Words and pictures don’t give the City of Rocks Natural Reserve justice. Despite the scenery on your way there being eye-catching on its own, it isn’t until you crest the first hill that you realize why you must come in person. The sage brush covered shallow valley is filled with hundreds of tall granite skyscrapers like spires. These odd rock structures resemble a city from the movie Flintstones. And one of the best ways to take in these unique geological formations is on two wheels.
– Local Freshies//Alex Silgalis
Why You Should Bring Your Bike to the City of Rocks
From a distance the tall spires of rock look close to each other, but they aren’t. To really appreciate the City of Rocks you need to step outside of your car. One of the ways to do a sightseeing tour is behind a pair of handlebars. The trails within the City of Rocks are wide and smooth enough to allow you to take in the smells, sights, and sounds of the park without worrying about the next bump or roll-over.
Where to Start your Bike Ride
Start your mountain biking adventure at the City of Rocks Visitor Center located between the Reserve and the town of Almo. Here you’ll want to pick up a trail map. While the routes are well signed based on what attraction you’re aiming to see, the cell coverage is spotty at best so having a paper version is a great backup.
Within the boundaries, you’ll find mostly cross-country style trails. You can make the ride easy or difficult with different connections, out and backs, and loops. For example, to increase the elevation gain and distance, you can start at the Smoky Mountain Campground and pedal up into the park via Circle Creek Canyon Trail with a right onto the Smoky Mountain Connector.
Family Bike Rides & Beginner Riders
A great option for families and first timers would be to skip the initial climb and head straight to the Circle Creek Overlook parking area where the above trail ends. We recommend heading out via Striped Rock Loop instead of Geologic International Trail or Steinfell’s Dome. Both are more fun going down than up since they include railroad ties as staircases.
For a mellower adventure, at the intersection for Stripe Rock or Box Top, make a left to Box Top and return the way you came. Looking for a loop instead? Head right to Stripe Rock and follow it to Geo Watt Trail. And for a bit more banked turns and step drops, continue onto Geologic International Trail finishing back at your car.
Another fun trail to take in different scenery is the North Fork Circle Creek Trail. Instead of the flat valley with skyscraper-like rocks, this trail hugs the creek with the same name. It’s a classic single-track with natural features that are fun to come down on your way back.
Castle Rocks State Park Bike Riding
Just to the north of the City of Rocks National Reserve you’ll find Castle Rocks State Park. A good resource for this park is the mountain bike project’s page. It gives you visibility on what options and how difficult the trails are which you can overlay on the paper map. To access Castle Rocks State Park, make a left onto Stines Creek Road.
Advanced Mountain Biking – Downhill Mountain Biking Nearby
For more wild downhill fun, we suggest heading up to Pomerelle Ski Area about an hour drive and few thousand feet higher than City of Rocks. Here you’ll find some rowdy terrain filled with log jumps, random boulders, and hand-built berms that feel you’ll like you’re the first to hit them in a long time. With over 500 inches of snow annually, it takes a while for all that to melt.
Typically, they provide lift access on weekends in July/August from 11:30 am – 4 pm. Your best bet is to call ahead to confirm that they will be running the chairlifts the weekend you want to visit. If you’re ok with earning your turns and pedaling uphill on your own, you can venture over there mid-summer or early fall and have at it.
When To Go
With almost no forest canopy, it can get quite warm mid-summer. If you do visit this time of year, we suggest either heading out early in the morning or riding in the evening. With a high desert climate, it cools off quickly at night providing perfect temps at dawn or dusk. With that being said, the best time to visit is in the late spring (April/May) or early fall (September/October).
While they do receive snow in the winter months, if you like temperatures in the 40’s or higher, this is a great time to go since you’ll probably have the park to yourself. Be aware that most roads in the park are not plowed so a fat bike is a good choice to bring. You can ride over the snow where it exists and easily navigate the terrain. Winter is for fat bike riding in the City of Rocks.
Side Note about Mountain Biking at the City of Rocks: It’s a good idea to bring food, snacks, water, a spare tube, and headlamp. Once the sun sets, it gets VERY dark… meaning you’ll be awarded with a spectacular night sky.
Places To Eat Or Grab A Drink near the City of Rocks
For BBQ lovers, the PiggySue BBQ restaurant in Albion is a must stop. And for breakfast, the Tracy General Store a bit further up the road in Almo has a few options including a fantastic egg casserole. Burley is a great town to drive up to for lunch or dinner as there are many choices to dine. The Boathouse is a fun restaurant with delicious and cultured cuisine. It looks over the Snake River and towards the mountains.
Where To Stay near the City of Rocks
The City of Rocks is literally at the end of the road, and if you’re spending the effort to get out here, extend it by a night or three with a stay at the Almo Inn. Describing it as an authentic western lodging is leaving it short. The clean well-maintained property has cabins and rooms will make you feel as though you stepped back into the Old West but with the modern amenities you’d want. And once you’re done exploring for the day, sit down in an Adirondack chair, put your boots up, and sip on a cold beer. As the sunsets over the sage-brush hills and mountains, you can imagine what the West was like a century ago.
No matter the season, there’s a way to enjoy the City of Rocks on two wheels. So, go ahead and
plan a getaway to let yourself breathe the fresh air and melt your cares away.
-Local Freshies//Alex Silgalis