3 Mountain Biking Destinations in the US You May Not Have Considered

Written by Michael Law
May 24, 2024

Yearning for new turns and wanting to get away from the crowds at the nation's most well-known mountain biking destinations, I set my two-wheeled quest to find places that are quirky yet fun, otherworldly but approachable, and sophisticated yet down to earth. Word of mouth and research pointed me to the following destinations: Fruita, Colorado; Sedona, Arizona; and Bentonville, Arkansas. Word on the street was that each town brandished unique charms, challenging trails, and new experiences.

Fruita, Colorado

Author Michael Law on Joe's Ridge in Fruita
Author Michael Law on Joe's Ridge in Fruita | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

Comfortably set in the heart of Colorado's high desert, Fruita is a vibrant and unpretentious western town that I found instantly likable. The local eateries feature sunny patios, bike shops had everything I desired, and eclectic shops were perfect for off-trail wandering and happy to sell me everything I never knew I needed.

Here, the rough-and-tumble terrain of the Book Cliffs and the thin high air set the stage for a mix of lung-busting ascents and heart-pounding descents along flowy serpentine singletracks. Stopping to catch my breath was a pleasant pastime, the incredible vistas of far-off mesas, canyons, and the rivers below instantly slowed my heart rate.

I spent most of my time on the 18 Road Trail network, where routes flow up and down ridges. Riders of all levels love this area, and some of the highlights are a rip down Zippity Do Da or Joe's Ridge. For those who need an additional adrenaline hit, head over to the Kokopelli trail area for more advanced terrain, including drops, ledges, and a bit of slick rock thrown in for good measure.

Wash off the dust at the end of the day and stroll the main street. Fruita has a decent live music scene featuring local up-and-coming artists playing everything across the musical spectrum. Very reasonably priced places to stay are easy to find, and you can ride your bike right from your front door to the trailheads if you want to, although I chose to rack my bike and save my legs for the trails!

Sedona, Arizona

Author Michael Law on Mescal Trail in Sedona
Author Michael Law on Mescal Trail in Sedona | Photo Copyright: Michael Law

As I neared Sedona, I felt a strange vibe creep into my bones. That feeling, as I later learned, is most likely coming from one of Sedona's spiritual vortexes and affects some more than others. This otherworldly, unabashedly touristy town plays up its connection to the unknown in a fun and unique way.

I took a pass on the vortexes, leaving it to the tourists. Instead, I made a beeline onto some of America's most beautiful trails. Patches of slickrock and crimson-colored gravel, the trails wind through juniper forests past incredible sandstone formations.

Aerie Trail in Sedona
Aerie Trail in Sedona | Photo Copyright: Michael Law

Sedona has gotten busier in recent years, but if you head out on the Mescal trail and then connect to Chuckwagon, you'll most likely be able to earn your turns in a peaceful environment. As you pedal along, the Sedona mysticism may sneak into your subconscious, you may start thinking that the winding trail and unexpected drop are a bit like finding your way in the world and managing the inevitable pitfalls.

After your rides, head back into town, the main street (basically Highway 89A) has many tourist-oriented restaurants with very average food, and you'll find better fare where the locals eat. I made my way to the Javalina Cantina, a short walk south from downtown. Their large outdoor deck provides panoramic views of the surrounding hillsides and is the perfect place to recap your adventures on the trails.

One watch out regarding Sedona, accommodation is expensive and can be hard to come by last minute; plan well ahead or try camping (decent spots are nearby, and some in the open desert are even free).

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Bentonville, Arkansas

Ramps on a mountain biking trail in Bentonville
Ramps on a mountain biking trail in the Coler Mountain Bike Preserve in Bentonville | Photo Copyright: Michael Law

I found it hard to believe that Bentonville bills itself as the "Mountain Biking Captial of the World". A grandiose statement for sure, that I was more than happy to verify and was glad I did. The rolling hills of the lower Ozarks are a trail designer's dream allowing for flowy trails through a lush forest canopy. Unlike the other destinations where challenging features are natural, the trails here have man-made structures created by geniuses that take you to the next level of skill or fright!

They take mountain biking up a notch in Bentonville; they've gone and added interesting public art along the trails. I found it to be quite an experience to come around a corner and be presented with a giant grasshopper or come across the wildly bizarre Buckminster Fuller's Fly Eye Dome as I raced along.

Scott Dirksen on a jump in the Coler Mountain Bike Preserve
Scott Dirksen on a jump in the Coler Mountain Bike Preserve | Photo Copyright: Michael Law

You'll find all of this and more at two of the city's preeminent trail networks; Coler Mountain Bike Preserve and Slaughter Pen. Trails here are immaculate and even include paved ascent routes making getting to the top easy and smooth. Need trail advice? Chat with Scott Dirksen, Senior Program Manager at Coler Mountain Bike Preserve, he'll hook you up with all the information you need.

Must-do's include Fireline and Thunderdome. Those with more adventure than sense will have to fly off Drop the Hammer. Who knows, you may be inspired by all the art to want to take a spin through the stunning Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, conveniently located mere minutes from the Slaughter Pen trails. Bentonville is blessed with many places to stay across all budget categories, you can even camp beside the trails at Coler Mountain Bike Preserve and ride all day and into the evening.

Each destination had its distinct characteristics—Fruita's small-town allure, Sedona's weirdly kitschy charm, and Bentonville's blend of action and art. But what they all shared were incredible trails that more than satisfied my two-wheeled wanderings.

Read More: The Cultured Biker: Mixing Biking and the Arts in Bentonville