Trail Report: Top riding locales in Phoenix, Arizona

Country's sixth largest city has vast array of great riding and amenities

South Mountain is known for its technical, rocky nature, and features an array of trails for Intermediate and Expert level riders. Photo by Jordan Carr

South Mountain is known for its technical, rocky nature, and features an array of trails for intermediate and expert level riders (click to enlarge). Photo by Jordan Carr

Editor’s Note: Jordan Carr is one half of the Subaru-IMBA Trail Care Crew that’s traveling the country spreading the gospel of mountain biking. Along the way he and girlfriend Leilani Bruntz (the other half) get to explore some of the country’s best riding locales, and then share them with you in this reoccurring Mtbr Trail Report series. Follow Carr and Bruntz’s adventures on Facebook and Instagram, and let us know in the comments section below if you have additional beta about these great riding destinations. Also be sure to check out the Mtbr Arizona Trails Page for more info and ride reviews from the Grand Canyon State.

As the sixth largest city in the United States, Phoenix, Arizona, offers a great riding scene paired with all the amenities you’d expect from a sprawling metropolis. With its warm climate, dry dirt, and access to public lands, Phoenix and the surrounding area are deserving of a trip, whether planned or just passing through. It’s also home to the Desert Foothills Mountain Bike Association IMBA chapter, several other local mountain bike advocacy clubs, Pivot Cycles, and an array of great bike shops.

Indeed, the city is a snowbird’s paradise, providing an escape from frigid winter temps. Riding is best from November to March, as temperatures soar into the triple digits during the summer months. Even in winter, it can still be hot. But it usually remains tolerable, typically hovering in the 80’s.

Here’s a rundown of some (but certainly not all) of the area’s best riding — and after ride — locales.

South Mountain

Located close to downtown, South Mountain is a popular trail system for all user types. Known for its technical, rocky terrain, it features an array of trails for intermediate and expert level riders. Most trails are littered with technical features, both ascending and descending. South Mountain is best tackled on a 120-160mm trail bike to get the most from the rugged terrain.

For riders looking for technical challenge complimented by beautiful views of the city, try the Mormon and National trails, which are accessed from the Pima Canyon Trailhead. This ride is done as a lollipop ascending the Mormon trail followed by a fun yet challenging descent back down to the car via the National trail. Traversing the park’s length, National offers connection to countless trails.

For riders looking to use gravity to their advantage, there’s a paved road to the top of South Mountain that allows for shuttle options. We were able to hit the Geronimo and Holbert trail, offering terrain that lends itself to bigger bikes and offers great views of the city.

Getting there: There are a few different access points for South Mountain. Pima canyon, the most popular trailhead, can be found off 48th Street just south of Baseline Road (9904 S. 48th Street near Guadalupe Road). Main access, which offers the option to drive to the top of South Mountain, can be found on Central Avenue just south of Dobbins Road (10919 S. Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85042)

With it’s contoured nature, the 78-mile long Black Canyon Trail rides well in almost any direction and length. Photo by Jordan Carr

With its contoured nature, the 78-mile long Black Canyon Trail rides well in either direction (click to enlarge). Photo by Jordan Carr

Black Canyon Trail

Located 30 minutes northwest of Phoenix, the Black Canyon Trail is a beautiful point-to-point singletrack meandering through the Bradshaw Mountains and paralleling Interstate 17. With its contoured nature, the 78-mile trail rides well in either direction. It can be bitten off in shorter single day rides, or ridden in its entirety in a day or as a multi-day bikepack trip. Beautiful views combined with an extremely well constructed trail make this a must-do ride.

If you have a small time window, ride from Black Canyon City at the Rock Spring exit. This 2-3-hour lollipop option will give you a great feel for the trail and take you south of the trailhead. After the ride, be sure to stop at the Pie Shop near the Rock Springs exit.

McDowell Mountain Park

Known for its flowing, high speed singletrack, McDowell Mountain Park is located northeast of Phoenix near Fountain Hills. Home to a popular mountain bike loop, McDowell hosts a variety of cross-country races each year. With a variety of loop options, the park offers a nice desert ride experience, but this place gets quite warm in summer, so come prepared. Water and shade are available at the trailhead. We recommend McDowell for more novice riders, or riders looking to get in a quick workout. For more info visit

Hillside Spot is a great after ride stop, centered on crafting creative food sourced from local farms and producers. Plus they serve breakfast all day. Photo by Jordan Carr

Hillside Spot features creative food sourced from local farms and producers. Plus they serve breakfast all day (click to enlarge). Photo by Jordan Carr

Phoenix Après Ride

Of course such a large city has amazing amenities for off-the-bike activities. Gluttonous caloric consumption is an easy way to pass the time when not sweating it all out on the trail. Littered with hole in the wall taquerias, amazing OG food options, and everything in between, the eating in Phoenix is on par with the riding. Here are some highlights.

Hillside Spot: Offering up an amazing menu paired with a great variety of beer, coffee, and cocktails, the Hillside Spot is a great post- ride stop, plus they serve breakfast all day. Located not far from the Pima Canyon Trailhead, the serve creative food sourced from local farms and producers. The rotating tap list and extensive bottle selection will appease beer aficionados. (4740 E Warner, Phoenix, AZ 85044)

San Tan Brewing Company: Great beer and food are an unbeatable combination. San Tan is a local brewery that has found the perfect balance between decadent cuisine and carefully crafted beers. Specializing in southwestern style ales, San Tan brews beer to compliment the hot Phoenix climate. Try their Devil’s Ale or HopShock IPA. (8 South San Marcos Place, Chandler, AZ 85225)

Cartel Coffee Lab: Beer and coffee snobs rejoice. Cartel Coffee Lab combines both uppers and downers in a industrial themed atmosphere. This is a great stop if you’re looking for a quick caffeine or booze buzz, but food options are limited. Focusing on top-level brewing methods, Cartel brews coffee anyway you’d prefer from espresso and French press to pour over and cold brew. Beer is a recent addition to the menu. Alas we visited in the morning and thus didn’t get the chance to sample any. Four locations around Phoenix area. (225 West University Drive Suite 101, Tempe, AZ 85281)

Slippery Pig: Combining all aspects of the bike lifestyle, Slippery Pig is filled with passionate employees excited to share their passion for riding — and great food and drink. Located in central Phoenix, Slippery Pig ownership offers up extensive community support to all types of riders and organizations hoping to improve mountain bike access. (4412 North Central Avenue, Phoenix, AZ 85013)

Singletrack Factory: Singletrack Factory offers up great mountain bike knowledge in downtown Scottsdale. It has a great selection of demo bikes from Yeti, Santa Cruz, and Ibis if you’re traveling to Phoenix without a bike. (11259 E Vía Linda #100, Scottsdale, AZ 85259)

About the author: Jordan Carr

Having spent more than half his life riding all types of bikes at almost every type of cycling event, Carr loves the freedom two-wheeled travel has brought to his life. Having spent many years behind the stand at a bike shop, he’s tested mountain bike products for a number of publications. Follow Carr's adventures as they travel the country promoting trails and mountain biking on Facebook and Instagram.

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  • Jscriv says:

    Phoenix Mountain Preserves / T100 / Dreamy Draw – some of the best loops in the area!

  • Joe Paluch says:

    McDowell Mtn Park (county park) connects directly the Scottsdale McDowell Preserve these can be combined along with the new Brown’s Ranch area to make a 100 mile all single track loop with 10,000 feet level gain and a mix smooth flowy and rocky long descents and big climbs. I did that Jan 2nd this year and still not cover all the trails in the area.

    As for the rest of the area… yes the 3 places mentioned are good, but just the tip of the iceberg in the Phoenix area.

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