect mix of playful rock features, drops, and ledges. If you don’t want to do the whole shuttle, it’s easy to just ride Bull Run and pedal back up the road. You can also self-shuttle down a short section of the jeep road. We often do this as a quick evening adventure if we’re camped nearby.
Great Escape isn’t part of the traditional Mag 7 route, but it can be fun to add on since it’s similar to the fun slickrock sections from Bull Run.
Prepare for Gold Bar’s sustained climb and Portal’s high alert
Gold Bar is the only sustained climb you’ll have to tackle on the whole Mag 7 route. It can feel pretty brutal in the hot sun, and is steep enough to feel like a slap in the face when your exhaustion is catching up to you. The last segment down to the river, Portal, takes exposed riding to a whole new level — many signs recommend getting off your bike at times where a fall could be deadly. Listen to the signs and ride this trail on high alert.
Mag 7 is definitely one of Moab’s adventure mountain bike tours. I’d recommend getting an early shuttle if you go that route. Like most trails in the area, there’s not much shade along the way, and it always seems to take longer than you plan.
You’ll discover some exposed riding, beautiful canyon-rim views, and fast ledgy sections. Mag 7 is a blast if you’re looking for a challenging downhill experience since there are only a few sections of climbing.
7. Advice for Planning Your Moab Mountain Biking Trip
When to visit Moab
The best times to ride are spring and fall, when the climate is generally clear and sunny, but not inhospitable by noon. High season in Moab is March through May and September through October. Unless you have an incredibly high tolerance for heat or plan to spend 95 percent of your time in the water, I wouldn’t recommend visiting Moab in the summer.
Since there’s not much shade, a 70-degree day can feel pretty warm in Moab as it is and it’s usually a welcome change after a long, cold winter. Winters are also pretty quiet in Moab. Although it does get pretty cold (especially at night), it can be an amazing time to ride the area without any other people around.
Bike rentals in Moab
The riding in Moab definitely calls for a long travel or enduro bike that can chew up technical descents, but also climb pretty well. I prefer to bring my own bike to Moab. If you’re new to riding, flying or have a bike with less downhill capabilities, renting is easy and fairly reasonably priced.
I’d recommend looking into Chile Pepper, Moab Cyclery, or Poison Spider for rental options. It runs about $70-$100 per day for a super solid bike. These shops are also pickup locations for Mag 7 and the Whole Enchilada. It’s also convenient to rent from wherever you’ve scheduled your shuttle. Even if you have an enduro-style bike, I usually end up with a decent amount of bike maintenance to do when we leave Moab. Some prefer to trash rental bikes instead of their own, if you’re on the fence.
Moab shuttle info
Tons of bike shops in town offer shuttles to ride the Whole Enchilada or Mag 7. It’s always possible to self-shuttle if you’ve got a big group with a few trucks. I’ve found it’s always worth it to spend $25-$30 to make logistics easier.
If you shuttle the Whole Enchilada, try to leave a car at the end of the Porcupine Rim trail along Highway 128. The five-mile pedal back to town may seem trivial on most days, but I’ve had my soul crushed pedaling into a head wind too many times not to warn you. Same goes for Mag 7. Ditch a car in the morning along Potash Road. You’ll thank me later.
Where to camp in Moab
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages 26 campgrounds in the Moab area. All sites cost $20 a night and are first-come first-serve (except for group sites, which are reservation only). During the high season, getting a site on a Friday night can be incredibly tough. I usually try to arrive on a Thursday or early morning on a Friday to be sure we’ll get a spot.
My favorite sites are along the river on Highway 128—they see tons of traffic but are close to town and many trails. Plus, it’s where the exit of Porcupine Rim dumps out, which is convenient if you’re doing an Enchilada shuttle. The camping in Sand Flats (up on the mesa where Slickrock trail is) is also really cool. Although, I’ve never gotten there in time to get a site!
Camping in Arches or Canyonlands National Park is incredibly scenic, but not super convenient if you’re planning to bike. No mountain biking is allowed in the national parks. Be sure to make a reservation for these since they fill up fast.
If you’re down with a more primitive camping experience, just keep driving on dirt roads outside city limits. There’s tons of free camping on BLM land in the Lone Mesa, Willow Springs, and Gemini Bridges area. I usually end up here after a fruitless attempt at scoring a site by the river.
Backcountry skier, mountain biker, hiker, and Jackson Hole local
Born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, Lily Krass is a freelance writer now living in Jackson, Wyoming. Lily's love for storytelling has taken her around the world, with work featured in Freeskier Magazine, Teton Gravity Research, Ascent Backcountry Snow Journal and Elevation Outdoors Magazine. Lily is a self-proclaimed Type II enthusiast and when she’s not skiing, mountain biking, or trail running around her home in the Tetons, you’ll likely find her whipping up new trail snacks filled with healthy doses of peanut butter and chocolate.