Best Desert Rides in Colorado (West of the Continental Divide)

(Last Updated On: October 12, 2017)

Spring is upon us and it’s natural for outdoorsy folk so start drifting their thoughts from dancing on skis to rolling on two wheels with a bike. The desert is the best place to play on a bike during the shoulder seasons in spring and fall, and Colorado is full of desert – some of it high desert, of course.

Although Moab seems to come to most rider’s minds when they think of riding in the desert, Colorado can hold it’s own. And every time I look, there’s some other great desert ride I didn’t know about. Here’s our favorite list of best desert rides in Colorado.

Best Desert Rides in Colorado

1) Loma/Mack Trails

Best Desert Rides in ColoradoJust west of Fruita, the Loma/Mack area is considered the home of the “Kokopelli Loops”. Though the Kokopelli Trail does start here, in continues 142 miles southwest through canyons and around the La Sal mountains, ending near Moab, UT. In this zone, you can ride the Kokopelli Trail, or many of the other scenic loops of the area – and believe me, they are scenic as they they overlook the Ruby/Horsethief Canyon of the Colorado River below. Some of our favorites include Horsethief Bench Loop, Moore Fun, Mack Ridge, and Troy Built. Nonetheless, there are miles of scenic trails from beginner to advanced to explore here. And it’s certainly worth your time to do so.

2) 18 Road Trails

Best Desert Rides in ColoradoRiding in this area is much different than much of the other riding in the nearby area because it sits in a softer different geologic layer. Instead of the epic sandstone slickrock and huge canyon views, 18 Road riding makes you feel like you’re in a barren otherworldly landscape, more reminiscent of a Star Wars movie set than one on planet Earth. Less technical than some of the other areas, 18 Road still has it’s own flavor of flowy fun. Some of our favorite rides include Joe’s Ridge, Zippity Do Da, and Kessel Run.

3) Grand Junction – Lunch Loops

Best Desert Rides in ColoradoJust south of Grand Junction, the Lunch Loops are aptly named. You could ride to them on your lunch break from downtown GJ if you wanted. This extensive network of trails is mainly geared toward more technical riding and sometimes can be easily underestimated. But, even the best riders can get an ass-kicking here, so watch out. Some of our favorite rides include the technical Holy Cross and the wonderful slickrock of the Ribbon Trail.

4) Sidewinder

Best Desert Rides in ColoradoAbout 40 minutes south of Grand Junction, Sidewinder sits on the hills just west of Delta and runs parallel with the Gunnison Gorge. Often overlooked for the greater network of trails in nearby GJ and Fruita, this technical 18.6 mile trail can hold it’s own and is certainly worth the visit. It can be done as a shuttle, a 38.5 mile loop, or as an out and back. Plenty of intersecting roads allow for shorter loop options as well. I’ve ridden this trail in both directs and prefer riding it from south to north as the better technical sections are downhills this way. But, other sources may tell you otherwise.

5) Hartman Rocks

Best Desert Rides in ColoradoTypically not rideable in winter, Hartman Rocks is considered “high desert” terrain. Don’t let the 8000-foot elevation fool you – Hartman Rocks has desert-like terrain that can rival any of the more known areas of Fruita and Grand Junction. The extensive network of trails that range from beginner to expert keeps growing every year, and this area is certainly one that could take several days to explore! There’s so many fun trails to ride here but some of our favorites include Freefall (technical), Ring Dike, Skull Pass, Aberdeen, Rattlesnake, Beck’s, the Notch, Graceland, and Behind the Rocks. More info can be found on our Crested Butte Mountain Biking Guide.

6) Cortez – Phil’s World

Best Desert Rides in ColoradoIn the desert just west of the mountain biking mecca of Durango, Cortez is on the rise for the radar of mountain bikers. Phil’s World is largely responsible for that. Most of the Phil’s World trails are relatively easy in nature, with occasional technical challenges. Think of a mix of 18 Road with some Horsethief moves. Phil’s World is a condensed system of loops, each of which riders are required to ride in a clockwise direction. Though decent riders can easily ride the whole system in a day, or even an afternoon, beginners will love this area too. It’s worth the visit down south for sure!

Worth Mentioning- Rabbit Valley & Salida

Best Desert Rides in ColoradoWest of Loma/Mack, right on the border with Utah, sits the beautiful riding of Rabbit Valley. If you’re looking for trails that are a little less traveled than 18 Road and Kokopelli Loops, then Rabbit Valley’s the right fit. Certainly a scenic area, our favorite ride is a loop with the beautiful Western Rim Trail, which is largely intermediate to advanced-intermediate riding.

Best Desert Rides in ColoradoAlso worth mentioning is the Salida area. The riding off the S-Mountain (Arkansas Hills Trail System) and Little Rainbow (Methodist Trail System) zones are border-line desert riding and its not actually west of the Continental Divide (although it is close), so it’s not an official addition to this list. However, the riding in these areas are often rideable close to year-round. Even though mountains surround this town, this playground often remains fairly warm and dry even in the heart of winter. Some of my favorite trails in the area include the Cottonwood Loop, Backbone, and Sweet Dreams. The non-technical Little Rainbow trail is also quite scenic and perfect for beginners.

Though some of these best desert rides in Colorado are more known than others, one thing is for certain – Colorado is home to some great desert riding. What are some of your favorite desert rides, both in Colorado and beyond?

It’s spring, and time to head to the desert for some fun in the sun on two wheels!

Brittany Walker Konsella

Aside from skiing, biking, and all outdoorsy things,Brittany Walker Konsella also loves smiles and chocolate 🙂 Even though she excels at higher level math and chemistry, she still confuses left from right. Find out more about Brittany!

Best Desert Rides in Colorado (West of the Continental Divide)
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Best Desert Rides in Colorado (West of the Continental Divide)
Colorado is home to some fantastic desert terrain for mountain biking. Here's our favorite list of best desert rides in Colorado.

Brittany Walker Konsella

Aside from skiing, biking, and all outdoorsy things, Brittany Walker Konsella also loves smiles and chocolate :) Even though she excels at higher level math and chemistry, she still confuses left from right. Find out more about Brittany!

2 thoughts on “Best Desert Rides in Colorado (West of the Continental Divide)

  • April 11, 2017 at 7:50 am

    One other suggestion for the Rabbit Valley rides, tie the Zion Curtain in with the Western Rim for a stellar ride. We rode Phil’s World for the first time this year, also after hearing so much about it. It is a good ride and be sure to include the Ledges section. Seems that everyone skips it and only raves about Rib Cage, but it is one of the best sections. Good to see your recovery is going well!

  • April 11, 2017 at 8:23 am

    Thanks Springsyeti! It’s been forever since I have ridden the Zion Curtain but hope to link that with the Rim for sure. Also, thanks for the recommendations on Phil’s World!

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