Evidence of the popularity of mountain biking arrives every summer in Taos on the racks of cars and SUVs that roll into town.
Once the realm of the hardy mountain types and backyard tricksters, a splurge in advances in bike technology has opened up this off-road sport to the casual peddler. Lighter weight frames, stronger forks, refined disk brakes, sophisticated gearing – these all have developed to meet the needs of a growing mountain biking population.
Whether taking a leisurely ride along the single-track atop the Río Grande Gorge or pounding down the steeps at Taos Ski Valley, the options for mountain biking in the Taos region are vast and varied. You can ride up a ski lift and then bounce down, or you can point ‘em up a trail to emerge out of the trees onto the alpine landscape.
Taos Ski Valley and Angel Fire turn on their ski lifts during the summer and retrofit the chairs for mountain bikes. Angel Fire Bike Park has become a center for competitive mountain biking in the Rockies, with U.S. and regional downhill runs throughout the season.
Stop in at any of the half-dozen bike shops around the region to get the latest skinny on where to ride. They have what you need to armor up for a day on the trails — helmets, clothing, shoes, protective gear, gloves, GPS and much more. And, they have maps to keep you on track.
Once all geared up, it’s time to head out. Here’s a look at some of the innumerable options for mountain biking in and around Taos.
West Rim Trail: Take off from the parking lot at the Gorge Bridge and pedal leisurely through the sage covered plateau on the rim of the Río Grande Gorge. It’s a fairly level and well-defined track for about 9 miles. You end up at a small parking area where the road dips into the gorge to cross at Taos Junction.
Amole Canyon: Head up State Highway 518 out of Ranchos de Taos. Keep an eye out for Amole Canyon Road on the left after U.S. Hill. A 7-mile spidery network of hard-packed dirt trails await in piney woods on old logging roads. Perfect place for kids to get their bikes under them and perfect their skills.
Cebolla Mesa: Travel north on State Highway 522 past San Cristobal and turn left on Forest Road 9. Park along the road and take a ride on the dirt road through the sagebrush to the campground and overlook at the Río Grande Gorge. Roundtrip is 7 miles.
Rift Valley Trail: A parking lot a couple of miles south of Taos is the starting point for two separate trails complete with offshoots. All make it to the rim of the Río Grande, where the Río Pueblo intersects. Longest loop is 10-12 miles, and terrain rolls through sage. Look out for horseback riders.
Steppin’ it up
Talpa Traverse: Trail begins just up Taos Canyon where the South Boundary Trail takes off. Heading west, this challenging 10-mile out-and- back route traces the contours of the Picuris Range foothills above Taos. Trail ascends and descends 1,100 feet in elevation, with an average grade of 4 percent and rated for intermediates.
Horsethief Mesa Route: North on State Highway 522 past Arroyo Hondo to Transfer Station turnoff to left. It’s an intermediate pedal on a 13-mile loop that hangs onto the rim of the Río Grande for about 5 miles. Trail drops 1,000 feet at southernmost terminus (within sight of John Dunn Bridge), has 3 percent average grade with an 18 percent hump in the middle section.
Goin’ all out
South Boundary Trail: One of the most popular and challenging runs around, it’s also close to town — about a quarter mile into Taos Canyon on U.S. 64 to parking on the right. A single track at 7,100 feet and a long steady grade averaging 5 percent — with max at 24 percent — rises to above 10,000 feet. Go a full 25 miles to Elliot Barker Campground on the Angel Fire side, or cut about halfway and head back to U.S. 64 at Mondragon parking area.
Devisidaro Loop Trail: On the other side of U.S. 64 is one of Taos’ favorite hikes and bikes. The route climbs 1,000 feet in elevation at an 8 percent grade to high point. Loop begins about a mile up on a welltraveled, but steep single track that requires some technical expertise to navigate. Watch out for hikers and dogs that frequent this close-to-town getaway.
Northside Alpine Flower Loop: Located across from Taos Ski Valley on private land, the pay-to-ride trail system ($10 a day) encompasses about 10 miles of riding in a spectacular alpine setting. Low point is 9,455 feet above sea level, and if you get all the way up to Wheeler Ridge, you get above the treeline at the 12,163-foot Frazer Mountain. Old mining roads intermingle with single tracks for a wide variety of tough, but fair riding.