Vernal, Utah:

When some people hear Vernal, Utah they think of dinosaurs. Others think of mountain biking.

This is because the eastern Utah town is home to one of the largest excavation sites of dinosaur bones in the world. What attracts outdoor enthusiasts, however, is the town’s mountain biking scene.

Once overshadowed by Moab, Vernal’s network of trails is slowly getting recognition in the mountain biking community — transforming this often underrated town into a hotspot for outdoor recreation.

Diverse terrain, ranging from slickrock to high desert plateau to mountain forest, makes Vernal an ideal destination for a weekend bike getaway and has led some bikers to question whether the small town rivals Moab and other nearby cycling destinations as the best mountain biking destination in the west.

The town of about 9,000 is located about 175 miles east of Salt Lake City near the Colorado State Line in the petroleum-rich land of Uintah County. Like other communities in the area, Vernal’s economy has been sustained mainly by the energy industry.

Bordered by the Uinta Mountains, the Book Cliffs and Blue Mountain in the Ashley Valley, Vernal has always had plenty of opportunity for great riding. It wasn’t until around 1995, however, when a group of locals took it upon themselves to carve out their own trails, that the town began to live up to this potential.

Today, thanks to the continued efforts by local riders to keep the area’s more than 300 miles of trails groomed, Vernal has some of the best riding Utah has to offer.

Places to stay:

There are numerous hotel and motel options in town. If you’re on a budget, campgrounds, like Dinosaurland KOA one mile from downtown, also offer tent and Rv sites as well as cabins.

Renting a bike:

Vernal’s primary bike shop, Altitude Cycle, has bikes to rent and also services bikes for a reasonable price.

Hitting the trails:

Vernal’s range of singletrack trails vary in ability from beginner routes like “Got Milk & Cookies” in the McCoy Flats to advanced trails, including “Handsome Cabin Boy” in the Red Fleet area. The trails through Red Mountain are also a good option if you want some challenging climbs.

Several bike shops have group rides. A good opportunity to get to know the area and connect with the local community of riders is the town annual festival hosted by the Northeastern Utah Mountain Bike Association (NUMB). The three-day NUMB Fest, held over Memorial Day Weekend, is centered mainly around guided rides, cookouts and camping.

Go see if this town lives up to the hype!