Up in the far northeastern corner of Vermont, there are more dirt roads than paved. The hills are rugged, and the houses far apart. The people who live in this 2,000-square-mile stretch of the Green Mountain State—dubbed “the Northeast Kingdom”—are tough, even by Vermont standards. It’s colder and rougher, and amenities are few and far between. But tucked around East Burke, population 132, a mountain-biking playground awaits.
Nearly 100 miles of perfectly bermed singletrack spiderweb through the hills surrounding this small town just 45 minutes south of the Canadian border. The trails are roughly split in two: Kingdom Trails rules over the cross-country singletrack to the west of Darling Hill Road (day passes $15), while Burke Mountain Hotel maintains rowdier, gravity-fed downhill to the east (day passes $42).
But don't worry—you don’t have to be an adrenaline junkie to freewheel through the Northeast Kingdom. Plenty of old cart roads and doubletrack snake across the region, making it possible for riders of all abilities to find the perfect ride. Early October is the best time to catch the reds, golds and fiery oranges of sugar maples in peak foliage, but the riding is good year-round—particularly if you make a weekend of it. Here are six things to put on your to-do list.
Hit the pump track
Head to Darling Hill for few laps on the pump track before your ride. You often find pint-size shredders on continuous orbit here (some even on balance bikes), but don’t write it off as kiddie play. The short, circular dirt tracks are perfect for improving your own skills.
“It’s a skill set that largely defines dirt jumpers and BMX riders,” says Chris Hrenko, a former racer from West Berlin, Vermont, who frequently rides at Kingdom Trails, “but incorporating pump and flow into your cross-country riding will help you take advantage of the way trails are built these days.”
Which is to say, a session at the pump track is the perfect way to warm up for the swooping, machine-built berms, rollers and jumps on the nearby trails.
The pump track up on Darling Hill is the most beginner-friendly, but you can also shred three others right in the village. Once you’re a pro, dare your fastest friend to race you on the dual slalom pump track at Burke Mountain Bike Park. Designed to send two riders on parallel lines of the same circuit at the same time, and a little competition is the perfect way to test yourself.
Take advantage of masterful trail building
Few things on a bike are worse than accidentally riding up a downhill trail, so be sure to download the MTB Project app on your phone or snag a free trail map from the welcome center in East Burke. Because trust us: You don’t want to find yourself riding the wrong way up the swoopy, glorious banks of Sidewinder, the top-rated trail in the state. Or take things easy on nearby Old’s Web, a curvy intermediate downhill, before cruising into East Burke for lunch. Order a Dagwood sandwich at the Northeast Kingdom Country Store, or bolster flagging spirits with an ice-cream cone at RubyLee’s.
Ride the Three Ts
With 100 miles of singletrack at their disposal, some riders try to leave tire tracks on every inch of trail. But locals know that any day is a good day if you hit the Three T’s: Troll Stroll, Tap ’n Die and Tody’s Tour. The trio of black-diamond flow trails roughly parallel each other, and all three share the same uphill climbing trail, called Burrington Bench. Locals typically ride all three in succession, a hat trick of downhills with enough roots, rocks and small drops to keep things interesting (but not so many that they kill the gravity-fueled buzz).
Send Burke Bike Park
Burke Mountain is home to Burke Mountain Academy, which has churned out no fewer than 36 champion ski racers (including World Champion Mikaela Shiffrin). But when those gnarly steeps shake off their snow, you’ll find some of the best lift-served downhill mountain biking in the Northeast.
If you’re new to downhill riding, head to Roly Grail or Jester. The intermediate trails feature more swoops and rollers than the jumps and drops of their gnarlier neighbors. If you’re comfortable with downhill-style riding already, go full send and catch the Burke Bike Park Summit Shuttle ($10 for a single trip, plus the cost of a day pass or season pass) to the very top of the mountain to try your luck on the experts-only summit trails: Free Ride, Upper J-Bar and Rude Awakening. Heads up, though: Burke Bike Park has a shorter season than Kingdom Trails, and closes October 14 to prep for ski season.
Remember to après
Swap stories of the day’s adventures over at Mike’s Tiki Bar, a seasonal, open-air watering hole and food truck. Or head to Burke Publick House for some grub and microbrews. You could hit the road home from there, or—if you were smart enough to book a room at Burke Hotel—you could head back up the road to for a pint at the scenic View Pub, which overlooks Willoughby Gap, the pass between Mount Pisgah and Mount Hor.
Come back to ride when the snow flies
While the Northeast Kingdom’s wild, windswept hills can look cold and formidable when they’re covered with snow, some of the best riding can be had in winter. Kingdom Trails grooms 25 miles of singletrack for fat bikes (and puts on a killer annual fat-biking fest), making it the most expansive network of groomed fat-biking trails in Vermont. Plus, you can easily swap your wheels for skis for a dual-sport weekend.
Stop by the yurt on Darling Hill Road for beta on the best Nordic skiing. Or if you’d rather your planks be pointed downhill, there’s always alpine skiing at Burke Mountain. Just keep an eye out for pros past and present. Though they’ve traveled the world on planks and wheels, they keep returning to East Burke because they know this little corner of Vermont really rips—no matter which sport or season.
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