The Best Mountain Biking In Phoenix, Arizona for World-Class Desert Riding

Discover the best Phoenix mountain biking for world-class desert riding including the best trail networks, must-ride trails, and more!

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For most people, mountain biking in Phoenix, Arizona isn’t at the forefront of their minds when it comes to awesome desert riding. But let me tell you, Phoenix is home to one of the most extensive mountain biking networks I’ve ever visited. It is HUGE! There are hundreds of miles of singletrack to explore in and around the city, and it’s good.

You’ll find a mix of everything from pedaly cross-country desert riding to full-on DH trails with drops, rock gardens, and high-speed flow.

For first-time visitors to Phoenix, though, it can be a bit overwhelming to decide which mountain bike networks to ride or which top trails to hit. In this post, I’ve rounded up my favorite Phoenix mountain bike trail networks and route recommendations for epic day sout in the desert.

Important things to know

Don’t underestimate Phoenix temps

Phoenix is best-ridden during the cooler winter temps, but if you find yourself in the area during the warmer month, do not underestimate the desert heat.

Summer temps can easily top 100° and if you’re not prepared with lots of water, sun protection, and a plan, you could find yourself in a dangerous situation.

Read next: How to Survive Your First Mountain Bike Trip to the Desert

Trails are lined with an alarming array of cacti

As is expected for desert terrain, the trails around Phoenix are very thorny. I highly recommend riding with tubeless tires and having a pair of tweezers in your med kit.

Some trails can get super busy

The city of Phoenix is a metropolis with over 1.6 million residents, so expect to share the trails with other users including hikers, trail runners, equestrians, and other mountain bikers.

Some trails, like National, are particularly popular, so try to plan your ride on a weekday if you can.

E-bikes are allowed

E-bikes are legally allowed on most mountain bike trails in Phoenix and even on the trails/networks where they’re not allowed (ahem, Hawes), you’ll find them. Everyone is out there to have fun, so let’s stay kind and courteous!

Brush up on your mountain biking etiquette here

Best time to Plan A Trip

The best time to plan a mountain biking trip to Phoenix, Arizona is during the cooler winter months of November through March or April. Summer temps are brutally hot with average day temps that top 100°.

Phoenix also has a monsoon season that typically falls between June and September. This is when Phoenix sees about 30% of its annual rainfall which can result in flash floods.

Mountain bike propped up on rocks at overlook near Phoenix, Arizona with moody clouds overhead
Winter or early spring/late fall are the best times to mountain bike in Phoenix

mountain biking Guide to Phoenix

There are more than a dozen mountain bike trail networks around Phoenix, some definitely better than others.

I haven’t ridden every network or trail here, but below are the top 5 trail networks I have ridden including the best trails and route recommendations.

  1. Brown’s Ranch
  2. Hawes
  3. FINS
  4. Gold Canyon
  5. South Mountain

Each network is unique and worth visiting if you have the time!

1. Brown’s Ranch

I really enjoy pedaling at Brown’s Ranch and personally, I think it’s home to some of the best mountain biking in Phoenix. True, there’s not much tech, but the trails are very well built and the flow is awesome. Plus the views! Simply stunning.

The best thing is that there’s a ton of riding to be had at Brown’s Ranch. You could ride here for a week straight and not ride the same stuff, especially if you connect into McDowell Park just to the south.

There’s also a good variety of semi-tech, too. Nothing is over-the-top challenging, but trails like North Diablo, South Diablo, and Scorpion offer a bit of rocky fun.

Best Trails to ride:

  • Hawksnest: A fun, flowy beginner-friendly trail
  • Cloudburst: Short connector trail with tons of flow
  • Dare A Sarah: Better ridden as a downhill, this trail has a bit of tech and is a good way to finish your ride at Brown’s Ranch
  • Scorpion: Another slightly techy trail with great flow and fun rock features.
  • El Diablo North and South: These two trails offer the most tech at Brown’s Camp with some tricky rock gardens and rock features. These are must-rides!
Becky Riding mountain bike up rock slab at Brown's Ranch in Phoenix, Arizona

Brown’s Ranch Route Recommendation:

1. Brown’s Ranch 12 Mile Loop

This is a great intro to Brown’s Ranch and Phoenix mountain biking in general. There’s not a whole lot of tech, but the route has some great flow, beautiful views, and classic desert riding.

If you want to make it longer and a bit more technical, tack on the Diablo Trails. Ride them south to north for better flow.

  • Route difficulty: Beginner
  • Trail network: Brown’s Ranch
  • Route type: Loop
  • E-bikes? Yes
  • Mileage: 12 miles
  • Elevation gain/loss: 719 ft
  • Map/GPS: TrailForks

Route directions: Brown’s Ranch Trailhead Parking > Chuckwagon > Balanced Rock Trail > Granite Mountain Loop > Branding Iron > Cholla Mtn. Loop > Corral Trail > Brown’s Ranch Road

Do more: Add El Diablo North and El Diablo South for some fun, technical riding

Brown’s Ranch Route Recommendation:

2. Big Technical Loop

This is a big day that covers a lot of miles. That being said, the trails at Brown’s Ranch roll fast, so bigger mile days are doable if you’re relatively fit and bring a lot of water and snacks.

The black-rated trails in Brown’s Ranch aren’t super technical compared to many other mountain bike networks and most of the big features have go-arounds. They’re more fun skill-building tech than scary “I might mess myself up” tech.

If you want to make this route a bit shorter and cut off some of the climbing, skip Brown’s Mountain by taking Wrangler Trail to Maverick Trail.

  • Route difficulty: Intermediate (with good fitness)
  • Trail network: Brown’s Ranch
  • Route type: Loop
  • E-bikes? Yes
  • Mileage: 28.1 miles
  • Elevation gain/loss: 1,733 ft
  • Map/GPS: TrailForks

Route directions: Pima Dynamite Trailhead Parking > Latigo > Brown’s Mtn (or skip) > Upper Ranch Trail > Brown’s Ranch Rd > Maverick Trail > Watershed > Balanced Rock Trail > Granite Mountain Loop > Branding Iron Trail > El Diablo South > El Diablo North > High Desert > Stagecoach > West Express > Hackamore > Dare A Sarah > Scorpion > Hawknest Trail.

Do less: To cut off about 2 miles and 300 ft of climbing, skip Brown’s Mountain. The views are nice, but not necessarily worth the extra effort or miles.

Mountain biker riding bike on skinny rock spine in Phoenix, Arizona
The ‘tech’ at Brown’s Ranch is great for skill-building

2. Hawes

Hawes is my favorite mountain bike network in Phoenix. Most of the trails are purpose-built for mountain bikers and they flow really well. The views are amazing and there’s a good variety of trails for every level of rider. Hit this network at golden hour and you’ll be even more stoked!

Note: There has been a lot of trail building in Hawes since I’ve ridden there last. The below routes are ones I’ve ridden and know, but there are several new trails in the area I haven’t ridden (yet).

Best trails to ride:

  • Wild Horse: Good out-and-back trail
  • Upper Ridge: Fast, flowy, and beautiful
  • Mine: Starts off with a bit of a climb up and around a rocky crag (that used to be a mine) and then opens up into amazing views and a steep DH switchbacked descent down to the Salt River.
  • Red Mountain Rush: I haven’t ridden this trail, but it gets a ton of great reviews
Woman mountain biker dressed in gear standing on rock pile next to trail looking out over stunning Phoenix, Arizona desert landscape
Hawes at golden hour is stunning!

Hawes Route Recommendation:

1. Hawes Classic CCW

I did this ride before all the new trails went into Hawes, but it’s still a great loop to start with, especially if you have a few days to explore the newer trails as well.

Mine is a really fun ‘soft’ DH trail and the views throughout are stunning.

  • Route difficulty: Intermediate
  • Trail network: Hawes
  • Route type: Loop
  • E-bikes? No (but yes…)
  • Mileage: 8.3 miles
  • Elevation gain/loss: 1,270 ft 
  • Map/GPS: TrailForks

Route directions: North Power parking area > cross the highway to access the Hawes trails > Hawes > Secret > Saddle > Saguaro > Mine > Granite > Ridge.

Do more: Upper Ridge is a fun descent, so you could climb back up to Saddle and do a run down Upper Ridge.

Mountain biker riding down singletrack trail in Phoenix, Arizona with soft light on mountains and desert landscape
Dropping into Mine at Hawes trail network

Hawes Route Recommendation:

2. The High Goats on Red Mountain

I have not ridden this route, but Red Mountain Rush is a newer trail in Hawes that is supposed to be super fun.

There is quite a bit of climbing on this ride, so be prepared with lots of water. If you want to make it shorter, skip either the Iron Goat or High Ridge descent at the end.

  • Route difficulty: Advanced
  • Trail network: Hawes
  • Route type: Loop
  • E-bikes? No (but yes…)
  • Mileage: 15 miles
  • Elevation gain/loss: 2,570 ft 
  • Map/GPS: TrailForks

Route directions: Usery OHV Staging Area > L’Alpe d’Huez > Goat > Red Mountain Rush > High Noon > Optiona: L’Alpe d’Huez > Iron Goat > L’Alpe d’Huez > High Ridge.

Do less: Skip either (or both) the descents down Iron Goat and/or High Ridge at the end.

3. FINS

An acronym for Fantasy Island North Singletrack, FINS is a great locals network that is less popular and very awesome. There’s a lot of ground to cover if you’re willing to work for it, but you can also do laps on lower terrain if that’s more your thing. I was really impressed with these trails!

Best trails to ride:

  • Kimuerl’s Hurl: The most popular downhill trail at FINS. Super fun and fast with not a lot of tech
  • Harv’s Howl: Second most popular downhill. Again, fast and flowy. Not much tech
  • Boneyard: Cool short techy trail with a rock chute
  • Exposure Grunt to Northstar: Tough climb, but worth the lookout views
Mountain biker riding bike down narrow rocky shoot on trail in Phoenix, Arizona
Fun rocky chute on Boneyard

FINS Route Recommendation:

FINS Scorpion Loop

Impress your Strava friends with a scorpion-shaped route map! This route hits many of the best trails at FINS, but I recommend adding a few more to get the full tour. See “do more” below.

  • Route difficulty: Intermediate
  • Trail network: FINS
  • Route type: Loop
  • E-bikes? Yes
  • Mileage: 5 miles with lots of options to make it longer
  • Elevation gain/loss: 500 ft 
  • Map/GPS: TrailForks

Route directions: FINS Trailhead Parking > sandy wash to Joey’s Jaunt > Rusty Rake > Wayne’s World > Brian’s Brink > Kylie’s Cross > Exposure Grunt > Marks Meander > Randy’s Alt > Spent Spade > Harv’s Howl.

Do more (highly recommend): To make it longer, take Muriels Mile after descending Harvs Howl to Boneyard and then descend down Kimurel’s Hurl.

Do even more: The climb all the way to the lookout via Exposure Grunt and Northstar is definitely a grunt, but I thought the views were worth it.

Mountain biker riding on wooden ramp on desert trail in Phoenix, Arizona
Wood ramp action on Kimurel’s Hurl

4. Gold Canyon

I was really looking forward to riding Gold Canyon because I’d heard really good things about it, but my first impression was “this sucks”. However, I think my disappointment was partly due to me being tired from a week straight of big riding and not knowing which trails were the best for mountain bikers.

This network is super popular with hikers and horseback riders, so some of the trails are really best left to them.

Once we found ‘the good stuff’ my perception of Gold Canyon improved and I’d like to actually go back and explore more of the upper trails.

This area is also very scenic with Turk’s Head Mountain dominating the landscape.

Best trails to ride:

  • K-Trail: it should be called the U-Trail because there are so many u-shaped turns that sweep in and out of washes and ravines. At first, I didn’t love the K-Trail, but it kind of grows on you. It’s the kind of trail that is best ridden a couple of times before it gets ‘really’ fun.
  • Jodi’s Dream: Bonus miles to the K-Trail
  • Phantom: An intermediate/advanced trail with some interesting tech
  • Hoo Doo: A very cool but very challenging trail with high-stakes features. A must for advanced riders

Gold Canyon Route Recommendation:

1. Gold Canyon Sampler

This route is a good intro to Gold Canyon. It mainly features the K-Trail, which is kind of an iconic trail for Phoenix. I hated it at first, but then it kind of grew on me. It is quite unique.

There are many options to add on to this route or you can opt for the longer and more technically challenging Tour de Tech below.

  • Route difficulty: Intermediate
  • Trail network: Gold Canyon
  • Route type: Loop
  • E-bikes? Yes
  • Mileage: 11.2 miles
  • Elevation gain/loss: 668 ft 
  • Map/GPS: TrailForks

Route directions: Gold Canyon Parking > Gold Canyon > 2GM > Gila Monster > Diamonback > K-Trail > Jodi’s Dream (clockwise) > K-Trail to car

Make it harder: There are several options to add techier trails from the K-Trail like the Tech Loop (counterclockwise) and Phantom.

Gold Canyon Route Recommendation:

2. Tour de Tech

This loop links up most of the technical trails in the area including Hoo Doo, which is really cool, but definitely only for advanced riders. The route doubles back to do Cojones, which I haven’t done.

From there, it links up the K-Trail, Tech Loop, and Phantom for a challenging, but fun ride.

  • Route difficulty: Intermediate
  • Trail network: Gold Canyon
  • Route type: Loop
  • E-bikes? Yes
  • Mileage: 11.5 miles
  • Elevation gain/loss: 1,185 ft 
  • Map/GPS: TrailForks

Route directions: Gold Canyon parking area > Gold Canyon Trail > Cougar > 2Doo > HooDoo > (Optional: Cojones) > Lost Goldmine > K-Trail > Phantom > K-Trail > Tech Loop > Holy Hill

Make it easier: If you don’t want to do Hoo Doo take Lost Goldmine. If Hoo Doo isn’t on your list, though, I recommend doing the Gold Canyon Sampler route above because the climb up to K-Trail is better.

Mountain biker riding down steep rock slab on trail in Phoenix Arizona
One of the many technical parts on Hoo Doo

5. South Mountain

South Mountain is one of the largest recreational parks in Phoenix with over 50 miles of multi-use trail set amid three mountain ranges: Ma Ha Tauk, Gila, and Guadalupe.

South Mountain’s claim to mountain biking fame is National Trail, one of the most iconic rides in Phoenix and one of my all-time favorite trails. It’s definitely better suited for more experienced riders, but if that’s you, check out my trail guide to National here.

While there are a lot of other trails on South Mountain, most of them are extremely challenging with suuuper steep climbs and pro-line rated rock gardens. Most people who visit South Mountain stick to the eastern side near Pima Canyon or do the relatively flat cross-country Desert Classic.

Best trails to ride:

  • Desert Classic: This is a cruisy, fun 9-mile (one-way) trail that follows the base of South Mountain
  • Javelina Canyon: An intermediate fun descent for those not up for National
  • National: an advanced trail with a steep climb to get to the top, but you’re rewarded with an awesome descent. It does get very busy with hikers, so try to ride it mid-week. Read my full trail guide here.
Views out over the city of Phoenix, Arizona and desert landscape from top of South Mountain
Views out over Phoenix from National Trail

South Mountain Route Recommendation:

Pima Lot Javalina DH Loop

South Mountain has a lot of high-stakes, challenging trails (like National). If you’re not up for an advanced ride, but still want to experience a little of what South Mountain has to offer, this loop is great. It’s got a fun downhill on Javelina with a little bit of tech and the climbing is moderate. Plus, there are some great views!

  • Route difficulty: Intermediate
  • Trail network: South Mountain
  • Route type: Loop
  • E-bikes? Yes
  • Mileage: 5.3 miles
  • Elevation gain/loss: 528 ft
  • Map/GPS: TrailForks

Route directions: Pima Canyon Parking > Pima Canyon Road > Mormon (briefly) > Javelina Canyon > Beverly-Pima Connector > Pima Canyon Loop > Pima Canyon Road

Do more: If you want to add some miles, tack on an out-and-back on Desert Classic. This trail is 18 miles round-trip, so go as far as you want and then turn back around.

Other networks to check out

The above networks are areas that I’ve ridden in Phoenix, but there is so much more to explore. SO much more! Even though I was there for 10 days, I didn’t nearly ride it all.

I’m definitely planning on returning to hit some of the networks that I missed, so I’ll keep updating this post.

Below are other mountain bike zones in Phoenix that I will be adding once I check them out.

  • McDowell Mountain Park (I know… this is kind of the iconic place to ride, but we didn’t make it there this time around)
  • Cave Creek north of Phoenix
  • Phoenix Mountains Preserve located directly north of the city center
  • Estrella Mountain Park, Lucero, and the Pirate Trails west of Phoenix near FINS
  • Goldfield Mountains east of the city near Gold Canyon
  • White Tank northwest of the city

I hope this post helps you plan an awesome mountain bike trip to the desert. Phoenix has so much to offer when it comes to mountain biking and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Related posts:

Have you done any mountain biking in Phoenix? What is your favorite network to ride and what are your favorite trails? Leave a comment below!

Discover the best Phoenix mountain biking for world-class desert riding including the best trail networks, must-ride trails, and more!
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8 Comments

  1. Hi Becky,
    I love your great descriptions, recommendations, photos and trail tips!
    A couple of us bikerchixs are heading (from Canada) to your area to mtb next month.
    We are super-excited to check out the trails. 🙂

  2. I agree with the top 5, but would have a different ranking. Hawes is #1 because of the new trails and general trail variety (flowy blues to true blacks). I love Gold Canyon because the trails are chunky technical and designed and built, albeit illegally, by mountain bikers. So when you’re on the K Trail and you dropped into and out of the same wash 10 times you know the trail was built for fun. Brown’s Ranch is great because you can pull 30 miles in 3 hours on a single speed and have a great time. And finally, SoMo is great for the pure challenge, especially on National where line selection is the key.

  3. You got the top 5…but just reverse them. Sorry, South Mtn for the average trail rider looking forward to blue and light black, would be last on the list. (IMHO)?

    1. Hi Tom, thanks for your comment! I actually didn’t mean for the five networks to be ranked in any way, but I do see how South Mountain (at number one) could be taken to mean ‘the best’ place to ride. I agree with you that it’s not the best for intermediate riders – although I do love National! I’ll update this post as soon as I can and rank each network according to difficulty/fun factor.

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