Arizona offers bikepackers many spectacular backcountry routes. A favorite track is the Black Canyon Trail in central Arizona. The Black Canyon Trail is approximately 78 miles long, stretching from the Carefree Highway on the outskirts of Phoenix, northward along the base of the Bradshaw Mountains, beyond highway 69 near the town of Mayer to the Prescott National Forest. A route has been created to make a 100 mile loop, with plenty of other route options.
(Photos/John Schilling and Michael Ackerman)
What to Know?
There are a a handful of ways to ride the Black Canyon Trail. Many folks ride the trail from north to south or from south to north, utilizing vehicle shuttles. The BCT offers bikepackers fantastic opportunities for out and back trips and no-shuttle loops, too! This is a great overnight, weekend or beginner bikepacking route all while soaking in beautiful landscapes that Arizona has to offer
As a Thru-Ride: We recommend starting at Emery Henderson TH (marked). Take the left fork at the Boy Scout loop, then the right fork of the Little Pan loop. A short spin off-route at the Rock Springs Trailhead (marked) and you can grab water/food at the Rock Springs Cafe. This is about 25 miles into the ride. From there, proceed north on a bit of pavement, then dirt road (Maggie Mine rd). Some of the Black Canyon Trail near Rock Springs definitely rides better in the southbound direction. Riders would then rejoin the BCT at Antelope Creek, roughly 50 miles from Emery Henderson.
Sans Shuttle:I-17 Exit 242 start at Black Canyon City (Rock Springs TH) and grind north on dirt roads to the start of the Antelope Creek Segment and the BCT just south of Mayer, AZ. Descend flowy, well constructed desert singletrack along the Bradshaw Mountains, paralleling the I-17 corridor traveling southbound towards the Phoenix metro area. Add on the Little Pan (CCW) and Boy Scout (CW) loops to complete the southern half of the BCT dirty century, returning back to your vehicle at the Black Canyon City/Rock Springs TH.
Alternative start/shorter loop sans shuttle: I-17 to Exit 248 and the Bumble Bee Ranch. Inexpensive, quiet and quality camping options available at the ranch located only a few hundred feet from the BCT. Leave your car at the ranch, ride gravel north and cruise 6 segments of the BCT south-Antelope Creek, Hidden Treasure, Bumble Bee, Glorianna, K-mine North and K-mine South. Exit at Black Canyon City, utilizing frontage and secondary dirt roads to pedal back north to the ranch, hot showers and your secure vehicle.
The desert is sharp and scratchy. Although the trail has amazing flow, varying trail surfaces and frequent exposure will offer just the right amount of challenge for most riders. Be aware for high water at river crossings and take care of yourself in the extreme climate found in the Sonoran Desert.
Notes: Emery Henderson Trail Head to Carefree HWY is virtually never ridden. It’s flat, boring and nothing but sand. The other section is from HWY 69 near Mayer south to Antelope Creek. Perhaps more of a warning, stating that this section is often post-holed by cattle creating a rather unpleasant riding surface. The BCT does extend north of HWY 69 now, something like another 16 miles. There is another loop currently being constructed north of HWY 69, Copper Mountain loop. something to look for in the near future.
Plentiful backcountry camping options abound. Refill water at river crossings or carry extra storage capacity.
Sunny Arizona! Expect cool nights/mornings and hot days in the Spring and Fall. Take caution in monsoon season. Here are yearly weather stats for Black Canyon City, AZ. This route can certainly ride in the winter depending on weather. Be extremely careful heading out in the summer as heat and exposure are a real risk.
Off route in Black Canyon City, at Bumble Bee Ranch (limited) and in Mayer, AZ. You can always resupply at your rig halfway through the BCT 100 track if starting at the Black Canyon City/Rock Springs TH.
Regardless of how you loop or section ride the BCT, take time to visit the Rock Springs Cafe (marked) in Black Canyon City. It’s a great place to fuel up for the trail, recharge with a tasty lunch or end your day with one of Rock Springs Cafe’s famous desserts! The cafe and adjacent service station/mini-mart are only .25 off route and is open seven days a week!