New tour reveals hidden mountain bike gems.

Two people ride bicycles along a dirt trail in Cathedral Gorge State Park
Cathedral Gorge State Park


Nevada is home to more than 300 named mountain ranges, more than any of the other contiguous U.S. states. It stands to reason that mountain biking is a hugely popular sport in the Silver State. While the trails around Lake Tahoe are well-known in the two-wheel community, the last decade has seen an explosion of trails in less-obvious parts of the state. Exploring new trails can be both exciting and daunting but have no fear: Bindlestiff Tours is here. 

Bindlestiff has been leading adventure tours out of Las Vegas since 2010. Its latest offering—Nevada Trails to Rails—highlights some of the incredible riding available in and between Caliente and Ely. When the opportunity came to be part of the guided tour, I eagerly accepted—with perhaps just a touch of trepidation about my skills.

I learned to mountain bike when I was 40. I’d been a road cyclist but picked up the fat-tire addiction after deciding rocks were way more forgiving than automobiles. A bit of a late bloomer to the sport, I jumped in with both feet, crashing and burning enough to make my mother “forbid” me from riding any longer. Almost two decades later, I still ride, if not as aggressively. The chance to discover new-to-me trails with an expert guide and full support was too good to pass up. 

A row of mountain bikes mounted on the back of a van, with the desert in the background.


Nevada Trails to Rails is a seven-day, intermediate-level biking trip that traverses the state from Lincoln County to White Pine County. Don’t freak out: You don’t ride the entire way. The tour begins in Las Vegas, where you meet your guide and fellow riders before heading to a bike shop to get outfitted with your steel steed for the week. After that, it’s on the road for the almost two-hour drive to Kershaw-Ryan State Park near Caliente. 

Ella Mountain, with flowering sage in the foreground, there are layers of mountains in the distance.
Ella Mountain


Kershaw-Ryan is one of my favorite parks, truly a tucked-away gem. It’s a beautiful little oasis in the middle of the southern Nevada landscape, and the only thing that can make it better is the lunch spread put on by our guide, Bradley Mahnke. From a couple of unassuming coolers in the back of the van, he pulls out the ingredients for an incredibly upscale sub sandwich complete with organic greens, delicious cheeses, and fresh cold cuts. He even whipped up a gluten-free version for those with dietary restrictions. All kinds of side dishes appear, along with drinks and salty snacks. It’s a picnic that will be repeated throughout the week, each one more delicious than the last. 

A group of mountain bikers and a dog, posing on a dirt road on Ella Mountain, with layers of mountains in the distance.
Ella Mountain

A smiling mountain biker sits on a rock, eating lunch, with their bike laying beside themFully sated, it was time to hit the trail. We chose to drive to the Kershaw Redemption trailhead rather than ride up from the canyon. The trail is a 7-mile loop across super flowy singletrack that delivers the first of many breathtaking views we’ll have on the trip. This is definitely the warmup ride for the tour with no major climbing, and yet, it whipped my butt. I blame performance anxiety and an overactive adrenaline system. Regardless, the trail’s allure is undeniable and the perfect start to the trip. Riding back into town made me feel better about my lackluster performance as we bombed down the road into Caliente and our rooms at the Shady Motel. 

A mountain biker makes his way down a steep red-rock section of Barnes Canyon
Barnes Canyon ©Bradley Mahnke

Determined to keep up the rest of the trip, I greeted day two with new resolve. During our breakfast, Bradley and Melissa Chiella—another guide, who also happens to be Bindlestiff’s director of operations—laid out our options for the day’s ride through the irresistibly beautiful Barnes Canyon. We decided to tackle the Ella Mountain trail system with a shuttle ride to the top and then descend in three sections with a stop after each. Barnes Canyon has it all: flowy descents, super technical downhills, and some wicked good climbs. The group is eager to do the three chosen legs; I decide to tackle just one of the legs. 

Meeting up with the group at the first stop, all I see are elated faces. This leg challenged each of them in the best way possible, I’m told. A quick snack break and a few stories later, it’s back on the bike, this time with me in tow. Melissa assures me I’ll love this leg, and I do. We ride through ponderosa pines with so many turns I lose my bearings (but never the well-marked trail). It’s a ride that begs for some speed and a lot of flow. At the end, I’m spent and apologize for keeping the group waiting, but Melissa quickly tells me, “This is a judgment-free zone. If you had fun, that’s what it’s all about.” 

I had fun but decide to skip the last section, and we reconvene in town at the hotel. The group is tired (they logged more than 25 miles) but thrilled with the spectacular trails. No one in the group has ridden Ella Mountain before, and to say they are impressed with the trail network is an understatement. 

Many mountain bikes and a van, parked in front of the slot canyons at Cathedral Gorge State Park
Cathedral Gorge State Park
A person walks through the slot canyons at Cathedral Gorge State Park
Cathedral Gorge State Park


We head up the eastern side of the state toward Ely, our home for the next three nights. Along the way, we learn fascinating facts about Nevada from Bradley and make a few stops for photo ops. Before we hit town, we stop at Cathedral Gorge State Park for some slot canyon exploration and a chance to spin out a few flat miles through the park. 

Ward Charcoal Ovens State Park - A man cooks falafel on a camp stove, with mountain bikes hanging behind him, off the back of a van.
Ward Charcoal Ovens State Park

Ward Charcoal Ovens State Park is also on the agenda before we end our day. The group opts for a hike through the surrounding hills after learning a little about the large, beehive-shaped ovens. Bradley whips up another gourmet lunch for us, this one with falafel and all the fixings. Food on the trail has to be the greatest.

Ward Charcoal Ovens State Park - stone charcoal ovens, shaped like upside-down beehives, in the middle of the desert with mountains in the distance.
Ward Charcoal Ovens State Park

The town of Ely has been positioning itself as an outdoor mecca in recent years, for good reason. Dozens of miles of trails lead to downtown, and short drives reveal dozens more. You cannot go wrong here if you love to ride; heck, you can even shuttle on a steam train then take a gravel ride back to town. 

A happy mountain biker rides a dirt trail on Ward Mountain
Ward Mountain ©Bradley Mahnke

With so much to choose from, Bindlestiff starts the adventure on Ward Mountain and its more than 25 miles of trail. We ride through pinyon-juniper forests, down narrow rocky sections, and along wide, groomed features. I’ve ridden here before, but each time I discover something new. My favorite thing about riding in Ely has to be the views: White Pine County’s topography is some of the most stunning in the state. 

A crowd enjoys a bonfire in downtown Ely

The trail leads back to downtown Ely where the van awaits with another great meal. Our evening plans are based around the coming annular solar eclipse, so after Mexican food and margaritas, we take in a planetarium show and attend the town’s celebratory bonfire before hitting the hay. 

Mountain bikers ride along a dirt road through Cave Lake State Park in the fall
Cave Lake State Park
A mountain biker rides along a dirt road through Cave Lake State Park in the fall
Cave Lake State Park

Cave Lake State Park hosts our final Ely-based ride, and it’s pretty much utter perfection. Some of the group opt for some gravel riding to see the explosion of aspen colors in the area, but the star of the show is a climb up a crazy (but short) section of trail that takes you from lake level into a mahogany forest with limestone cliffs. The terrain changes so quickly you’d think you were riding in three different ecosystems. It’s a gorgeous albeit challenging trail system with many options for creating your own adventure. 

A group of people sitting near a picnic table in Sacramento Pass, enjoying the Annular Eclipse, while wearing special sunglasses
Sacramento Pass
Two women stand at the base of a very tall Bristlecone Pine
Bristlecone-Alpine Lakes Trail


A group of people walk along the side of the paved road toward Bristlecone-Alpine Lakes Trail, in Great Basin National Park
Bristlecone-Alpine Lakes Trail

Our tour finishes up with less riding but no less fun. After a detour to experience the annular eclipse, we head to Great Basin National Park for a tour of the exquisite Lehman Caves. After wandering below the surface, we swap our planned ride for a hike on the Bristlecone-Alpine Lakes Trail. With the elevation soaring above 10,000 feet, our lungs still get a workout on the short hike. The views of ancient bristlecone pines high above the ground is not one I’ll ever forget. 

The tour comes to an end the following day, but not before a ride on the Nevada Northern Railway’s steam train and lunch in town. I say goodbye to my fellow riders, people I didn’t know a week ago but now can’t imagine this experience without. The riding was definitely tough, but the group made it so enjoyable, I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again. The tour features amazing guides who were ready for any situation, comfortable accommodations that fit our needs perfectly, and delicious restaurant experiences. Bindlestiff exceeded my expectations in every way on this mountain biking extravaganza, so when the itch to ride something new hits, you know who to call. 

A lone mountain biker cuts through a high desert meadow filled with sagebrush, along a dirt road


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