I first heard of Moab, Utah back in the mid-90s. I was just starting to get into mountain biking and as my obsession over the sport was forming I started digging deeper into the culture of biking. This far off land of Moab, 3000 km away, captured my interest and I placed it on a pedestal for places I needed to ride. Moab has hundreds of kilometers of trails to ride, but none of them are as famous as the Slickrock Trail. Known the world over, Slickrock trail attracts thousands of bikers from around the globe annually and offers what some consider the most unique biking experience in North America.
History of Slickrock Trail:
Founded in 1969 by Dick Wilson, Slickrock trail started out as a trail for off road motorcycles. During the 1980s as the popularity of mountain biking grew, so did the number of bikers making their way to the Sand Flats Recreation Area to explore this unique trial. Riders visit the trail for 3 distinct reasons; the technical challenge, physical challenges and the spectacular views and scenery. To this day both bikers and motorcyclist share the same trails.
Although the name Slickrock seems misguided given the incredible amount of traction modern mountain bike tires have, there is a reason for the name. Legend has it that the name Slickrock came into fashion due to the difficulty that shoed horses had maintaining their footing on the petrified sand dunes.
Where’s The Trail:
Slickrock trail is located a few short kilometers east of the town of Moab, Utah. Slickrock trail is located in the Sand Flats Recreation Area. To access this area you will need to pay an admission fee (we paid $5.00 for the vehicle). Proceed up Sand Flats Road a few kilometers and you will see a large parking area, washrooms and signage for Slickrock trail on your left.
What You Should Bring:
Strategic planning and proper preparation may be the difference between a good day at Slickrock or a bad day. Water is certainly recommended. 2 liters might be enough to get you through, but I suggest at least 3. Expect that the average person will take 2 to 4 hours to complete the 17km loop. This means that you’ll be in high desert conditions, without available shade or water for the duration of your ride. I would also suggest bringing:
First aid kit
Bike repair kit (at least a pump, spare tubes and a chainbreaker)
Map or reference guide (maps are available at the trailhead)
Technical Skills Required:
Make no mistake, Slickrock is a very challenging trail. Riders must be confident on their bikes and they need to possess the physical strength and endurance to ride hard for several hours. This trail requires many short bursts of power to tackle the steep uphill climbs. Riders must be able to control their bikes and understand the principals of weight shifting. There will be no faster way to ruin your day then taking a spill on Slickrock so if you're not comfortable riding sections please walk. It can take as long as 4 hours to complete this 17km loop and there is nearly 300m (1000 feet) of elevation gain.
What You Can Expect:
Slickrock Trail is well marked by white blazes spray painted on the ground. There are also several other painted markings that warn riders of upcoming dangers, side trails and features.
First time riders may wish to try the practice loop before setting out on the full trail. The degree of difficult offered by the practice loop is similar to the main loop, it is just a much shorter commitment.
This is a multiuse trail and you will be sharing it with not only other mountain bikers, but hikers and motorcyclists. There are also 7 locations where the bike trail crosses the Hell’s Revenge 4x4 trail so be extra cautious in these areas.
Due to the popularity of Slickrock you will likely encounter other riders. Please remember to give the right of way to riders climbing before you descend. High volume days will require all riders to be patient and take turns.
As for the ride, you will be required to climb and descend incredibly steep pitches. At first you will look at where the trail goes and think that it will be impossible to traverse, but the extra traction from the sandpaper like slickrock allows all but the steepest climbs to be tackled. If riders have the physical strength, anything can be ridden at Slickrock.
The steep hills are generally short in nature but they do require riders to dig deep and grind them out. The cumulative effect of the many short hills will weigh heavily on the rider over time. The terms ‘lung busting’ and ‘leg burner’ accurately describe what this trail will do to you.
Proper gearing will be a major key to success along with shifting your weight over the front and back tires accordingly. There are also a number of sandy sections scattered along the trail which are located the bottom of many of the descents so always descend in control.
First time riders will likely find themselves torn between ripping the sandstone as fast as they can and stopping at ever corner and bluff to take in the stunning views. I would recommend making frequent stops and taking the whole experience in. Riding Slickrock can be a once in a lifetime experience so take in every moment. I could go on for hours about the various highlights but here are a few that I think are worth mentioning.
The Practice Loop (1km): This section of trail breaks off from the main trail within the first kilometer. This loop will give riders a taste of things to come and it holds nothing back. Think of this loop as Slickrock light.
Abyss Canyon (2.5km):This is the first jaw dropping view on the trail. Pause for a few moments and take in this view. Take a few pictures as well!
Cogs To Spare (6km):The toughest climb on the trail. I recommend trying it and if you happen to grind you're way to the top I salute you!
Swiss Cheese Ridge (6+km):Your reward for making it to the top of Cogs To Spare is Swiss Cheese Ridge. This 2km long ridge offers spectacular views of Moab and the surrounding topography. And the best news is that it's a nice steady downhill which will allow you to catch your breath.
Shrimp Rock:Quite possibly the highlight of the Slickrock Trail. This natural feature has captivated the mountain biking community for decades and is heralded as hallowed ground amongst riders.
More Information On Slickrock Trail:
There are a lot of web resources out there dedicate to biking in Moab and the Slickrock Trail. YouTube offers a variety of videos that are excellent, but they just can’t seem to capture the magic of Slickrock as experienced in person.
A quick search will yield you some results, but I think that Mountain Bike Project’s page is one of the better sites out there.
If you are interested in seeing the GPS data from our ride please click HERE