Slickrock is billed as the best mountain bike trail in the world - perhaps in the galaxy - and draws riders from around the world. It is a fun, exciting, technical and potentially dangerous trail which is unlike any other, anywhere.
There are other trails which are more difficult. . . Which may be just as scenic. . . Which aren't overrun by hoards of people. . . But Slickrock delivers the fun, the excitement and the image. It's required riding for every serious mountain biker. At least once.
Don't underestimate the trail. It's not for beginners. Much of the trail requires riding on sandstone, with some very steep stretches, sometimes near sheer cliffs. Other stretches cross sand. You need to get use to riding on sandstone before you attempt this trail. Ride the practice loop. Ride other trails in the area. (Any bike shop in Moab, Utah, can provide maps and directions.) Get a feel for riding - and stopping on the slickrock and then head down the trail.
The Slickrock trail was established in 1969 for motorcycle riding. It is still open to trail bikes, but is now used almost exclusively for mountain mikes. It is not suitable for three or four wheelers.
The trail is marked by white dashes painted on the sandstone. It is easy to follow, even through sandy areas where there are no dashes. Spur trail turnoffs are also marked. Riders are required to stay on established trails. There is a great temptation to ride off through the desert, but that is prohibited because it causes erosion, destroys cryptobiotic soils and brings other environmental damage.
The pale-orange Navajo sandstone which makes the trail unique is the remnant of ancient wind-blown dunes deposited in the area some 200 million years ago. Wind and water have shaped the rock into rugged canyons and steep hills.
The trail is often snow-covered from late December through February. The snow melts from exposed slopes quickly, but lingers in shady areas. Mid-winter riding is discouraged, even if you can't see snow from the trailhead, because there will probably be snow or ice somewhere along the trail.
Almost everyone ends up walking his or her bike at some point along the trail. Expect to walk a bit, and don't feel bad about it. Get off and walk any time you feel the trail is so technical that you may be in danger.
The Slickrock is located just east of Moab, in the BLM Sand Flats recreation area. To get to the trail, travel east from Moab on 300 South, drop a block south at 400 East, turn onto Mill Creek Drive, and then head east out of town on Sand Flats Road. The trailhead is only about 2.3 miles out of town.
A camping or day-use fee is charged as you enter the Sand Flats Recreation Area. There are toilets at the trailhead, but no water. Camping is allowed only in designated areas, and campers are required to bring their own toilet facilities. Bike and vehicle travel is restricted to designated roads and trails.
Many plants and animals live in the area. The Slickrock is an arid desert - water is precious. After a rainstorm there will be pot holes full of water visible from the trail. These pools rejuvenate the desert - they are vital to the natural environment. Do not ride through them or wade in them. They are easily polluted and the result is devastating for the life that depends on them.
Hints on riding Slickrock
- Get in condition. The normal loop is 9.6 miles - much of it difficult, technical riding. Be in shape for an intense ride.
- Make sure your bike is in good condition. Your safety depends on your brakes and tires; make sure they are in top condition.
- Ride the practice loop. It's a 1.7 mile trail that provides a good sample of what you can expect on the main trail. If you are uneasy after riding the practice loop, don't attempt the main trail.
- Carry plenty of water and high energy food. Most riders take a half-day to make the trek, and dehydration is a real danger. The air is often hot and dry, even in spring and fall. Summer riding is comfortable during the early morning, but midday temperatures often become oppressive.
- Never ride alone!
- Wear a helmet.