Friday, June 9, 2017

Mountain Biking the Porcupine Rim in Moab

Moab might just be the most popular mountain biking destination in the US, if not the world.  Although there are nearly endless trails and riding options, two of Moab trails stand out in renown.  The first one, the trail that put Moab on the map, is Slickrock.  The other famous Moab classic trail is Porcupine Rim.  Both these trails predate mountain biking and were developed by dirt bikers back in the day.

On my second day in Moab, I was joined by friend Dustin Putt.  I hadn't seen him for a few years since he visited my for a backpacking trip when I lived in Maine and it was good to catch up.  We decided our first ride together in Moab would be Porcupine Rim.  Dustin had ridden this ride before, but ten years has passed since then.  There are several different options on how to ride Porcupine Rim, but we settled on the classic route starting at the Porcupine Rim Trailhead, seven miles up Sand Flats Road and ending on Utah 128 at the Colorado River.  

Since we both had a vehicle, we parked my car at the end of the ride and headed to the trailhead with Dustin's vehicle.  The trailhead sits about 1700' higher than Moab and the start of ride was fairly cool and comfortable.


Although Porcupine Rim features nearly 3000 vertical feet of decent, the trail starts out climbing for nearly three miles.  Over the three miles, the trail gains around 900 feet.  Although not terribly steep, much of the climbing is on chunky slickrock with ledges.  While majority of the ledges have a good line that's rideable, it will be tough to cleanly clear every obstacle.  Although it wasn't a factor for me, since I live in Colorado close to 7500' above sea level, Dustin had a little difficulty with the elevation at the beginning of the ride during the climb.  He lives in Oregon around 2-300 feet in elevation.  Without any acclimation, climbing to an elevation of nearly 7000' can be more difficult than normal if you are coming from low elevations.

Mesa near the beginning of the ride

Negro Bill Canyon

Large section of slickrock

Some chunky rock during the early climbing

We both needed to make a few adjustments to our bikes during the first few miles.  The breaks were welcome however since I just rode 25 miles less the previous evening, and it gave us a chance to enjoy the scenery that starts at the very beginning of the ride dominated by the view into Negro Bill Canyon.

Dustin making his way up some slickrock

Cliffs to the west of Moab

A lone desert bloom

Just as the climbing comes to an end, the trail turns to the left.  Straight ahead just a few feet is the first cliffside view of the ride.  This is the Porcurpine Rim, a nearly sheer cliff dropping to the stunning view of the Castle Valley 2000 feet below with its sandstone mesas, spires, and rock features.  This is perhaps the most iconic image along the Porcupine Rim.  It's pretty common to see photos of riders on the edge of the cliff with the drop into the Castle Valley just inches away.  We were no exception, and we both took each other's photo with our bikes on the edge of the rim.

Reaching Porcupine Rim

The mesas of Monument Valley

The classic Porcupine Rim photo

Nice drop in front of my bike

The La Sals from the rim

Although the climbing ends, the riding doesn't become much easier.  The trail has plenty of rock and ledges to negotiate.  Some of the drops on the ledge are fairly high.  While all of the drops are generally rideable, a few sections require srtinging several higher, consecutive step drops.  Without scouting, or watching someone else pick the proper line ahead of you, it's difficult to clean all the obstacles.  A couple sections Dustin and I gave a second try after we saw the better lines on our first passage.  Dustin seemed to handle the drops a little easier on his full suspension Specialized.

Entering some ledgey drops

Making my way through the rock

Tomcat transitioning to some smoother trail

When not negotiating ledges, the riding can get pretty fast as the trail travels downhill.  It's easy to get carried away with speed at times.  There is plenty of loose rock on the faster stretches to keep you on your toes.

It looks flat, but it's downhill and easy to
get some serious speed

The La Sals rising some 6-7000 feet above

More interesting desert rock features

The trail dropping toward the mesa

At one point we were traveling at high speed with Dustin leading 50 or more yards ahead of me.  Without any warning, he went down hard when his front tire went out from him traveling through loose rock.  He was a little sore but surprisingly not bleeding at all having just landed on rock.  He ended up breaking a spoke on his front wheel.  Not more than a mile or two later, in similar conditions, he took a second dive.  Again he wasn't seriously injured or bleeding.  As we rode off I noticed his back wheel had a hop to it.  It turned out he had another broken spoke, this one on the rear wheel.

The riding for the first 9 miles is open to dirt bikes and for the most part all double track.  After 9 miles or so, the trail is no longer open to dirt bikes and becomes singletrack.  The riding becomes more fun on the singletrack.  There are still plenty of technical challenge, but the trail has more flow.

Nice singletrack along the canyon

There is also a particularly nice stretch of scenery as the ride makes its way down the singletrack.  The trail gets quite close to the rims of Jackass Canyon and the Colorado River Canyon, sometimes just a few feet away from the long drop below.  From the canyon rims are some good views to the Colorado River below.

The Colorado River 

The trail rides within a few feet from the rim

This was probably the best section of riding

Tomcat cruising along the rim

One of the best views of the Colorado River from the trail

As the trail works it's way to Utah 128, the last stretch gets pretty gnarly.  The trail drops into and crosses another side canyon.  There are some stretches that are pretty much unridable by anybody.  After crossing the canyon, the trail is less severe the last bit to the end of the ride.  A tunnel takes you under Utah 128 to the paved bike path along the Colorado River at the Negro Bill Trailhead.

Dustin negotiating some burly trail

The trail ends in this canyon with some unrideable terrain

Our total ride ended up being 15 miles.  With stops to take pictures, enjoy the scenery, tinker with our bikes, and time for Dustin to lick his wounds after his crashes; we ended up taking about 4 hours from start to finish.  Of this we were actually rolling just over 2 hours.

Tomcat on Porcupine Rim

Tomcat making his way above the Colorado River

The Porcupine Rim Trail is a solid advanced mountain bike ride.  There are enough technical sections that I wouldn't recommend this ride to anyone less than a strong intermediate.  There is a lot of rock on the trail, ranging from loose gravel to chunky slickrock and the riding is quite tiring despite its elevation loss and modest distance.  I rode the trail on a hardtail with no problems.  Dustin rode a full suspension.  I you have the option, I'd opt for the full suspension.  Even with 4 inches of travel on my fork, my wrists and triceps were tired from the constant jarring.  I would also carry a couple tubes just in case.  Riding tubes, it would be easy to have a pinch flat.  On tubeless, the rock could cut a sidewall, requiring a tube repair.  There isn't much shade, so carry plenty of water.  Even though our ride was comfortable at 6800', as we descended to the river at 4000', it was considerably warmer.  The trailhead is in the Sand Flats Recreation Area and there is a $5 per vehicle day use fee ($10/week) to access the road.

Closeup of Montument Valley

Porcupine Rim is one of the best known rides in the mountain biking world.  I'm definitely glad I rode it and it was fun ride.  It wasn't my favorite ride in Moab however.  I enjoyed Navajo Rocks (look back two posts) and Klondike  Bluffs (post coming soon) more than Porcupine Rim.  I think they just suit my riding style better.  If I revisit Moab, I'd probably check out a few other trail systems in the area before give the Porcupine Rim another go. That being said, if you are an advanced rider in Moab and have never ridden it before, check out Porcupine Rim.  It's a classic ride with great desert scenery that will give you a good challenge.

Desert features near the middle of the ride

If you enjoy reading this and my other blog posts, check out and Like Tomcat's Outdoor Adventures on Facebook where I post pictures and updates more frequently and revisit old adventures.

No comments:

Post a Comment