Where to Ride: Mountain Biking in Hurricane Cliffs & Gooseberry Mesa, Utah
The trails at Gooseberry Mesa, UT, are a true mountain biker’s dream come true. They, along with trails in and around St. George and Hurricane, UT, combine fast, rolling singletrack with slickrock moonscapes to create a vast playground of technical riding that’s an absolute blast.
At the Santa Cruz press launch for their new bikes, we flew into Las Vegas and drove about two hours to St. George, UT, to get things rolling. Talking to the other journalists in attendance, even the most jaded (read: been in the industry for a while) among us seemed excited to be riding here, which says a lot. This was my first time, but I guarantee it won’t be my last.
Not sure about making the trek to the southwestern corner of the Mormon state? Check the pictures after the break and you’ll be planning your spring or fall mountain bike trip with a quickness…
GETTING THERE AND LOCAL INFO
If you’re looking for creature comforts like hotels and restaurants, plan on driving a bit each morning to ride. We stayed in St. George and rode the local trails on the first day, which were pretty sweet. From there, it’s a bit of Interstate and Highway driving until you see the BLM sign for Gooseberry Mesa and make a 160º left turn onto a lousy dirt road. From there, follow the road marked in light pink below (click to enlarge):
Once on the main dirt road, keep an eye out for a 90º left that’ll cross a cattle grate, turn there. Drive a bit more, then pull off in a campsite that suits your fancy. According to Matt at Rim Tours, you’re free to camp in any spot you like on BLM land without cost or a reservation (unless you’re leading a tour group like they do). We were fortunate to have Rim Tours provide all the (very tasty) food and water for the two nights spent camping, and they lead tours there and throughout Utah and Colorado if you’re looking to do this fully supported. I’d highly recommend them. Just a bit up the dirt road from where we camped (and en route to the trailhead) is a very nice bathroom, so you’re not totally roughing it.
Dining in St. George:
- The Bean Scene had good coffee and great breakfast burritos, service might be a bit slow if they’re busy.
- Matt recommends Jazzy Java, also.
- Another journo recommended ChuckARama’s buffet. He was serious, but we didn’t make it there.
- Other dinner options recommended by the Rim Tours guys are Painted Pony or Benja Thai (we ate at the Thai place and their “medium” heat is still pretty darn hot – go “mild” if you don’t like spicy food. The sushi looked amazing)
- There are also plenty of local Mexican restaurants and chains galore. Check this list for options.
RIDING – ST. GEORGE
On the edge of town there’s a large ORV recreation area where you can watch jacked up pickup trucks, ATVs and motobikes tear up the dirt. Ride around them and hit the singletrack for a technical and at times fairly steep climb up. The reward is a great view and some very technical offshoots that provide solid drops and trials-esque climbing sections. There are definitely some hike-a-bikes mixed in, but explore the trails at your leisure and make your own pace.
You’ll want to tend to turn left and make your way around to Bear Claw Poppy trail (above). It’s basically a dirt jump and pump track trail that’s several miles long and will bring you back to town. It has a lot of blind drops, but they’re all perfectly rounded and smooth going down, and they reward those brave enough to keep a little speed over the edge. There are so many offshoots on this trail that you could spend all day hitting this section and never get bored.
Another one of the trails we found by cutting up a random hike-a-bike section. Lots of great stair step drops and technical yet flowing sections awaited.
RIDING – GOOSEBERRY MESA
Gooseberry Mesa is the real destination. On the morning ride, we hit White Trail (fire road/atv trail) from the parking area past the bathroom to God’s Skatepark to Hidden Canyon and returned on South Rim:
Click to enlarge and read, it’s a big, legible image at full size.
Views like this are common but never get old. Sections of dirt singletrack mix evenly with hard rock sections to keep things fresh.
On the afternoon ride, we took White Trail further to Yellow Trail, which bypasses a bunch of sand, back onto White Trail, then rode South Rim trail to The Point and came back on South Rim to Hidden Canyon to White Trail. This put us on some of the same trails from the morning ride but in reverse…which made it seem like an entirely different trail.
RIDING – HURRICANE CLIFFS
Day three started at the corrals off Hwy 59 and followed a short piece of the cattle road to Gould’s Trail (take a left off the cattle road). From there, we rode to the Gem Trail around to a parking area off Highway 9. If you do the full 21 mile loop, you’d add Hurricane Rim Trail, which connects back to Gould’s to create “The Loop” shown on the map:
This ride was fairly non-technical, but the winds and a few long, gradual climbs make it challenging. And there are a few surprises on the section we rode that’ll make you giggle like a school boy, plus some of the corners are super fast, but if you over cook ‘em, you can fly right off the trail in a hurry. The Loop is definitely a great last day ride if you’ve had your fill of Gooseberry.
WHAT TO BRING:
Besides the obvious things like helmet, gloves, shades and shoes, here are a few things to pack, particularly if you’re camping:
- Toilet paper
- Hand sanitizer
- Baby wipes or sun shower
- First aid kit
- Hydration pack
- Food, Snacks, gels or bars
- Wind breaker
- Warm clothes for night
- Lip balm
- Extra tubes and/or sealant
- Trash bags
Gooseberry’s in the desert, so it gets cool at night. We were there in March and it was downright cold when the sun disappeared. The Hurricane Cliffs trails are fully exposed to the wind, which made it a bit chilly, perfect time for a wind blocking vest. It’s also dry, so bring plenty of water, and I’d recommend some lip balm and moisturizing sun screen.
We foraged for wood to burn at night, but a safer bet would be to bring in some of your own. It takes a mighty big fire to quell the cold.
We had a complete set up from Big Agnes to use during our stay, which made for a very comfortable sleep. If you’re unfamiliar with the brand or in the market for a new sleeping bag or tent, give them a look. The sleeping bags have little or no insulation on the bottom to keep them light but have integrated sleeves to fit their inflatable air pads. This keeps everything in place so you won’t roll off the pad in the middle of the night. Their Diversion pads are made of 100% recycled polyester rip-stop exterior with 100% recycled Climashield insulation and a recycled aluminum air valve, and they use I-beam construction inside to prevent uneven inflation or burst welds that could lead to “sausaging” of the pad. The Grouse Mountain sleeping bag was mummy style but still had enough room to wiggle and roll, and the pillow sleeve and insulated neck collar kept drafts out. (Full disclosure – I got to keep the pad and sleeping bag following this trip, however my decision to mention it here is my own and only because I really like it and recommend it. My kids have used the pads several times since, jumped on them and played with them, and they’re still intact.)
And if you like posting photos and book-facing your adventures in real time, you’ll be happy to know AT&T and Verizon both had solid cell and data signals in the camping area.
BIKE SETUP & SELECTION
We rode the new Tallboy AL and Highball 29ers and the Blur TRc 26″ full suspension bikes. If I had to pick one of them for every trail, I’d probably go with the Blur TRc. With 120mm rear/130mm front suspension, it handled the technical stuff and drops great and was efficient enough to work on the more XC-ish sections. That said, the Tallboy performed flawlessly, too – either 26″ or 29er would do great on these trails. On Gooseberry’s trails, everyone on full suspension was glad they had it, but Hurricane Cliffs’ trails were perfect for the hardtail Highball.
On most of the press trips, the bikes are set up with Tubes to keep things simple. On these trails, tubeless would have been the way to go. While we only suffered a few flats, there are plenty of sharp edges and hard angles that can puncture or pinch flat tires if you’re not careful, and the lower pressure that tubeless allows will definitely give you an edge when crawling up some of the steeper rocks.
In reality, though, ride what you brung and you’ll have a blast. The trails here are world class and decently marked. Already been? Leave a comment with your own favorite tips.