It’s been years since I last sampled the Prescott mountain bike trails. I’d been a camp counselor there one summer, but that seems like eons ago. A few things I noticed recently made me want to visit again: A news article that said "Prescott is powering its way onto the national mountain-biking map," and news of a trail circling the entire city that will be 50 miles long when it’s finished.
I dropped into Prescott in mid-July to sample the Prescott Circle Trail System. It was a perfect Sunday for mountain biking – clouds and intermittent drizzle! Balm for a sun-baked Phoenician’s soul. In a nutshell, the notion that Prescott is even remotely, tangentially close to being a national mountain bike destination is a combination of homerism and public relations spin from mountain bike event organizers. Prescott has stepped up its game, yes. Good. But it has a lot of work to do before it’s even playing the same sport as Flagstaff, much less in the same league.
Let’s break my ride down to show you what I mean. Be sure to watch the video at the end!
Find the Hidden Trailhead
I found a handy map on the City of Prescott website. I found a Prescott Great Circle Trail System trailhead and named it my starting point. I figured out how I could snake around the trails and wind up somewhere on the west side of the city before using streets and urban trails to return to my car.
Well, finding the trailhead was a bitch. The city considers this Prescott mountain bike trail a real asset, I suppose – but it’s not easy to find. Contrast that to Fountain Hills, where you start getting guidance to the trailhead four miles away. I found the Turley Trail buried in a neighborhood down a gated one-lane road. But hey, at least I found it.
Turning the Wheels
The first half-mile or so went pretty well. The Turley Trail dips, dives and weaves around with some short, steep power climbs. Not bad. Then, things got ugly.
What do I mean? Well, I lost track of all the fallen trees I carried my bike over. Portions of the Turley Trail have terrible drainage, while others have large chunks of rock protruding from the ground. It seems great for hiking – but for four miles, it’s utter, abject crap for mountain biking. If this is supposed to be part of a signature Prescott mountain bike trail network, it has to be better.
At one point, a mess of downed trees obliterates the trail. I backtracked a few times searching for the Turley Trail (watch for an area that looks like someone gave the forest a Brazilian wax job, and you’ll know navigational challenges are afoot).
I eventually connected to Forest Road 9854, which swoops downhill if you turn right. The rainfall made the trail a big slick, and coated my tires in mud. The tires passed the mud along to me and my bike. Kind of novel, really! Speaking of tires, skinny slick racing tires might not be your best bet. Consider a meatier tread when you hit these steeper, rockier Prescott mountain bike trails.
The forest road eventually meets up with the Senator Highway. And just across the two lanes of pavement -- you’ll find Trail 396.
The Real-Deal Prescott Mountain Bike Trails
Trail 396 and its offshoots are more-than-legit Prescott mountain bike trails.
Swooping turns, nice scenery, good trail markings. You’ll get that Luke Skywalker flying through Beggar’s Canyon feeling. The 396 will give you more than a few options. Stick with it, and watch for the turn to Trail 395. I took the 374 to the 373 – they dumped me off on White Spar Road with no sign of more trail. Had I picked the 395, I would’ve crossed White Spar Road and found the Prescott Circle Trail continue on the 941S.
That error cheated me out of a few more miles of singletrack. A sign saying "this way to the Prescott Circle Trail" would’ve been really nice, Prescott. And you know, it’s exactly the sort of thing a destination "on the national mountain-biking map" would have.
Slinking Back to Town
Alright, I didn’t find the 941S, and it was getting late. So I took White Spar Road back to town hoping to maybe catch another glimpse of trail. White Spar has no bike lane, by the way. Another strike against Prescott’s talk of being on the national mountain-biking map. I didn’t find any Prescott mountain bike trails as I headed back toward Whiskey Row.
I recalled that Ironclad Bicycles was on White Spar. I stopped there hoping for directions to some easily accessible Prescott mountain bike trails. But its Sunday hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. – to late to drop in before your ride starts, to early to drop in after. So, kind of useless business hours for visiting mountain bikers.
I found a short urban trail system and a pump track. The urban trails are short, but the pump track was a bit of fun.
Eventually, I headed up Gurley to pedal back up to my car. On the roads.
Off the Bike
I made my inaugural stop at Granite Mountain Brewery, where I had a pretty good milk stout and a panini. As a homebrewer, I love small breweries. And the three-barrel setup here qualifies as small. But the staff wasn’t up for much beer small talk – or much talk of any sort (UPDATE: I made a visit in January 2014, and the food was better and the staff far more friendly. Don’t miss this place!). Still, it’s not as spastic as Prescott Brewing Company, though I’ll give props for its Chocopalypse porter.
My final stop was the Wild Iris coffeehouse, where I had a very nice shot of espresso and a cookie. The staff has a friendly attitude in addition to making good espresso – and it’s a soothing place to hang out. Some places just have that indefinable vibe -- and Wild Iris is one of them. It’s exactly the sort of place I want to hang out after a day on the Prescott mountain bike trails.
Prescott Mountain Bike Trails Bottom Line
Prescott has a lot of potential to be a better mountain bike destination. It’s definitely better than it used to be, and that is exactly its greatest enemy: comparing it to itself. The Prescott mountain bike trails are a mixed bag from stupid to sublime, even on the Prescott Circle Trail network. Prescott needs to connect the pieces, commit to consistent trail design and provide far-better signage. And it absolutely must resist the temptation of boastful hometown braggadocio that leads to undeserved hype.
I look forward to coming back and checking out more of the Prescott Circle Trail. When it’s complete, it should offer a lot of opportunity … but again, some sections need work.