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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’ve ridden National dozens of times. 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. Fat Man’s Pass is always an option on the ascent or descent. I usually opt to stay on National. Fat Man 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.
Sweet National Videos
You Tube videos of National Trail