A few months back, some friends of Cycle (henceforth to be known as FOC'ers) suggested that the Cycle Exploration Team (of one) venture out to the San Tan Mountain Regional Park and check out the new trail that's part of the greater Maricopa Trail system.
It turns out that these FOC'ers were onto something because the new Dynamite Trail that carriers mountain bikers, hikers, trail runners and horseback riders over Goldmine Mountain and into the larger park area is a dandy of a track.
The San Tan Mountain Regional Park trail network is not as extensive as McDowell Mountain or as technical as Estrella Mountain, but it makes for a good, flowy loop with some challenging climbs and beautiful vistas for anyone looking who has some decent legs but is looking to develop their fat tire skills.
The San Tan Mountains are that lone lump of rocks and hills protruding to the south of Chandler and Gilbert, creating a visible border between Maricopa and Pinal counties. The San Tan park is largely unmentioned by the cycling community, probably because it's a bit out of the way and doesn't host any legendary trail.
The park has a main entrance and trailhead area on the east side, but the best trailhead to hit, now thanks to the newly cut Dynamite Trail, is on the north edge of the park off of Hunt Highway/Empire Boulevard, just west of Ellsworth Road. The previous south side access trail was the unrideable, super-steep Goldmine Trail that cuts over Goldmine Mountain. Thankfully, that route can be left to hikers.
Two warnings about this park before heading in: a lot of the dirt is loose on these trails so be comfortable with your speed and ability before bombing down and of the tracks; carry more water than you think you'll need as this is a hot, dry desert area with only one water source at the main park entrance on the east side.
Dynamite trail is accessed from the Goldmine Trailhead reached off of Wagon Wheel Road from Hunt Highway - look for the yellow signs that mark the road from both directions. There is a $2 park access fee per automobile, as is customary with all of the Maricopa County maintained parks, so be sure to have a couple of dollars on hand before pulling in.
Start up the Goldmine Trail for about a couple hundred yards before hitting the Dynamite Trail on the right. The trail is still so fresh - opened just this past February - that the red soil visibly cuts up the hillside. The front two-thirds of Dynamite is a semi-challenging two-mile climb up to the saddle, so find a comfortable spinning gear and settle in. There's one fairly steep pitch but otherwise it's very gradual and steady all the way.
Once over the high point, start rolling down but be ready for a couple of hairpin switchbacks that need to be handled with care. At the bottom, there will be another small climb over a ridge and then Dynamite dumps into San Tan Trail, the park's primary trail loop. Don't worry, all trails are very well marked, so you will always know where you are in case you forget to grab a map.
Hang a left onto San Tan and enjoy the rolling track as it heads south through the park. Ride past Moonlight Trail to the Malpais Trail junction. Malpais is a decent trail for about half a mile before it hits some very loose soil hills and then dumps into a sandy, unrideable wash. The better bet is to continue left along San Tan. The views from this point are amazing with the Malpais cliffs locking in a forest of saguaros, chollas, ocotillos and palo verdes.
Quickly after the Malpais turnoff, the trail hits Hedgehog Trail, which is a great crosscutting trail that makes for a fun seven-mile loop that can be ridden a few times. The other option is to continue south along San Tan and follow the loop around over a tough climb and along about a half-mile of sandy wash as the trail turns back north.
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If you decide to cut across Hedgehog, the trail makes a little climb up to the midpoint and then descends on a fun track back to the east leg of the San Tan Trail loop. Turn left back onto San Tan and glide down to the main park entrance trailhead area that includes a tortoise habitat and fallen soldiers memorial.
Keep heading north on Littleleaf Trail up towards Goldmine Mountain, hooking into Goldmine Trail for a quick climb up to rejoining the San Tan Trail for a quick half-mile before returning back to Dynamite and choosing between taking in another loop or heading up and out.
Trip Distance: 12 miles (5 miles in and out on Dynamite Trail and 7 miles for the San Tan loop)
Trip Duration: 90 minutes for one loop
Difficulty: Easy singletrack with some semi-challenging climbs
Route Map: http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/84522429