Utah is a top-level mountain bike destination with amazing terrain that makes for extraordinary mountain bike riding. Although Moab generally gets top billing, we’ve been exploring trails in the Hurricane and St. George area as well, as it’s closer to our winter base in Las Vegas.
The Hurricane Rim Loop IMBA Epic has been on my personal to-do list for almost 8 years now. There’s something about a trail that receives an “EPIC” designation that makes a rider want to seek out the experience — which is supposed to be the point. The downside: sometimes it’s more marketing and tourist hype than reality, as we discovered during our recent trip to the southwest. Utah definitely contains some epic rides. This loop simply wasn’t one of them.
Long story short: if you’re seeking out a destination trail, do your homework before investing minimal vacation time into this loop. It isn’t for everyone. We found the experience to fall short of expectations and in our opinion, undeserving of an “epic” status. If you think adding a few miles of gravel road to a route makes a trail epic, read on.
There are segments of this route worthy of riding if you are in the area; take note of that as well.
Parking at the outer trail head, we pedaled in and began at the Sheep Bridge trail head. It’s a nice warm up with great views from the start, and at the first intersection turned right onto the Hurricane Rim Trail. The Hurricane Rim Trail is a great ride, but the next time we ride it, we’ll turn around at the halfway point where it descends. Instead we carried on, exiting at the highway.
After an unpleasant (but short) segment on the highway, you cross it and begin a climb up a dirt road that continues for several miles. It’s not much fun, (Inga was running platform pedals) so we were hoping for a payoff to make it worthwhile. A number of locals passed us running short travel XC bikes kitted out in lycra, which was a subtle hint we chose our route for the day poorly.
Eventually we came to the Goulds Rim trail head and the route returned to single track.
The ride began to improve, as it transitioned to desert single track. Inga’s mood also improved, but she was still unhappy with her choice in pedals. (We also carried a lot more gear than usual, thinking we might be stuck in the backcountry.)
For my part, I was a bit bummed about the heavy duty casing on my enduro-rated WTB tires; I had been looking forward to burly, rock filled technical terrain and it was nowhere to be found.
The trail continued over the highway and we lugged through some slow moving sandy terrain. It wasn’t a bad trail; if I had this and could ride it from my back yard it would be great. In this context, I’d be on my hardtail, stomping out the miles. But this ride falls short billed as a destination trail.
Things began to improve at the intersection of the Jem Trail and Dead Ringer. Although I’d wanted to ride the Jem trail for years, we elected to drop into Dead Ringer as it was a newer trail and a quote highlighted on the MTB Project page listed it as “the best flow trail in the Hurricane area… ” which meant we had to check it out.
Except, nope. At the Cowbell intersection it looked and rode amazing; for almost a mile. Then it became flat and sandy with poorly implemented “flow” features that were at best, disappointing.
What we didn’t read closer was that it was designed as a climbing trail to access the Jem parking lot. I really wished I had descended Jem, as that still remains on my to-do list.
We haven’t logged that many disappointing days of riding during the last few years of trips, thanks to researching routes in advance. In hindsight, this was on me. I really had been looking forward to a all day grinder of a ride and missed the hints. When reading UGC content you have to really do your best to gauge the experience by the writer.
Inga was up for it, but ran platforms, expecting challenging terrain. We certainly could have done a longer ride, were more than prepared with overly heavy packs. We both ended the day a bit disappointed, as there are a lot of trails remaining on our to-do list that we could have scratched off that day.
The ride back on the Rim Trail was pleasant, and we snapped a few shots of the pretty light. The experience left me with some take-aways, the biggest being that our expectations are much higher than they’ve been in the past. It’s possible we’re completely spoiled by the progressive trails of the pacific northwest.
When you think of a trail that is labeled as an “epic” you would expect it to be an experience of a significant duration, taking the better part of a day, filled with adventure, amazing views and landscapes filled with challenging terrain.
While we found the epic designation to be misleading (long amazing trails are fun, long boring trails are not — sorry) the Hurricane Rim Trail by itself is a worthy destination. As a shorter ride, it would have been fun. We could have made it a double day and ridden a few other segments. For our friends, we recommend riding the Rim Trail as an out and back or loop it to the Jem Trail, having some lunch and exploring other routes in the area. I’d probably start at the top of Jem, descend it and do part of the Rim Trail, and come back up Dead Ringer. Either way, riding with someone that has some local knowledge would ensure a good day.
Or grab your hardtail and heart rate monitor and do the whole loop if you’re a dirt roadie. But I still wouldn’t ever drive 20 hours for that experience.
While the trail descriptions and UGC (user generated content) on MTBProject can vary greatly, the MTProject map and iPhone app is extremely well done and was very useful. Using the app and my iPhone made negotiating trails during our trip easy, and when encountering confusing trail splits on this route, I was able to easily determine the best route using the live map feature, and even helped out a few other groups of riders along the way.
MTB Project: Hurricane Rim Loop – IMBA (not so) Epic
UtahMountainBiking.com – Hurricane Rim Trail