Southern Utah is known for its world-class mountain biking trails, but riders often miss out on the impressive yet largely unsung and less crowded trails located in southwestern Utah because they are overshadowed by the reigning mountain biking real estate in the East. Though, Moab has long held the crown in the magical mountain biking kingdom, the Dixie region — from Cedar City to St. George — is fast becoming a must-see mountain biking destination in its own right. Check out some of the top mountain bike trails in Utah below.
Gooseberry Mesa (Hurricane) •••
Gooseberry Mesa might be the most popular trail in all of Dixieland, and rightly so — 30 miles of networked singletrack make it very appealing to riders who want to customize their mileage — but the real persuasion is the rolling slickrock trails that give way to epic panoramas of Zion National Park, making it one of the most scenic rides in the world. It’s easy to get distracted by the fantastic views, but this technical trail will demand your attention. Most of the trail is ideal for moderate to advanced riders, but for especially advanced riders, there are some double-black-diamond sections on the South Rim Trail that provide well-earned vistas, but little room for error in the narrow spots.
Night riding is a good option on these trails if, say, you’re there in mid-July and daytime temperatures are averaging above 100 degrees. Either way, bring more water than you think you’ll need, snacks, and a detailed trail map with you because you will be out of cellular coverage and you won’t be able to call Ghostbusters or anyone else for help.
Getting to Gooseberry Mesa's remote location could prove to be the most challenging part of your ride if you don’t know where you’re going. There is a sign for the turnoff on S.R. 89 directing you to Gooseberry Mesa, which leads you to an unpaved, bumpy dirt road that you’ll stay on for about 30 minutes until you get to the trailhead parking lot. Fuel up for your ride at Springdale’s Deep Creek Coffee Co., which serves delicious healthy breakfasts, coffee, and smoothies to early morning adventurers visiting Zion from around the world. Post-ride refreshments can be found at Zion Canyon Brew Pub, a favorite of adventure travelers and locals alike.
Guacamole Mesa (Virgin) ••
If you like the terrain of Gooseberry Mesa, you’ll also enjoy Guacamole Mesa located near Zion National Park. You’ll need a 4x4 vehicle to access the terrain. Riders can choose between the 2.2-mile loop known simply as the Guacamole trail or opt for the Whole Guacamole (see: Whole Enchilada), an 11-mile flow loop of alternating slickrock and singletrack trail that features peek-a-boo views of the Virgin River amid a wild expanse of red rock in every direction. Trail finding can be a bit iffy in some places so look for the cairns and don’t get lost in the dip. If your appetite still isn’t sated when you’re done with Guacamole, you can also try the Holy Guacamole extension loop for a spicy detour with more technical aspects in the mix. The sweeping views alone make the extra difficulty and effort well worth it.
If you’re still feeling adventurous after your ride, you can scout for your own natural hot springs pools that occur within the Virgin River Canyons between Hurricane and La Verkin. The Pah Tempe Hot Springs are officially closed, but the springs that feed it are still active and bubbling in some areas.
From Highway 9 you’ll take Dalton Wash Road on the North side of the highway (between Virgin and Rockville) and head northeast on that dirt road for almost two miles. Then take a left (North) at the fork in the road and continue for 1.7 miles until you get to another fork and then you’ll find the trail system straight ahead on that path. It might be wise to park in this area and ride the rest of the way to the trailhead in case the rest of the road has been rutted out from a storm.
Bearclaw Poppy (St. George) •
Locals love St. George’s Bearclaw Poppy trail because it’s fun for riders of all fitness and ability levels, can be ridden year-round, and can be done as a quick out-and-back before or after work. It’s close to town and not very technical, but more ambitious riders can connect this trail with the Stucki Springs Trail or the Zen trail, which are among more conditioned rides. Downhill riders have the right-of-way on this trail, which is in a wilderness preserve area named after the Bearclaw Poppy flower, which is endangered and only blooms briefly in the spring, so be sure to stay on the trail. The trail features fairly steady, gradual-grade climbing with a lot of fun rollers, berms, and mellow drops. Don’t be intimidated by the Three Fingers of Death feature; it has more bark than bite. Speaking of bites and bears ... St. George’s Bear Paw Cafe is a local hot spot for breakfast; don’t miss this classic mom and pop diner while you’re there.
The trailhead lies just to the north of the intersection at Navajo Drive and Paiute Road near the Bloomington Country Club. After you turn north onto Paiute Road from Navajo Drive, you’ll see the trail. There are trailheads at Green Valley and Bloomington, which are 4 miles apart so you can choose which direction you would like to ride.
Little Creek (Hurricane) •••
Another secret beauty in the Hurricane area is Little Creek just south of Gooseberry Mesa. This area can be difficult and is best for more technically advanced riders, though less experienced riders can always hop off their bikes and walk the challenging sections. The open slickrock and singletrack trail winds up and down through stunning scenery peppered with piñon pines and junipers against a backdrop of classic desert terrain. This fairly technical ride rewards its patrons with amazing views of Zion National Park from the edge of the mesa and archeological gems such as ancient petroglyphs along the route. Riders with enough skill and courage will find that stunt options abound throughout the loops, but beware it’s very easy to get lost on these trails. The Magic Carpet Ride on The Main Loop aka West Mesa Loop is easier than the rest of the trails and is also marked better than the others. It connects with the Northpoint Loop aka Eastern Loop for a variety of technical slickrock riding. If you’re in search of off-trail diversions that involve other outdoor activities, have a look-see at nearby Sand Hollow State Park, which attracts a lot of watersports enthusiasts and is a great spot to camp, especially for those getaways with the kids.
From Hurricane, head south on Highway 59, you’ll be headed southeast. Head toward the Hurricane Valley for 13 miles and then turn right on the gravel road. Stay on that road for 14 miles and stay right at 15 miles. After that you’ll stay left for 2.5 more miles and then go straight past the cattle guard for 1.5 more miles and then take right turn and veer left. Continue until you get to the parking area. It’s worth hiring a local guide or going with someone who knows their way around the network of trails to avoid getting lost on your way to and from the trail, but guides can also show you where to find the sweet spots.
Hurricane Rim–Goulds Rim–J.E.M. ••–•••
20 miles of networked rollercoaster singletrack connects the Hurricane Rim Trail, Goulds Rim, and J.E.M. (John, Ellen, Mike) trails for an epic cross-country loop perfect for riders who want to log a few hours of quality ride time. This trail, located west of Zion National Park, is unique because you can start your ride at any one of three trailheads. The trails are considered primarily intermediate, with some advanced technical sections. Not surprisingly, the views are spectacular, but so is the exposure. Most of the riding is friendly with not very much climbing and great downhill flow. You’ll probably be stopping to take a lot of photos. The J.E.M. trail is a nice out-and-back if you don’t want to ride the full distance of all three loops.
To get there, at the junction of S.R. 9 with S.R. 17, head east toward Zion National Park then continue for 5 miles. Head south on the gravel road named Sheep Bridge Road and you’ll cross the Virgin River about a half a mile later. Pass the cattle guard and take the double track on your right just past the bridge. There’s an overlook point and the singletrack begins at the end of the turnaround.