Choosing a Suitable Mountain Biking Trail

On the last full day of our Southern Utah vacation, we rented Fuji Rakan mountain bikes from Red Coyote Cyclery in Virgin; and after discussing the difficulty level of the local trails with the friendly shop experts, we chose Jem Trail. Last year in Moab, I discovered I’m not particularly good at biking across large rocks and down steep twisty trails with sudden drop-offs and wanted to stay on easy gently winding trails. The Jem Trail seemed to fit the bill, so the six of us agreed to give our mountain biking skills a try.

What one rider considers easy might be difficult for another and I quickly learned that an easy mountain biking trail can be a little scary, especially when that trail is located in an area so well known for the sport. Either that, or we took a wrong turn somewhere along the trail…

Our ride started out rather innocuous as we pulled out of the shop parking lot and onto a dirt path that ran parallel to Route 9, a rather busy highway. Once I got used to cars and trucks speeding toward me mere feet away, I settled into just getting the job done as we made our way toward a dirt road that would lead us to the trail.


The vast openness of the desert combined with views of buttes in the distance and cactus and sagebrush dotting the sides of the trail set the scene for our afternoon of mountain biking. Without any shade and the temperature expected to reach 99° (with only 7% humidity), we all carried plenty of water and Gatorade.


A Mountain Biking Playground

Before we found the trail, we came upon a playground of varying sized hills perfect for practicing our mountain biking skills. I quickly learned that my skills needed a lot of work when I couldn’t even get up the first little short steep hill I tried. HaHa!


Jem Trail

Back on the dirt road, we eventually found Jem Trail and started our real mountain biking adventure!


The trail started out a little friendlier than last year’s trail even though there were loose rocks and sharp turns at a few places. I wouldn’t call it an easy trail, at least not based on what I’d hoped for, but I seemed to be handling it better than I handled the trail in Moab.


Too Close for Comfort

I seemed to be handling it better, until… until we reached a portion of the trail that ran along a dried up gully and then the Virgin River. I actually got off my bike and pushed it along the many sections where the trail ran within a few feet of the drop-off. My fear of heights paired with zero room for error left me weak at the knees and unwilling to chance making a stupid and possibly deadly mistake.


The views were amazing, but the meandering back and forth of the trail next to the cliffs was unnerving. When the trail wandered away from the edge as it’s doing in the picture Bill took below, I’d hop back on my bike and ride until the trail got uncomfortably close to the edge again.


Mapping it Out

As you can see on the Garmin map of our ride, The sections along the gully and the Virgin River made up less than a mile of our ten-mile loop.


Starting around 3,550 feet, we had an elevation gain of 519 feet. The heat and higher elevation made for hard work considering we live at 255 feet and hadn’t had time to acclimate to temperatures that high. Of course, working harder just meant we had a better workout!


Bike Against a Wall

Back at Red Coyote Cyclery, I propped my bike in front of the mural at the end of the building for a quick #bikeagainstawall photo. It wasn’t until later that I realized that it looks like the bird is perched on the drop handlebars of the bike – except the bike had straight bars and the bird is sitting on a curved tree branch.


Would I Do it Again?

You bet I’d do it again! Next time I’ll just know to ask for an even easier trail without big rocks, sharp turns, and sheer cliff drop-offs (perhaps I just need to stick to the dirt road leading to the trail – LOL). Despite this trail not quite meeting my expectations and me having to do the mountain biking walk-of-shame along the cliffs, I consider this ride a success because my family and I had a great time!


  • • Have you tried mountain biking?
  • • Would you have ridden or pushed your bike along those drop-offs?
  • • Did you think the bird was perched on the handlebars?