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The Arkansas Hills Trail System is the most popular mountain biking area directly adjacent to the town of Salida.
This network provides a plethora of options, with well-built singletrack spidering out from downtown in the dry, high desert landscape.
The only problem is, the complexity of this network can make it difficult to piece together a route if you're unfamiliar with the trail options.
The Trans-Backbone is one of the most clear-cut routes in this network, and it's perfect for riders ranging from cross country to enduro. Thanks to its high desert environment and low elevation, and its mostly southern-facing aspect, the Arkansas Hills Trail System is rideable 12 months per year.
Some of the trails tend to hold snow for longer than others, like North Backbone, the first leg of this route.
But generally speaking, this is a great destination for riding from late fall into early spring.
While you can ride here in the summertime, the high desert environment makes its presence known, and temps easily soar into the 80s and 90s.
Even if you choose a time of the day or year when the temperatures are milder, the environment lends itself to dry singletrack, with the decomposing granite creating tricky loose-over-hard riding conditions.
Rough rocks protrude from the singletrack at odd angles, and the North Backbone trail in particular is quite technical--definitely worthy of a black diamond rating with rocky ledges and slabs to climb, technical rock-strewn descents, and narrow bench cut singletrack. Once onto the middle portion of the route--known as the "Backbone" trail--the singletrack becomes much flowier and smoother in nature, swooping in and out of gullies and around the side of the hill.
A few rock features will keep you engaged and remind you, "yes, this is still mountain biking!" Once on the Sweet Dreams portion of the route the singletrack again gets more technical, providing a unique combination of bermed corners and challenging rock gardens.
The Chicken Dinner trail picks up before Sweet Dreams drops into its most technical descent. One of the newest trails in the Arkansas Hills trail system, Chicken Dinner is a cross country flow trail of the first order.
While not a gravity flow trail due to the flatter profile and pedally nature, with a professionally-sculpted berm on literally every corner, rollers and optional jumps, and a professionally-designed corridor, the swoop and flow of this trail have made it an instant classic! Now, most local riders try to incorporate Chicken Dinner into every ride that they possibly can.