Brown’s Ranch Mountain Biking at a Glance
- Four Trailheads
- More than 165 miles of trails
- Well-constructed trails
- Endless Options
- eBikes are Not Allowed.
- Watch for hikers, horses and wildlife
If you want to start a great argument, ask mountain bikers from the Phoenix area to name their favorite trail network. There will be shouts of “South Mountain” and “Hawes” accompanied by cursing.
For me, though, it’s Brown’s Ranch, hands down.
I can already hear everyone warming up to tell me that I’m wrong. That’s fine. The points I’m about to lay out here will tell you why I like the Brown’s Ranch trails so much.
Before we go further … if you’re new here, my only mountain bike is a singlespeed hardtail. I rarely put in less than 25 miles, and I do some fairly long races on it.
Brown’s Ranch = Tons of Trails
According to Trailforks.com, there are 165 miles of trails at Brown’s Ranch. And trust me, there are more going in all the time. There are four types of trails: Purple (unpaved access road), green (easy), blue (intermediate) and black (hard).
The massive number of trails and miles means that you’ll have no problem putting a ride of any length together, no matter which of the four trailheads you start from.
There are so many trails here that you can actually connect to McDowell Mountain Regional Park or even the Maricopa Trail. If you want to unspool an epic ride, you will have no problems doing it here.
Don’t Believe People Who Say It’s Not Hard Enough
The biggest knock on Brown’s Ranch is that it doesn’t have enough climbing or isn’t hard enough. This is complete bollocks.
It has plenty of climbing. During my 32-mile ride the day before I wrote this, I climbed more than 2,000 feet. Yeah, I had to cover a lot of ground to make that happen. But I also did it on a singlespeed, which is bound to make it more interesting than ridinga bike with a 48-tooth low cog.
As for “hard enough.” There are some fun black trails that have excellent technical challenges. If you’re riding a dual-suspension bike with 150mm of travel and a dropper seatpost, maybe these will still be easy for you. I dunno.
I’d also add that, unless you can clean the switchbacks at the top of Brown’s Mountain, these trails aren’t too easy for you.
Not all of the trailheads at Browns Ranch have potable water. Be sure to show up ready to go. You will find bathrooms at the trailheads, but they currently have sanitizer rather than running water.
The facilities at Pima and Dynamite are still under construction. We’ll see what happens when that’s up and running.
Avoid Any Trails with the Word “Wash” in the Name
There are a few trails out there that make use of washes. They are a sandy mess. Avoid them at all costs.
The best you can hope for is to not get too much sand in your shoes. The Dove Valley Trail has some very sandy bits to the east, and I recommend avoiding them.
Expect Lots of Hikers and the Occasional Horse
Hikers love these trails, for good reason. The views are amazing. There’s plenty of wildlife. There are plenty of places to crawl around on boulders.
Be kind. Yield the trail. Slow down as you pass. I also use a bell to give hikers a friendly audible signal that I”m approaching.
As for horses, I typically communicate with the riders to see what their horses want me to do. Some pull over to let me ride past. Some riders on skittish horses will ask me to dismount as we pass each other. No problem for me either way.
eBikes Are Not Allowed
Back in the old days, mountain bikers used to share these trails (then known as Pima and Dynamite) with motorcycles, who probably made most of the early trails.
Then Scottsdale got hold of the land (I believe from the State Land Department because it was once State Trust Land). They turned it into a preserve and then bounced all the motorcycles north to their own OHV area.
Now, we’ve got eBikes.
I don’t have a problem with eBikes. They’re useful in their time and place. And Brown’s Ranch is NOT their time and place. There are signs at every trailhead announcing that eBikes are not allowed.
And still, I see eBike riders poaching these trails every single time I’m there.
What to do about it? I remember when the Sedona Five poached trails at the Grand Canyon, the feds confiscated their bikes and helicoptered them out in leg irons.
UPDATE: November 2021
I had a person comment (using a fake name and email address, so I didn’t approve the comment) suggested that the state legislature’s passage of Arizona Revised Statute 28-819 means that Scottsdale’s prohibition of electric bikes at Brown’s Ranch is no longer valid. Here’s the entire text of the entire statute, and I’ve marked the relevant text in red.
A. An operator of an electric bicycle or an electric standup scooter is granted all the rights and privileges and is subject to all of the duties of a person riding a bicycle. Except as otherwise provided in this section or as otherwise regulated by a local authority, an electric bicycle or an electric standup scooter is subject to the same provisions of this title as a bicycle.
B. An electric bicycle or an electric standup scooter is not subject to the provisions of this title relating to certificates of title, registration, vehicle license tax, driver licenses or vehicle insurance.
C. Beginning January 1, 2019, manufacturers and distributors of electric bicycles shall apply a label that is permanently affixed, in a prominent location, to each electric bicycle. The label shall contain the classification number, top assisted speed and motor wattage of the electric bicycle and shall be printed in at least nine-point type.
D. A class 1 electric bicycle, a class 2 electric bicycle or an electric standup scooter may be used on bicycle and multiuse paths. A local authority or agency of this state having jurisdiction over a bicycle or multiuse path may prohibit the operation of a class 1 electric bicycle, class 2 electric bicycle or electric standup scooter on the path.
E. A class 3 electric bicycle may not be operated on a bicycle or multiuse path unless it is within or adjacent to a highway or roadway or unless the local authority or agency of this state having jurisdiction over the path allows the operation.
F. An electric standup scooter must have a unique identification that consists of letters or numbers, or both, and that is visible from a distance of at least five feet. The identification:
1. May not be obscured by branding or other markings.
2. Shall be used in this state to identify the electric standup scooter. This paragraph applies to all persons, including local authorities.
The red text means that the anonymous commenter is wrong. Government agencies still have the authority to prohibit Class 1 eBike or electric standup scooter. If the commenter was taking issue with the phrasing “bicycle or multiuse path” rather than trail, that won’t hold up.
The eBikerumor article on the statute agrees with my analysis:
So as much as it seems like a blanket opening of access, you still will likely need to check ahead before heading out on the trail aboard your new e-MTB. A reminder that the US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management still define e-bikes as motorized vehicles which are prohibited from off-road use in the bulk of federal National Forest & BLM land in Arizona.
I fully expect that we’ll see some legal headbutting if anyone decides to, if I may use the vernacular, fuck around and find out. According to this comment in the eBikerumor article, some people think they can do whatever they want:
“I’ll ride where I want. Come catch me bitches. Sedona included.”
Expect Some Wildlife at Brown’s Ranch
Brown’s Ranch is the only place I’ve seen a gila monster in the wild. I’ve also seen countless snakes here, along with eagles, vultures, what I think was a deer, and all sorts of smaller creatures.
There are Plenty of Maps and Signs
Trails markings at Brown’s Ranch are plentiful. Many of the signs even have a QR code you can use to download the City of Scottsdale map – if you can get cell coverage. This can get challenging further north.
There are also paper maps and permanent maps at every trailhead.
I tend to use the Trailforks app on my phone, instead.
What are the “Can’t Miss” Trails at Brown’s Ranch?
It’s almost impossible to pick just a few. But I’ll try to share the trails I always look forward to:
Hawknest North to South — A gentle downhill with plenty of turns and dips. High-speed fun. The whole thing is 10 miles, so it’ll keep you entertained for awhile.
Renegade — This 2-mile trail on the north side is stupidly entertaining in any direction.
Axle Grease — About four miles of south-to-north warmup to take you away from the trailhead. To get even further north, grab Stagecoach or the West Express. Easy riding, but twisty enough to be fun.
Diablo North and South — One of the newer technical areas. You’ll have to shimmy between some obstacles or hit the occasional drop-off. Riding a cross-county bike makes these more challenging.
Dare-A-Sarah — Rippin’ good fun. There are two steep sections that combine with rocks and turns that will keep you on your toes. All the other challenges are mostly squeezing through tight areas.
Scorpion — There’s some hard stuff here … like “exactly where is the trail here?” kind of hard. But it’s all well-designed, not neglected and stupid like some of what I’ve seen at Estrella Mountain Regional Park.
A Few Final Thoughts
It’s impossible to not have fun here. I’d love it if riders were able to get water from the trailheads, and I’d love to enjoy some race action here (there have been races here before). This would be a perfect place for an epic night race. I can’t imagine how beautiful it would be to ride here during a night event.
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