Nestled in the heart of Arizona’s Sonoran Desert lies a unique trail running experience – the Black Canyon Ultras, produced by Aravaipa Running. This renowned event, set to embark on its 11th edition, invites participants to traverse the captivating trails in the shadows of the Bradshaw Mountains, from Spring Valley to New River. The annual point-to-point 60K and 100K trail courses feature the world-class Black Canyon National Recreation Trail, and the 100K race is a qualifier event for the prestigious Western States 100. At Strambecco, we consider the event to be one of the Best Trail Running Events in the Southwest. For those seeking an even greater challenge, there’s the option to run both the 100K on Saturday and the 60K on Sunday, giving athletes the chance to complete a 100-mile adventure in one weekend.
Event & Course Info
While the Black Canyon Ultras courses boast a net elevation loss, the second half is laden with elevation gains that test the mettle of even seasoned runners. With historic remnants of an old stagecoach route, single track trails, and jeep roads, the route promises diversity in terrain and a true desert adventure.
100K Course – Starting from Mayer High School on Saturday morning, this course takes 1,200 participants on a journey of 100 kilometers, with the finish line awaiting at the Emery Henderson Trailhead in Phoenix. Despite its net downhill profile, the trail is deceptive, with the major chunk of elevation gain concentrated in the latter half – in total the elevation gain is 5,190 feet, while the elevation loss is 7,050 feet. The course is a blend of single-track trails, jeep roads, and a dash of history with pieces of an old stagecoach route. Key elements include creek/river crossings (Black Canyon and Agua Fria river), with the most significant one at Mile 34. There are shuttles to drive participants to the starting line and return them to their car at Anthem Trailhead at the finish line. Nine aid stations are spaced 4.5-8.8 miles apart and include water, electrolyte drink, sweet snacks, salty snacks, and fruit. The Black Canyon 100K is a ticket to the 2025 Western States 100, provided participants complete it within 17 hours, while the overall cutoff is 20 hours. Further, the top three male and female finishers in each race secure automatic entry into the 2024 Western States 100.
60K Course – 800 runners start Sunday morning with the same starting line at Mayer High School and end at Rock Springs Café. Shuttles are available for all participants to and from the parking area at Anthem. It is an elevation gain of 2,460 feet and a loss of 4,770 feet. Similar to the longer race, there is a good mix of single track, jeep and stagecoach roads. There are six aid stations spaced 4.5-7.7 miles apart and include including water, electrolyte drink, sweet snacks, salty snacks, and fruit. Four crew access points and four drop bags are allowed on course. The cutoff for this course is 12 hours.
The initial 20 miles, being predominantly downhill, may mislead runners into overexerting. Given the technical and rocky terrains that follow, and the substantial climbs, it’s wise to conserve energy during the initial stretch. Particularly in the 100K route, participants will encounter the brunt of the elevation, steep descents, and technical sections towards the final miles. The course has several junction points where the trail switches between single track and jeep road. Moreover, a brief out-and-back section leading to the Black Canyon City aid station is present. Depending on the rainfall, there might be creek crossings which can double up as cooling stations for runners. Staying hydrated and maintaining body temperature is key in the desert climate.
The top 3 men, women, & non-binary finishers will receive podium awards, while all 100K finishers will receive a custom buckle, and 60K finishers a medal engraved with their name and finish time. Volunteers and supporters are welcome at Black Canyon Ultras. Be sure to check out the official 2024 Runner Guide for all of the nitty gritty details.
Whether you’re chasing qualification for the Western States 100 or simply wish to experience the beauty of the Sonoran Desert, this race promises an adventure you won’t forget.
Area Accommodations & Things to Do
The official host hotel for the Black Canyon Ultras is the Hampton Inn in Anthem, AZ, while Creekside Lodge & Cabins in Mayer near the start line. For more options, nearby lodging is available off Happy Valley Road or in North Phoenix near I-17. The drive from Happy Valley Road & I-17 to the shuttle is about 15 minutes and 45 minutes to the race start. There are also plenty of vacation rentals both near the start of in Mayer, Black Canyon City near the 60k finish, or around Anthem where the 100k finishes.
Another great option is to camp at Bumble Bee Ranch which is sponsoring one of the aid stations and along with a camping reservation can provide prepared meals on site, making it very convenient for racers. Alternatively, camping near the 60k finish line at Rock Springs is a possibility as well. Camping is also permitted in specific areas of Prescott National Forest and on BLM land.
The culinary scene of Anthem, AZ, is a blend of diverse flavors and eateries, offering a mix of local Southwestern cuisine, traditional American dishes, and international options, all set against the backdrop of a charming suburban setting. With a range of restaurants, cafes, and grills, residents and visitors can enjoy a taste of both local and global delights. Local favorites include Two Brothers Kitchen, Nara Thai Cafe, and Mr. Gyros.
Nestled in the heart of Arizona, just north of Phoenix, Anthem is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts – with mild winter temperatures and clear skies, this suburban community becomes a magnet for those eager to immerse themselves in nature. Towering over Anthem, Daisy Mountain is a beacon for hikers. In February, the moderate temperatures make the ascent more comfortable than in the hotter months, and the wildflowers begin their early blooms, adding splashes of color to the landscape. The hike to the summit offers around 7 miles round-trip with an elevation gain of approximately 2,000 feet. As you reach the peak, you’re rewarded with panoramic views of Anthem, the Phoenix metro area, and beyond.
Cyclists of the group will enjoy biking the Maricopa Trail which connects multiple parks and preserves across Maricopa County, and offers bikers a unique blend of terrain and ecosystems. One of the most popular stretches is the segment linking Anthem to the Cave Creek Regional Park – a 20-mile (round-trip) ride that winds through diverse landscapes. The Maricopa Trail is well-maintained and is suited for mountain bikers of various skill levels. Along the way, you might encounter saguaro cacti, blooming desert flora, and even some desert critters.
Runners looking for a cool down can check out Anthem’s East Trail System which is a favorite among local trail runners. With its varied terrain and captivating desert views, it provides a wonderful juxtaposition of challenge and scenery. The system offers over 10 miles of interconnecting trails that range in difficulty from easy to moderate. Each trail is well-marked, allowing runners to choose their distance and level of challenge. Whether you opt for the shorter 2-mile loop or decide to combine trails for a longer run, the system accommodates all preferences.
Outside of the Black Canyon Ultras, Aravaipa produces some of the best trail and ultra events in the Southwest, including Tushars Mountain Runs. Trail runners in Arizona have their pick at a multitude of top shelf events in-state, including Old Pueblo Endurance Runs, McDowell Mountain Trail Run and the Xterra Black Canyon Trail Run which are both part of the Xterra Trail Run World Series.
The Western States 100 is the grandaddy of ultra-running events. It is an epic 100-mile trail run from Olympic Valley to Auburn, CA, in one day on the last weekend of June. It is the world’s oldest 100 trail race, starting in 1974 as one of the ultimate endurance tests. Over the course, runners will climb more than 18,000 feet and descend 23,000 feet. See the dedicated Western States Endurance Run website for details on the lottery process, training, support, and volunteer opportunities. Participants must qualify for the race within two years and enter the lottery. If you are selected as part of the lottery, you are officially sent details to register within two weeks. If not completed in time, the registration will be available to runners on the waitlist of 50-75 people.
For the multi-sport athletes out there, check out some of our best rated Road Cycling, Gravel Cycling, and Mountain Biking events that are held in Arizona and the broader Southwest. Some of them include the El Tour Series road cycling events – El Tour de Zona, Mesa, Tucson, and the infamous gravel race Belgian Waffle Ride (BWR) Scottsdale from Monuments of Cycling which is part of its Quadrupel Crown of Gravel Series. Epic Rides is a top producer of mountain bike events in Arizona including the Tour of the White Mountains, The Whiskey Off Road, and 24 Hours of Old Pueblo.