Moab Biking Roundup

Poison Spider Mesa and The Portal
Pedaling Poison Spider Mesa, with sandstone fins of Behind the Rocks Wilderness Study Area in the background
Pedaling Poison Spider Mesa

This challenging ride isn't for novices or the faint of heart: from the Colorado River up onto Poison Spider Mesa, across its rugged spine, and descending back to the river on the bone-rattling Portal Trail. You'll face a challenging climb, stretches of momentum-killing sand, confusing intersections, and a white-knuckle, heart-in-the-throat descent at the ride's end. So if it's that bad, why ride it at all?

Because you'll pedal over beautiful slickrock domes that let you wander all over the mesa, rattle over dynamite-blasted ledges on abandoned mining roads, walk across an arch at the top of an 800-foot canyon wall, and admire panoramic views of Moab, the La Sal Mountains, the Colorado River, and the incomparable Behind the Rocks Wilderness Study Area.

Poison Spider Mesa is bewitching right from the time you pull into the parking lot. There you'll see dinosaur tracks and mysterious petroglyphs carved in the boulders near the trailhead. The ride kicks off with a three-mile, 700-foot climb onto the mesa via the rugged mining road. Once on the mesa, brown posts and Jeep silhouettes painted on the slickrock mark the route and the spectacular views begin. From high points on Poison Spider Mesa you can see Behind the Rocks, an awesome landscape of gigantic sandstone fins southwest of Moab.

Just before mile six, veer south off the trail and pedal a short distance across the slickrock to Little Window Arch. The window frames the Colorado River and the highway to the trailhead far below. If you like high, exposed places, walk out onto the arch for an exhilarating view—800 feet to the river valley below. You can gaze at The Portal just upstream from Little Window, and directly below is the lower terminus of the Portal Trail and the end of the Poison Spider Mesa loop.

Little Window is the customary turnaround for avoiding the white-knuckle descent on the Portal Trail. If you're at least an intermediate rider without vertigo or fear of heights, push on for two miles to the beginning of the Portal Trail. Admire the view for a while—you can see Moab, Arches National Park, the Slickrock Trail, and the Colorado River snaking through the desert 900 feet below. Then check your brakes, take a deep breath, and push off on the hairiest descent of your life.

Be careful—this is a scary descent. One cyclist died on this trail when he lost control of his bike, but he was riding on a rainy and slick trail. For a short distance you'll ride a three-foot ledge with a serious drop on your left, and then descend 900 feet in a little over a mile on a rocky, narrow, twisting single-track trail. If you have the nerve and skill for it, it's one of the most exhilarating descents you'll ever make. The trail ends at Highway 279, where a right turn takes you 1.6 miles to the trailhead to finish a 13-mile loop.

To get there: Drive U.S. 191 four miles north of Moab. Turn west on UT 279 and go six miles to the"Dinosaur Tracks" sign, where you'll find the trailhead.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 8 Nov 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »