"Moab, Moab, Moab." That’s about all you hear this time of year as mountain bike enthusiasts pack up their rigs, load the bikes on top and head west into the Utah desert. And while Moab does sound nice, those who are looking for something a bit different can turn their spring mountain bike road trips into exploratory missions, leaving the crowds behind. Here are some alternative destinations that make for great riding, camping and are just far enough away to feel like you’re the first one to discover them. Go soon because 20 years ago, Moab felt the same way. Secrets, especially singletrack secrets, never last.
Rabbit Valley — The Moab-fixated hordes blast by Rabbit Valley as they head west to the red rocks of Utah. But for those who like the desert and don’t mind pulling off the road before Moab, this destination on the Colorado/ Utah border is worth the trip from Boulder. Rabbit Valley has always been popular with rednecks: They camp in the area and rip around on dirt bikes and ATVs. For some that’s a turn-off. But it’s worth remembering that dirt bikers don’t care what you ride, and you’ll not get a heaping helping of hiker attitude from any of them. In fact, they might even offer you a cold beer, as they’re no strangers to the fun that can be had on two wheels. During weekdays, Rabbit Valley is deserted. The emptiness is complemented by ample riding, including the easy singletrack of Trails 4 and 5 and more challenging Western Rim Trail, an 18-mile loop that features fantastic views of the Colorado River. Also highly recommended are the ripping singletrack of Zion Curtain, a 20-mile ride, and Rabbit Valley West’s trails, including the Westwater Mesa/Overlook trail.
Indian Creek/Waterton Canyon — With spring upon us, Front Range mountain biking trails are rapidly drying out and coming into form. Unfortunately, if you live in Boulder, your singletrack choices are limited. That’s not the case for our neighbors to the south. Jefferson County has invested in plenty of multi-use trails and welcomes mountain bikers. This approach is reason enough to take your bike south of Morrison to sample some of the great riding that our neighbors have developed. A great place to start is the Indian Creek/Waterton Canyon trail. Combining U.S. Forest Service trails with access via Denver Water District lands, as well as some singletrack inside Roxborough State Park, you’ll ride through terrain that’s home to bighorn sheep, mule deer and more than 40 species of birds. It’s a Front Range gem, which also takes in a part of the Colorado Trail. Once you’re done with riding, bust out the pocketbook for lunch or a beer at the nearby Waterton Tavern.
Abajo Mountains — Too far south and too quiet for the Moab crowd, Monticello sits at the base of the Abajo (or Blue) Mountains. This small range features a variety of 44 roads, trails and tracks that climb from the desert into the peaks, the tallest of which, Abajo, stands at 11,360 feet. Monticello’s 7,066-foot elevation means that it’s possible to ride comfortably here even in the scorching heat of mid-summer — but plan on being challenged. The better rides feature steep singletrack climbs, technical descents and enough elevation gain to make you puke. That doesn’t mean the riding is a complete suffer-fest. There’s plenty of mellow action, too, including the option to use car shuttles on some of the longer rides. But if you want to taste the best that the Blues have to offer, you better be ready to earn it. Take the Shay Ridge Trail, which tops out at approximately 11,000 feet, high enough to leave even strong riders gasping. Or Trail 20, a 50-mile slog that was created by dirt bikers, but which also gives those beasts who thought Shay was too easy the opportunity to test themselves. For the rest of us, there are a variety of singletrack options as well as easy cruisers like Geyser Pass Road, which crosses the range.
Happy Jack/Pole Mountain — The Happy Jack area features singletrack Wyoming style, with fast, rolling terrain north of Fort Collins. This area is used for XC skiing in the winter, with terrain that translates perfectly into cross-country mountain biking in the summer. Riding here features plenty of loops, multiple spurs and options in a classic western setting of aspens, mountain meadows and pine forests. This area comes into form earlier than Colorado’s mountain riding thanks to lower snowfall totals during the winter and relatively lower elevations overall, and the looping system makes it perfect for getting into shape before you go to Crested Butte or, well, Moab.