As much as I pretend (or not pretend…) to shutter at the mention of a long cross-country mountain bike ride, I do actually – occasionally – enjoy an easy spin along fast-rolling and obstacle-free singletrack.
So when I found myself camping at McDowell Mountain Regional Park not really wanting to drive anywhere and not liking the idea of tackling the more rugged trails in the park, I decided to give the full 15-mile Pemberton Trail a go.
The Pemberton Loop is a bit of a superstar amongst mountain bikers in Phoenix, particularly the XC enthusiasts. It’s a nice length, has great views, and isn’t overly challenging while still being interesting.
I enjoyed my ride more than I thought I would and in this guide, I share everything you need to know before setting out on this iconic Phoenix desert trail.
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Pemberton Trail Map
This map shows the full 15.3-mile Pemberton Trail loop. For more information about the other trails in McDowell, head over to my McDowell Mountain Biking post.
Why (or why not) ride Pemberton Trail?
The Pemberton Loop is one of the most popular cross-country desert singletrack trails in Phoenix. While it may not be the most ‘exciting’ mountain bike trail Phoenix has to offer or even the most beautiful, it is an iconic trail that is super popular with locals and visitors alike.
Here are a few reasons to put it on your bike-it list:
Of course, Pemberton Trail isn’t all fun downhills and smooth singletrack. Here are a few reasons it might not be the trail for you:
New to mountain biking? Check out my top picks for best beginner mountain bike trails around Phoenix.
How to Ride It
Since the Pemberton Trail is a loop, you can ride the full 15.3-mile trail in either direction.
I rode the loop counterclockwise, but here are the pros/cons of each:
- Clockwise: climb the loose, rocky west side and descent the fast, flowy eastside
- Counterclockwise: Have a mellow pedal up and a chunkier descent down
Ride it for:
- Easy desert pedaling
- Great views
Need to know:
- Watch out for other trail users
- Carry plenty of water
Route directions: Main Trailhead Parking > Pemberton Trail (clockwise or counterclockwise)
Make it shorter: A great way to make this route shorter is to descend down Bluff Trail, which is arguably more fun than completing the full Pemberton Loop
Make longer: Add Scenic trail (clockwise) either at the beginning or end. This trail has a moderate climb at the start but then traverses a beautiful ridge before descending down the other side.
Gear up for your ride
The Pemberton Trail is pretty mellow and doesn’t require any specific mountain bike gear other than your helmet, mountain bike pack essentials, and a way to carry water.
If you’re new to mountain biking, here are some posts that you might find helpful:
Looking for a new hydration pack?
Carry all your tools, water, and snacks for your ride. I know there are three camps when it comes to mountain bikers: the hydration backpackers, the hip packers, and the water bottlers.
I fall firmly in the hydration backpack club for a few reasons. I drink a lot of water, I eat a lot of snacks, and I like to be prepared with all the tools and spares I might need (especially when mountain biking alone).
Feeling ready to tackle the Pemberton Loop? I hope this blog post has answered all your questions and inspired you to hit the trail. Have fun out there!
Explore more of Phoenix’s mountain biking scene with the help of these guides:
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Have you ridden the Pemberton Trail? What did you think? What questions do you still have? Leave a comment below!