Arizona Mountain Biking

National Trail, South Mountain

Length: 14.5 miles C2C
Descriptors: Epic, Singletrack, Destination Trail, Downhill, Sweet Climb, Chunky, Super Tech, Waterfall, Ridgeline
Access: Many entry points
Options: Endless options. Pima lot to Mormon Loop to the Saddle then back DOWN is the classic route.

The skinny: National Trail is a gem. Absolutely a destination trail. Downhillers love it for its sweet chunky flow. Climbers love it for its challenging moves that keep you coming back in search of a dab free ascent. Everyone smiles on National.

National on

National Trail is the gem of South Mountain and home to the infamous Waterfall. It’s a local favorite as well as a destination trail for MTB snowbirds. I never tire of National. Every time I ride National I feel like I am on vacation.

Here’s the scoop on National. It is one long trail that cuts right through the heart of South Mountain. The official trail coast to coast is covers nearly 15 miles of desert trail. Not many people ride the west end of National past the Buena Vista (BV) lookout. There are even a few immortals that ride it C2C2C.

Here I’ll give you options for riding the classic National Trail at South Mountain. From the Pima lot it’s only 5 miles up and 5 miles down. A perfect lunch ride if you like to eat rocks for lunch.

There are a couple of ways (actually a lot of ways) to ride National:

1) Pima lot up National proper (lots of tech climbing) to BV lookout and back down. I usually opt to stay on National. Fat Man’s Pass (Hidden Valley) is not as fun on the bike, more for hikers.

2) Pima lot up Mormon Loop, (easier on the tech climbing, but still a workout) to BV lookout and back down National proper. The section of downhill on National that Mormon Loop trail bypasses is the best of National. Never go back down Mormon Loop unless you’re baked and just need to get down the mountain. Or you are an intermediate rider who is not comfortable with several series of rock gardens (see reader comment about lower National.)

3) 46th street lot up Javelina to National, or Mormon Loop to National. I like Javelina trail a lot. It’s a steady climb and great warm up for either Mormon Loop or National whichever you choose.

4) Shuttle. You can drive to the BV lookout, park (if it’s not a weekend), and just drop down National without breaking a sweat. While shuttling may seem like a sweet option, it’s actually not. Oh, I’m all for shuttling and all, but this shuttle is 16 miles from Pima to BV. The drive is on a slow road (watch out for tourists and roadies) so it takes about 35 minutes to get to the top. total.). You can climb the five miles faster than the round trip shuttle. Now if someone drops you off at the top, that’s another story.

National west of Buena Vista is a real treat. Less traveled and the views are sweet. A lot of it is on the ridge line, plenty of ups (including some HAB) and plenty of downs. Plenty of drops and some sweet exposure that will force you to concentrate on staying alive.

Since National runs right through the heart of SoMo just about every trail intersects at some point making a zillion options for connecting loops. So that’s National. National coast to coast is not for the beginner. It’s a challenge for even the most seasoned riders.

Excellent National Trail Review by Two Wheel Wanderer

Sweet National Videos

SoMo in the rain from Ken Bennett on Vimeo.

High Definition Waterfall on National Trail South Mountain Az from SOMO on Vimeo.

My original National Trail Map on Google Maps…

18 thoughts on “National Trail, South Mountain

  • Hi I have not rode national in maybe 5 or 6 years but when I was riding I could ride from bottom of national all the way to the water fall with out stopping and 80% of the time make it up everything the only part of national I never made it up was the water fall but I have seen it done by a few people that I rode with. I love riding up national and than turning around and hauling ass back to the bottom. National was only trail at south mountain I really loved to ride. This makes me want to go buy a new Turner and start riding again.

  • From anywhere you start on National, you can ride out and back. BV west to Telegraph pass is not the best of National…The most popular part of National is the East end from BV to Pima. But ride up from Pima and back down from National. No shuttles needed.

  • From the BV trailhead heading west, can you ride out and back to the BV trailhead on National?

  • I rode up and down National many times on my old school Gary Fisher Supercaliber back in the 90’s with no problem. Now a days, I wouldn’t try it as i would break my old ass!

  • Do I need a full suspension mountain bike to ride national, or will a hard tail work?

  • I reread, 15 miles. Thanks.

  • Thanks for the review and video’s!! I was wondering total distance of National, Pima Parking to the furthest most west end of National? Have an idea?


  • Simpy

    Came down for some winter MTB’ing from Toronto and loved it. Started at the Prima lot, out on DC. Then up Telegraph and road National West. Took the road back up to the start of National east, back to prima lot for a out and back on DC to finish up the day. What a treat!!!! You guys have a real gem there. Like all comments said above, lots a great technical and not for the weak of heart. Thanks to for all, made my 4 days in AZ fantastic!!!

  • Sammy Levey

    I tried to take a short cut back to my car and got lost.So mant trails that look like trails but there not.

  • Rode from 46th Parking lot east. It is pretty much all climb from the hill by the 18th tee box on the golf course all the way to Buena Vista, via East Loop, Beverly, Mormon, and National. From there rode from Buena Vista to Telegraph on National. Really struggled with that part. Hiked down Telegraph. Took Desert Classic back to Pima and a quick up and over back to 46th street. Guess this is probably the longest ride to date for me. I think it would be more fun in the opposite direction.

  • Howdy, thought I’d throw in another loop suggestion; my favorite, assuming it’s still doable (I moved away in ’03): Out Desert Classic, up Telegraph Pass, then back National. I called it the “Almost Epic Loop”.

    I’m finally planning a return in fall ’10, using your site to see what’s new and what’s changed… great site!

  • Mike,

    Corona is all doable (is that a word?) except for maybe one sketchy section at the very top as you drop down on the DC side (only because failure could be catastrophic). Then there is a decent drop just after you decide to go left to Secret.

    The fast switchbacks and rutted trail is unlike any other trail in the SoMo trail network.

    I wish is was just a little more rideable going UP CDL. :-)

  • Dave

    Thanks Mike, I’ll give it a try. I’ve tried riding up the bottom of Corona twice from DC but after a while it is so loose I turn back so I never really knew where it went. As far as making a loop all the way around I can’t really handle the top of Telegraph. I don’t mind giving my fears a go but there are always too many spectators around. Not a lot of fun eatin it with a crowd watchin. At least on Corona I could try a couple of the gnarly spots in solitude. And if I’m hiking I can only embarass myself. I figure this path has to be less traveled. Thanks again Dave

  • Dave, Zoom in on the map above at the Buena Vista Lot. Ride through the lot, stay left and ride through the dirt lot. National stays right and climbs a hill, Corona Loma stays left and drops. Then drops some more and keeps dropping to a wash. Then Corona climbs again before it really drops and throws you face first into DC. After the steep Corona decent you can continue right down the trail to DC or go left and hit secret back to DC.

    Have a good ride. Corona is pretty gnarly.

  • Dave

    I noticed that you mentioned somewhere that you could pick up Corona Loma off of National. Can anyone give me a whereabouts? I usually start out on Desert Classic @ Warpaint and take it out to Pima, East Loop, Beverly, Mormon, and back. I’d like to make a loop somehow and take Corona Loma back to the Desert Classic. Is this possible?

  • Yeah, National is defintely a great trail. And I don’t mind rock gardens…they’re fun. But man, some are just too steep for me on Lower National. I’ve come to terms that there are certain sections I’ll never be able to ride because I will never try :)

  • Thanks for the comment Matt. You are right about lower National it is extremely technical. Definitely not for beginners or intermediate riders who are still wary of technical rock gardens. Riding down Mormon will keep you on the bike more for sure.

  • I’d like to provide a comment for bullet point #2 above…

    If you are an intermediate rider (like myself) DO NOT take National Trail back to the fireroad, take Mormon. In my opinion, the rest of National (to Buena Vista Parking Lot and back down to Mormon/National Junction) is very rideable. But, once you get to the Mormon/National junction, the rest of National is for the extremely skilled/advanced. There are very technical climbs, big drops and steep tech rock gardens.

    Like I said, I’m an intermediate, maybe slightly better rider. On the way back down National to the fire road I probably dismounted around 10 times.

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