Usually you won’t find my family visiting state or national parks. Yes I know they have value and protect our great natural attractions and resources but as a cyclist there is little to do in them. We get bored easily driving around only to jump out of the car at overlooks, hike an interpretive trail or browse around the visitor center. I was starting to feel a bit guilty about this since we have a 6 year old that should be visiting these “sacred” places. Then last year we discovered Dead Horse State Park in Moab. Dead Horse is located 32 miles west of Moab. In the Spring of 2009 the Park Service built a new trail system and opened it to mountain bikes. This is the perfect combination for our family. We can ride the trails then visit the overlooks and visitor center. The overlooks and the education in the visitor center also have more meaning to my son since he has already interacted with the land on his bike. During our 1.5 hour ride today we saw lizards, stopped to look at 3 overlooks, checked out flowers and cactus and discussed the changes in the trail’s surface from sand to rock. When we went into the visitor center he was curious about the lizard exhibit, the pictures of the wildflowers and the explanation on the ages of the rock and sandstone. It all came together perfectly for him. Had we not explored first on our bikes, I don’t think he would have made the connection and been as interested in the exhibits.
The Legend of Dead Horse Point is that Cowboys corralled wild mustangs on the point, then chose the horses they wanted. One time, for an unknown reason, horses were left corralled on the point where they died of thirst all within site of the mighty Colorado River 2,000 feet below. Aside from this tragic story, the point does have one of the best overlooks in Moab. You can see into Canyonlands State Park and miles of the snaking Colorado River. There are also plenty of picnic spots along the point to sit and enjoy the scenery.
The Intrepid Trails System has three loop options ranging from 1-9 miles with varying degrees of difficulty. The easiest and shortest loop is Intrepid, followed by Great Pyramid, with Big Chief as the most challenging. With these nested loops it’s ideal for both your intrepid and cautious family members.
Intrepid Loop – Starting from the north end of the visitor parking lot the trail is two-way for a short distance until it forks into a loop. Take a right for a 1.1 mile option. This short loop is very easy.
The Great Pyramid Loop – At 4.2 miles it is nested within the middle of the larger 9-mile Big Chief Loop. The Great Pyramid ride is ideal for beginners and the trail is easy to follow. There are signs at every intersection.
Big Chief Loop – This is technically the hardest trail in the system. It has a few tricky rock sections and the length (9 miles) makes it more of a commitment than the others. It will take an intermediate rider about one hour to complete. I suggest you ride it first to determine if it’s suitable for your little ones. At the Big Chief Canyon overlook the Intrepid Potash operation is visible below along the banks of the Colorado River. Intrepid financed $20,000 for the building of the trail system.
When you go
Ideal in spring and fall.
Nine miles northwest of Moab on US 191 and then 23 miles southwest on Utah 313 to the end of the highway.
The entrance fee is $10.00 per vehicle or $2.00 per bicycle or pedestrian.
Elevation at Trailhead:
After a fun day in the sun riding and sightseeing at Dead Horse you have the option of returning to Moab or camping up at Dead Horse. If you return to Moab there are numerous choices to refuel in downtown. You can’t go wrong at Milts for a diner style hamburger or La Hacienda for Margs and Mexican on the north end of town. Camping up at Sand Flats Recreation Area near the Slickrock trail is always a fun place to pitch a tent. If you want cushier digs, check out The Gonzo Inn. Camping at Dead Horse is located at Kayneta and costs $20 per night.
If your family gets hooked on mountain biking and is ready to go again the next day there are several other great family friendly riding areas near Moab. Gemini Bridges and the Bar M trail system are two to put at the top of your list.