Scouting Report: Southwest Singletrack – Apogee’s New Mountain Biking Trip

By: Will Robertson

I slowed my bike to a halt and stepped off the saddle. I had just finished the “Pumps, Bumps, and Rollers” trail — an incredibly fun, windy, downhill ‘flow’ trail at the 18 Road Trail System in Fruita, Colorado. Around me, there were groups of other mountain bikers high-fiving and chatting about the trail they just finished. While watching these groups of mountain biking companions, I began to think about our Apogee groups sitting in this exact same spot, chatting about their previous trail, snacking on some trail mix, and getting ready to hit the next trail. A smile spread across my face, because I could think of no better place to share a ride with friends than the very place I was.

A pair of mountain bikers finishing up the “Pumps, Bumps, and Rollers” trail in Fruita, Colorado.

As we began to plan Apogee’s 2020 season back in the fall of 2018, we wanted to try a new type of trip. Sure, we’ve been running bicycling trips since our founding in 2001, but in light of the mountain biking craze has swept the cycling world in the last decade, we thought we’d take our cycling expertise from the roads to the trails. For our inaugural mountain biking trip, what better place to go than the center of the mountain biking universe: the desert of the Southwest! I’ll spare you all of the nitty-gritty details from my scouting of this trip from this past September — I could truly go on forever about the amazing trails I rode and the stunning natural beauty of the area. Instead, I’ll dive into each of the three destinations that this trip visits and fill you in on some of the trails our group will be riding. By the end, you’ll hopefully have an idea what our brand new Southwest Singletrack trip will look like!

Park City, Utah: You’ve likely heard of this Utah city as a winter destination because of its numerous popular ski resorts. However, Park City is just as delightful in the summer, partly due to the fact that its altitude (7,000 ft) keeps it cooler than much of the rest of the Southwest. Additionally, Park City boasts loads of mountain biking trails, making it the perfect place for our group to start their trip as they spend three days exploring some of the best trails the area has to offer. They’ll kick things off at the Round Valley trail system and nearby Trailside Bike Park. The collection of trails in this area is mostly beginner and intermediate trails, and they are a great way to get comfortable with the terrain of the Southwest. After conquering Round Valley’s vast collection of trails, they’ll have a number of trail systems to choose from over the next couple of days — Kimball Junction’s Flying Dog trail, the trail system at Dutch Hollow, and the network of trails at High Star Ranch are all great options. The leaders will choose the trail areas that the group will tackle based on what they deem appropriate for the group’s skill level. While there’s a number of lift-assisted trails in the area (where you bring your bike up the ski lift and ride down the mountain), our group won’t be using those trails due to their high-risk factor.

Having a good time with self-timer photos on the Round Valley Trail System in Park City

The trails we’ll ride in Park City aren’t what you’d think of when you first think of the Southwest — there’s no red-rock (don’t worry, we’ll get there), and there more trees dotting the trails than one might expect. In general, the trails are made up of dirt, not sheer rock, and there’s a good, healthy balance of uphill pedaling and fun, flowy, downhill riding (ed. note: “flowy” is mountain biking lingo for less-technical trails that are based around banked turns, rolling hills, and are downhill in nature). Overall, it’s a great place to start: the temperatures are manageable, there’s a wide variety of trails, and if you take a spill (I can confess to one a few of my own), the dirt and sagebrush that you’ll fall into are very forgiving.

Taking a break at a trail junction at High Star Ranch Trail System in Park City

Fruita, Colorado: Probably the least well-known destination of the three, Fruita is a small town outside of Grand Junction, Colorado, that’s well known in the mountain biking community for its fun, flowy, singletrack trails. Fruita is such a biking town that the town logo displayed on banners hung from downtown lampposts is inspired by a mountain bike chain-ring. Fruita sports a much more typical landscape of the desert than Park City, as it sits in the Colorado River valley with the higher-altitude mesas of the Colorado National Monument and Grand Mesa National Forest rising to the South and West (respectively). Here, the group will adopt a daily routine designed to avoid the highest heat of the day by riding early in the morning, taking an extended afternoon lunch break (with a possible dip in a swimming hole or a local pool), and finishing up with a possible late-afternoon ride.

A group of bikers heading out on the 18 Road Trail System in Fruita, Colorado.

In Fruita, the group will ride some of the trails that stood out to me most during my scouting trip. They’ll cruise around the aforementioned 18 Road trails, which offer incredibly exhilarating flow trails (I would have ridden for hours if I had not needed to scoot to a meeting!), and they’ll head over to the Kokopelli Loop System where they’ll get their first crack at riding some more technical trails (with gorgeous views of red rock mesas all around). Once the group has had their fill of riding for the day, they’ll escape the desert heat by driving up into the Colorado National Monument, where they’ll camp at a higher elevation.

Here’s another one for the photo-series “pictures of Will’s rental bike.” I had just finished the uphill section of one of the many trails at the Kokopelli Trail System in Fruita and was catching views of the Colorado River before beginning my descent.

Moab, Utah: Moab, without question, is the mountain biking capital of the Southwest. I haven’t run the numbers, but if I had to venture a guess, I’d say that Moab probably has the highest bike-shop-per-capita rate in the United States. Perhaps best known for its proximity to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, Moab lies in a valley surrounded by stunning red rock formations. The riding in Moab is considerably different than the riding the group experienced in Park City and Fruita — much of the riding will be over “slick-rock” (riding on hard red-rock surfaces) as opposed to riding on more traditional dirt trails. Luckily, the group is now well-prepared for this new challenge, as they’ve spent the past eight days honing their riding skills. There are too many trails in the Moab area to list here, and our permit allows us to ride on a wide variety of these trails — far more than the group could possibly explore over their two days of riding in the area (I don’t even think they could hit all of the trails in a whole week of riding!). The trip leaders will choose the exact trails that each group will explore based on the group’s demonstrated skill, and regardless of the group, we’ll stick to intermediate trails, as an intermediate trail in Moab grades more like a difficult trail in the rest of the country.

A singletrack trail from the KlonZo trail system in Moab — can you tell we’re getting redder?

Aside from mountain biking, Moab is also well known for a host of other outdoor activities, including whitewater rafting! After their first day of riding in Moab, our group will spend a full day with professional outfitters on the world-famous Colorado River. The group will give their tired riding legs a break and will get a chance to cool off in the water as they navigate the rapids, paddling and floating their way down the river. For accommodations, you may have noticed an emphasis on staying at higher altitudes for this trip, as it allows our groups to stay cool when they’re in camp. While Moab has many amazing geographical features, there’s not any areas nearby where the group could camp at a high enough altitude to escape the heat. But not to worry — the group will be staying cool overnight in air conditioned yurts in picturesque Dead Horse Point State Park!

Just steps from the group’s yurts at Dead Horse Point State Park are gorgeous views of red rock canyons.

All three destinations have different things to offer our students; as is the case with many Apogee trips, we organized the trip so that the challenge level increases over the course of the trip. This allows our students to get comfortable early on, then experience the feeling of accomplishment when they conquer the trails of Moab at the end of the trip. We hope you’ll come join us for the inaugural year of Southwest Singletrack in these three gorgeous, bike-happy destinations, and experience the trails, camaraderie, and feeling of accomplishment for yourself!