For those visiting the Payson area in the summer, mountain biking is a great way to see the beauty of the Rim Country. You are moving slowly enough to take in all of the scenery, and fast enough to cover a large area on one ride. A variety of trails offer opportunities for riders of all abilities.
An excellent place to start is the Cracker Jack Mine Road, north of town off Highway 87. Park just off the highway and head west toward the mine. The road surface is perfect for beginners, but experienced riders will enjoy some high-speed descents into side canyons. Everyone will love the scenery as the route offers great views of the East Verde River. The road provides easy access to the river in several places and a chance to cool off on a hot day. A good turnaround point is the mine itself, but more adventurous riders can follow the road all the way to Doll Baby Ranch Road or to Highway 87 just south of Buckhead Mesa, both of these are long, hard rides.
The Payson Area Trails System (PATS) includes several signed segments that are suitable for mountain biking. The two best are the Horse Trail and the Boulders Trail. The Horse Trail leaves from a trailhead on Houston Mesa Road and is a great ride for intermediate and advanced riders. Beginners who don't mind walking some of the tougher sections can do it also. The rolling trail has several technically challenging sections as it provides a good access route to the Houston Loop. If you are up for a very tough climb, try taking Walnut Flat Road from the Horse Trail up to Houston Mesa.
The Boulders Trail is a favorite of local riders. From the east end of Phoenix Street, the trail follows a creek down a beautiful canyon at the base of the Gibson Mountains. Beginners should do the ride as an out and back to the split of Boulders North and Boulders South. Those with more experience can take on the challenge of either route at the split. A good way to make it a loop ride is to come back on Granite Dells Road to the Cypress Trail that joins back into the Boulders Trail east of where the ride started. Along the way, you might just be tempted to try to climb to the top of one of the many boulder piles for which the trail is named.
The crown jewel of hiking trails in the Rim Country is the Highline, running 50 miles along the base of the Mogollon Rim. Though much of the trail is too rugged to be enjoyable on a mountain bike, its eastern end is a slice of mountain bike heaven. Access the trail from either the See Canyon Trailhead, just outside of Christopher Creek, or the 260 Trailhead on Highway 260. The section of trail connecting these two trailheads offers some of the best mountain biking anywhere. You'll encounter challenging switchbacks, descents and climbs into and out of the canyons below the Rim, and unmatched scenic vistas. Be prepared for slow going as the terrain is very difficult, but every time you complete a climb you'll be rewarded with a fun downhill on the other side. If you want something even tougher, try climbing to the top of the Rim on the Military Sinkhole Trail from the 260 Trailhead.
Regardless of which trail you take in the summer, though, it is important to keep in mind several factors when planning a mountain bike ride:
- Ride in the morning. The cool temperatures after sunrise offer perfect riding conditions in the summer. Waiting until later in the day can put you at risk from the high temperatures and sun intensity that come later in the day, and from the thunderstorms that strike frequently in the afternoon during July and August.
- Bring plenty of water. You might find water in a few places out on the trail, but for the most part, water sources dry up in the summer. Plan on needing 20-30 ounces of water per hour of riding. It never hurts to have a little extra.
- Be prepared to do basic repairs on your bike. The terrain around Payson can be very rough in places. Know how to fix a flat to prevent a long walk home.
If you are in need of further advice or last-minute supplies or repairs, stop in at Hike, Bike and Run on Highway 260. With the right preparation, there is no better way to enjoy part of your stay in Payson than on a mountain bike.