Looking for the best mountain bike trails in Arizona? Then look no further than Arizona's state parks! Gorgeous scenery, varied terrain, and challenging trails make the parks a great place to get away for the day or a weekend. Plus, with camping and cabins available in 15 parks across the state, you can extend your stay and explore more trails.
This is a loaded question and one best answered by individuals because of the wide array of answers! There are several distinct physical, mental, and societal benefits of mountain biking that many riders have in common. These benefits range from actual visceral reactions, to positive emotional responses…and everything in between! You see, you get back from the trail what you put into it. Pour positivity and hard work into a trail experience and the returns could be enough to start a mild (or moderate) trail addiction! Read on to learn about positive reactions you can experience as a result of mountain biking, and then take a look at some of the best mountain bike trails Arizona has to offer, right in your state parks!
Mountain bikers all typically share at least one thing in common: a general closeness to nature. Through a love of the outdoors and the many discoveries they’ve made along the way, people naturally want a more in-depth, intimate way to enjoy the fresh air and expansive views. Mountain biking gets you away from the masses and into areas that still seem “wild” because simply fewer people have the desire to get there. Within these wilder regions, animals are less likely to flee at first glimpse and give riders a chance to experience these encounters for a longer duration which really engraves these positive memories. There’s less trash back there too! Because most mountain bikers enjoy a closeness to the natural world, they are less likely to purposely litter, acting as stewards of the land instead. If you already enjoy spending time outdoors, you’ll love the in-depth experiences mountain biking can show you!
It’s rooted in our DNA to explore and seek adventure. A mountain bike will get you into amazingly beautiful, relatively untouched areas throughout Arizona, and many of these experiences begin in one of Arizona’s state parks! With a firm grasp on your location through map, GPS, or phone app, just hit the trail…and go! Keep in mind that adventure is best served with a side of humility so make sure you take precautions before truly exploring Arizona’s backcountry. Water, food, a change of clothes, previous trail experience, and a great attitude will get you deep into places most won’t go. Dig deeper to get back to the trailhead after your scenic adventure and you will notice a definitive boost in your confidence and self-sufficiency after completing your goal. You just can't buy the feeling attained after a good ride!
It’s no secret that peddling through any of Arizona’s zones, from the Sonoran Desert up through pine forests, can be hard work! Hard work is a great workout for the mind and body, and with each mile calories and negativity can be shed along the trail and replaced by muscle mass and good vibes. Push yourself within your personal limitations and base your progress on goals set to increase your stamina with time. After a while, your body will require the workout which will lead you into more remote and memorable adventures across the state.
Finally, eight million people currently own mountain bikes, and mountain biking is a great way to meet people of similar mind. Groups and forums can be found online, or simply meet people the old-fashioned way by saying “Hello!” or if time permits on the trail, take the opportunity to engage deeper. Courtesy on the trail goes a long way for safety too! A simple “Nice day today!” comment could alert someone wrapped up in their personal journey to your presence and effectively avoid a trail-related accident. Above all else, if you love the outdoors and haven’t begun your exploration of it via mountain bike, we’re here to tell you that there’s no time like the present to start your journey!
If you’re headed out on one of our many shared-use trails, it’s important to follow standard trail etiquette — and share your knowledge with others. Good trail management combined with user education means a better experience for everyone who uses Arizona’s trails! A comprehensive understanding of trail etiquette will ensure fewer incidents happen on the trail, especially when good etiquette is practiced with common sense and safety in mind!
Respect and expect other users while on the trail. Show courtesy by anticipating other trail users around corners and blind spots. Respect wildlife too! You’re a guest in their home areas so tread lightly. It's easy to appreciate wildlife encounters without disturbing them by encroaching too closely. Respect public and private property. Leave no trace and pack out litter.
Be friendly and courteous. Greet other trail users with a simple “Hello!” or “Nice day today!” Avoid greetings that may be misconstrued, such as “On your left.” Directional greetings may cause confusion and lead to incidents on the trail. Keep it friendly, and keep it simple.
Runners and hikers yield to equestrians. Bicyclists should yield to everyone. Downhill traffic should yield to uphill traffic. When in doubt, give other users the right-of-way.
This awesome southern Arizona trail leads to an even more extensive trail network and gives bikers a chance to explore a huge chunk of the Catalinas after leaving the park. Within the park, there’s 8.6 miles of trail that starts out right by the horse corrals and continues along an old two-track at a steady incline before topping out on a ridge with a commanding view of the Catalinas. The lower portion of this trail takes place in standard (rocky) Sonoran Desert terrain but gives way to high desert scenery as you progress toward the park boundary. Please close the gate if you decide to press onward by leaving the park and onto State Trust land. Also ensure you have the correct permits from the state land department after crossing the gate.
Outside the park, the Golder Ranch Advanced Loop and “the Chutes” provide an adrenaline packed adventure for intermediate mountain bikers. Extensive views of Pusch Ridge continue for quite some time before dropping into lower country. Wildlife is common throughout the entirety of this trail network, wildflowers are highly visible during the spring season, and mountain memories fueled by adrenaline and adventure are the norm!
The Canyon Loop Trail gives mountain bikers a great “feel” of Catalina State Park by showcasing not only vast views of the Catalina Mountains during the first half of the trail, but also drops into an in-depth wash/creek bed experience along the second half. Along the trail Sonoran Desert plants, birds, and wildlife can be encountered which really accentuate your biking experience! After a good rain, or as a result of snow melt, the creek may contain some level of water. Please use caution while crossing but invite the adventure of this unique experience! Most trail users really enjoy the new and exciting challenge of a creek crossing along the trail, especially on a warm summer morning.
Trail access to Catalina’s foothills along the Canyon Loop Trail is right from the trailhead parking lot and very easy to find. Mountain bikers will encounter a slope at about the halfway point with approximately 90 stairs to aid hikers during their ascent. Mountain bikers are asked to avoid the stairs by using the bypass trail located adjacent to the main trail.
The Lime Kiln Trial is well known within mountain biking circles throughout the southwest. This scenic trail connects Dead Horse Ranch State Park to Red Rock State Park, and traverses some of the most picturesque red rock country Arizona has to offer. Experiencing the change of landscape from low to high desert as you delve deeper into Arizona’s wilderness is compounded with more intensity as the red rocks of Sedona draw closer.
This trail follows a portion of the historic Lime Kiln Wagon road which was originally used to provide access to a lime producing kiln during the late 1800’s. Much of this trail is well defined, a little rocky, but nonetheless easy to follow. Mountain bikers with a need for speed, and thirst for adrenaline appreciate the sparsely vegetated cascading trail which allows for quick navigation thanks to a relatively clear line of sight. The Lime Kiln starts out relatively gentle from Dead Horse Ranch and will show trail users the lush riparian areas of the park before ascending into the more technical desert country behind the park.
Mountain bikers that intend to tackle this epic trail experience should understand that 14.7-miles is a one-way measurement. At nearly 30 miles, a round trip should only be attempted by seasoned mountain biking veterans; there are options however which makes this trail more accessible to a wide array of skill levels.
One-way option- Park a vehicle at both Dead Horse Ranch and Red Rock State Parks. Once you have biked the 14.7 miles through some of Arizona’s most beautiful country, simply load up your bikes and drive through another gorgeous slice of Arizona in route to pick up the other vehicle. The Lime Kiln also crosses FR 761 (N. Bill Gray Rd.), FR 761B, and others along the way. Use the same vehicle parking tactic to enjoy as much of the trail as you would like! There’s no shame in a one-way trip and this option is relatively common with Lime Kiln trail users.
What this relatively easy loop trail may lack in technicality, it makes up for with a variety of natural beauty consisting of the birds, wildlife, and plants that shape the vibe of this beautiful park. Trail access is just outside of the Blackhawk loop and the trail is popular with people camping in the nearby spots. Great for nearly all skill levels, the biking loop is a great way to build endurance for longer rides, or to warm up before tackling Lime Kiln or the Raptor to Thumper route.
Dead Horse Ranch State Park is full of amazing trail experiences that help users get even closer to the natural worls of north-central Arizona. Some of these trails also extend beyond the boundaries of the park to create epic intermediate and advanced mountain bike adventures. Please use common sense when attempting to tackle the more extreme trails. Bring plenty of water, snacks, a change of clothes, extra tire tubes and anything else you may need while away from civilization. Arizona's backcountry can provide absolutely amazing experiences that will reside in your memory bank for the rest of your life. The backcountry is also unforgiving and by nature of its existence difficult for some to navigate. Please be honest with yourself and and your level of skill before attempting to enjoy any backcountry experience.
Could this park be Arizona’s best mountain biking location? With nearly a baker’s dozen trails to choose from, it’s got to be close! Trails here all traverse the rolling high-desert countryside of Oracle State Park, a nearly five thousand-acre wildlife refuge in southern Arizona. The rolling topography gives mountain bikers a chance to let ‘er rip on the downhill runs, but also provide a workout in the process of getting up the next one. You really could spend an entire day on the mountain bike trails at this park and not see them all! The best part is that there are numerous junctions which can lead bikers on a different adventure nearly every time they visit the park! Variety is the spice of life they say, and Oracle State Park has more variety in trails than nearly any place in Arizona! Mountain bikers are drawn to the cooler temperatures of the higher elevation of this southern Arizona location and enjoy the possibility of wildlife encounters, expansive views of the surrounding area, and an absolutely epic trail experience.
Imagine careening down any bike trail in the park, wind in your face, thoughts racing in anticipation of what lies ahead. When suddenly one of the parks many coues white-tailed deer catches you off guard. You stop your bike and put your ride on hold to take in this moment without wanting to miss a second of this beautiful encounter. You’re close enough to see reflections in her big deer eyes and realize that these diminutive deer have such long eyelashes! Never in your wildest dreams would you have shared such a special moment with a unique and beautiful creature had you not been mountain biking at Oracle State Park. Encounters like this are possible throughout this trail filled park and available year-round for those lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.
Although most trails in the park are similar in nature, they all provide somewhat different experiences for the discriminating mountain biker. The first mile of the Mariposa Trail is fun, fast, and will likely get the adrenaline surging through your veins as you hit the downhill sections. Access to the rest of the parks trails lies at the end of the Mariposa and leads bikers into a great deal of killer mountain biking possibilities. The technical nature of this trail is a big draw to biking enthusiasts that like to test their skill against the sharp turns and uneven ground of southern Arizona. Your experience could be very different depending on which way you begin the two mile Wildlife Corridor Trail. If you decide to hit this one via the Mariposa Trail from the west, you'll encounter two-miles of downhill excitement through the high desert. Conversely, if you want a good "leg day" workout, the gradual uphill grind of an eastern trail entrance may be just what you need! Either way you get on this trail at the end you're met with, you guessed it, more amazing trails! Worth mentioning is the five-mile section of Arizona Trail that falls within the boundaries of Oracle State Park. The Arizona Trail actually traverses over 800 miles from Mexico to Utah! Riders can expect to experience a little of everything on this famous trail, but the trail within the park is very popular because of the diverse terrain and possibility of wildlife encounters.
Arizona’s mountain bike trails can lead adventurous riders into remote, sometimes technical country. Preparedness and realistic expectations of your ability are required to have safe, memorable trips into the backcountry. Without preparation, common sense, and attention to detail, mountain bikers may set themselves up for failure, or worse! Check out these 10 tips to stay safe on Arizona’s mountain bike trails.
Bring plenty of water and snacks- Arizona mountain bikers face dangers mostly unknown to other riders around the world. The desert heat will make you sweat with minimal effort, so imagine a steady uphill trek in rocky terrain! Your body is working hard, and as a result you will lose a good deal of water through your sweat. We suggest one liter per hour on the trail and urge trail users to pre-hydrate before their ride. You don’t want to get hungry on the trail either, and a good protein-rich snack every once in a while will help keep your mind and body focused on goals and safely peddling through the backcountry.
Watch the weather- Arizona’s weather can change on a dime and a couple miles deep on a difficult mountain bike trail is the last place that you want to face a monsoon, lightning storm, or extreme snowfall. Weather can greatly affect the trail depending on what time of year you are planning your trip. General extended forecasts can be found on the individual park pages on our website, although a little more research should go into your decision before hitting the trail. Keep an extra set of clothes with you on longer rides, emergency food rations, and possibly a space blanket to help ensure you’re ready to face a freak storm or have to hole up as a weather cell passes your location.
Safety gear- Helmets are a must on the trail and can literally save your life and reduce the chance of injury. Let’s face it…If you ride enough, you’re going to crash and burn eventually. Being prepared is the first step in ensuring this isn’t your last ride. With so many trail-approved helmets on the market, there's bound to be one that fits comfortably and suits your individual needs.