Read along as we take an early season road trip to Vernal, Utah and Fruita, Colorado for some amazing MTB rides.

If you live in Idaho, Wyoming, Northern Utah or Northwestern Colorado, chances are you’ve thought a lot about going on an early season MTB road trip. There’s always Moab of course—which won’t let you down—but without driving too far afield, other options are a bit limited.

I had just de-winterized the old ‘86 Layton Funtime bumper pull and tuned up the bikes in anticipation of hitting the road for a long weekend trip. In the Greater Salt Lake area, a few trails have been riding well: Eagle Mountain, Bonneville Shoreline, some of Glenwild and Round Valley—the usual suspects. But I was looking for something special. Something that would kick start my season and get me pumped. After all, I needed a kick in the seat after a long and very cold winter.

I decided a return to Vernal, UT was in order, but that would not be enough. I wanted something new to me, so I added Fruita, CO to the plan.

My road trip would start in Salt Lake City, Utah, where I am based. But this early season MTB road trip is easily doable from any of the aforementioned regions. My plan was to spend the first night at McCoy Flats in Vernal, Utah, then two nights at 18 Road in Fruita, CO. (Note: we wrote about McCoy Flats last year in TRAVEL: Vernal, Utah Mountain Biking—A Trail Through Time.) Finally, I added a stop in Green River Utah to check out Ray’s Tavern. More on that in a bit.

Shot of my Layton Funtime Trailer at McCoy Flats, Utah, for the Great Early Season Rides story

The old trusty Layton Funtime Trailer at McCoy Flats, Utah. Photo © 2019 Scott Cullins

McCoy Flats

We bugged out Thursday evening after work—heading east on I-80, then south and east on US Hwy 40 and 191. The route took us all the way to McCoy Flats. I had intended to camp at the juniper studded hill area a few miles in, on the east side of the McCoy Flats Road. It was dark when we arrived, and I was unsure if the old Funtime would get past the washed out areas of that camp site, so I went with plan B. Plan B was a large, flat area right off McCoy Flats Road just before the BLM restroom and parking area.

The next morning view was spectacular—with storm clouds gathering above a big sky—capping the mesas and rock formations to the west. Cellular coverage was good so we checked the live radar. It looked like rain until about 11am, so I grabbed a book and settled in for a spell.

The campsite was so flat I didn’t even bother unhooking the trailer. I cracked a beer, got comfortable, and was sleeping like a baby in no time.

The next morning view was spectacular—with storm clouds gathering above a big sky, capping the mesas and rock formations to the west. We had a good cellular signal so we checked the live radar and decided to wait for 11 am, when it looked like the storm system would move on.

We geared up at 10:45 am while it was still lightly raining. The sky was getting lighter and we bagan riding just as the rain ended and the sun broke through. My riding partner (aka my wife) was a beginner and had never been to Vernal. Since time was limited, we decided to do Milk and Cookies counter clockwise. This beginner loop combines the Got Milk and Milk and Cookies trails, with a bit of Retail Sale thrown in at the end.

The trails at McCoy Flats are red and sandy with great traction and no dust. The sand soaks up the water well, so even right after the rain, there were no puddles or mud. It was perfect riding weather and we barely broke a sweat.

Photo of Red mesa cliff formations along the Got Milk trail at the McCoy Flats trail network outside of Vernal, UT

Red mesa cliff formations along the Got Milk trail at the McCoy Flats trail network outside of Vernal, UT. Photo © 2019 Scott Cullins

Two hours later we were back at the trailer, packed up and on our way to Vernal Brewing for a quick bite and some Utah beer to take to Colorado.

I love the high point products from Vernal Brewing—.50 Caliber IPA and Moma’s Milk Stout are great beers. I always wondered why they were not available in Utah Liquor stores. When I saw the hefty package price of $4.00 per can, well…mystery solved. Regardless, they sure came in handy later that evening.

I love the high point products from Vernal Brewing—.50 Caliber IPA and Moma’s Milk Stout are great beers.

18 Road, Fruita

After a couple hours in Vernal we took off for Fruita. The route takes you through Dinosaur, CO, so if you want to kill a couple hours, the new museum is supposed to be great. We passed. I was planning to get in a ride at 18 Road before nightfall, and we booked south on Hwy 139 all the way to Fruita.

This was my first time in Fruita, so I was pretty excited. The campground at the BLM 18 Road site was full, but we found a sweet little dispersed spot just south of the campground on an unmarked dirt road that heads off west. After kicking a few petrified cow pies out of the way, we had ourselves a nice little spot about 100 feet east of the Mojoe trailhead.

(Note: Shortly after publication, a reader from the Grand Valley Canyons Chapter of the Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail Association (COPMOBA), informed us that the spot we camped at was not legal. Apparently some signage needed to be replaced. That said, there is plenty of dispersed camping to the south, and some a bit farther west of the BLM fee campground.)

Photo of Prime Cut Trail, in the 18 Road network of Fruita, Colorado

Dusk on Prime Cut Trail, Photo © 2019 Scott Cullins

I had less than an hour of daylight so, once camp was setup, I blasted down Mojoe and worked my way back up Prime Cut. I had only ridden once so far this season—a nice early season warm up on the Eagle Mountain trails an hour south of Salt Lake City. The two short rides I had done that day were the perfect setup for a bit of Moma’s Milk.

The Junction

The next morning, we took off for Grand Junction to check out the Grand Junction Off Road and Downtown Music Festival. Grand Junction is about 45 minutes from the 18 Road network and is one of those towns that could have evaporated after the Interstate was built…but it didn’t. The town leaders wisely narrowed the main street through town—adding restaurant seating areas and parklike features. This made the downtown area pedestrian friendly  and a great place for events. We watched about a hundred riders finish the race in the closed off center of town, visited all the MTB bike and gear booths, enjoyed some local product, listened to some music, did some curio window shopping then headed back to camp for some afternoon/early evening riding.

Grand Junction…is one of those towns that could have evaporated after the Interstate was built…but it didn’t.

Photo of Cactus Flower found along Prime Cut Trail in the 18 Road trail network of Fruita, Colorado.

Photo of cactus flower found along Prime Cut Trail. Photo © 2019 Scott Cullins

I ended up doing three more rides that afternoon, sampling some of 18 Road’s best trails like PBR, Joe’s Ridge, Mojoe and others. I thought I was done after my first afternoon ride, but the first ride had been short and I was feeling it. Plus, there was a cactus flower I had spotted earlier and I really wanted to get a photo of it (see right). Shortly after getting my shot, I met a bunch of Spaniards—literally, dudes from Spain—on the trail who said they recognized my bike. Turns out they had rilled in late the night before and had nabbed a camping spot right near me.

After an impromptu happy hour back at camp, we all decided to get in one more short ride before nightfall. Okaaay.

Rise and Shine

The next morning, while everyone else was rubbing crusties from their eye sockets, Gerardo—my new Spaniard BFF—and I ripped down Mojoe and up Western Zippity for the ultimate thrill-ride down the knife edge that is Zippity Doo Dah trail. It reminds me of driving down Utah Hwy 12, south of Boulder. But on bikes instead of a car. You literally ride on a singletrack-wide ridge, where a mistake could send you tumbling quite a way down a 45º slope.

Photo of Joe's Ridge Trail, in the 18 Road trail network of Fruita, COlorado

Zippity Do Da is similar to Joe’s Ridge Trail, but a lot steeper and higher. Photo © 2019 Scott Cullins.

It was a bit more than 1,000 feet of climbing, so it was a decent morning workout. We were back in camp in time to polish off the last of the coffee.

In all, I got in five rides over two days. Not a bad early season warm up. We packed up, said our farewells and dropped down to I-70 for our westward leg to Green River.

Green River

I didn’t want to make the return drive too long, so I figured we could break up the drive and explore Green River for an afternoon. I also had an ulterior motive.

A songwriting musician friend of mine, by the name of Renée, had written a song about a place in Green River called Ray’s Tavern. She played it for me once and I remember thinking, ‘one day, I’m gonna check that place out.’ I mean, if someone writes a song about a bar, it must have something going on. Right?

Well, the burgers were decent and the beer was your typical Utah sessions (4% maximum ABV) variety. Nothing fantastic. Had I just gotten off a multi-day river trip, like many of the patrons appeared to have done, I can see how Ray’s might have been more impressive. Song-worthy? I’m not so sure. Unlike Grand Junction, Green River didn’t really do well after the Interstate came through.

That being said—Ray’s Tavern is not a bad option for MTBer’s to grab a burger after a weekend of riding in Fruita orf Moab. There were a half dozen cars, loaded with dirty bikes, parked in front.

Regardless of Green River and Ray’s Tavern—nothing could dampen the memory of mountain biking and sharing beers with new friends on the trails in Vernal and Fruita.

It’s a Wrap

Wasatch Rider’s goal is not to provide trail reviews but, instead, provide information and tips that will make your ride event more enjoyable. For specific trail pre-ride planning, we recommend the trailforks app for iPhone and Android phones.

About the author

Scott Cullins

Scott moved from Teton Valley, Idaho to Utah in 2011. Scott is publisher of wasatchrider.com, Wasatch Rider magazine and the Teton Valley WYDAHO Outdoor Guide and Map. Scott is also a media and marketing consultant, mountain biker, skier, and singer songwriter. Email Scott at scott@canyonmedia.us

Leave a Comment