Phoenix Mountain Biking : Grading the Trails

Phoenix mountain biking offers any rider some hard choices. There’s no shortage of great mountain bike trails. A few years ago, I published a list of my favorite trails. Now it’s time to refresh it with some new info. Things change – so my old list may not be as much help anymore.

I’ll list all the Phoenix mountain biking spots I ride regularly and give them a grade. The letter grade reflects trail quality, amenities, traffic and all that good stuff. I’ll make extra notes about location – it’s a bit unfair for some great trails to get dinged for being a bit further away.

This list is NOT complete. If I don’t mention your favorite Phoenix mountain biking, I welcome you to add it in the comments. Keep in mind: I’m a singlespeed riding XC guy, so if you have 170mm of travel on your bike and wear a full-face helmet, we might have differing opinions.

Black Canyon Trail

Barely close enough to the Valley for this Phoenix mountain biking list. But I can’t let a nationally recognized mountain bike trail go ignored. The southern reaches start off flat and firm. Go north, and the action gets steep. All told, this is supposed to stretch way far north. I’ve heard Prescott and beyond. Far northwest of Phoenix. Grade: B+

Phoenix mountain biking
I have a long history with Trail 100 and the Phoenix Mountain Preserve.

Deem Hills

A new bit of mountain biking fun out in the West Side, right in view of the I-17 freeway. Your ride will start with a hard slog to the top of a mesa. That’s where the fun singletrack lives. Great flow up there once you get up that grunt of a climb. Grade: B-

Fantasy Island North Singletrack

Named for the famous bit of State Trust Land in Tucson. This was built on private land a few years ago – miraculously, the land owners haven’t closed it. Tight, twisty and turny. Only one really long climb, but lots of rolling terrain. Far out to the southwest, but still right for a Phoenix mountain biking list. Grade: A

Gold Canyon

Just did my first ride here in May 2012 since it’s a new addition to Phoenix mountain biking. Well-designed singletrack – tight turns, steep chutes, quite a few technical bits. Some of the best scenery around since it’s right near the foot of the Superstition Mountains. Far to the southeast. Grade: B+

Mountain biking near phoenix
The sort of riding you’ll find at McDowell Mountain Regional Park.

Hawes Loop

An East Valley favorite. There’s quite a bit of road riding involved. But the downhill sections have great flow. You’ll need to check your speed. If you head a bit north, the terrain will get steeper and more technical. Dead east of Phoenix. Grade: B

McDowell Mountain Regional Park

Pack lunch: You’ll find more than 50 miles of singletrack mountain biking. There’s the Competitive Track, the Pemberton Loop and numerous off-shoots – plus a pump track! Home to some of the best races. Northeast of the Valley, north of Fountain Hills. To me, it’s the gold standard in Phoenix mountain biking. Grade: A

Papago Park

Lots going on here, all just moments for Sky Harbor International Airport. Fast groovy singletrack; gets more technical as you head south. Some short power climbs to get your heart going. Home to the informal STP races. Grade: B

Mountain biking near phoenix
A little Pima and Dynamite fun.

Phoenix Mountain Preserve

Well more than 30 miles of mountain biking near Phoenix. Trail 100 is the out-and-back backbone of this mountain bike trail system. Lots of off-shoots. The far east and west portions are the most fun, with the middle third fairly bleak and rocky without much flow. Great Phoenix mountain biking 15 minutes north of Sky Harbor. Grade: B

Brown’s Ranch

A nearly-uncountable amount of singletrack, most of it on State Trust Land. Wild and wooly undulations, with a high likelihood of wildlife encounters. Gets more technical the further northeast you ride. North Scottsdale. Grade: A

South Mountain

The Desert Classic gets a lot of love, but the really technical mountain biking is up on the Mormon and National loops. Plenty of offshoots no matter where you go. Lots of rattlesnakes in the spring. These trails get a lot of use – check yourself. Grade: B+

Pyramid Peak (West Valley)

Not much there yet, but terrific fun. Not very well mapped, so you get to feel like you’re actually exploring something. If you like getting big air, there are some absolutely awesome jumps on the east side of the trail network. Grade: B

pyramid peak mountain bike trails

Phoenix Sonoran Preserve (North Phoenix)

Pretty good stuff that offers some challenging climbs and a bit of navigating skill. Also some issues with trail marking. Grade: B

Gold Canyon (East Valley)

Rough and rocky. Great for full-suspension bikes with droppers! Still fun on any bike, though you might need more skill and courage to pull it off on a hardtail or XC bike. It can get really crowded with hikers, and it’s not easy to put a super-long ride together. Grade: C

Awesome scenery, great flow, lots of turns – it’s the Gold Canyon singletrack.

Estrella Mountain Regional Park (Goodyear)

Some great trails, some awful trails, some connections to really crazy stuff built outside the park. I actually like the parts outside the park better. Grade: C+

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By Wandering Justin

Writer. Traveler. Gastronomic daredevil. Fitness fan. Homebrewer. Metal dude \m/. Cat and dog lover.


  1. South Mountain gets a B? I think it deserves an A+. The only problem with SoMo is that it packs too much epic-ness

    If you’re going to mention South Mountain at all, you have to mention the new trails on the south-west end of South Mountain – the 620 area. Busera, Valley, Gila, Pyramid. They are outstanding.

  2. I had to deduct points for the crowdedness. You’re right about trying the new trails – I don’t get over there very much. Door’s open to ya if you ever feel like doing a guest post. That’s your home turf!

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