Biking in Moab: A Guide for the Practical Nature Lover

Posted by on August 10, 2015 at 5:00 pm :: No Comments

I am a Moab enthusiast. My husband and I have been traveling to Moab twice a year for almost a decade. In this post, I will be giving practical tips for mountain bikers visiting Moab. It’s my wordy shout-out to my favorite desert destination.

Before I begin my lengthy advice, let me congratulate you on your consideration of Moab. You are as wise as you are wise. Second, let me warn you. If you don’t already know that you need to take plenty of water and slather on sunscreen before heading out into the desert on a two-wheeled contraption, this blog post is not for you. (I’d recommend Common Sense in the Outdoors 101.) Or if you prefer to zoom through unbelievably beautiful terrain like you’re in a race, this post won’t apply. These tips are for the nature lover that happens to love nature best from the seat of a bike. Now, with that covered, let’s move on to my oh-so-helpful guidance.

Much of the desert surrounding Moab is so intensely colored it looks fabricated.

Much of the desert surrounding Moab is so intensely colored it looks fabricated.

How do you get to Moab?

The same way you get anywhere. You jump in a car and drive or you fly. Salt Lake City, along with its expansive airport, is only about a four-hour drive from Moab. Moab has a small airport but it’s very small. If you don’t have your own plane, then Salt Lake City is a much better option. Be aware that the section of Utah between Salt Lake City and Moab does not represent the terrain of the state as a whole. Parts of it are really quite homely and I’m embarrassed to include them in the irregular hexagon I call home. Also, keep in mind that if you are flying for any portion of your journey, you don’t need to worry about packing a bike. (Overhead bin?) There are a whole slew of places to rent cycles in Moab.

Do I need to make hotel reservations in advance to stay in Moab?

Yes, yes, YES! In fact, making reservations a couple months beforehand is not a bad idea. Definitely don’t expect to just roll into town and find a place to stay on the fly, unless you’re keen on car snoozing. There are a number of locations to camp around Moab too but, frankly, mountain biking in the desert is a messy affair. Nothing is quite as necessary, or as delightful, as a warm shower after an intense day of sandy cycling. Therefore, although we like to camp, when we are in Moab we stick to lodgings with non-mobile walls.

Canyonlands National Park is just a quick ride from Moab.

Canyonlands National Park is just a quick ride from Moab.

Are there a lot of biking options around Moab? I’ve only heard of Slickrock.

I’ve probably spent about 50 days biking and hiking in Moab since I’ve been married and the only trail I’ve biked more than once is Slickrock, which my husband and I have done three or four times. The path possibilities are really a little overwhelming because so many of them are so delicious. That’s one of the reasons we keep coming back, to make ourselves feel better about what we just can’t get to each time.

Are the biking trails in the area easy to find?

Some are a cinch to find and some are harder to locate than a belly button on a caterpillar. Jason and I have purchased a few guides to biking in Moab to make trail detecting easier. With so many paths in the area that crisscross and evaporate, I would highly recommend you do the same. We like FalconGuides or Rider Mel’s. On that note, be mindful that the ride times listed in these books are typically way off unless you are a diehard that doesn’t care about stopping for lunch, pictures or breath. If you appreciate scenery and snack breaks, doubling the times given in these guides should leave you lots of wiggle room.

If you like photography, you'll love Moab.

If you like photography, you’ll love Moab.

Are all of the biking trails around Moab extreme and difficult?

No, the only thing all of Moab’s biking paths have in common is their remarkable setting. No matter what your skill level, you can find trails right for you. Plus, even the more difficult routes can be handled by those less experienced if they are in decent physical condition and have the common sense to walk their bikes on the sections that are way too challenging for their abilities. The only path I wouldn’t even recommend walking a bike on is the Portal Trail. Three cyclists have died there and squeezing across its tiny brim is intimidating enough without trying to hang onto a bike. If you feel inclined to check it out, I’d suggest going sans cycle.

Be aware when choosing trails that mileage alone is not a good indication of exertion required, especially when sand is involved. You may ride a mile in sand at a barely perceptible pace and feel like you’ve run a marathon. Remember, many of the impressive rock formations around Moab are made out of sandstone, which isn’t called that for nothing. Know what to expect from a trail before you expend all of your emergency energy reserves, the ones only for running from a T. rex or saving Ferris, wading through the maw of some gritty beast or scaling up an incline even a mountain goat would snub.

The hiking options around Moab are as numerous as the biking ones.

The hiking options around Moab are as numerous as the biking ones.

When is the best time to go to Moab?

Not the summer! Moab is a desert and July and August there range from miserable to deadly, especially if you are pedaling about like a mad person. We like to go between mid-September and mid-November in the fall and between mid-March and mid-June in the spring. If you do find yourself in Moab when it is roasting, I would recommend biking in the La Sal Mountains instead of on the desert plateaus. You will miss some of Moab’s most unique scenery but you’ll also miss expiring from heat exhaustion.

If you timed your trip just right, from the middle of March to the middle of April, you could actually have the best outdoor vacation of your life. You could spend some time snowboarding or skiing near Salt Lake City and then drive a few hours down to Moab for some fabulous mountain biking. We’ve snowboarded on three feet of fresh powder one day in Park City and biked in 70s perfection in Moab the next. Life doesn’t get any better. I mean that.

I don’t want to starve for 40 days out in the desert? What about lunch?

Almost all of the eateries around town do lunches to go. These establishments are used to their clients being the impatient-to-get-out-there type. Our favorite place to pick up lunch and breakfast at the same time is the Love Muffin Café but there are numerous options for this in Moab.

This was taken during one of those magical sunset moments.

This was taken during one of those magical sunset moments.

Any photography suggestions?

There are five to ten minutes of light magic that happen as the sun is setting on Moab’s red rock. The stone smolders in the sinking glow. It’s practically impossible to get a bad picture during this brief period. If you see the rock start blazing, stop whatever you are doing and start shooting. You will be amazed at what you can capture.

Any other random tips?

If you plan on biking multiple days, please keep your tush in mind. Yes, your tush. Mountain biking in Moab is really bumpy. If you aren’t used to that rattle, or if you’re taking your bike out for the first time since winter’s tantrums, your butt is going to throb after a day on the saddle. Getting back on your seat the next day will feel like a cactus to the crotch. We like to give our backsides a break with a day of hiking sandwiched in between our two biking days. This doesn’t always alleviate the pains in our arses but it does help.

Moab, despite its familiarity, always feels like an adventure to me. It’s that perfect mix of gorgeousness and exhilaration you wish you could find on a dating site. My final bit of advice? Get to Moab and ride!

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