You’ve probably driven past Fantasy Island a time or two and didn’t even realize it was there (at least I did when I first moved here). The piece of Arizona State land open to mountain bikers and hikers is just West of Houghton against the air force base. The entrances on the North and South side of the park are inconspicuous dirt lots. Once you’re inside, you’re in for a fun excursion alongside cactus, wildlife, and lots of fun manmade additions.
Fantasy Island is filled with trails that cater to all skill levels and abilities. From the beginner Bunny Trail (accessed on the South side of the park, just off of Valencia) to the more challenging hills of the Lone Cactus Trail (accessed on the North side of the park, just off of Irvington) there’s something for everyone.
Before you head out on your first ride in Fantasy Island, here are ten things you’ll want to keep in mind.
1. You’ll need a permit.
Fantasy Island is technically State Trust Land. To ride here legally, you’ll need to have a permit. They’re a super affordable $15 per person or $20 per family so there’s really no excuse not to get one.
When (and if) you do get one, don’t be surprised if you never have to show it. I’ve ridden Fantasy Island more times than I can count and have never once been asked to show my permit. With that said, don’t be the unlucky person who rides for the first time sans permit and gets fined for not being properly prepared.
2. Ride in the right way.
I’m not talking about your bike riding skills, I’m talking about the direction of the trails. Fantasy Island is a single track, meaning there aren’t too many places to pass other bikers. To avoid traffic jams and collisions, you must ride in the correct direction at all times.
Most of the time, the direction will be clearly marked with an “Entrance”, “Exit” or “Wrong Way” sign. If it’s not, as a general rule of thumb, stay to the right and you’ll be good. If you mess up and meet another biker, just follow him back out. No harm, no foul.
3. Follow the rules of the trail.
There are a few unspoken rules to mountain biking. Knowing these before you head out on the trail will help you enjoy your ride even more.
If there’s a faster rider behind you, pull over when it’s safe and let him pass. If you’re the faster rider, you can give a heads up to the slower rider in front of you that you’re there, but don’t tailgate him. Let him find a good spot to pull off to the side and let you by.
If you see a person stopped on the side of the trail, ask if he needs help. Most of the time he will just be waiting for another rider, or taking a break but you never know.
Above all else, be friendly. Say hello to your fellow riders as you pass by. Biking is fun. Even the most competitive bikers give a friendly wave on trails like those in Fantasy Island.
4. Bring everything you will need.
Let’s start with the most important thing you’ll need – WATER. Fantasy Island is small. Valero’s gas station is somewhat accessible in a pinch, but you will still want to bring along plenty of water. It gets hot out there fast. To feel your best on your ride, you’ll want to have some water. If you’re going for longer than an hour, bring some nutrition too. Ben’s Bikes is close by and sells tasty nutrition gels that are light and easy to pack for your ride. Ask about Salted Caramel Gu – it’s delicious and gives you the energy you need!
Flat tires happen. Bring along a tube and pump so you can change a flat tire and keep riding. If you don’t know how to change a flat, that’s okay. There are plenty of riders out there that will probably be able to help – as long as you have the right materials.
One last tip: Don’t forget the sunscreen and chapstick! You’ll be glad you had it.
5. There will be wildlife and cactus.
Spoiler alert: You will see LOTS of cactus and wildlife.
The second time I rode in Fantasy Island, I was shocked to come upon a family of cows. We had a stare down. They won. I turned around, rode the wrong direction on the trail (see point number 2) and high tailed it out of there. Later, when I was discussing my encounter with Ben at Ben’s Bikes, I learned that they are more curious than scared. They won’t hurt you. Think of them as cheerleaders. Steer clear but feel free to keep on riding by them.
There’s some wildlife that isn’t quite so friendly – Snakes. These pests might be on the trail where you’re riding. I’ve never seen one but I know plenty of riders who have. If you do, ride over them quickly and don’t turn back. If you’re riding in a pack, keep riding. You don’t want the last person in your group to have to stop on top of a coiled up rattlesnake.
You might hear coyotes but you’ll probably never see one. They’re pretty skiddish. Enjoy the fun of watching large jackrabbits and prairie dogs bounce around you. They’re having a great time in Fantasy Island too!
Cactus is a pain. Avoid it if you can. Cholla will get in your tires if you’re not careful.
6. Don’t ride in the mud.
Sure it’s fun to think of yourself like a Monster Bike rider and high tail it through the mud pits kicking up as much dirt as you can. The problem with that is, as soon as you’re done, you’ve rutted out the trail. When it dries, your ruts will remain making the trail difficult (not in the fun way) to ride along and frustrating to other riders.
Avoid the urge to ride through the mud right after a nice rain.
7. Have your emergency contacts visible.
Accidents happen. No matter how experienced or careful you are, something could go wrong and you could need some medical help.
If that happens, you want the person who finds you to have access to your emergency information. Get a road ID, carry a piece of paper, or have something that identifies you are, any allergies, and who to call. You’ll probably never need it but if you do, you and the person who find you will be relieved you carried it with you.
8. Sandy washes are deceiving.
You’ve barreled down the hills, made it up the switchbacks, and even scaled a boulder or two. Now, you’re nearing the end and all you have to do is make it through a seemingly innocent sandy wash.
Those sandy washes are TOUGH. It took me about 12 tries before I made it through without getting stuck. The trick is to get some speed, keep your wheel straight, and keep on riding through. You’ll make it. If you don’t, try not to get discouraged. Try, try again and think of how happy you’ll be when you nail it!
9. Some trails are harder than others.
In general, Fantasy Island is a relatively easy trail system but some trails are more challenging than others.
If you’re a true beginner, you’ll want to ride the Bunny Trail a few times. It’s approximately a 5 mile loop that takes you through some small down hills, the sandy wash referenced above, and along some fun windy trails. If you’re feeling frisky, hop on the Res Loop (about halfway through the Bunny Trail) and give that a try. If you’re really itching to try a big downhill, hit the Fire Loop (accessed off the Res Loop) for some fun adventures.
A word to the wise: Make sure you have the right bike before trying to go down these downhills! Take it from me – a gal who knows what she’s talking about. I rode down some of the hardest hills in Fantasy Island on the wrong bike. Shockingly, I didn’t get hurt, but I also never made that mistake again.
The harder trails are located on the North side. To access them, ride along the Lone Cactus Trail. You’ll see several off shoots that you can take, such as the Christmas Tree Loop or Burro Loop.
10. Lookout for some fun landmarks.
One of the unique charms of Fantasy Island is all of the fun stuff scattered about. From old cars to helmets hanging in trees and bike reflectors set up strategically throughout, you’ll have a lot of fun manmade stuff to look at while you ride. Enjoy it. It’s part of the fun!
Fantasy Island is a fun place to ride. The trails are (mostly) easy making it the perfect spot for beginners and avid cyclists alike. Have you tried riding Fantasy Island yet?