Ron Niebrugge / Alamy
Jeff Ficker
January 02, 2015

Some of the best bikeways in the country run through the desert and up the long stretches of paved roads in and around Scottsdale. Mountain bikers can traverse a maze of trails that run a gamut of terrain, from single tracks to steep-sided washes and even a few rocky, technical climbs that will challenge riders with intermediate and advanced skills. These rugged, two-tire adventures give riders a new perspective of the Sonoran Desert—and are a heck of a lot of fun. Road bikers, too, will enjoy north Scottsdale’s open landscape, speeding along Cave Creek, Pima and Dynamite roads and taking in the mountain views. For the competitive set, there are two big events every fall: the 70-mile Tour de Scottsdale road competition and the Cave Creek Cactus Classic, a 23-mile mountain biking race through the desert. Whether you a hardcore adventurer or biking newbie, be sure to exercise caution in the desert—that means bringing plenty of water to combat the desert’s dehydrating climate. 

McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Mountain bikers love exploring the pristine desert of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. Beginners should stick to the Brown’s Ranch Trailhead, where winding trails and sandy washes push without being too grueling. For more advanced riders, try the scenic northern trails at Tom’s Thumb. You’ll need solid biking handling skills to conquer the steep climbs and loose terrain.

South Mountain

This 16,000-acre park in south Phoenix is a mountain-biking paradise, with some of the toughest and most interesting trails in the region, including the epic National, which snakes through the length of South Mountain. The most popular trail: the 9-mile Desert Classic. On the fourth Sunday of each month, the park’s roadways are closed to vehicles and turned over to cyclists and runners with jogging strollers.

Cave Creek Road

The desert community of Cave Creek, on the northern edge of Scottsdale, has long been loved by mountain bikers, but the main road leading up to the town from Phoenix is a phenomenal route for road bikers, especially on Sundays, when you’ll see packs of riders racing up the street.

Papago Park

Papago’s sandstone buttes and desert parkland are particularly fun to explore from a mountain bike. Beginning riders—especially those just learning the sport— will love the smooth trails and manageable size of the park, not to mention the up-close views of the red-hued rock formations. 

Phoenix Mountains Preserve

The sprawling park in northern Phoenix is a bit of the Sonoran desert smack dab in the middle of the city. The moderately easy main trail, No. 100, is a 10-mile, east-west trek, and one the area’s most popular trails for bikers, hikers and horseback riders. Numerous side trails and “The Berry” climb keep things interesting. 

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