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A Beginner’s Guide to Mountain Biking Phoenix, Arizona
Phoenix, Arizona is home to miles up miles of amazing singletrack for all levels of rider, including novice shredders like you! The rolling terrain of Brown’s Ranch is one of my favorite networks to explore and the classic pedal along Desert Classic is great for an out-and-back spin. And did I mention that Phoenix is absolutely beautiful? I’m not a city person, but I could definitely see myself spending a winter season in Phoenix. For research purposes, you know?
As a beginner mountain biker, though, know it can be a bit challenging to know where to ride. Questions like: “Which trails are suited for novice riders and which ones are best avoided?”, “Where can you rent mountain bikes?”, and “Are there any skills camps around?” are are legit inquiries. Lucky for you, I’m here to answer those questions and more! In this guide you will find everything you need to know to plan your beginner mountain bike adventure to Phoenix, Arizona.
Looking for a more complete guide on where to mountain bike in Phoenix? Head over here
What kind of bike do I need?
A hardtail cross-country bike or an all-mountain/enduro full-suspension bike will do. You do not need or want a downhill bike in Phoenix.
What about e-bikes?
e-bikes are also allowed on many of the trails in Phoenix (I’m actually not sure if there are any trails an e-bike is prohibited from). TrailForks lists whether e-bikes are allowed on specific trails, so be sure to check before heading out
How do I know where to ride?
Download the TrailForks app then use the links below to navigate to the trailheads
When is the best time to go?
Phoenix is prime during the winter months of November-April. Summer temps get real hot and unless you’re willing to roll out by 5am I wouldn’t recommend heading to Phoenix to ride past April.
Where to ride beginner trails in phoenix
***Note: I have not ridden every trail in Phoenix, so this guide does not cover trails or zones that I have not ridden or have detailed beta on.
Also, ‘beginner’ is a spectrum depending on skills and fitness. Some of the described routes below are easier than others and some involve a few technical spots and features that may need to be walked. Typically the first route in a section (ex Loop #1) will be the easiest followed by more challenging beginner routes and so on.
McDowell Mountain Park
McDowell Mountain Park is probably the most beginner-friendly mountain bike network in Phoenix and is super popular with xc riders. There are over 50 miles of trail and most of those miles are novice-friendly. The terrain is hard-packed and rolling and the views of McDowell Mountain and the cacti-studded desert are beautiful.
MCDOWELL MOUNTAIN PARK BEGINNER LOOP #1
Four Peak staging Area Parking > Escondido Trail > Scenic > Cinch
This is a true beginner loop. Escondido Trail is smooth and flat with a bit of gradual elevation gain. Scenic Trail is true to its name: a super scenic trail with a few moderate technical features that can be easily be walked.
MCDOWELL MOUNTAIN PARK BEGINNER LOOP #2
Trailhead Staging Area Parking > Pemberton trail
The Pemberton Loop is a beautiful 18-mile loop in McDowell Mountain Park. Most of the trail is hard-packed with only a few short rocky, ascents. If you don’t want to commit to 18-miles, there are plenty of cross-trails to cut the route shorter.
MCDOWELL MOUNTAIN PARK BEGINNER LOOP #3
Competitive Trailhead Parking > Sport Loop > Technical Loop > Long Loop
This is a moderate beginner loop with some low-level tech for the adventurous beginner. Most of the trail is smooth singletrack, but there are some rocky ascents and technical features that may be above a beginner’s skill level. This is also a race loop, so I highly recommend not riding it on the weekend or else you’ll be pulling off the trail every 5 minutes to let a lycra-clad, super-fit, hardtail racer pass you by. Also note that these trails on one-directional, so ride this loop counterclockwise
Brown’s Ranch is one of my favorite mountain bike zones in Phoenix. The terrain is hard-packed (for the most part) and the trails were biker-built which means they have flow and cool features. There’s also a ton of singletrack to be ridden – over 150 miles – and terrain for all levels of cross-country rider.
BROWN’S RANCH BEGINNER LOOP #1
Brown’s Ranch Trailhead > Brown’s Ranch Road > Corral Trail > High Desert Trail > The Divide > Hawksnest > Buckshot > Brown’s Ranch Road
This is an easy loop that is great for true beginners. Each trail is mellow with very minimal tech. The descent down Hawksnest is fun and flowy and beautiful!
BROWN’S RANCH BEGINNER LOOP #2
Pima Dynamite Trailhead > Latigo Trail > Upper Ranch Trail > Cloudburst > Hawksnest
This loop has two of my favorite beginner-friendly descents in Brown’s Ranch: Cloudburst and Hawksnest. The pedal up Latigo is easy and straightforward and then you drop into Cloudburst which is a super fun new flow trail with built berms and great flow. Hawksnest is also purpose-built and a great descent for those riders that are still getting used to speed and flow.
South Mountain is home to one of Phoenix’s most iconic trails: National. National is decidedly not a beginner trail, but it’s also a popular for hiking if you want to check it out. The only real beginner trail at South Mountain is Desert Classic. It’s a 9-mile one way trail situated at the foot of the mountain and it’s a great spin for all levels. There’s also Ma-Ha-Tuak Perimeter trail on the other side of the mountain that is rated a blue, but I haven’t ridden it so I can’t speak to its level of tech or fun factor.
SOUTH MOUNTAIN BEGINNER TRAIL #1
Pima Canyon Parking > Desert Classic
18 miles out and back, but you can turn around at any point
Desert Classic on South Mountain is a great trail for beginner/novice riders. It’s mostly flat and even though it’s 9 miles in length, you can turn around at any point. But while this is an ‘easy’ trail, don’t expect it to be pavement. There are some steep washes to descend into and climb out of and there are a few mild techy spots that may need to be walked. Desert Classic is a very popular trail, so expect to see a lot of traffic if you ride it on the weekend.
Didn’t bring your mountain bike with you on this trip or don’t yet own your own set of two wheels? Not to worry, these local shops have you covered. Rent a full-suspension or hard-tail bike from one of the shops below and then go hit the trails!
The Bike Barn – The Bike Barn is one of Phoenix’s veteran bike shops. It’s located just north of downtown and could be a good option if you’re headed to McDowell or Brown’s Ranch for the day. They have a fleet full-suspension mountain bikes ready to hit the trails | (602) 956-3870
Bike Options: Trek and Specialized
Cactus Adventures – Cactus Adventures is a by-appointment only bike rental operation near South Mountain. They’re located in a concession trailer at Arizona Grand Resort and they have a fleet of full-suspension and hard-tail bikes ready to roll. They also offer tours | (480) 688-4743
Bike Options: Kona, Cannondale, Santa Cruz and KHS
REI Adventure Center – The REI Adventure Center is located in Scottsdale, just minutes away from McDowell Park and Brown’s Ranch. They offer a wide range of mountain bike rentals from top-of-the-line to more basic models. | (866) 455-1601
Bike Options: Specialized, Santa Cruz, Juliana, Giant, Liv and Trek