East of Hurricane and southwest of Springdale, Gooseberry Mesa is one of the most popular mountain bike destinations in Utah. But with all the hype, you’d expect this to be an amazing singletrack loop. However, instead of sweet flowing singletrack, this ride is more of a soul-sucking, rock stairstepping hike-a-bike. There isn’t a staight or flowing section of trail to be found - expect to find quick turns followed by hidden drops or steep climbs. The route layout tends to not follow the easiest path but looks for the challening lines up and over each of the “gooseberry” mounds of petrified sand dunes. It takes a few laps at Gooseberry Mesa to learn the pacing and layout of the route, and it can be infuriating for first-timers.
The looping trail system consists of nine trails totaling 18 miles with minimal net elevation change, but hundreds of 4 foot up / 4 foot down sections. It offers hardcore technical mountain biking on red slickrock (but not smooth) and soft singletrack. The singletrack sections pass over a loamy pine-needle carpet while rolling through a mixed pinyon, juniper and ponderosa forest.
The best place to start is on the Practice Loop. It follows a brief section of the South Rim Trail before returning towards the parking area. The Gooseberry Mesa Practice Loop is good for those who have never ridden slickrock or singletrack.
The backbone of Gooseberry Mesa is the White Trail, which is a 3.5 mile doubletrack heading out to the view point. It is typically used to form shorter loops with the two side arms, the South Rim Trail and the North Rim Trail. This doubletrack is open to motorized traffic. While it is technical, it is considered the easiest mountain bike ride.
After you’re warmed up, you’ll want to head out on the 10 mile Gooseberry Mesa Loop, which combines the South Rim Trail and the North Rim Trail. The loop is blazed by white dots on the slickrock and is best ridden clockwise. This route is the official Gooseberry Mesa National Recreation Trail. Most riders will head out the South Rim Trail to the point (about 5.9 miles), then return via the North Rim Trail. The South Rim Trail is considered to be difficult with very steep dropoffs, short steep climbs and narrow ledges. The North Rim Trail is considered to be intermediate but there are some exposed sides and narrow ledges. Of course, once you’re at the point, you can always take the White Trail back to the parking area.
If you’re looking for something even more challenging, the 14 mile Big Loop combines the South Rim, North Rim and an out-and-back on the Windmill Trail.
To reach the Gooseberry Mesa trailhead from Hurricane, head east on SR59 for 14 miles passing Apple Valley (watch for the Gooseberry Mesa sign). Turn left heading northwest on the signed Main Street (aka Smithsonian Butte Backcountry Byway) for 3 miles. Turn left heading west on unsigned road for 3.5 miles to the Gooseberry Mesa Trailhead where there is OHV parking. Most mountain bikers continue veer left and another 1.1 miles to the While Trailhead.
In the past, it had been popular to stay in Springdale and use the Rockville entrance up to Gooseberry Mesa. It’s not very popular any more (keep reading). To reach the Gooseberry Mesa mountain biking trailhead from Springdale, head west to Rockville. In Rockville, turn left heading south on Bridge Road (small sign on small road) for 0.25 crossing the bridge over the Virgin River. Turn right heading west on Grafton Road for 1.5 miles. Turn left on Smithsonian Butte Road, which heads up the mesa. While this road was quite passable a decade ago, the rains have been pretty harsh on the road quality and it is now quite hazardous. Pretty quickly, the dirt road degrades into extreme 4WD with steep, off-camber rocky sections requiring advanced offroading skills for a mile to the mesa top. After a total of 5 miles on the Smithsonian Butte Road, turn right heading west on unsigned road for 3.5 miles to the Gooseberry Mesa Trailhead where there is OHV parking. Most mountain bikers continue veer left and another 1.1 miles to the While Trailhead.
The South Rim Trail departs the middle of the southeast side of the parking area, while the North Rim trails can be found off the doubletrack White Trail departing from the west side of the parking area.
Overall, Gooseberry Mesa is the 6th most popular mountain bike trail of all 73 mountain biking rides in Utah.