Face-Off Series: Moab vs. St. George
In the latest edition of our Face-Off Series, we take a look at two destinations that are very similar… yet oh-so-different. To the untrained eye, both Moab and St. George look like they would be very similar in virtually every category across the board. Yet due to the specific geographical features, the type of riding, and the overall MTB community, they’re quite different.
We get the question all the time: “How does Moab compare to St. George?” Sure, both locations can be characterized as very technical, rocky, and scenic as hell. That said, we recommend each location to different riders based on a handful of criteria that separates them from each other quite easily. Read on to find out what the hell we mean.
Comparison #1: Type of Riding
Alright, let’s get the obvious out of the way: Moab is rowdy. With trails like The Whole Enchilada and Captain Ahab, you’re going to be beat up after four days of tackling Moab’s best. You’ll find more small drops than you could dream of, there are rock rolls for days, and the rock “chunder” will leave you feeling like you’ve been gripping a jackhammer all afternoon. With the “must do” Moab trails, there’s not a ton of diversity… and that’s OK with us. Because when you ride Moab, you go to ride the hardest technical rock riding in the country. We like to classify Moab as “gravity assisted rowdiness”.
St. George, on the other hand, beats you up in other ways. The classics like Gooseberry and Little Creek Mesa don’t pack in a ton of miles (a full-day ride here will be about 18 miles), but you’ll still feel like you’ve been rolled by a truck. The slickrock is unrelenting in a super fun, yet technically difficult way, as each feature is steep and short and makes you use your entire body to succeed. The trails in St. George are also quite diverse, including fast flowy trails like the JEM system, and some of our favorite trail/all-mountain rides like Zen and Suicidal Tendencies. This area has several ways to challenge even the best technical riders. Compared to Moab, St. George is much more “pedally technical” riding.
Comparison #2: Best Time To Ride
This one is pretty straight-forward for both destinations: being in the “high desert”, we much prefer riding in Moab and St. George in the spring and fall. To get specific, call it late March through mid-May, and then again from mid-September through early November. During these peak times you’ll find perfect temps and amazing trail conditions.
Sure, you can ride in either location in the summer… but we wouldn’t recommend it to our worst enemy. Temperatures can soar into the 90’s and 100’s, and when there’s virtually no shade and you’re riding on solid rock, it feels like you’re on the surface of the sun. On the flip side, you can most definitely visit both destinations in the winter, but it’s hit or miss with the snow and cold, so it’s usually done best as a last-minute trip.
Comparison #3: Signature Ride
For Moab, this is a no-brainer: The Whole Enchilada. This ride is likely one of the most popular in the world, and for good reason: 30+ miles, 8k vertical feet of descending, and the most diverse terrain from top to bottom that you’ll ever witness. It’s worth visiting Moab just for this ride alone (not to mention the other 300 miles of trail in the area!). The ride starts at Geysir Pass with a 45-minute climb where you’ll top out on Burro Pass at 11,200 feet. From here, it’s 95% downhill- we’re not exaggerating- where you’ll ride through pine forests, aspen groves, open sage-covered meadows, and through some of the most technical rock you’ve seen. This bucket-list ride is well-worth the accolades and we’ve heard several times “that was the best ride of my life”.
In St. George, the signature ride title goes to Gooseberry Mesa, located just outside of Hurricane. Gooseberry is likely the most unique ride you’ll ever do, and we can’t think of another area in the US that compares. For hours on end you’ll be playing on undulating slickrock with drops, rolls, and steps that will keep you excited and frustrated at the same time. There are dozens of spots to session, and you’ll shock yourself with what’s now considered “rideable” after spending the day here. Because Gooseberry sits on a relatively flat, tilted mesa, the vertical gain here isn’t huge: it’s around 1000 feet over 18 miles. That said, you gain (and lose) that vertical 10 feet at a time, and the effort is huge. One of our guides likes to call Gooseberry the “roller coaster” of Utah.
Comparison #4: Overall Feel
The biking communities of Moab and St. George are both well-documented: there aren’t many places in the US where you’ve got the resources and dedication to build such amazing, vast trail systems that bring in visitors from across the world. That said, each community is quite different in feel and perception.
Moab is the ultimate playground for recreationalists of all kinds: mountain bikers, hikers, climbers, “Jeepers”, slack-liners, and sight-seeing tourists. Because of this, town is quite crowded with visitors from all over the world. Sometimes the “community” of Moab can feel a bit muddled and lost when you’re walking around town because it’s such an eclectic mix of people from all walks of life. There’s a ton to do and see in Moab outside of our trips, which is why we always recommend clients stay an extra day or two to experience the National Parks and the amazing scenery. That said, step into one of the town’s bike shops or talk up a group at the trailhead, and you’ll discover what Moab is all about when it comes to mountain biking. Everyone is there to have fun and the locals support trail building because they know it’s the life-blood of Moab. It’s why we all flock there every spring and fall.
St. George, on the other hand, can feel downright sleepy at times. Maybe it’s because the trail systems are spread out across the region. Maybe it’s because Zion National Park is just down the road and attracts most of the non-biking visitors. Maybe it’s because St. George is becoming a hot-spot for retirees who don’t mountain bike and it’s a larger metro area. Whatever it is, the community is there and it’s very strong. Bike Magazine recently conducted their Bible of Bike Tests in Hurricane, and profiled all the awesome characters around town (including a couple of our guides): Slow Roll. Stop into Over the Edge in Hurricane and you’ll see what it’s all about. Evenings spent on our trips tend to be pretty quiet, but that’s just how we like it… because it’s all about the riding for us.
So, after all that: how does it play out? Which would we recommend?
To us, it all comes down to what you’re looking for: gravity-assisted rowdiness or pedally technical riding. If you want never-ending rock gardens, views to die for, and the feeling that you’ve survived an 8.0 earthquake, then join us in Moab this October. If you want never-ending slickrock, technically challenging features you can session, and a variety of trails over the course of four days (not to mention mind-blowing views), then hit St. George with us the following weekend.
With the two venues being so similar, we see most of our clients join us in one spot and then immediately book the other trip the following year. After they do both, we always ask which destination they liked best… and from a rough count, we’ve got the tally at 50/50. So maybe we’ll recommend St. George, and then Moab.
Or maybe it’s Moab… and then St. George. Hell, we can’t decide.
If you’re looking for visual evidence of what you can expect in St. George or Moab, take a look at these videos!