We didn’t make it to our campsite in the 18-Road Trail system until after dark. Howls of joy echoed through the campgrounds as we hammered in the tent stakes. The Book Cliffs campground is nestled among the stacked looping trail system, making it an irresistible base for nocturnal riders seeking late night jollies. It’s a good thing manufacturers have figured out how to design tents for nearly foolproof erection because we’re almost always setting up by moonlight and headlamp.
When you arrive in Fruita, you are welcomed by a larger-than-life mural of a mountain biker painted on a silo you can’t miss. The picture seems to say, “What took you so long?”
This historical town runs on energy generated by the pedalers who come to conquer hundreds of miles of flowy singletrack trails and celebrate their feats with locally brewed beers and campfire feasts. Here, the grit of the Wild West lives on in the dirt and rocks that unfurl along the rolling hills of the North Fruita Desert. You can feel the landscape challenging you to ride.
The next morning brought a whistle-inducing kind of day. It’s unfortunate I can’t whistle. We discussed trail strategy with fellow campers as we drank coffee and readied our bikes. Cumulous clouds punctuated the cerulean blue skies as the sun lead the birds in daybreak salutations. Everyone was stoked to be there.
In 1995, as Fruita was reeling from an economic downturn, an ambitious half-dozen locals, including Troy Rarick, Tom Nix, and Scott Winans, began carving out a valley of singletrack routes that would come to beckon riders from all over the world. They opened a bike shop and founded the Fruita Fat Tire Festival. Now, twenty years later, the town welcomes 100,000 annual visitors to its many splendored trails. The cat is most definitely out of the bag.
Hundreds of miles of trails have been etched through the Pinyon and Juniper tree-laden land in the North Fruita Desert. If dastardly climbs with steep switchbacks and iffy downhill outcomes are what you seek, the getting is good. If rollicking fast-flow loops are what you crave, you will not go hungry. Kessel Run is my jam and I highly recommend lapping it if you enjoy drops, rollers, and high-banked berms.
Singletrack trails ranging from black-diamond-rated Giggles, an eight-mile stem loop that features 700 feet of short, steep challenges and technical rock maneuvering to green-circle-rated Rustler’s Loop, a three mile loop with 500 feet of climbing and unbeatable views of the mighty Colorado River along the way. Fan favorites are Chutes and Ladders, Zippety-Do-Da, Horsethief Bench, and Joe’s Ridge by night. The 142-mile Kokopelli Trail, a continuous single- and double-track trail, starts here and leads all the way to Moab. New trails are added to Fruita’s portfolio every year. If you stop by Over The Edge Sports, the fine folks who work there will happily tell you about the newest routes to try, and may even pencil them in your guidebook for you.
IF YOU GO
Getting there from Salt Lake City is easy. When you get to the I-70 junction for the Moab exit, just don’t take it. Then, face north and, real-subtle-like, veer right. After you pass through town, head East on Aspen Avenue, then take a left when you get to Maple Street. That part is a breeze, but then it gets interesting. At some point, instead of continuing in the genre of tree names, the town planners decided to switch it up and name roads based on a grid system in proximity to the next street and distance to the Utah border if measured in straight lines. So, 3.8-miles after you’ve taken a left on Maple, you’ll turn right on N 3/10 Road. Then, take a left at the “T” on 18-Road, which leads to the 18-Road Campgrounds. The streets are alphabetical and measured in tenths of a mile. N Road is three-tenths of a mile from M Road and 18 miles from the Utah border.
There are 58 individual campsites at the 18-Road (also known as Book Cliffs) Campgrounds. Each site costs $10 per night per site and has a firepit and a picnic table with parking for two to four vehicles. This is not the only place to camp, so if spots are not available at 18-Road, you can aim for Hunters/21-Road, accessible through Ottley Road (K Street), or go to 16-Road by heading West on Aspen where Highway 6 joins and then drive 12.7 miles to the main wash.
Fruita’s glories are often overlooked by the masses who bypass it for Moab, which is only an hour and a half away. While Moab is popular as a multi-sport destination, Fruita is distinguished by its conspicuous presentation as a playground for mountain bikers. That’s not to say mountain biking is the only game in town. Golfing, Go-Kart racing, and floating the Colorado River make nice detours for the saddle-sore. If you’re a climber, don’t miss a chance to summit Independence Monument, a freestanding tower made of soft, red sandstone that rises 450-feet above the soil at the Colorado National Monument. It’s a classic four-pitch trad route first ascended on July 4, 1911 by John Otto. The final prow to the summit is flanked by pee-your-pants exposure, but the handsome view from the top makes the dicey advance worth it.