Slickrock Trail of the Sand Flats Recreation Area
The Slickrock Trail is one of the more famous trails located within a stone’s throw of the biking/hiking/off-road mecca known as Moab. Accessed via the Sand Flats road outside town, you can either drive to the trailhead or ride to it (you'll travel uphill for about 3.5 miles from the center of town). Either way, you’ll need to pay a modest entrance fee of $5 if you’re in a vehicle or $2 if you’re on a bike to enter the well-maintained area. Of course, the fees are well worth this small investment.
The trail name comes from early Utah settlers who found that their horses had difficulty gaining traction with their metal horseshoes as they crossed the petrified sand dunes. And, similarly, if you try walking sections in your bike shoes, you may feel the same way. On your mountain bike, you’ll find the rock is anything but slick, the finely textured sandstone provides remarkable grip to rubber tires and allows you to climb improbably steep sections of trail.
The start of the trail itself is very well marked. There’s a large parking area along with some bathrooms. As you cross the raised metal grate you begin the Slickrock experience, where on busier days you’ll find hikers and mountain bikers all jostling for position on what can be a rather busy trail. (Yep, the secret’s out on this one.)
True beginners will find themselves out of their element here, but if you want to assess if you’ve got what it takes, then it helps to check out the much-shorter Practice Loop. It’s every bit as difficult as the full loop, and you’ll still pass some amazing scenery, but it’s only two miles, so if you find yourself out of your comfort zone, it’s not a terribly long walk back to the start. You can also use the practice loop as a big playground to get the sense for what the riding is like at Slickrock. Once you get in a groove, find your balance and feel nice and fired up, then proceed onward for the full loop.
The slickrock surface will change your understanding of what’s rideable. Outfitters, of course, will set you up with the right bicycle for the job, yet the relationship between the rubber on your tire and sandstone is something special. The gorgeous terrain and views of these slickrock sites will stimulate the senses and remind you why you undertook all this in the first place.
The trail surface was formed from a mixture of petrified sand dunes and the sea-bed of an ancient sea, which means the trail winds around the edges, tops, and bases of humongous mounds of rock.
You’ll be surprised how well your tires grip to the rock surface even when you don’t expect them to. A typical problem: Many people get scraped up hopping off the bike and falling on an elbow than they do if they stay on and persevere through a steep spot. The surface acts as a bit of a cheese-grater on exposed skin, so it usually pays off to buckle down and pedal through rather than give up. (The cacti dotting the landscape are also regrettable landing-zones if you fall. So just focus on staying in the saddle.)
Anticipate the ride taking about 2 1/2 hours (or just over 3 hours if riding from Moab). Especially if you’re new to desert riding, bring more water and snacks than you think you’ll need. And budget plenty of time to really drink in the sweeping vistas at Utah's scenic overlooks.
Keep in mind that this trail out of Moab isn't exactly a secret and sees a lot of traffic. It also is not a ride for a beginner mountain biker. You need good fitness and very solid bike handling skills. If you time it right, and you have the technical chops to complete the trail, you’ll surely be glad you checked it off your list.
GPS Coordinates: 38.582724, -109.519234