Off-Road Trails: Dirt Bike Riding in Moab, Utah

May. 09, 2012 By Josh Burns, Photos by Josh Burns and Jaime Hernandez, Video Editing by Adam Wood
The Sovereign Trail offers a variety of different. Other than the unique slickrock for which Moab is known, the trail also features rocks of all sizes, sand, switchbacks and plenty of climbs and technical downhill sections.

When we typically think of Moab, Utah, hitting the trail on four wheels is what comes to mind. We venture out to the Easter Jeep Safari each April and spend the week wheeling with Jeepers and off-roaders, but we keep talking about bringing out the dirt bikes. This year, we finally did.

Not knowing the terrain or trails other than what we could find online, we contacted Dual Sport Utah’s Jim Ryan to see if he could show us around. Dual Sport Utah deals in Gas Gas and KTM rentals, sales and tours, with Ryan offering everything from day trips, overnight packages or even customized trips. He was a perfect resource for our first dirt bike rides in Moab.

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“I’ve lived in Moab for 16 years now,” Ryan explains. “I came through town just visiting and attending national races.”

Jim Ryan of Dual Sport Utah offers rentals and guided tours in the Moab area and beyond.

Ryan was in the midst of taking a “year or two off of work” as he puts it, traveling with his then girlfriend (now wife) with a truckload of adventure toys – his race bike, kayak, snowboards, boat, etc. “Have toys, will travel,” he jokes. “I was ready for everything.”

Moab seemed to be an ideal landing spot for someone with his sense of adventure, so that’s where he’s been ever since.

The slickrock in Moab really makes the experience unique.

“The unique part about Moab is it’s still a little bit of the ‘Wild Wild West’ out here,” he said. “A lot of open land, not as much enforcement, though it is encroaching on us rapidly like it is everywhere else in the country. It’s just a place where there’s not going to be anything like it anymore because the environmentalist are closing it for our generations and future generations to use.”

As Dual Sport Utah’s Jim Ryan notes, Moab is like the “wild wild west.” It’s an apt description, as there are miles upon miles of open wilderness. It’s important to be prepared for such a ride with maps, water and snacks, as getting just a few miles away from basecamp and it’s easy to get lost.

Ryan explains there are some great areas to ride near there (including the Sovereign Trail we planned to tackle), such as Green River (about 50 miles from Moab), the La Sal Mountains (about 20 miles from Moab), and the White Wash Sand Dunes (about 50 miles from Moab).  Sovereign Trail would be our ride for this trip, as the trailhead is just a few miles outside of Moab.

There are quite a few areas where a large drop off (sometimes a few hundred feet) are only a few feet off trail. The Sovereign Trail definitely keeps you on your toes.

We were able to get a ride in before the start of the Easter Jeep Safari. Although many of the trails we looked at we had been on during Jeep rides in the past, we were excited to try them from a different perspective. One of the closest places to hit the trail on a dirt bike is the Sand Flats Recreation Area, home to Hell’s Revenge, Fins and Things, Porcupine Rim Trail and more. Although there are a number of trails now very popular with mountain biking, many of them – such as the Slickrock Trail, for instance – were originally created by dirt bikers and are still accessible on them. Like any other multi-use trail, if you plan to ride it just be mindful of the others on it.

To avoid the heavy mountain bike traffic, we actually opted to tackle Fins and Things instead of Hell’s Revenge. Fins is a moderately difficult trail that features a lot of slickrock (weathered sandstone), rocky slopes, sand sections and a few drop-off obstacles. It was a good first ride to get used to the unique slickrock terrain, because it still takes a little time to realize just how much traction it provides despite its name.

After exploring Fins and Things, we ventured further into the park, riding up in elevation to part of the Kokopelli trail (a 142-mile trail that connects from Moab to Colorado) and exploring the first few miles of the rocky and technical Porcupine Rim Trail.

When not hitting the trails, Erik Ekman is creating adventure vans to tackle the great outdoors.

A few days later we met up with Ryan off the 191 at the entrance to the Sovereign Trail system. Also joining us for the day was Erik Ekman from Outside Van (, a van conversion company from Hood River, Oregon, that makes pretty cool van conversion for all types of outdoor sports. There are actually two different trail systems for Sovereign Trail – an ATV and 4x4 trail and a technical single-track trail for dirt bikes and mountain bikes (horseback riders and hikers can also travel this multi-use trail). editor Josh Burns (Kawasaki) and contributor Jaime Hernandez (KTM) navigate part of the single-track Sovereign Trail system in Moab, Utah.

There’s a wide variety of terrain on the single-track sections of Sovereign Trail. There’s plenty of rocky sections, a good amount of slickrock, sandy washes, technical off-camber climbs and descents, switchbacks and more. Thanks to locals and non-profit group Ride With Respect (, the trails are well marked and maintained, signed in places and even marked on the slickrock sections to easily navigate the proper path to stay on trail.

The signage speaks the word: respect the trails and local laws and we’ll get to keep enjoying them.

Sovereign Trails is unique in that it is not BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land; it is actually Utah School and Institutional Trust Administration (SITLA) land, meaning the land is a state resource and all funds generated from leasing or use of the land goes to a state school fund.

There’s roughly 20 miles of single-track that is connected via 20 miles of double-track roads accessible for 4x4s and ATVs (though Ryan does say there’s more than this now, possibly as much as 30 miles or more). The trail is certainly technical in spots, and it’s fair to give it an intermediate-to-expert rating (a 3.5 to 4 out of 5 rating is the consensus online).

Dual Sport Utah's Jim Ryan handles this small downhill section on Sovereign Trail.

The blend of different terrain on the Sovereign Trail offers a challenge that keeps riders on their toes, but the most unique aspect to riding in Moab is the slickrock sections. This hardened sandstone is unique in appearance and feel. It’s wise to give yourself plenty of time to explore it on Sovereign Trail. Depending upon how long you want to ride, there are a number of sections to connect and link with. Multiple maps can be found on the web, though many of them are on mountain bike sites. The ride can go from a few hours to a full day.

Moab offers plenty of unique slickrock trails. Due to the remoteness of some of the riding areas, it's important to be prepared for the trip with water, tools and snacks.

A CamelPak and tools are necessary for riding in Moab. Although we rode in April when temperatures are relatively mild, the climate is dry and humid much of the year and hydration is crucial. In case of a breakdown, a basic set of trail tools is important to get you back to camp. Since there are four-wheel trails that link into the Sovereign Trail system this makes recovery of a busted bike a little easier compared to other trails in the area. Be sure to check ahead of time for access options.

(From right to left) Dual Sport Utah’s Jim Ryan shares some riding stories with contributor Jaime Hernandez and editor Josh Burns.

One of the most important aspects to riding in Utah, or anyplace for that matter, is making sure to tread lightly. Stay on the trail and pick up after yourself. If you come across trash, pick it up and take it back with you. Although many trails are open to both motorized and non-motorized recreation, dirt bikers are facing battles and trail closure issues even now.

“Being motorcyclists, we try to give trails to everyone,” Ryan explains. “We leave our trails open to mountain bikers, but we have mountain bikers coming in and throwing us off of the trails we’ve made. It’s tough.”

The best way to combat opposition in trail closures is to practice responsible recreation, take care of the riding area, and share the trail. That way the slick rock trails will remain open for future generations to ride and explore.

Contacts & Resources
Sand Flats Recreation Area

Dual Sport Utah
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