Located at 5,200 feet, Gooseberry Mesa is an ideal spot to mountain bike in any season. The technical trail stays a bit cooler than many other popular trails in the valley below, and offers a mix of easy, intermediate and difficult sections. I recently spent some time riding a portion of the Mesa and have nothing but praise for the trail system.
Gooseberry Mesa offers a mix of slickrock, packed dirt and some sandy spots. Unfamiliar with desert riding, the sand pits really threw me for a loop. Located near the edge of the trail (which dropped off to unknown depths below), they'd derail my line and cause me to panic. The trick, I learned after a while, is to drop into an easy gear, sit back on your saddle to take the weight off of your front wheel and lean in the direction you’d like to go, instead of using your handlebars to steer.
Aside from the sand, Gooseberry Mesa most resembled the terrain I’m use to riding on the East Coast: technical hardpack singletrack with lots of pointy vegetation. At home, wild, thorny blackberry branches tear up my limbs on overgrown trails. Here, a different kind of shrub—but just as sharp—left my arms and legs scratched and stinging. Challenging rock slabs, tight turns and slickrock sections always had me on my game. I was thankful for the spray-painted white trail markers (or “Pac-Man dots” as one local called it) since my slickrock navigating skills are appalling. Long climbs are non-existent; you perform quick bursts of speed to propel you over obstacles.
Slow, Steady & Stunning
It can’t go unsaid that the views on this particular trail, which received National Recreation Trail status in 2006, are extraordinary. We stopped a couple times to soak them in while refueling with food and water. Views of Zion National Park appear to the north, while vibrant desert mesas and deep canyons appear below the west rim. However, part of what makes this area so breathtaking is the fact that the trail, at times, hugs the cliff’s edge. Pay attention to the twisting trail at all times and ride in control. Knowing that a careless wreck could send me flying over the edge in some spots had me taking it a bit slower than normal.
The BLM, which manages the public lands, rates most of the trails, including Windmill Trail (1.8 mi), Bowls and Ledges Trail (1.1 mi), Practice Trail (1.3 mi) and North Rim Trail (2.1 mi) as “more difficult.” Two trails (White Trail, 3.1 mi and Connector Trail, 0.6 mi) are labeled “easy,” two (Hidden Canyon Trail, 1.9 mi and Yellow Trail, .5 mi) are “most difficult,” and one (South Rim Trail, 5.9 mi) is “extreme.” All singletrack trails branch out from one main doubletrack road, known as the “White Trail.” This set-up is very convenient, as riders can plan to pedal to their car midway through a ride to re-stock on food and water, or visit the pit toilet that’s also located along this road. After riding to The Point via the Hidden Canyon Trail, newly-built Secret Trail and South Rim Trail, we took the doubletrack back to our car and enjoyed the mostly downhill semi-technical ride back. Beginners would get a kick out of riding the White Trail to The Point and back. Note that the White Trail is the only trail open to motorized vehicles.
On the particular day we visited this trail it was barely sprinkling, but calling for rain showers in the afternoon. Our local mountain bike guide for the day informed us that the road to Gooseberry would be treacherous to navigate in our rented Toyota Corolla should this happen. Luckily for us—and our 2- and 4-wheeled means of transportation—the rain held off and we were able to get to the tabletop mesa without incident.
Gooseberry Mesa is situated just outside of Zion National Park. The BLM tells visitors traveling from the city of St. George, UT, to drive north on Interstate 15 and take exit 16 to Hurricane City. Make a right on Main Street, then take your first left onto State Route 59. Turn left when you hit Smithsonian Butte National Backcountry Byway. Turn left at 2.8 miles. The Gooseberry Trailhead will be on your left after 3.3 miles. From here you can either drive west for 1.3 miles to access the White Trailhead or continue straight to access the Windmill Trailhead after 1.2 miles.