Spring is almost here and that means one thing for Salt Lake City mountain bikers—road trip! With some of the best riding in the world just a few hours south, the call of the desert, especially in early spring, is irresistible.
Just 4.5 hours from Salt Lake City is Fruita, a mountain biking paradise full of top-notch singletrack and a favorite among many SLC-area riders. The campsites at 18 Road (that’s the name of the area) are literally surrounded by singletrack. If you plan your weekend well, you won’t have to drive your car once while you’re there. Just ride, drink (er, um, hydrate), sleep, and repeat.
An ambitious, but not superhuman, goal for the weekend: Ride every trail at least once. Here, an insider's guide for mountain biking in Fruita, with trails listed in the recommended order in which you might like to tackle them.
This is a great start for your weekend and a perfect intro to Fruita singletrack. Joe’s starts with a quick, easy climb that winds up to one of the ridgelines west of camp. After this short climb, the trail comes out on an extremely exposed ridgeline with drop-offs on either side. The drop-offs actually look much more dangerous than they really are—they’re just scree slopes that drop away at about 45 degrees. But it’s still enough to give you the willies the first time you see it. Blasting down this ridgeline is unforgettable.
At the bottom of Joe’s Ridge, you have a couple of options. MoJo, one of the newer trails in Fruita, is the logical extension of Joe’s Ridge. You can also ride the lower half of Kessel Run.
This is really just the lower half of Joe’s Ridge. It’s very fast and flowy, as well. The difference is that MoJo is peppered with well-built kickers. There are tabletops, gaps, and a couple of spine hits. It’s ridiculous fun. The landings are all perfect. If air-time isn’t your thing, you can duck around the side of all the jumps. This is actually recommended your first time through—it’s a bit foolish to just blindly attempt jumps you’ve never seen before.
Prime Cut is the official climb back to the upper area of campsites and is a one-way uphill only. (While climbing some of the other trails is technically legal, it’s frowned upon.) Prime Cut is a great climb: You can either slowly churn it out or hammer up it. It’s not too steep, so just about anybody can handle it. If you choose to churn it out slowly, though, you should probably leave your music off to listen for faster climbers. Also, watch for the big rock right after the dip in the trail. You can ride around it, but the real trick is to hammer straight up and over.
Zippity is one of the more advanced downhill trails in Fruita. You start on the same climb to Joe’s Ridge, but go straight where Joe’s cuts in to the left. Zippity has a few very steep sections, a ton of ridiculously exposed riding, and more of the aforementioned knife-ridge single track, although this is much more intense than the ridge on Joe’s. Toward the end of Zippity there are some true hero climbs. They can be cleaned, but you have to really want it, as they are steep, steep, steep.
This is the trail that wrote the book on flow. It’s easy enough for beginners and fast enough for the true dirtbag. Kessel Run goes straight down the gut of a dry creek bed, so the turns (especially on the lower half) are beautifully banked and perfectly spaced. It’s easy to find a perfect rhythm down Kessel Run.
Pumps, Bumps, and Rollers
Remember the Speeder Bike scene from Return of the Jedi? PBR tops it. It's a newer trail, built in the last three or four years, and is possibly the most fun you can possibly have on a bicycle. The trail combines a perfect flow with countless small kickers and berms.
This is a great trail to put in some mileage and cool down from a fun weekend. You follow the approach to Zippity-Doo-Dah, then continue west before Zippity’s downhill section. There are some fast sections and a bit of technical riding, but before long Western Zip turns into a long, fun pedal through the desert. The views alone are worth the effort.
Chutes and Ladders
A perfect trail to save for last, Chutes and Ladders shows its teeth right away. The first 200 feet of the trail are spent climbing a hill that is so steep it’s barely climbable. After this first climb, the trail winds through the bottom of the Book Cliffs. There’s a lot of very tight singletrack with extremely steep climbs and descents. They’re all very short and rideable, but definitely challenging.
The last half of Chutes and Ladders opens up into long shots through beautiful open meadows. You can literally go as fast as you can pedal -- it’s incredible. But keep in mind that there's a ditch at the bottom that can wreak havoc. Manage it properly, and you'll have a satisfying cap to your weekend. Hit it the wrong way, and you could be dealing with a flat, a wreck, or worse.
If You Go:
Fruita is about 4.5 hours from Salt Lake City, so it’s the perfect distance for a weekend trip. If you’re faced with leaving after work on Friday, your best bet is to hold off until Saturday morning. If you leave at about 5 am you won’t hit any traffic leaving Salt Lake and you’ll be riding by 10 am. You also won’t be faced with finding an open campsite at 11 pm, making a bunch of noise and pissing off the whole camp.
There are two areas to camp in Fruita. The upper area is $10 a car per night. There are concrete picnic tables, fire pits with metal grates, and toilets—one for every 5 or 8 campsites. The lower area is just a huge, open meadow. It’s free, but there are no posh accommodations like the upper area.