I recently spent an entire week in Hurricane (pronounced “Hur-ah-kin” by the locals), Utah. While there was no shortage of magnificent mountain biking, one ride in particular was truly “epic.” The International Mountain Bicycling Association just so happens to agree with me. Designated an IMBA "Epic," the Hurricane Cliffs Trail System is a must-ride if you’re ever in the area.Started by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), in collaboration with the Hurricane Valley Heritage Foundation, this unique network of trails takes riders on a tour of Hurricane Valley’s history and landscape—from majestic mesas to cavernous canyons and defunct volcanoes. BLM Trail Landscape Architect Cimarron Chacon designed the system employing IMBA standards. Local cycling volunteers (from Color Country Cycling Club, Dixie Mountain Bike Trails Association, Americorps, etc.) helped turn the vision into reality.
At 21 miles long, the Hurricane Cliffs network of trails—which combines the Hurricane Rim, JEM, Gould and Gould Rim trails—is no joke. If you plan on riding the whole thing (and I suggest you do), prepare to spend some quality time on your bike. In the desert. With zero shade. The only reprieve from the sun my riding buddies and I found during our recent visit was in three man-made trail maps along the route. This is a fantastic destination on a day with adequate cloud cover. If you can’t control the weather, just remember to lather up on the sunscreen and bring plenty of food and water. This is not the place you want to run out.
With a bit of local knowledge imparted onto us, we chose to begin this ride at a parking lot a couple miles before the JEM trailhead on Highway 59. We rode counter-clockwise (highly recommended), and started our ride on Hurricane Rim, which takes place—quite literally—along the rim of a picturesque cliff. Here, you’ll find some semi-technical spots and the largest climb of the ride. From there we linked up with Gould and Gould Rim, and ended with JEM, which offered the most amazing 4-mile flowing descent any of us had ridden, perhaps ever. I wondered aloud after snaking at high speed through the low-growing sage if this is what heaven is like. “I really hope so,” my friend replied.
It’s been pointed out that this trail system was not created for its slickrock playground or spectacular views. Rather, it’s simply a blast to mountain bike here. Period. Unlike other trails in the area (Little Creek and Gooseberry Mesa come to mind), the Hurricane Cliffs Trail System is not terribly technical, save for a few spots. You will, however, face a couple steep climbs, granite and sandstone rock slabs, and at least one tricky descent at the end of JEM.
I’d put this trail in the intermediate category. Though technical areas are few and far between, they do exist. What’s more, mountain bikers may find it difficult to complete the steep (albeit infrequent) climbs, not to mention the long 21 mile loop. Those of you who don’t want to ride the whole thing, it’s possible to hit just the JEM as an out and back.
It can’t be said enough, you’ll want to bring enough food and water with you to last the entire 21-mile ride. If you’re not used to riding in the desert, bring more than you think you’ll need. I just barely made it off the trail with enough water because I started with too small of a hydration pack. While that particular two-liter pack does me well on familiar East Coast terrain, I should have brought along a larger water supply. Don’t make the same mistake! Carrying along an area map isn’t such a bad idea either.
The Hurricane Cliffs Trail system is closest to the town of Hurricane and just outside of Zion National Park. The BLM says to travel north on Interstate 15 from the city of St. George. Then, take exit 16 to Hurricane City. Make a right on 100 S. Take your first left onto State Route 59. You have your choice from here. Travel .75 miles and turn left into the parking area to access the Hurricane Hills Trailhead. Travel 3.1 miles and turn left on the gravel road. Drive 3.4 miles to the Virgin Dam Trailhead. Travel 5 miles and turn left on the gravel road to access the J.E.M. Trailhead.