This IMBA Epic ride combines much of the best riding in Big Bend Ranch State Park into one Epic Loop. The loop consists of a variety of riding conditions with a mix of singletrack, creek beds, and 4x4 roads. The singletrack is a nicely flowing combination of hard pack and rocky trails with lots of short steep climbs and dry creek crossings. Many of the 4x4 roads have not seen motorized traffic for many years and are essentially two track trails. There are significant numbers of long, steep, technical and rocky climbs and descents. Creek riding conditions vary from hard-packed and easily rideable to sandy and soft with some rocky and technical sections.
Its epic just to get to the trailhead of this ride. But if you make the effort you wont be disappointed. Far from the nearest major city, this is some of the most rugged and remote backcountry in the U.S.
The terrain that the trail traverses varies from 1700 to 4300 feet in elevation and passes through a variety of Chihuahuan desert landscapes from low desert brush to high desert grasslands.
In addition to the great riding, the trail system traverses a variety of Chihuahuan Desert terrain ranging from 1700 to 4300 feet in elevation and varies from low desert brush to high desert grasslands. The area's outstanding geology attracts geology students from around the world and includes the 5000 flatirons of Fresno Peak along the rim of the Solitario and views of 9000 ft igneous mountains across the border in Mexico.
The trail system also passes by abandoned mines and prospects, old homesteads and ranch houses and Native American campsites and pictographs. The rich igneous soils that dominate Big Bend Ranch State Park are ideal for trapping water and there are springs everywhere if you know where to look. Several creek sections have flowing water and large groves of cottonwoods.
The Big Bend has very hot weather in the summer months. It's best to do this ride between October and mid-April if possible. Be prepared for extreme conditions if you go during other times of the year. Rain can cause muddy and difficult conditions on some trail sections but is rarely a problem during the winter.
There is no cell coverage on most of the trail, so ride with others and be prepared to deal with any mechanical or other issues. A Sat phone or Spot is a great idea. It's not likely that anyone will be along to help if you have a problem.
Water is available at Sauceda near the halfway point and there are other water sources along the trail if you wan to carry a filter.
This is a great bikepacking trip and there are options to add additional milage and extend the trip significantly. Check with Desert Sports, the local bike shop and outfitter. They even offer multi-day guided trips if you want a supported ride.
The ride is mostly uphill during the first half and mostly downhill coming back. But don't let that fool you...there are plenty of challenges on both halves of the loop, so leave something in the tank for the return leg. Carry a map (availible at the park headquarters across from the trailhead or at Desert Sports in Terlingua) and be ready to use it. Although the trails are generally well marked there are lots of options and it may be hard to stay on the IMBA Epic loop without one.
From the trailhead, hit the Dog Cholla
trail and take it to the jeep road. The trail alternates between jeep road and singletrack and includes the Crystal Trail
and the Camino Viejo Trail
. This section has a beautiful sidehill traverse of a calcite crystal covered hill. Once you hit Contrabando Creek and the end of the Camino Viejo Trail
it's a several mile gentle climb to the Buenas Suerte and Whitroy mines. From there the road descends rapidly to Fresno Creek where it hits the Old Government Road
. Watch for signs here as you don't want to miss the turn here and head up Fresno Creek. The Old Government Road
is a local favorite and was an old military road that was built during the time of the Mexican Revolution to help secure the frontier against border incursions from raiders out of Mexico. The old road passes along the flatirons that form the outer ring of the Solitario and leads to Rincon where there is primitive camping and shade shelters. From there it is a quick run down to Fresno Creek. This is the best turn-around spot if you're feeling tired. It is about the 1/4 mark distance wise and you can still do a great 30 mile ride by following the trail down Fresno Creek and doing the Rincon Loop.
If you're continuing on the Epic Loop, cross the creek and turn right onto Fresno Canyon Road
heading north. This road follows its namesake creek descending in and out of the drainage, following the creek bed for several short sections. Watch closely for the road sections that climb back out of the creek each time you drop in.
Turn right off the jeep trail after about 6 miles onto a smaller 2 track road that crosses the creek and head off to the right toward Pila Montoya
. This old road continues to climb steadily up to Pila Montoya
and the main ranch road (dirt) where you head left across rolling high desert with fantastic views of the surrounding country until the turnoff to the Papalote Encino trail. This old two track cuts across beautiful high desert dominated by igneous hills. Turn right when you hit the main road again and ride into Sauceda where you'll find water and a nice resting spot.
From Sauceda head south on Javelin Road
to the turn-off to Madrid Falls Road
. This section is alternately sandy, rocky, steep and rolling. The Madrid Falls Road
climbs steeply (most folks walk the last pitch) up on to a beautiful rolling high plateau and takes you to Pila de los Muchachos
where the road descends steeply (scout this as the top can be very dangerous - it's ok to walk!). After the initial steeps, the road descends towards Fresno Creek. This section is super fun and very scenic but there are several steep, loose and dangerous downhills so pay close attention and don't be surprised if there are a few hike-a-bike downhill sections. Don't miss the singletrack section that goes away from the road in Arroyo Primera
or you'll wind up in a long soul sucking sand pit. The final drop into Fresno Creek can be washed out and dangerous, so be careful.
There is a beautiful cascade just upstream of the cottonwood grove where you hit Fresno Creek if you have time to walk or ride up. Follow the trail/road downstream being careful to look for each place the trail leaves the creek. You'll wind up at the same spot you originally entered Fresno Creek. From there back track toward the Buenas Suerte mine and the trailhead. Locals usually skip the Crystal trail and ride the Rock Quarry trail on the way back.