5 Winter Mountain Bike Road Trip Itineraries That Pass Through A National Park

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5 Winter Mountain Bike Road Trip Itineraries That Pass Through A National Park

It may be snowy, cold and wintery in the majority of the United States, but that doesn’t mean that mountain bike road tripping has come to an end. Heck no! There’s still plenty of prime riding throughout the southwestern states like southern California, Nevada, southern Utah, and Arizona.

Plus – big bonus here – many winter mountain biking destinations are close to National Parks making these road trip itineraries even more epic. It doesn’t get better than a mountain bike/National Park combo road trip. Right?

Each itinerary starts in Las Vegas because this glittering city is a great 360° jumping off point. Las Vegas has Hurricane and St. George to the north, Sedona to the east, Phoenix and Tucson south, and SoCal to the west. And to be honest, Vegas can be pretty fun…

So are you ready to jump in the car and hit the road to explore awesome singletrack riding and check off a National Park or two?

Zion National Park | Grand Canyon National Park | Saguaro National Park | Joshua Tree National Park | Death Valley National Park


Zion National Park

Las Vegas > St. George > Hurricane > Zion National Park

 

 

 


 

Zion National Park is located in southwestern Utah and even though it’s one of the smaller US Parks, it is definitely still mighty. Tall, towering sandstone cliffs rise up from either side of the central canyon and the views from atop these cliffs are stunning. There’s slot canyons to explore, waterfalls to capture and if you visit Zion with a little bit of snow on the ground, it’s absolutely magical.

Days 1-3: Las Vegas

Start your road trip in Las Vegas. If you’re keen on getting some riding in right away spend a few days exploring the trails around Las Vegas. They’re awesome! head to the Bear’s Best network for some flowy fun or Cowboy Trails for raw DH tracks.

Days 3-6: Hurricane

Drive Time: 2 hours from Las Vegas to Hurricane

Time to ride St. George and Hurricane! I honestly prefer the trails outside of Hurricane more than St. George, so I recommend focusing on that network if you only have a few days. Definitely ride Gooseberry Mesa, Wire Mesa, and Guacamole. If you’re an advanced rider, Grafton Mesa is also really fun and techincal, but you have to climb back up the road unless you shuttle.

If you do have time to hit St. George, Barrel Roll and Zen in Santa Clara Reserve are both great and Kentucky Lucky Chicken is a quick 4-mile loop.

epic review: the hurricane rim loop -

 

epic review: the hurricane rim loop

A complete guide to mountain biking in hurricane -

 

A complete guide to mountain biking in hurricane

the 6 best mountain bike trails in hurricane -

 

the 6 best mountain bike trails in hurricane

Days 6-7: Zion National Park

Drive Time: 30 minutes from Hurricane to Zion

Explore Zion National Park! Zion is a small park, so you don’t need to spend days exploring it, but there are a few sights and activities you should not miss:


Always check weather and conditions before heading to Zion. It’s not uncommon fortrails to close due to snow and ice


Angels Landing: If you’re ok with heights, Angels Landing is a beautiful hike up to the top of tall rock pinnacle. Think Half Dome’s little brother. It’s 5.4 miles roundtrip and takes 4-5 hours. But don’t let the low mileage trick you into thinking this is an easy jaunt. Angels Landing is a strenuous hike and the exposure is NOT for the faint hearted, especially if you plan on tackling the last bit up to the top which involves holding on to chains and navigating a very narrow and exposed rock trail.

 

 


The Narrows: The Narrows is another very popular trail in Zion. It traverses through a slot canyon and the majority of the hike is in knee-deep water, so plan on getting wet and cold! This hike is 9.4 miles round trip and takes about 8 hours if you hike all the way to the end.

Things to know: Zion can be a very crowded park because of its small size and natural beauty. Expect to wait in your car for upwards of two hours if you visit on a weekend or holiday, so get an early start! Parking can also be an issue. When I went, we had to park outside the park and ride our bikes in – which was actually really enjoyable. Just make sure you bring a lock to secure your bikes at the parking areas.


Grand Canyon National Park

Las Vegas > Kingman > Sedona > Grand Canyon National Park

 

 

 


 

I don’t think I need to give the Grand Canyon much on an intro. It’s perhaps THE most iconic landmark in America and is on almost every travelers bucket list of places to see and experience. The Grand Canyon is also the most visited park in the United States, but less than 5% of visitors actually explore below the rim. Mind-blowing.

There are two rims of the Grand Canyon – North ad South. If you’re doing this road trip itinerary you’ll be entering the South Rim, which has plenty of great viewing platforms and hiking options.

Days 1-2: Las Vegas

Start your road trip in Las Vegas. If you’re keen on getting some riding in right away spend a few days exploring the trails around Las Vegas. They’re awesome! head to the Bear’s Best network for some flowy fun or Cowboy Trails for raw DH tracks.

Day 2 -6: Sedona

Drive Time: 4 hours 30 minutes from Las Vegas to Sedona

To break up the drive from Las Vegas to Sedona, stop in Kingman, Arizona a quick ride around Monolith Gardens. Truthfully, this isn’t the best riding, but the Beale Loop is decent and if you want to make it a longer ride hit up the Badger descent. But then you have to climb back up Sidewinder…. For an easier, higher mileage tour head to the other side of the highway and hit the Foothills Rim Loop.

Now you’re in Sedona! My favorite place to ride. There’s a ton of riding here and all of it is amazing. Check out these posts to help plan your Sedona mountain biking trip.

the 8 best mountain bike trails in sedona -

 

the 8 best mountain bike trails in sedona

A complete guide to mountain biking Sedona -

 

A complete guide to mountain biking Sedona

A beginners guide to mountain biking sedona -

 

A beginners guide to mountain biking sedona

Days 6-7: The Grand Canyon

Drive Time: 2 hours 15 minutes from Sedona to the Grand Canyon

Time to explore the Grand Canyon! There are two ways to see it:

1) From the rim with a million other people
2) From below the rim with 5% of all the people

Can you guess which one I recommend? Getting below the rim not only allows you to ditch the crowds, but it also allows you to see a different perspective of the canyon. There are a couple of day hikes from the South Rim that are great.

 

 


Bright Angel Trail – The Bright Angel Trail leads all the way down to the canyon floor, but unless you get an early start you probably won’t make it that far. That’s ok! You can turn around at any point. I recommend trying to get to at least the Three Mile Rest House, but just remember you have to climb all the way back up and it’s steep!

South Kaibob Trail – The South Kaibob Trail has the best views for the amount of mileage, but it is still steep. Round trip out to Skeleton point is 6 miles.

Rent a Bike (or use your own) – Bright Angel Bicycles rents cruiser-style bikes and e-bikes to explore the South Rim with. There is no mountain biking in the Park, but there are several paved routes that are great on two wheels.

Things to know: The Grand Canyon can be insanely busy, but honestly you lose most of the crowds once you can a couple hundred feet below the rim. That being said, the Grand Canyon does get snow in the winter, so it might not be possible to do much hiking.


Saguaro National Park

Las Vegas > Phoenix > Tucson > Saguaro National Park

 

 

 


 

Saguaro National Park is a lesser known Park just outside of Tucson, Arizona. Its claim to fame – as you may have deduced – is the giant saguaro, the nation’s largest cactus. The saguaro is only found in a few pockets throughout the southwest and it’s definitely a sight to behold, especially as the desert sun sinks below the horizon in the evening.

Days 1-2: Las Vegas

Start your road trip in Las Vegas. If you’re keen on getting some riding in right away spend a few days exploring the trails around Las Vegas. They’re awesome! head to the Bear’s Best network for some flowy fun or Cowboy Trails for raw DH tracks.

Days 2-4: Phoenix

Drive Time: 4 hours 30 minutes from Las Vegas to Phoenix

Phoenix is – in my opinion – underrated when it comes to mountain biking. There is mile after mile of great riding all around the city and it’s not just ho-hum. It’s incredible singletrack, some with tricky rock features and others with fast, flowy descents. I recommend staying for at least 2 or 3 days (or more) to explore the riding. Definitely head to South Mountain and ride National. It’s an out and back and best done on a weekday to avoid the crowds. McDowell Mountain is also a great zone for beginner riders (or a rest day spin). And Gold Canyon is a new-ish zone that has some of the best riding in Phoenix. Use the following posts to help plan your mountain biking adventures in Phoenix!

where to mountain bike in phoenix -

 

where to mountain bike in phoenix

A beginners guide to mountain biking phoenix -

 

A beginners guide to mountain biking phoenix

the national trail in phoenix -

 

the national trail in phoenix

Days 4-6: Tucson

Drive Time: 2 hours from Phoenix to Tucson

Tucson is the bomb! The trails coming down Mt. Lemmon are legit (and not for the beginner rider) and the networks of Catalina State Park and Tucson Mountain Park are super fun. If you’re planning on riding Mt. Lemmon, a shuttle with Homegrown is necessary. The Full Lemmon Drop (which you may have heard of) is amazing, but definitely a hard black.

If you want something a little more mellow, but just as fun shuttle Bug Springs to Prison Camp.

The 50-year Trail in Catalina State Park is also one of my favorites. Tucson Mountain Bike is great, but more cross-country and less techy than the other riding out there.

Day 7: Saguaro National Park

Drive Time: 30 minutes from Tucson to Saguaro National Park

Time to explore Saguaro National Park! There are actually two parts of the park that are not connected: Saguaro NP West and Saguaro NP East. The East Park is home to shorter hikes and more interpretive information while the West Park has access to more backcountry hiking and camping.

Truthfully, the appeal of Saguaro Park is really the cacti. The hiking isn’t terribly exciting or extensive, but there are a few options that you can choose from, especially if you plan on doing an overnight backpacking trip.

Personally, I think the best way to see the park is at sunset. Even if the park has closed for the day, you can walk or bike in and stroll through the cacti as the sun is setting.

Things to know: Saguaro National Park is broken into two sections: East and West.

 

 



Joshua Tree National Park

Las Vegas > Palm Springs > Joshua Tree National Park > Altadena (Mt. Wilson)

 

 

 


 

If you’ve never been before, Joshua Tree National Park it is otherworldly. The trees look straight out of a Dr. Seuss kids book and the landscape looks like it belongs on another planet. And the sunsets… like any desert sunset they are stunning. Joshua Tree is located in southern California, about 2.5 hours from LA and 3 hours from San Diego. You could start your road trip from either of those big cities, but starting in Las Vegas allows for a better road tripping experience through the Mojave Desert.

Days 1-2: Las Vegas

Start your road trip in Las Vegas. If you’re keen on getting some riding in right away spend a few days exploring the trails around Las Vegas. They’re awesome! head to the Bear’s Best network for some flowy fun or Cowboy Trails for raw DH tracks.

Days 2-4: Palm Springs

Drive Time: 4 hours from Las Vegas to Palm Springs

On day 3, ride the Palm Canyon Epic! This ride is an IMBA Epic because it’s about 16 miles in length, very backcountry, and overall pretty epic. It’s not for the beginner mountain biker because there are some technical sections and you need to be in good physical biking shape. The trail is also not marked, so make sure you download TrailForks or MTB Project to your phone. Book a shuttle with Crazy Bear Bikes.


Check his calendar or email him BEFORE you plan your road trip to make sure he is running shuttles the dates that you want to ride


Days 4-6: Joshua Tree National Park

Drive Time: 45 minutes from Palm Springs to Joshua Tree National Park

Time to explore Joshua Tree National Park! There’s actually a bit of singletrack right outside of the park entrance called Section 6 (or Desert View Conservation Area on TrailForks). It’s sandy but scenic and if you want to spin out your legs after a big day yesterday, I highly recommend it. There’s only about 8 miles of trail to explore, but the network is super cool. Definitely ride Long May You Run.

For other activities in Joshua Tree, there’s mainly hiking and climbing. I’m not a climber, so read more about your options for that here.

For hiking, below are a few great treks:

 

 


Warren Peak: A 6.3 out-and-back trail that climbs up to the top of Warren Peak for awesome views out over Joshua Tree.

Hidden Valley Trail: This is a short 1 mile loop through a rock-enclosed valley with massive boulders. It’s super cool and definitely a must for anyone visiting Joshua Tree.

Willow Hole: This is a beautiful 6.8 mile roundtrip hike that skirts the edge of Wonderland Rocks. One of the best hikes in the park!

Things to know: Due to its proximity to Los Angeles and San Diego, Joshua Tree National Park can get real busy, especially during its peak winter months. If you plan on camping you’ll need to book a site in advance or try your luck at first-come-first-serve.

Days 7+: Altadena

Drive Time: 2 hours 20 minutes from Joshua Tree National Park to Altadena

After Joshua Tree, head west toward Altadena and get ready for some epic downhill fun. Mt. Wilson MTB Adventures provides shuttle service to the top of Mt. Wilson. You can choose from a WIDE variety of options to suit any level of rider from a Full-Day Enduro adventure to a Guided Tour to a Skills Camp or Clinic. If you’re unsure about what the trails are like, this page has brief descriptions or call them up at 1.310.230.5520 and they’ll answer any questions you have. You won’t be disappointed!


Death Valley National Park

Las Vegas > Mt. Charleston > Beatty > Death Valley National Park

 

 

 


 

Death Valley National Park is the ‘hottest, driest, lowest’ National Park in the US, so naturally it’s best to visit during the cooler winter months. Even more so than Joshua Tree NP, Death Valley looks like it belongs on another planet. It’s home to all sorts of crazy landmarks like huge sand dunes, saltwater flats, colorful rocks laced with minerals, lime kilns, and incredible wild flowers during the spring. Truthfully, there isn’t a whole lot of mountain biking outside of Death Valley, so you’ll want to spend a few days in Las Vegas getting your fill of two-wheeled adventures.

Days 1-3: Las Vegas

Las Vegas is going to be your best source of mountain biking on this road trip, so spend a few days exploring the Cowboy Trails (Boneshaker is a favorite) or Bear’s Best. There’s so much riding in Vegas and I’m planning on putting together some in-depth guides soon! Da Burbs is supposed to be pretty fun, too, but I haven’t ridden that network yet.

Days 3-4: BEatty

Drive Time: 1 hours 45 minutes from Las Vegas to Beatty

On your way out of Las Vegas hit up the Mt. Charleston Trails. Upper Show Girl to Tin Can Alley to Lower Show Girl is a super fun link-up. Pedal up Deer Creek Road and drop in at the top!

Then continue on to Beatty and spend the night in this tiny little strange/slightly creepy desert town. BUT there’s wild donkey’s and that’s all that matters. Plus, there’s a bit of singletrack to explore (with the chance of seeing wild donkey’s). The Spicer Ranch trail system is limited, but definitely worth checking out as you make your way to Death Valley.

Days 4-7: Death Valley National Park

Drive Time: 45 minutes from Beatty to Death Valley National Park

Death Valley is HUGE, so it’s a good idea to spend at least 3 days here exploring. There’s a lot to see and you probably won’t be able to get to everything. Below are a few sights/hikes not to miss, though:

Badwater Basin – the lowest point in North America at -282 ft, Badwater Basin is pretty surreal. View vast salt flats with dramatic mountain peaks in the background

Artists Drive – on your way back from Badwater Basin, take Artists Drive and look for colorful multi-hued hills.

Dantes View – Dantes View has some of the best views in the park. You can drive all the way to the top and hike along the ridge. I recommend checking out the trails both left and right of the parking area. They’re both short, but they each offer different views or Badwater Basin below.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes – these dunes are super cool and unique. You’ll need to hike a bit to get out to them, but they’re totally worth it. Just remember to bring lots of water!

Wildrose Peak – If you’re up for a good hike, this is one of the best in the park. It’s 8.4 miles out-and-back and the trail traverses through pinyon-juniper woodlands. It’s beautiful. And the charcoal kilns are right at the start of the trail, so you can check those out too! There are a couple of things to note before committing to this hike, though:
1) The paved road stops about 2 miles from the trailhead. The gravel road is passable, but not in a low clearance car or a rental
2) Winter conditions may be present on this hike, so be prepared. Wear layers and don’t start late in the day.
3) It takes about 1.5-2 hours to get to the trailhead. It’s a long (but very scenic) drive so give yourself plenty of time to get out there

Golden Canyon Loop – Another one of my favorite hikes in Death Valley. This 5.8 mile loop starts at Zabriskie Point and passes through Golden Canyon and Red Cathedral.

Things to know: Even though you’re visiting Death Valley during the winter, temperatures can still be very warm. Always carry water with you and always have a plan for where you’re headed. Death Valley can also get really crowded, so it’s best to book campsites/rooms well ahead of time. Finally, gas is limited and expensive, so gas up outside the park.

 

 



What’s your favorite mountain bike/National Park road trip combo? Leave a comment below!

2 Comments

  1. Your Website is exactly what I am looking for. I live in Ontario Canada but want to bring my truck and trailer along with my 2 mtn bike loving dogs to ride this in south western states this winter. What can you tell me about dog friendly rides. I would say I am an intermediate rider. Thanks, Kelly

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