Snowflake trail system
High Desert riding at its best: Snowflake Secret Trails
The White Mountains of Arizona is known for its tall pines, quaking aspens and snowy mountain peaks, but we are also home to Pinion-Juniper stands and beautiful high desert vistas. One of the best places to enjoy the high desert landscape is on a mountain bike, traveling unique and varying MTB trails on the Snowflake Secret Trails system.
In true White Mountains fashion, the instructions to reach these trails are not on any map, you can’t just “Google it”, at least not just yet. Just like the ShowLow Secret trails, there are many entrances to this trail system, but the one that will be easiest to find is to turn West on 7th Street South in Snowflake and go past the house with the white-painted tree trunks, past the High School and to Cottonwood wash. The entrance to the trail is off the SouthEast side of the wash, behind the guard rail, into the East side of the wash and looks nothing like the entrance to one of the best trail systems in the White Mountains.
Entering the trail system is like dipping into another world. In summer, shimmering green cottonwoods welcome you and in winter, the leafless trees provide interesting silhouettes against the cutbank wash. The trail leads past awesome scrapped antique vehicles and gives you a taste of the roller-coaster style of the trail. Be ready for anything; sloping downs and punchy ups, sandy to rocky and fast travels to technical switchbacks. After exiting the wash you will come up on a double-track road leading SouthWest. There are several choices to take and it is suggested that you try taking the outside loops clockwise by taking lefts and counter-clockwise by taking rights on different visits for completely different experiences. Because these trails were created by local cyclists with a love for the area and a passion for mountain biking, they flow naturally over the landscape and fit organically into what cyclists want from a top notch trail system.
You could spend days traveling alternate routes through the gullies and over the hills and have new experiences each time. Trail builders are working the trails actively and would be more than happy to have help. It is common to see a new segment appear between one visit and the next. Note to Stravaholics: there are plenty of Strava segments to challenge you and new KOMs/QOMs to be had on every visit.
Upon reaching the highest plateaus of the trail, you will experience sweeping vistas of the White Mountains’ High Desert. The freedom you feel on the top of the plateau is like no other. No trees or hills to block your view, the wind on your face and the feeling of appreciation for this place we call home is exhilarating. Take a break and breathe before heading down past rugged limestone features and well designed switchbacks. This is no time to be complacent though, downhills quickly turn to climbs at the turn of a corner. These trails feature great climbs-you can see the top so know you’ll achieve it but it’ll challenge your endurance with the reward of long fast downhills.
These trails are reminiscent of the famous Phill’s World trail system not only in the fun roller coaster segments but also in that they were user-created and were then embraced by the local community and approved and supported by the local government. The Snowflake-Taylor community has shown exceptional support for cycling and the local city council understands the value that cycling can bring to a community. Recently, the city council approved over $400,000 to build a professional-level bike park and entrance to these trails including parking, restrooms and ramadas. There are opportunities for nearly endless miles of trail development through washes and up onto plateaus in the adjacent area.
Small town America is learning that cyclists bring more than bikes to an area. Cyclists bring families, stay in motels, eat at restaurants, buy souvenirs and visit local attractions. This trail system is well worth the visit and gives the White Mountains excellent all-season cycling opportunities. Ride in shady pines when its hot, stunning high desert when its cold and where ever the over 200 miles of single-track trails and thousands of miles of two-track roads are clear the rest of the year.
The Apache Sitgreaves National Forest contains excellent Spring-Fall riding trails including the Buena Vista System (ShowLow Secret Trails), Panorama trail, Los Burros trail, Land of Pioneers trail and over 200 miles of connecting single track. The forest roads provide perfect nearly all-season gravel grinding and the addition of the Snowflake Secret Trails for perfect fall to spring riding and excellent summer riding make the White Mountains an exciting cycling destination, with the added bonus that even when there are multiple users of a trail, you will feel the freedom of being out there riding alone or in your small group. These trails never feel crowded even on the highest user-day.
*Warning: these trails pretty much require tubeless set-up or tire armor. There are many goatheads and you will get punctures. Bring flat repair, water and snacks and dress in layers. Cool mornings develop into warm afternoons and then back to cool evenings in this nearly treeless high desert landscape.
Keep your sealant fresh and your bike rubber-side down. Enjoy these trails and be ready to be part of a new cycling destination phenomenon.
Significant Kudos to Rick Brimhall and Brandon Hatch for their passion and dedication to these trails. Thank you to everyone who has helped develop this system and appreciation to the towns of Snowflake/Taylor for embracing and encouraging cycling in their communities.