As temperatures in Grand County creep into the triple digits, many outdoor enthusiasts have found themselves stuck inside with their air-conditioners on high. However, just 20 miles south of Moab are the La Sal Mountains—a cool escape from the summer heat. While the 12,000-foot peaks rise above the backdrop of the classic red rock scenery, the mountain range offers a getaway into an alpine environment. Mountain bike enthusiasts have found an oasis in the La Sal Mountains, as the area offers miles upon miles of intermediate and expert trails that are accessible in the summer.
Ryan Lowe, a life-long biker, recently moved to Moab with his kids from Salt Lake City. Navajo Rocks Chaco Loop, an intermediate-level bike trail in the Big Mesa area on the way to Dead Horse Point, is Lowe’s choice of trail in the cooler months. But it’s nearly too hot for it now. Described by Lowe as scenic but strenuous, he says, “Right now it’s only possible to bike Navajo Rocks early in the morning, I mean really, really early, because the heat will catch right up.” Lowe has biked two days in the La Sals so far, but has future plans to check out more of the trails. “We didn’t even scratch the surface of the amount of riding up there,” he said. “It’s also usually 20 degrees cooler up there and shady, much more ideal than Moab in the summer.”
The trails in the La Sals differ from the classic slickrock desert trails in Moab. Instead of loose dust and ledge features, the mountain trails are narrow with chunky boulders and tight aspen trees. The surrounding landscape is full of green foliage and the red desert can be seen in the distance. The Whole Enchilada is a world-renowned 34-mile bike trail that begins at Burro Pass. The expert level trail includes Porcupine Rim, more than 8,000 feet in descent, and 360-degree panorama views of the landscape.
Noah Ferriera is a Moab resident who works as a bike mechanic at Bike Fiend. As a kid he learned how to mountain bike in the Northern Sierras, which instilled in him a life-long passion to enthusiastically find bike trails around the country. “Before I moved to Moab, I had only heard of The Whole Enchilada in terms of summer bike trails,” said Ferriera. “I had no idea that there were high alpine forests looking out across the edge of the desert. The trails are great; they’re an ideal escape from the heat.”
Evan Feekes, a bike mechanic at Moab Cyclery, expressed the same views. “I moved to Moab a year and a half ago because the biking here is awesome,” Feekes said. “I didn’t look up too much information on the trails before I got here, but I’m super happy there is high alpine mountain biking, too.”
However, the bike trails in the La Sal Mountains might not be best for beginners. “There’s a good variety of trails that range from pretty steep to really steep,” Feekes explained. The mountain bike trail rating system is similar to the system used at ski resort trails. Green circles are for beginners, blue squares are intermediate level, and black diamonds are recommended only for experts. In the La Sals there are no green circle biking trails. “For beginners I would recommend Moonlight Meadows,” Feekes said. “It’s an intermediate shady trail that riders should be able to bike most of. If not they can pretty easily walk their bike.”
Another option for outdoor enthusiasts interested in entering the mountain bike scene is to take a guided tour. “We choose trails suited for ability levels of the guests,” explained Ike Bancroft, a guide and mechanic at Moab Cyclery. “We can bike easy stuff with great views or more difficult trails that can be challenging. It’s always fun and worth it to get out and go bike.”