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ADV NewsNew ‘Motorcycle-Only’ Trail System Opens in New Mexico

New ‘Motorcycle-Only’ Trail System Opens in New Mexico

 Elephant Rock trail system is a slice of paradise for all types of motorcycles.

Published on 11.16.2020

New Mexico, known for its lofty mountains, sprawling caverns, white sand deserts and colorful hot air balloon festivals, can now add another asset —  a unique motorcycle-only trail system — to its list of enchantments. That’s right, a playground just for us. And it was created with adventure bikes in mind.

You’ll find this slice of paradise, named Elephant Rock Motorcycle Trail Network for a nearby rock formation, in Northern New Mexico’s Carson National Forest within the southern region of the Rocky Mountains, near Questa and Red River along New Mexico’s famed scenic highway loop, The Enchanted Circle. 

Elephant Rock trail system
Photo by Sam Lambie

So how did this seeming two-wheel retreat come to be? Well, according to the Albuquerque Journal, it began with a tangle of partially eroded 1960-era mining roads that no one knew what to do with. A local off-highway advocate Roger Pattison, Co-Creator of the New Mexico Backcountry Discovery Route (NMBDR), had long thought the area was ripe for a motorcycle trail project, though when he’d explored the area in years passed he found the crumbling roads, haphazardly cut atop decomposed rock, to be nearly unrideable.  


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Eventually, as part of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process, officials with the Questa/Red River Ranger Districts of the Carson National Forest were called upon to survey the road system to determine which roads could safely remain and which should be demolished. One of these officials was totally onboard with Pattison’s assessment that the area was perfect for a motorcycle-friendly network of trails, and so, the Enchanted Circle Off-Highway (ECO) organization was born. 

Elephant Rock trail system
Photo by Enchanted Circle Off-Highway Organization (ECO).
Elephant Rock trail system
The Elephant Rock trail required several seasons of back-breaking labor. With the help of many volunteers, bridges were created and other essential terrain work was done to bring the trail into being. (Photo by ECO)

What? A new off-highway riding area borne from an environmental protection act? Yes! It appears that environmental stewardship, at least when entrusted to the right people, can actually open gates instead of closing them. 

With Pattison at the helm the ECO went about seeking grants for the project, eventually raising around $60,000 from various groups including a substantial donation from the Backcountry Discovery Routes (BDR). Inna Thorn, BDR’s director of operations, says the project, a 50-mile side trip from the NMBDR, was a great opportunity to showcase how private funds can be leveraged to secure public grants for projects that benefit adventure motorcyclists. 

Elephant Rock trail system
The project has increased riding opportunities by connecting to other existing riding areas. Located 50 miles away from the NMBDR, Elephant Rock has now become a discovery point for BDR riders.

In addition to the grant money, the Elephant Rock trail network required several seasons of back-breaking labor, much of it volunteered, to make the roads and smaller trails safe, fun and sustainable.

What’s In Store For Riders at Elephant Rock?

Firstly, there are four narrow, motorcycle-sized entry points intended to keep larger 4-wheel vehicles out of the area. A 10.5 mile main loop, intended for bikes in the 500-700-pound range, is one of the sections created for adventure travelers stopping by for some fun. This long loop was worked with a mini-excavator, says Pattison, so it’s a wider trail that is not as technical as other routes. But while it doesn’t have “huge obstacles” the main route is still considered intermediate. 

Elephant Rock trail system
Photo by Sam Lambie

The next loop is 10 miles and passable by full-size adventure bikes, but Pattison warns riders on heavy bikes should be expert level for this route, which he says was designed for intermediate to expert riders on bikes in the 250-300-pound range. 

The third is a narrow and challenging route intended for “no-fear riders on lightweight enduro-bikes, adaptable for extreme terrain.” Pattison says the crew handworked these rough, tighter trails, leaving obstacles for riders who enjoy technical terrain. 

In total, the entire park consists of some 35 miles of intermediate and challenging trails.

Elephant Rock trail system
Photo by Sam Lambie

Sounds incredible, right? And guess what? It’s also fee free. Area officials are counting on the network of trails to draw visitors who will spend money on food, lodging and – yup – lots of post ride beers in the neighboring towns of Questa and Red River. If you’re camping, there are several Forest Service-run campgrounds nearby including the Fawn Lakes 18-site Campground, which adjoins the trail system (some sites are first come, others are reservable at recreation.gov). Dispersed camping can also be found within the Carson National Forest. 

The only bad news for those ready to jump on their bikes and head off right now is that the trail system sits at around 8,500 feet elevation and will be well under snow until late spring. 

Elephant Rock trail system
Photo by Sam Lambie

Certainly this new trail network appears to be a unicorn. Pattison is hopeful this “motorcycle only” area, crazily borne from the same bureaucracy that closes so many areas, will open the door to larger developments of dual-sport and adventure riding opportunities in New Mexico. 

And if we’re really lucky, other states will likewise catch on to this “build it and they will come” concept, making purpose of the thousands of miles of deregulated trails and fire roads currently gated and doing nothing to benefit the surrounding communities.


UPDATE: Since the posting of this article we’ve been in contact with a Carson Forest Service official who let us know the Elephant Rock Trail is still open and not scheduled to close until Dec 31st. It will open for the 2021 season on May 1st. Evidently their website isn’t always up to date, so better to call the local Forest Service office before heading up late in the season (575) 758-6200.

Author: Jamie Elvidge

Jamie has been a motorcycle journalist for more than 30 years, testing the entire range of bikes for the major print magazines and specializing in adventure-travel related stories. To date she’s written and supplied photography for articles describing what it’s like to ride in all 50 states and 43 foreign countries, receiving two Lowell Thomas Society of American Travel Writer’s Awards along the way. Her most-challenging adventure yet has been riding in the 2018 GS Trophy in Mongolia as Team AusAmerica’s embedded journalist.

Author: Jamie Elvidge
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31 thoughts on “New ‘Motorcycle-Only’ Trail System Opens in New Mexico

  1. This is amazing and I am so happy that it exists! UTVs and slow moving Jeeps ruin the experience for us Coloradans. Looks like my summers will be in NM going forward.
    Bravo!

  2. It’s amazing what cooperation can do. Now the task will be to keep the four wheeled vehicles from using it. Great idea and sounds like a ton of fun.

    • I agree, less chance of the out of staters to shoot guns and burn couches and all the other nasty crap I see out on the trails. Keep the cages and definitely the UTVs out! I would even pay for that luxury.

    • They mention the entrances to the trail are designed to have narrow gaps that can only fit motorcycles so four-wheel vehicles can’t enter.

  3. Pingback: New ‘Motorcycle-Only’ Trail System Opens in New Mexico – Bikers Connection

  4. Excellent job by Roger Pattison and crew. I be there after the snow. I am good friends with Rogers brother Will and we used to ride every week before his accident. Thanks for this!!

    • We spoke with an official from the Carson National Forest Service and were told to ignore the current info on its website relating to additional activities on the Elephant Rock Trail system. He confirmed the trail is indeed designated as “motorcycle only” and the site needs to be updated. Any reference to snow machines was in relation to the trail before it was reworked. Additionally, snow machines won’t fit through the new motorcycle-size gates, so no need to worry they will slice up the trails.

      As for mountain bikes during the motorcycle season, there are plenty of single track mtb trails in the area that don’t allow motorcycles. Who would want to pedal on trails being used by a bunch of crazy adventure bike riders?

  5. Excellent cooperation in achieving this. I wish more areas in all states would see the value to users to develop this type of system.

    • No address of course. Googleable Forest Service directions: From Red River, travel west 3 miles. Motorcycle trail begins at the parking area west of Fawn Lakes Campground and climbs north to the rock formation called Elephant Rock. From here, 3 inner loop trails bring you back to Highway 38. A fourth trail travels west along the ridge for approximately 4 miles before it descends in a northerly direction to join Forest Road 134 in Cabresto Canyon. From Cabresto Canyon, motorcyclists can travel east and return to Red River on either Forest Road 134 or on Sawmill Road, Forest Road 597.

  6. Pingback: Elephant Rock Motorcycle Trail Is Now Open In New Mexico ~ Nation Custom Cycles

    • Yes, we noted as much in earlier comments. Firstly, the forest service informed us its posting needs updating, which is why we deleted the link you’ve just posted. As for mountain bikes, even if the routes were not closed to bicycles, it’s doubtful anyone would pedal there when there are extensive MTB trail networks In the area that don’t allow motorcycles.

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