Destination: Gooseberry Mesa, Utah

Among all of the famous names in mountain biking, the little-known haven of Gooseberry Mesa, Utah goes largely unnoticed. That's about to change.

Gooseberry Mesa near St. George, Utah offers up a variety of riding, including slickrock. Photo by Tom LeCarner
Gooseberry Mesa near St. George, Utah offers up a variety of riding, including slickrock. Photo by Tom LeCarner

Utah has long been considered a mountain bike Mecca in the U.S. With storied names like Slickrock Trail, Porcupine Rim, White Rim, Kokopelli’s Trail, Brianhead, Canyonlands and a host of others, it’s not surprising that Utah is such a draw for the dirt crowd.

Among all of these famous names in mountain biking, however, the little-known haven of Gooseberry Mesa goes largely unnoticed. That’s about to change.

Located just three hours north of Las Vegas, and about an hour from St. George, Utah, sharing a boundary with the famed Zion Canyon National Park, is Gooseberry Mesa, a slickrock paradise sitting 5,200 feet above sea level. The Mesa is located on well-maintained BLM land, and trails were developed in the late 1990s. There is an incredible mix of well-marked singletrack and slickrock trails that twist and wind around the top of the mesa  — and the views are nothing short of spectacular.

We camped on top of the mesa in one of several awesome camping areas to wake up to inspiring views every morning. On the first afternoon we took a spin around the Practice Loop and played on the rocks, warming up for the full tour of the mesa the following day. There are trails for all levels of riding here, but the majority of the terrain favors those with at least intermediate bike-handling skills. It’s a total playground here.

Riding at Gooseberry Mesa is best in the spring and fall. Photo by Tom LeCarner
Riding at Gooseberry Mesa is best in the spring and fall. Photo by Tom LeCarner

While a lot of the trails are comprised of mudstone rock, it’s not quite like the flowy, ultra-tacky red rocks of Moab, but there aren’t any long, steep sustained climbs either. You can’t let your mind wander while you ride here — that’s for sure. There are lots of quick up and downs, short, steep drop offs, obstacles to clean, and tons of places to test your maneuvering skills.

The most perilous thing about riding at Gooseberry though is trying to keep your eyes off the view and on the trail. To the north lay the jutting spires and arches of Zion and to the west lay miles of desert valley floor; it’s simply gorgeous here — and there are nowhere near the crowds you’ll find on the eastern side of the state.

All the action doesn’t reside atop the mesa though; some of the most insanely fun singletrack we’ve ever found can be had on the JEM Trail, which is at the bottom of the mesa. Check the map, find the trail, ride it.

The best time of year to ride Gooseberry Mesa is either spring or autumn. At 5,200 feet the winter will bring snow; and while summers are certainly warm, the Mesa is typically 10 degrees cooler and usually sports a nice breeze to help cool you down. Temps at night can be downright bone chilling in the autumn, so if you camp, be prepared for that.

You can ride all day long on the mesa, and I recommend doing the full loop, following the North Rim trail out to the point, and then the South Rim trail back, with a quick sidetrack up the Hidden Canyon Trail, which is for those with more advanced skills, but man it’s seriously fun.

If you go: Gooseberry Mesa, Utah

Must-do trails: Rattlesnake Rim, JEM Trail, God’s Skateboard Park, Hidden Canyon (advanced), and the North Rim Trail to the Point.

Best bike shop: Over the Edge Sports

Best map: Latitude 40

Best coffee: Mean Bean Coffee House

Trail service: BLM Trails are well-marked and well-maintained.

Riding season: Three seasons; winter is cold and snowy, summer can get a bit warm

Getting there: The trailhead parking lot is rural and can be hard to find without a map, so pick one up at Over The Edge Sports before you leave town. Drive southeast out of Hurricane on Hwy 59. The last stop for food, fuel and water is a gas station at East Apple Valley Drive, make sure you stop there to get all your supplies before heading out to the dirt.

Lodging: The best way to experience Gooseberry is to camp. There’s a clean toilet at the entrance and usually plenty of open camping spots. If you must stay in a hotel, Hurricane has a few to pick from.

Insider tips: DO NOT miss the JEM trail. It’s best to save that for last, on your way out of town; you can make it an out-and-back from the trail head, or you can do a shuttle, but either way, it’s one of the best experiences one can have on a mountain bike.