Outdoor adventure: Mountain biking in the West

Before man stood on the moon, he christened a rolling landscape of sandstone waves near Moab, Utah, as his playground.

Well, maybe not before, but definitely that same summer. The Slickrock Trail, though laid out for dirt bikes in 1969, soon morphed into a 10.2-mile-long loop that draws mountain bikers from across the world and made “Moab” a mythical destination for those who had yet to pedal the trail.

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Along with dipsy doodles and rollers of coarse stone that will scrape multiple layers of skin from your frame if you become separated from your bike at an inopportune time, this playground offers sweeping views of sandstone domes, deep canyons, and Arches National Park across the Colorado River. A small handful of miles south of Moab, the Slickrock Trail, found within the Sand Flats Recreation Area, even has a 2.3-mile-long practice loop for those unaccustomed to riding on sandstone.

But the Slickrock Trail isn’t the only playground for you to explore with your mountain bike. Just west of Moab, in Canyonlands National Park, lies the White Rim Trail. This 100-mile epic ride starts with a dizzying downhill series of switchbacks on a dirt road known as the Shafer Switchbacks that originally was cut as a cattle trail.

One-hundred miles of sandstone pedaling, with an elevational range from 4,000-6,000 feet, can be a lot. For those looking to make the trek a little less arduous, companies like Western Spirit Cycling are ready with guides, a sag wagon, and nightly camps where you relax with your favorite beverage while the guides cook. You might find grilled salmon with pesto pasta, spinach walnut lasagna, or even Indian curry chicken and vegetables on your dinner plate.

You can even rent a bike from them so you don’t need to pack your own.

“If you want to go to a national park instead of Disneyworld, this is a great way to do it,” says Western Spirit owner Ashley Korenblat. “It’s a stress-free way of visiting a national park.”

While Moab is the center of the mountain biking universe, there are satellite spots worth exploring with Western Spirit. Stay in Utah and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument offers a backdrop worthy of national park status, while the six-day Maze trip takes you deep into the ruddy maw of Canyonlands. The Maze was a favorite of the late Edward Abbey, who mentioned it his seminal novel of extreme environmentalism, The Monkey Wrench Gang.

If you’ve already checked the Beehive State off your to-do list, consider Western Spirit trips to the Black Hills of South Dakota, to Idaho and its backcountry hot springs, or to the mountains just outside the northwest corner of Yellowstone National Park.

Team up with Western Spirit and Alaska Airlines on any of these treks and you can even save money on your next adventure, to the tune of $250 per person. And Western Cycling will even throw in free bike rentals.

Yet another great destination to ride is Mammoth, California. The Mammoth Mountain Bike Park offers 80+ miles of single-track riding, with terrain suitable for beginners as well as experts. And when you’ve sated your soul on the trails, consider stopping at Devils Postpile National Monument next door, or Yosemite National Park up the road, to get your dose of national parks.

Get outside this summer and fall and find great discounts and deals with Alaska’s Outdoor Adventure program. Need inspiration? Read “Climbing the West” and “Unplug, unwind and get wet on a Western float trip.”


  1. Thanks Alaska Air!

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