Editor's Picks: 15 New Mountain Bike Trails Explored in 2023

Bicicleta de montaña

, by Greg Heil

La Caceria 2, Chimborazo, Ecuador. Rider: Greg Heil. Photo: Andrés Chacho López

At the start of every year, I take a couple of hours to look back through all of the incredible mountain bike trails I explored over the previous 12 months. I'm invariably shocked by the sheer quantity of places that I traveled in the past year, asking myself, "Did all of these adventures REALLY happen in the past 12 months?!"

If you've never done this before, I encourage you to take some time to relive some of your memories from the past year. I personally use my Strava Training Calendar for this exercise—just click back to 2023, click on January, and skim through the titles of all of your rad adventures. I've also been very consistent at uploading photos to my adventures, so clicking into interesting mountain bike rides or hikes and reliving the experience through images is a great way to savor those memories!

2023 held a number of major transitions for me personally: my wife and I traded in the full-time #vanlife lifestyle for #houselife in the mountains of Colorado... oh, and we became husband and wife, too! While quitting full-time travel might seem like it would reduce the number of new trails to explore, moving to a new mountain town actually opened up a clean slate of trails to experience for the first time.

Despite slowing our roll, our travels hardly ceased. We explored new nooks and crannies in Colorado, spent substantial time in the desert, and flew to South America not just once but twice!

Thanks to two long trips to Moab and returning to live in Colorado again, I also spent plenty of time re-riding old favorites this year. So for this annual round-up, I've included an "honorable mentions" list of the best re-rides of the year.

If you're looking for a little adventure inspiration, ranging from Colorado to Ecuador and many points in between, dig into this list:

Best New MTB Trails of 2023:

1. Blackhawk Pass -> Stagecoach Loop, Durango, Colorado

This epic loop on the Blackhawk Pass section of the Colorado Trail—finishing with a fast, flowy rip down Stagecoach—was dubbed "the best ride of the year" by my buddy Marcel. Despite the stiff competition, I'd say that accolade was very much deserved! With more than 4,000 feet of climbing topping out at over 12,000 feet above sea level, endless descents, views for over a hundred miles of the most beautiful mountains in Colorado, peak fall colors in the aspen groves, and perfect temperatures and weather—this ride, while tough, was downright idyllic!

2. Scotch Creek -> Salt Creek Loop, Rico, Colorado

You're going to spot a theme on this list, as three of these selections feature sections of the Colorado Trail between Silverton and Durango. In fact, this loop on Scotch Creek and Salt Creek almost kisses the Blackhawk Pass Loop, following the Colorado Trail directly to the south of Stagecoach. However, this loop is approached from the opposite side of the mountain range and features an epic descent on the Salt Creek Trail—fast, high-speed descending on dark black dirt through an absolutely massive aspen grove covering the mountainside.

3. Pass Creek -> Engine Creek Shuttle, Durango, Colorado

Yet another epic shuttle route in the Durango high country, the Engine Creek trail is tough, technical, narrow, and FAST! The trail's challenge and its relative remoteness make it a local favorite but dissuade the crowds of would-be riders who aren't up to the task. And if you hit it early in the summer (as we did), you'll be greeted by towering wildflowers reminiscent of Crested Butte's best trails!

4. Spinal Tap: The Full Epidural, Richfield, Utah

The top-to-bottom Spinal Tap Trail, known as "The Full Epidural," is one of Utah's premier mountain bike shuttle runs. Yet, somehow, it is still massively underrated! After hearing good reports from some friends, I had the chance to ride the lower half of the route in late November, and it definitely lived up to the hype. I can't wait to head back when the trail is open all the way to the top!

5. Hawes Ridgelines: Double Loop, Hawes, Arizona

Hawes is easily one of the best mountain bike trail systems in the Phoenix Metro Area, if not the entire state of Arizona. This expansive trail system is home to a whole host of rides, and in early 2023, I tried out a new route consisting of a double loop on two beautiful trails down opposing ridgelines: Iron Goat and High Ridge. While Red Mountain Rush and Sunset Ridge might get most of the acclaim, these two ridges on the eastern side of the trail system were also fantastic!

6. Magic Meadow -> Telluride, Colorado

While I had ridden parts of the original Magic Meadow trail, I hadn't pedaled it since a rebuild added miles and miles of flowing singletrack and swooping berms. This spectacular point-to-point ride utilizing the Telluride gondola is a stupendous big mountain trail experience—especially during peak fall colors!

7. Molas Pass -> Engineer Mountain Trail, Durango, Colorado

As promised, here's yet another beautiful section of the Colorado Trail—this time beginning on Molas Pass and ending on the popular Engineer Mountain trail. While this is technically a point-to-point shuttle run, this 20-mile route still packs a stiff 2,900 feet of climbing and a high point around 12,200 feet. But as you can imagine, the views are to die for!

8. Coal Creek Loop, Durango, Colorado

The Coal Creek Loop shares the same climb as #3 via the Pass Creek Trail, but it descends a steep loamer through a deep, dark forest with towering pine trees. It's also one of the few Durango high country rides that can be ridden as a loop of less than 10 miles—a relatively quick hit, even though you'll have to grind up a steep 1,800 feet of vert to reach that descent.

9. The Whole Enchilada: Raptor Route, Moab, Utah

It was my first time linking the Whole Enchilada from the top of Burro Pass to the new Raptor Route—a supposedly "easier" descent off of the Enchilada consisting of entirely new singletrack dropping into Sand Flats. Spoiler alert: the Raptor Route still isn't "easy," and the punchy uphills to finish this "downhill" ride can feel tough after a long day out. That said, this new singletrack addition to the Moab trail system is an absolute beaut and is succeeding in spreading out the crowds that flock to the Enchilada.

10. Mother's Milk -> Red Dog, Pajarito, New Mexico

My trip to ride Pajarito near Los Alamos, New Mexico, was an absolute treat. Arguably the most interesting run on the mountain was Mother's Milk to Red Dog. This old-school downhill run was chock-full of manmade wooden features that would seem much more at home in the forests of the Pacific Northwest than on mountain slopes above a Southwestern desert. But still, the trails here work spectacularly, and I can't wait to visit again!

DID YOU READ? "Pajarito Bike Park: Is this the Only Volunteer-Built Lift-Served Bike Park in the USA?"

11. Jones Pass -> Herman Gulch CDT Shuttle, Georgetown, Colorado

I finally got to check off one of the highest-elevation mountain bike trails in North America this year! The Jones Pass section of the Continental Divide Trail had been on my hit list for years, and I finally got to pedal this sublime stretch of singletrack. The final descent down Herman Gulch leaves something to be desired in terms of trail quality, which drops this ride pretty far down the list for the year.

DID YOU READ? "Riding one of the Highest-Elevation MTB Trails in North America: Jones Pass"

12. Arizona Trail Loop: East of Patagonia, Arizona

This stunning yet little-ridden singletrack loop outside the gravel biking mecca of Patagonia traverses one of the most newly-built sections of the Arizona Trail. With several steep mountain passes and an isolated valley to ride through, this is a beauty of a ride just a few miles north of the Mexican border.

13. La Caceria 2, Chimborazo, Ecuador

While this wasn't the highest-elevation trail that I rode on the sky-scraping volcano of Chimborazo, La Caceria 2 was hands-down the best: steep freeride ripping down wide-open sandy slopes, slaloming through an ancient forest, and ripping down exposed benchcut singletrack through a beautiful valley. The only thing that would have made it better is if I hadn't sprained my ankle riding it!

14. Holy Ridge, Cotopaxi, Ecuador

This is the closest thing to freeride mountain biking I've ever experienced, and the sensation was unbelievable! Steep gravelly slopes at over 15,000 feet above sea level fed into high-speed singletrack rolling along exposed ridgelines—all of which had stupendous views both above and below. What a surreal experience!

15. Clark Spring Loop, Sierra Vista, Arizona

Sierra Vista only has one marquee mountain bike ride, but it's a sweet romp along the slopes of an underrated sky island soaring above the southern Arizona desert. Spectacular views, extremely rocky and technical singletrack, and high-speed descents all combine for a pretty damn epic mountain bicycling experience in an under-the-radar location.

Honorable Mentions: Best Re-Rides of 2023

  1. Monarch Crest -> Starvation Creek, Salida, Colorado

  2. Captain Ahab, Moab, Utah

  3. Porcupine Rim: LPS, Moab, Utah

  4. The Ribbon -> Free Lunch -> Holy Cross, Grand Junction, Colorado

  5. Bear Creek -> Gutz, Salida, Colorado

  6. Golder Ranch, Oro Valley, Arizona

  7. Cottonwood Shuttle, Salida, Colorado

  8. Handcut Hollow, Bentonville, Arkansas

  9. Raiders Ridge -> Snake Charmer Loop, Durango, Colorado

  10. Trestle DH, Winter Park, Colorado

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