Look at any Pacific Northwest bike forum right now and youâ€™ll find many mountain bikers with cabin-fever seeking any iota of hope that our beloved trails are rideable without becoming swamped or frozen. Itâ€™s that time of year when a lot of us feel like this rain (or snow) is never going to end and weâ€™re ready to lynch Wiarton Willie and Shubenacadie Sam for getting our hopes up for an early spring.
There is one ray of sunshine in the forecast: Easter. Besides dark chocolate and baked ham, Easter also offers what weâ€™ve been missing since New Yearâ€™s: a long weekend. Four days is plenty of time to fly south over the border, be a weekend desert warrior and arrive home late Monday night with aching legs and a big smile. And hereâ€™s a great destination to consider for your Easter getaway: St. George, Utah.
Located in the bottom southwest corner of Utah, St. George is home to 65,000 people and boasts 300 sun-filled days per year (imagine that!). From Vancouver, fly to Las Vegas, rent a vehicle and within two hours youâ€™ll be in Utahâ€™s â€œDixieâ€ (called this because of its mild climate year-round; average temperature in April is 24C, perfect for biking). Although not hyped as much as Moab, St. George offers the same variety of terrain including slick rock. Below are three of the more well-known trails but this is just a tiny sampling of whatâ€™s available.
Hurricane Cliffs Loop – This 34 km singletrack loopâ€”located in â€œHer-ah-kunâ€ (as pronounced by Amerahkuns), a 30 minute drive from St. Georgeâ€”includes Goulds Rim, JEM and Hurricane Rim trails. Goulds Rim starts with a 3 km Fromme-like gravel road climb to the actual trail. Expect steady climbing throughout Goulds but the occasional descent, twisty-turn and cacti guards at the trailâ€™s edge keep you distracted from the up.
Then you get to the â€œJEMâ€ of this loop: starting with technical switchbacks that change to a pump track-style section and then the long, fast downhill that makes you giddy like a school girl on her first date. (Make sure someone is paying attention so you donâ€™t go screeching past the left-turn for the Hurricane Rim trail.)
Hurricane Rim is the most scenic part of the loop, meandering along the cliffs high above the Virgin River, and finishes with several steep climbs that eventually lead you back to your vehicle and a well-deserved beverage. P.S. Ride this loop counter-clockwise to get the most out of the descents.
Gooseberry Mesa – Gooseberry can be considered a mini-version of Moab but itâ€™s not about big slabs of rock and brutal hill climbs; itâ€™s all about playing on your bike. Gooseberryâ€™s smaller, creamy brain-like rock piles offer stunts galore for technical-skill junkies and has fun sections of singletrack that constantly weave in and around rocks, juniper trees and along the 1,000 foot cliff edge.
The typical 16 km loop includes the South Rim Trail to the viewpoint overlooking Hurricane and then back to the parking area via White Trail or a combo of White and North Rim Trails. If you have time, ride the Hidden Canyon Trail, too.
Broken Mesa – If climbing, riding delicately over lava boulders to avoid flatting and plunging down a 20% grade trail filled with babyheads appeals to you, then youâ€™ll like Broken Mesa. Located 8 km north of St. George, this trail is usually ridden as a 23 km loop with some paved miles and 400 metres of climbing or a 13 km point-to-point shuttle with a 4 km double-track uphill finish and 180 metres of elevation gain. (We did the point-to-point but our end point was a bike shop in downtown St. George making it about an 18 km ride.) This trail can be ridden year round but be forewarned: if it rains, expect sticky mud that loves tires.
So stop moping about the weather and start planning. You may miss the chocolate bunny back home, but Iâ€™m pretty sure youâ€™ll like the sweet stuff the Utah desert offers at Easter.
Other Ina Bits â€“ We rented Cannondale Rize FS bikes from Bicycles Unlimited (http://www.bicyclesunlimited.com/new/index.amp); they offer multi-day rentals which saves a few dollars. We stayed at the Crystal Inn (http://www.crystalinnstgeorge.com/index.php) and booked a room on the first floor near the back parking lot; this provided a more subtle approach to loading and unloading bikes from the vehicle versus parading through the hotel lobby. Apart from the over-chlorinated hot tub and limited food choices at the breakfast buffet, the Crystal Inn is an okay place to stay. Breakfast was good at the Bear Paw CafÃ© (http://www.bearpawcafe.com/index.html). Need a break from the bike? Hike Angelâ€™s Landing Trail in Zion National Park (http://www.zionnational-park.com/zion-angels-landing-trail.htm).
Photo credits: all photos by Craig Hunt unless noted otherwise.
Iâ€™ve been road-tripping to mountain-biking destinations since 1998. By sharing my adventures, I hope to take away the â€œoh, ohâ€ factor and add to the fun on your journeys. I donâ€™t proclaim to know everything or have the best answers; feel free to add comments from your experiences or ask questions. Enjoy the ride!