Moab on a Budget

Words and Photos by Mike Smart

Moab mountain bike

Moab, Utah claims home to some of the most iconic mountain biking in the United States. With Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park accommodating 1.5M and 750k visitors, respectively, annually, it’s no wonder this destination has become so popular. Each year I take a handful of trips to this wonderful desert to ride some legendary MTB trails, hike around the National Parks, and explore the beautiful west. Most may not know but traveling to Moab can be done inexpensively with a little bit of planning.

On the outskirts of Moab lie BLM land which is accessible via Willow Springs Road and allows individuals to camp free for up to 14 days. This is my go-to spot for stress-free accommodations. The accommodations are limited: there is no running water or electricity, and the bathroom availability is limited. However, it’s a wonderful spot to set up camp.


Moab MTB
BLM Land – Looking down on the campsites – Moab, UT

An all-time favorite trail loop is Sand Flats Road to Upper Porcupine Rim Trail. This 38-mile loop includes 4,200ft of elevation gain, topping out at 7,700ft and has views you’ll remember for a lifetime. I prefer parking at Lions Head Park where route 191 intersects with the Colorado River. There is always plenty of free parking and ample restrooms and running water available.

The first three miles wind through Downtown Moab before entering Sand Flats road. Bicycles cost $2 to enter, so remember to bring a little cash with you for the ride. The next 17 or so miles consist of a moderate dirt road climb up Sand Flats Road before you reach Kokopelli Trail.

Moab trail views
Sand Flats Road – Looking Down

At around 7,332ft, a left turn is made onto the Kokopelli Trail, heading north. This trail lasts about 1.5 miles before another left turn is made onto Upper Porcupine Rim Trail. From here, the navigation is very easy and all the trails are very well marked.

Elevation 7,332ft – Left Turn on Kokopelli
Elevation 7,332ft – Left Turn on Kokopelli
Elevation 7,730ft – Final left turn – Entering Upper Porcupine Singletrack (UPS)

The remaining ride is a true reward for those braving the climb up. About 15 miles of world-class single track and downhill riding awaits. Make sure to stop and capture some iconic photos that you’ll remember for a lifetime.

Snack Time! – Overlooking Castle Valley from Porcupine Rim

Final tip: The Moab Recreation & Aquatic Center offers showers for $5 and is a wonderful spot to refill water bottles and relax near the park.  

Bike Setup and Packing Tips:

I recommend riding a trail mountain bike geometry with both front and rear suspension and tires larger than 2.3 inches. A dropper post isn’t required, but you’ll use it a lot if you have one. Also, take a jacket or windbreaker because temperatures up high will be cooler than the valley. I usually carry a Camelback with 2 Liters of water and 2 additional bottles. For nutrition, I carry one to two Cliff Bars, one to two other granola bars, and a candy snack for the viewpoint. Carry a multitool, handpump, spare tube, quick-link, tire levers, and any other trailside maintenance items you usually carry for exploration-style rides. Moab singletrack has a lot of rocks and variables that can easily ruin your day if you’re unprepared!


Bike Specs: Niner’s Jet 9RDO – Absolutely Perfect!
Bike Specs: Niner’s Jet 9RDO – Absolutely Perfect!
  • Tires – Maxxis Ardent 2.4’s set at 22psi front and 24psi rear
  • Wheels – Stans Arch with Boost Spacing (110x15mm front and 148x12mm rear)
  • Suspension – FOX Float 34 130mm Front and FOX DPS EVOL 3 Rear
  • Gearing – SRAM Eagle X01 32T front and 10-50T rear
  • Dropper – KS Lev