Sun, Sand and Desert Single-Track: Bikepacking Arizona’s Superstition Mountains

Nature is ever at work building and pulling down, creating and destroying, keeping everything whirling and flowing, allowing no rest but in rhythmical motion, chasing everything in endless song out of one beautiful form into another (J. Muir, Our National Parks, 1901)

The desert is a landscape shaped by the destructive forces of water, wind, and  sun. Constantly in flux, never the same from one day to the next.  Yet its stunningly beautiful: from its coarse sedimentary rocks shaped like meringues, to its massive pillars of red stone and box canyons. Contrast is everywhere: blue sky with red rock,  green springs with  sand, cacti with rock, grey moonlight with yellow sun. Arizona’s Superstition Mountains and the hills that surround the Phoenix area are no exception. I recently spent ten days exploring the Superstitions and riding local trails at Usery Mountain Regional Park, Brown’s Ranch and the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. Pack your mountain bike, sun screen and plenty of water and head south.

Superstition Mountains

Located 65 kilometers east of Phoenix, the Superstition Mts. are a fantastic mountain biking, bike packing (touring), hiking and camping destination. If you’re riding a bike, stick to state land on the southern edge of the range. Hikers can enjoy the Wilderness area to the north.

Loaded and ready to ride
Sunset over the Superstitions
just northeast of Apache Junction
Looking southeast from the Lost Goldmine Trail.
A purple sky and black rock sunset.
The moon emerging in the east.
A Cholla cactus.
Another type of Cholla cactus.
A young Saguaro cactus.
A Palo Verde tree.
A Saguaro cactus standing tall.
After it rains, water collects in small rock pools. You can use a Lifestraw to hydrate yourself. This was the only water source that I could find along the entire length of this trail.

Hewitt Canyon

This multi-use recreation area is just east of  the historic  community of Queen Valley and can be accessed via. Highway #60.  Hewitt Canyon road winds its way north through gently rolling terrain and some great geo-features such as Hewitt and Roblas Canyon  as well as Hewitt Canyon Arch. This roads eventually summits Montana Mountain (5, 528 ft.), where it crosses the  Arizona Trail which can be ridden downslope to Hwy. #60.

A well-used gravel road winds it way up Hewitt Canyon, just north of Queen Valley.
Palo Verde trees provide some much-needed shade and a great campsite.
A Hewitt Canyon windmill.
A windmill filled tank is one of the few sources of water along Hewitt Canyon Road.
Looking north from Hewitt Canyon road.

Brown’s Ranch Single Track

Just thirty minutes north of Phoenix, this popular multi-use trail network is a favorite of local riders. With flowey single-track,  interesting geologic features and fantastic views of the Sonoran desert, Brown’s Ranch  is a must-ride area.

We see the world from our own perspective. Looking at things from another perspective, like the view from this rock pile, will make us better citizens.
There are large piles of eroded sandstone all over this area.

Usery Mountain Regional Park

Just north of Apache Junction, this regional park has flat valley-bottom riding , some flowey toe-slope single-track and some tough rock-garden ascents and descents. Like all of the Superstition Mountains, the landscapes are stunning.

The sun rises overs Cat Peak trail.
The trail descends into a dry wash.
Sandy single-track along the valley floor.

Some rocky sections along the toe-slope of the mountain.

Phoenix Mountain Preserve and the Phoenix Canal System

Just a few minutes from downtown Phoenix, this multi-use urban park has some great beginners single-track that provides awesome views of the desert, hills and city. If you connect this park with the Arizona Canal Trail,  you can enjoy hours of leisurely urban trail riding. This 40 km canal system, runs northwest-southeast through the city. With flat, paved and unpaved trails, often going both directions, the canal is a fantastic ride especially for bikepackers who want an easy traffic-free ride out of the city. This trail system also provides access to many areas of the city including other parks, restaurants and even bike shops such as a the Trailhead Bike Cafe.

A typical un-paved section of the Arizona Canal Trail.
There are many interesting things to see along the canal.