Mountain Biking the South Boundary Trail in New Mexico
There’s a good chance that affiliate links are scattered throughout this post. If you click on one I may receive a small commission at no extra charge to you and I’ll definitely be using it to buy bike gear.
New Mexico is kind of under the radar for mountain biking, but it’s actually home to some awesome riding. Angel Fire is one of my favorite bike parks and the South Boundary Trail outside of Taos is a great 21-mile shuttled cross-country pedal through beautiful forest.
In this post, I share everything you need to know about mountain biking the South Boundary Trail.
Plan your pedal on the South Boundary Trail in New Mexico with this complete guide
What is the South Boundary Trail?
***2022 Update: Due to wildfires, the South Boundary Trail is only open from Garcia Park. Check the Shuttle Taos website for more information.
The South Boundary Trail is a 21-mile mostly singletrack shuttled ride in New Mexico that runs from Angel Fire (ish – it doesn’t actually start in the town of Angel Fire) down along the boundary of Carson National Forest to Taos, New Mexico. Along the way, riders traverse through beautiful forest and high, open meadows with several chances of catching a glimpse of the Sangre de Christo mountain range.
The SBT is designated an IMBA Epic ride because of its length and backcountry appeal. It’s mostly a cross-country pedal with few technical features until you hit the last four miles in which you lose the vast majority of elevation on a rowdy 4-mile technical section.
What to know before you go
The South Boundary Trailhead sits at around 10,000 feet and the trail immediately climbs to 10,700 feet. You’ll probably be gasping for breath and pedaling (or more likely walking) slowly. Take your time and if you start to feel dizzy rest for a bit before continuing on.
Despite being a shuttled ride, the South Boundary Trail actually has a substantial amount of climbing. There is over 2,000 ft of elevation gain in total (with a brutal 1.5-mile grind up a rock-studded doubletrack at the beginning) so be prepared with snacks and water. It’s definitely not all downhill.
There’s not a lot of tech on this trail until you start the 4-mile descent back to the parking area at the end. This section is fast and loose with tricky rock gardens, tight switchbacks, and steep, loose chunder. If you aren’t up for that much rowdiness, there is a go-around via the Ojitos Trail.
There is no water on the trail, so bring plenty with you.
There aren’t many places to bail if something goes wrong, so pack everything you might need to get yourself out of a bind. Garcia Park is the fastest and easiest way out.
Navigating the route
There are numerous fire roads and turnoffs throughout the whole ride, but just keep following signs that say #164 and you should be fine. I do recommend having TrailForks or MTB Project downloaded to your phone.
Share the trail
Hikers use the South Boundary trail as well, especially the last 4-5 miles. Check your speed, stay in control, and practice good trail etiquette.
The South Boundary Trail Guide
- Miles: 21 miles
- Elevation gain: 2,034 ft
- Elevation loss: 4,804 ft
- Highest point: ~10,700 ft
- Route difficulty: Intermediate with good fitness
- Time needed: 2-4 hours
The South Boundary Trail is actually a link-up of several trails that connect into each other to create a 21-mile route down the slopes of Osha Mountain. Here’s the trail breakdown:
After getting dropped off by your shuttle (see shuttle info below), the first trail of the day is Mount Osha. This is a grunt of a climb up an extremely rocky doubletrack road that is technically rideable in full but in my opinion not worth the gasping and burning legs.
It’s a pretty quick 800ft/1.5-mile ascent, though, and you top out at around 10,700ft – the highest elevation of the ride. Don’t be ashamed to walk.
South Boundary Trail
The South Boundary Trail begins with a short descent on more rocky fire road before the trail turns into singletrack and you hit the best part of the whole ride: “Heaven on Earth”. This is a fast and flowy sidehill section that makes you think this whole ride is gonna be great!
For the next 10 miles on the South Boundary Trail, though, it’s pretty pedally and frankly a little boring, in my opinion. I found my mind wandering to non-mountain bike-related thoughts such as “I wonder if Taos has good ice cream” and “what would it take to make my life one big road trip?”.
It’s easy to zone out here because the views are hidden by trees and the singletrack is smooth and monotonous. But you may love it!
The South Boundary Trail develops into some mellow ups, quite a bit of fire road, a few beautiful meadows (including Garcia Park where some riders choose to start the ride), a long, flat pedal through scenic aspen and oak forests, and glimpses of the Sangre de Christo mountains to the right.
It’s ‘nice’, but not overly engaging. On the other hand, the group that we took the shuttle with said that South Boundary Trail is “the best trail in New Mexico”. So there you go. Ride it and form your own opinion!
South Boundary Trail – Final four miles
It’s not until mile 17 or so that things get rowdy. You will come to a steep, loose pitch followed by several very rocky and loose switchbacks that are challenging and fun.
Then the trail opens up a bit for more rocky and steep sections that will have you either quickly assessing and executing lines on the fly or slamming on the brakes to scope out the best course of action.
Somewhere in the middle of the down, there’s a great view out over Taos that is worth a photo stop.
You’ll quickly get back into the trees for the final descent to the parking area. It’s fast on the straightaways but watch out for the switchbacks, they come up fast and there are often hiker’s on the trail, so check your speed.
And just like that, you’re done! The 21 miles goes fast and it can easily be done in under two hours if you’re charging.
Ojitos Trail Optional Finish
The last four miles of the South Boundary Trail are pretty steep, rocky, and full-on. If you want to bypass this section and finish on a mellower note, you can take Ojitos trail. I haven’t ridden it personally, but I do believe that it’s an easier way down to the parking area.
South Boundary Trail Shuttles
I highly recommend booking a shuttle for the South Boundary Trail. You could shuttle yourself, but the road up to Osha Mountain is quite rough and personally, I wouldn’t take anything but a high-clearance 4×4 truck or Jeep up there.
Shuttle Taos is the only shuttle company for the South Boundary Trail. Be prepared for any early morning, though. We met the van at the El Nogal Trailhead at 8 am and then it was an hour+ ride up to the Osha Mountain starting trailhead.
The last few miles of the drive are quite rough and bouncy.
Alternative Start At Garcia Park
For those that don’t want to do the full 21-mile South Boundary Trail, you can start at Garcia Park and just do the last 12 miles. Garcia Park skips some climbing but it also skips Heaven On Earth, which is fast and super fun. Shuttle Taos has a Garcia Park start option.
Best time to ride the South Boundary Trail
The South Boundary Trail is typically rideable from June through October, but it can stay snow-covered later into the spring and get early snow in the fall. Call Shuttle Taos for the most up-to-date trail information.
Fall is a great time to ride the trail if you want to experience the colorful aspen leaves.
What to pack
The biggest concerns on the South Boundary Trail are water and navigation. Make sure you bring plenty of water with you and have some sort of map or navigation guide like TrailForks or MTB Project.
For a complete list of what mountain bike gear to pack for your trip to Taos, head over to my Complete Mountain Bike Trip Packing List and Mountain Bike Pack Essentials posts.
Here are a few essentials for mountain biking the South Boundary Trail:
South Boundary Trail Essentials
Tubeless Tire Kit + Tire Boot
The South Boundary Trail is very remote so be prepared for flats with a tubeless tire kit and a tire boot or else it’s going to be a long walk out.
Bring a hydration pack that can carry at least 3 L of water. There is no water on the trail and the 21-miles are pedaly and temps can be hot.
I always like to have a lightweight jacket stashed in my back for just in case. The Patagonia Houdini jacket is super lightweight and surprisingly warm. (Men’s version here).
Final thoughts On the South boundary trail
I give the South Boundary Trail a 2.5 out of 5 for IMBA Epicness. It’s primarily a pedaly cross-country ride with a bit of legit DH at the end. The middle 10 or so miles feel a little monotonous with few to no engaging features or really any scenic views.
Somehow it always feels like you’re pedaling uphill. The forest is spectacular, especially in the fall when the leaves are changing, but vistas and overlooks are lacking. It will appeal more to cross-country riders than to mountain bikers looking for more engaging terrain.
Have you ridden the South Boundary Trail in Taos, New Mexico? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below!
I love hearing from you and appreciate your comments! However, if you leave a rude, unconstructive, or spammy comment, it will be deleted. It’s cool to be kind. Have an awesome day!