The Best Mountain Biking In Phoenix, Arizona for world-class desert riding

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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, Phoenix mountain biking 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.

Here 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 how to link the trails up for an epic day out in the desert.

Discover the best mountain biking in Phoenix, Arizona including the best trails, loops, and other things you need to know before heading to the desert

Important things to know about mountain biking in Phoenix

Don’t underestimate Phoenix temps
Phoenix is best-ridden during the cooler winter temps, but. if you find yourself in the area during the summer, 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.

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. (My favorite med-kit from MyMedic comes with a pair of tweezers).

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.


Best time to plan a Phoenix mountain biking 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.

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

Where to mountain bike in Phoenix: the top 5 trail networks

There are more than a dozen mountain bike trail networks around Phoenix. I haven’t ridden them all, but below are the top 5 trail networks I have ridden:

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

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

1. 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 (see SoMo Rolling Pin route below).

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.

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

South Mountain Ride Recommendations

South Mountain: SoMo Rolling Pin

This is one of the most popular rides in Phoenix. National is a must-ride if you’re an experienced mountain biker and don’t mind a good climb. It’s one of my favorite trails, but it’s not for everyone so be sure to read through my trail guide for National before committing!

South Mountain: Desert Classic

Desert Classic is an 18-mile out-and-back trail that is good for beginners or cross-country riders. There is very little tech throughout the trail, but the views of South Mountain are great and you can make the ride as long or as short as you’d like.

  • Route difficulty: Beginner
  • Mileage: 9 miles one-way
  • Elevation gain/loss: 686 ft one-way
  • Route directions: Park at Pima Canyon then find the trailhead to Desert Classic on the left of the bathrooms
  • Map/GPS: TrailForks, MTB Project

2. Brown’s Ranch

I love 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.

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

Brown’s Ranch Ride Recommendations

Browns 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/Intermediate
  • Mileage: 12 miles
  • Elevation gain/loss: 719 ft
  • Route directions: Park at Brown’s Ranch Trailhead then climb up Chuckwagon to Balanced Rock Trail. Follow Granite Mountain Loop to Branding Iron to Cholla Mtn. Loop. Take Corral Trail to Brown’s Ranch Road back to the parking area.
  • Map/GPS: TrailForks
Brown’s Ranch: Big Technical Loop – All the best diamonds

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.

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
  • Mileage: 28 miles
  • Elevation gain/loss: 1,733 ft
  • Route directions: Park at Pima Dynamite Trailhead then follow Latigo to Brown’s Mtn (or skip). Cut right onto Upper Ranch Trail to Brown’s Ranch Rd. Bear left onto Maverick Trail. Take Watershed to Balanced Rock Trail to Granite Mountain Loop. Continue on to Branding Iron Trail to El Diablo South and El Diablo North. Connect into High Desert then Stagecoach then West Express to Hackamore. Finish with Dare A Sarah to Scorpion to Hawknest Trail.
  • Map/GPS: TrailForks

3. FINS

An acronym for Fantasy Island North Singletrack, FINS is a great locals network that is less popular (but still 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.

Make the below route longer by taking Muriels Mile after descending Harvs Howl. Opt for Boneyard (a super cool trail!) before descending down Kimurel’s Hurl – a must.

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

FINS Ride Recommendations

FINS: Scorpion Loop
  • Route difficulty: Intermediate
  • Mileage: 5 miles with lots of options to make it longer
  • Elevation gain/loss: 500 ft
  • Route directions: Park at FINS Trailhead Parking. Climb up the sandy wash to Joey’s Jaunt to Rusty Rake, Wayne’s World, Brian’s Brink, and Kylie’s Cross. Climb up Exposure Grunt to Marks Meander, Randy’s Alt, and Spent Spade. Drop into Harv’s Howl. To make it longer, take Muriels Mile after descending Harvs Howl to Boneyard and descend down Kimurel’s Hurl.
  • Map/GPS: TrailForks

4. Hawes

Hawes is one of my favorite mountain bike networks in Phoenix. Most of the trails are purpose-built for mountain bikers and they flow super 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).

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

Hawes Ride Recommendations

Hawes: Classic ride

This loop is super fun and has everything from flowy singletrack to a bit of tech, epic views, and mellow climbing. If you’re looking for a good intro to Hawes, this is a great loop to start with.

  • Route difficulty: Intermediate
  • Mileage: 8.3 miles
  • Elevation gain/loss: 1,254 ft
  • Route directions: Park at the North Power parking area and cross the highway to access the Hawes trails. Climb up Hawes to Secret then descend down Saddle. Turn right onto Saguaro to access Mine. After the descent, take a left onto Granite and finish with Ridge.
  • Map/GPS: TrailForks
Hawes: 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. This is a lot of climbing on this ride, so be prepared with lots of water. If you want to make is shorter, skip either the Iron Goat or High Ridge descent at the end.

  • Route difficulty: Expert
  • Mileage: 15 miles
  • Elevation gain/loss: 2,577 ft
  • Route directions: Park at the Usery OHV Staging Area then climb up L’Alpe d’Huez to Goat. Descend Red Mountain Rush and connect into High Noon. For the laps at the bottom take L’Alpe d’Huez to Iron Goat. Climb back up L’Alpe d’Huez and finish with a run down High Ridge.
  • Map/GPS: TrailForks
Discover the best Phoenix mountain biking for world-class desert riding including the best trail networks, must-ride trails, and more!

5. 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.

Gold Canyon Ride Recommendations

Gold Canyon: Tour de Tech

This loop links up most of the technical trails in the area. If you don’t want to do Hoodoo (which is a legit doubleblack), take the go-around on Lost Goldmine.

The K-Trail is “the” trail to do in Gold Canyon. It’s pretty unique and has some fun features. I would say it’s a soft black, so intermediate riders should still give it a try

  • Route difficulty: Expert (or intermediate if you skip HooDoo and Phantom)
  • Mileage: 12.5 miles
  • Elevation gain/loss: 1,188 ft
  • Route directions: Park at the Gold Canyon parking area and pedal the road to the entrance of Gold Canyon. Take a left onto the Gold Canyon Trail and climb up Cougar to 2Doo. Decide whether you’re going to attempt HooDoo. If not, take a right onto Lost Goldmine. Drop into K-Trail to Phantom (optional) back to K-Trail. The Tech Loop is optional. Finish your ride on Holy Hill.
  • Map/GPS: TrailForks

Other Phoenix mountain biking networks to check out

The above networks are areas that I’ve ridden in Phoenix, but there is so much more to explore. Even though we were there for 10 days, we didn’t nearly ride it all. I’m definitely planning on returning to hit some of the networks that we missed. Below are other mountain bike zones in Phoenix that I will be adding above 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

Additional resources for planning your Phoenix mountain biking trip


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!

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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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6 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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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