I don’t like to stop riding in winter. Over the years I have explored the west looking for winter and spring riding opportunities. You might be surprised about some of these areas that I have come across… I was.
When looking for ideal places to ride, some of the considerations I took into account included: distance from Taos; camping opportunities for over night stay; opportunities for multiple rides over multiple days; likelihood of ride-able trails in winter conditions; and fun. I have put together a collection of three for your consideration.
In December, I did some riding in the Texas Hill country, west of Austin at Barton Springs and Pedernales State Park. I figured the lack of regular snow would mean winter riding options. Honestly, I was hoping for better. The Austin area is where I cut my mountain biking teeth 30 plus years ago. However, those trails are still crude by modern standards. In fact, the only thing that has changed since the 90s, is that now, Taos Ski Valley’s old Lift 1 has a new home at a Hill Country ride park. The park was closed during our visit to the area, so I cant speak to the quality of trail at the private park, but the public trails are not only full of “chunder” and baby’s heads, but the trees are unpredictably too close together. Some might call that a challenge… I call it dangerous. \
Fortunately, there are more options, closer to home:
Palo Duro Canyon Sate Park, Canyon (Amarillo), Tx
A much better Texas Winter/Spring riding area much closer to Taos is a little more than five hours away: Palo Duro Canyon outside of Amarillo. Even during large snow events that affect southern New Mexico and the Texas pan-handle, the State Park has plenty of riding. There are around 35 miles of single track at Palo Duro, with enough trails for average to expert riders to fill three days of unique riding.
Several campgrounds are maintained by the park.
These Pan-handle canyon trails were built with significant motivation and influence by the strong trail running community in North Texas, but fortunately for us MTBers, the trails were designed with bikes in mind. There is riding for everyone here. Stay close to the creeks for beginner trails of varying lengths. As you move away from the river and up onto the canyon shoulders, the difficulty, challenge and reward increases. The Comanche and Rock Garden trails offer lung busting ascents and technical descents. Get all the way to the rim for views, or switch sides of the canyon for hootin’ and hollerin’ on the Juniper/ Cliffside flow trail
Lake Pueblo State Park, Pueblo, Co
Another gem of Winter/Spring cycling shines brightly at Lake Pueblo State Park.
I am telling you, this place is fun. Super fun. The locals have created a stacked loop of multi-level, multi-line, non-exclusive trails that keep both expert and average riders coming back for more. There are hundreds of features in almost every drainage down through the cliffs. There are even a couple of double black diamond trails that will test not only your ability, but your penchant for exposure. The great thing about these builds is that they are all logical and have a line resolution that wont leave you hanging – except the double black Staircase and Steep Tech which are off cambered old school switch-backs with lots of painful exposure. There are also miles of options for the more casual or beginner riders, and anyone can advance their skills by exploring the multiple different lines. I’ve taken all levels of riders, all of who have had fun.
These MTB trails benefit from being smack-dab in the midst of fantastic building materials: slabby limestone blocks have been moved, angled, and positioned into long runs of excellent riding surfaces that are almost all rideable even things get wet (except for the Lake Shore Trail, which turns to non-negotiable mud after a rain). However, the trail building activity has been so intense recently in Pueblo, the land managers have threatened to start taking out all the rogue trails and features. Lets hope these conflicts can be resolved, because this area is fun for the entire family.
For those of you who prefer a less manicured experience, miles of scenic cross country trails and connector trails provide various technical levels and options for hours of fun. For the casual rider, the Lake Shore Trail is a nice Green Level scenic trail that traces the lake.
There are three main loops in this stacked trail system. The loop closest to the campground bisected by the most downhills and features. The outer loops progressing towards more of a cross country experience. The “features” loop has an upper access traverse called Roller Coaster that rolls to the different access points. This Blue Level trail has punchy ups and downs and is not an easy “give me” but it gets you to the most fun. The general consensus is that Stonehinge is a good way to get up to the upper traverse. I prefer going up Hooters Too because it is a nice series of builds that offer a technical up-hill in addition to being a Hoot of a downhill. After you get to Roller Coaster, the options abound.
The park has lots of camp sites in dedicated campgrounds. Arkansas Point Campground is right at the trail heads; or if that campground is full, several more campgrounds are a quick drive to the other side of the State Park. These sites, like most Colorado State Parks, need to be booked online. I find the most user friendly booking to be through Reserve America (Note: apparently Colorado doesn’t want to recognize NM drivers licenses, so have a passport number ready for identification when booking).
And, for an interesting article on what Pueblo was and is check out this NPR article.
Placitas Area Trails, Bernalillo/Placitas, NM
For an even closer riding area for Spring check out the MTB trails between Santa Fe and Albuquerque near Placitas, NM. These trails have something fun for everyone. Green and blue Cross Country routes, some rock features for climbing over, and a run called Bob Sled that is a purpose built MTB flow trail. What I REALLY appreciated about this area is that there are often multiple lines that are multi-leveled.
Taos had just gotten snow… Santa Fe was un-rideable… Albuquerque was getting rain… However, this area was dry in late February. The locals say it is typically one of the first trail systems to open, even while ABQ is getting weather. The fast draining soils and the sun exposed aspect opens these trails for Late Winter/Spring riding.
Unlike the Dale Ball trails in SF, or the Foothills trails in ABQ, these trails seemed to have more of an MTB vibe. Though utilized by pedestrians, horses and MTBers alike, the system seemed to accommodate everyone nicely. Open site lines and multiple options kept everyone happy. An interesting note: Though a lot of trails are official Open Space and National Forest Trails, there were other unofficial routes that were actually included on the map at the trail head. Crazy, I know, but it means that there is a lot of riding to do in this area, especially when nothing else is open.
Not sure about local camping, but its quick access from both Santa Fe and Albuquerque makes it a nice option when staying in either.