The sun is setting and you’re still in the saddle, pedaling hard up the final climb of the day. Dusk settles on the desert as you arrive at Highway 313, but you’re not finished yet. Ahead lies one more sweet mile of mountain biking on the Chisholm Trail before you arrive at your base camp in the Horsethief Campground where cool beverages, comfy camp chairs and a starry night await. You’ve planned an amazing mountain bike campout where you can explore for several days from your campsite on singletrack trails built for you, never starting your vehicle for a shuttle.
The Horsethief Campground is tucked away on the stunningly scenic mesa traversed by Highway 313 on its way to Dead Horse Point State Park and Island in the Sky in Canyonlands National Park. This BLM campground is a trailhead for the brand new Horsethief Mountain Bike Trail System, 11 miles of singletrack loops built by the Grand County Trail Mix crew and volunteers. Your options begin with two short easy trails, Wrangler and Rowdy, which curve around the edge of the campground giving casual riders and little tykes on tiny bikes a sample of singletrack and slickrock fun.
The rest of the Horsethief Trails, in true Moab tradition, are laid out like a bunch of balloons tied on a string leading from the campground. The string is the Chisholm Trail, a rowdy romp over slickrock humps and quick turns through the pinyon/juniper forest and across the Highway 313. From there, you get to earn your climbs, so to speak, because it’s all downhill as the Chisholm Trail drops off the edge of the mesa and leads to the multiple trail loops in the intricate upper tributary terrain of Sevenmile Canyon. Mustang and Whirlwind Trails form a wrinkled figure 8 as they wind around canyon rims, swoop through slickrock basins and trace curvy climbs back up through the woods. Wildcat and Hidalgo trails spur further down off Whirlwind, using the 7-Up Trail to form one more loop.
It doesn’t matter which direction you choose to ride these trails. They are all grins and giggles going down, and each is designed to be a fun, (seriously) ride up for bikers with intermediate skills and fitness. The photogenic panoramas of Moab’s iconic canyon country sloping away to the east never disappoint, providing an excuse to take a breather even more often than you need one. You can peer down into a shadowed gorge right next to the trail, or gaze across the vast intricate maze of canyons to distant buttes, arches and the La Sal Mountains.
Non-stop, you could ride all of the Horsethief Trails in a couple of hours. Whee! But the fun doesn’t have to end there. Several intersections connect Horsethief to either the Magnificent 7 or the Navajo Rocks Trail systems via Getaway or 7-UP. Plan a route or make it up as you go along. Every intersection is marked with a Trail Mix signature map showing where you are and what your options are within that trail system. It’s a good idea to have, in your pack, maps of each separate trail system so you can make an informed decision as you go from one trail system to another. Rides to Magnificent 7 and Navajo Rocks, each of which contain multiple choices of interconnecting loops, are greater commitments in terms of both distance and technical challenges. You can go as big as you want. If you are prepared for the desert backcountry with sufficient water, food, sunscreen, repair and first aid kits, it’s possible to put together a 20-40 mile ride on super fun singletrack. Trail Mix has requested an extension of the Chisholm Trail to connect directly to the Navajo Rocks trails, heading north of the camp, stay tuned for future trail options.
It’s easy to see that this is the perfect Moab mountain bike base camp. The Horsethief Trails provide nearly unlimited ride options, a quick sunset jaunt, an all day epic or anything in between. So get your vanlife on, fill up the chilly bin with plenty of beverages and snacks and claim a campsite at the Horsethief Campground for a few days of shuttle free fun with starry nights in between.
For the most direct access to the trails, park at milepost 10 off of Hwy 313 at the Horsethief Trailhead unless you are staying at the campground.
Author: Sharon Hogan is an avid mountain biker, loves fishing and is the Treasurer for the Trail Mix Committee, for which we are very grateful!
Trail Mix This committee represents non motorized trail users including: bikers, hikers, equestrians, and skiers. Many government agencies and private citizens comprise the “mix” that makes this group work so well. We meet the 2nd Tues. of each month from 12-2 at the Grand Center (500W. 182 N.). Everyone is welcome.
Contact Sandy Freethey 259-0253 or find us online: wwwgrandcountyutah.net/trailmix/ or at firstname.lastname@example.org.