When you show up to a new place with your mountain bike in tow, it can be hard to figure out where to start pedaling. Between Strava and the MTB Project, Instagram and Facebook, and all the bike parks out there, the options are plentiful and, when you want to do it all, making a decision gets overwhelming. What you really need is a friend who lives in the area to show you around and tell you where the best places are.
We called up five people who work in the bike industry in different locations across North America to ask them to recommend some trails on their home turf. They responded with epic bikepacking adventures through national parks, volunteer-built trails that are labors of love and sweat, and down-home bike parks and flow rides through the local forest. Some are trails to train for. Others are accessible to riders of all abilities. Put these all on the list of places to ride someday.
Canyonlands National Park, Moab, Utah
Recommended by: Mark Sevenoff
Circumnavigating the White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for a mountain biker, just as rafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon is a bucket-list item for a paddler. The 100.7-mile loop is a three- to four-day ride that wraps around the national park’s Island in the Sky mesa, carved out of the Colorado Plateau by the Colorado and Green rivers.
The route traces a layer of white rim sandstone that encircles Island in the Sky. “If you can imagine a beach shore where the waves wash up—it’s believed to be the border of an ancient inland sea,” says Mark Sevenoff, who owns Western Spirit Cycling Adventures in Moab with his wife, Ashley Korenblat. “It’s not a super gnarly technical singletrack, but the fact that it’s in a national park and it’s a 100-mile loop is pretty unique.”
The trail, which is rated beginner-intermediate, is one that requires a permit from the national park and a heavy amount of logistics planning. “There’s no water out there, and you need water if you’re going to do it in four days,” says Sevenoff. As well, the desert brings a risk of heat exhaustion. (The best time to go is in the cooler months of the year, especially in early spring and late fall.) If you hire a guide service (there are several in Moab), some of the perks include vans that carry water and food for you. Other riders choose to do the route self-supported. “The classic tough-guy and tough-girl badge is to do it in a day,” says Sevenoff.
But the White Rim is not a trail to race. It’s one to savor and, between stretches on your bike, explore slot canyons and Ancestral Puebloan ruins.
Crested Butte, Colorado
Recommended by: Kelli Emmett
First of all, according to Kelli Emmett, who is the team manager for the women’s mountain bike company, Juliana, Crested Butte is a destination that every mountain biker should experience at least once. With 700 miles of singletrack traversing fields of wildflowers and the San Juan Mountains, there’s no shortage of beauty. Emmett lives in Colorado Springs, but she says she aims to be in Crested Butte with her boyfriend and her bikes at least once or twice a year. The trail Emmett recommends to look up when you get there is number 409.5.
The challenging, 2.9-mile-long trail starts by climbing up the dirt Cement Creek Road, then peels off to singletrack. The crux is the steep Heart Attack Hill, though by comparison to other trails in Crested Butte, Emmett says it’s manageable. Keep up your momentum and you’ll ride through a meadow, cross a stream and sidehill through wildflowers.
“Through one point of it, your handlebars are hitting sunflowers,” says Emmett. “If you hit it at the end of June or beginning of July, it’s absolutely stunning.”
The view at the top is hard-earned and equally rewarding. “You can look over the whole mountain range,” she says.
Recent wildfires have closed many of the trails in Southwest Colorado. Be sure to check with the U.S. Forest Service on which trails are open before making plans.
Whistler, British Columbia
Recommended by: Sarah Leishman
Whistler, with its famous mountain bike park, mossy woods and flowing trails, is a mountain biker’s mecca; people travel from all over the world to ride here. For locals, the Lord of the Squirrels trail was a longtime dream come true. According to the Whistler Off Road Cycling Association (WORCA), one of the largest cycling advocacy groups in North America, professional trail builders and volunteers spent eight years planning and constructing this trail. It achieves what riders had been asking WORCA for since the organization’s founding in 1989: a means to ride from Whistler’s forested valley floor to the high alpine.
“It’s famous because this climb was built by the cycling community,” says Sarah Leishman, a Whistler rider who works for Arc’teryx and is on the pro team for Juliana. To build the trail, WORCA raised $202,000 from donations and grants and recruited volunteers and trail builders to put in a total of 8,784 hours of work over three summers. “It was a huge expense,” says Leishman. “It’s one of the only places [where] you can get from the valley to the high alpine without any assistance in four hours.”
Some riders could take up to 10 hours, according to WORCA, to climb the 4,360-feet of vertical elevation to the near-summit of Mount Sproatt, northwest of the ski resort. Even though it’s rated intermediate, WORCA recommends riders spend an entire season preparing to ride Lord of the Squirrels and says that, for intermediate riders, “this route is potentially the longest distance, largest amount of climbing and most sustained descending that you're likely to have experienced in your riding life.” And the ride down? “It’s an epic,” says Leishman.
Equally as epic? The trail’s name. Inspired by his fanaticism of The Lord of the Rings, an encounter with an aggressive squirrel and the trail’s “fast and twisty style,” lead trail builder Dan Raymond can be credited with the genius that is “Lord of the Squirrels.”
Soquel Demonstration State Forest, Santa Cruz, California
Recommended by: David Smith
If you find yourself in Northern California’s Bay Area and happen to like smooth singletrack that rockets through a coastal forest, then the Flow Trail is for you. It rides like it sounds—rhythmically descending berms, jumps and 1,254 feet across three and a half miles.
“This thing is a full-on speedway,” says David Smith, the art director for Santa Cruz Bicycles. “It’s a BMX track rolling downhill through the forest.”
Smith, who volunteered to dig and build the trail, says its design was deliberate. The intermediate trail was made for riders of all abilities—whether you’re a pro looking for an after-work shindig or a newbie who’s feeling feisty and wants to test out some jumps. “The terrain is pretty dynamic,” says Smith, who sometimes rides to the Flow Trail from his house in Santa Cruz. “They have little jumps built in, but it’s all very accessible and rideable.
Another ride Smith recommends is longer and more of a choose-your-own-adventure type. He packs his bags and attaches them to his bike, and then sets out to explore a combination of pavement, fire roads and singletrack that weave through the region’s campgrounds in state and national parks. “They have sites for people who arrive by bicycle,” says Smith. “It’s totally freeing to do a trip self-powered.”
There’s not one single trail to recommend, so pull up a map and look up routes to bike to the destination you have in mind, like Pinnacles National Park east of Salinas Valley, or Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Smith says he loves the feeling of accomplishment he gets by riding his bicycle to a destination instead of driving there. “It’s just a zen thing of being in the moment,” he says.
Thunder Mountain Bike Park, Charlemont, Massachusetts
Recommended by: Rachelle Boobar
The East Coast has plenty of world-class mountain biking, and it’s not all in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. Rachelle Boobar, who is the assistant marketing manager for GT Bicycles and lives in Connecticut, clued me into Thunder Mountain Bike Park, located at the mom-and-pop ski area Berkshire East in Western Massachusetts.
“It’s one of my favorite places to go. It’s small and family owned,” says Boobar. “They have a good understanding of building trails for everybody.”
Owned and operated by Roy and Jim Schaefer, Berkshire East ski area has invested heavily in summertime recreation and green energy. They are the first and only ski resort to be powered entirely by on-site renewable energy, thanks to a wind turbine and solar panels built at the ski area. Alongside zip lines and whitewater rafting, the Schaefers also built out the bike park. To do so, they hired Gravity Logic, the company that built Whistler’s bike park. The result is a wildly popular bike park frequented by locals and travelers to the East Coast.
“If I was to pick one trail that I think people should ride, it’s a trail called The Gronk,” says Boobar. “For New England, it’s a super fun trail for people to try that’s very different from all the other type of riding that’s out there.”
While the Northeast is known for technical, rocky, natural terrain, the Gronk is a purpose-built intermediate jump trail. “It’s really smooth, it’s got really great berms, and it has great tabletop jumps for people to learn,” says Boobar. Not quite ready to catch air on your mountain bike? Take a lesson with one of Thunder Mountain’s bike pros. The bike park offers an introductory package for newbies that includes gear rentals (including a helmet), a full day lift ticket, and a lesson.
Have another must-ride trail that deserves to be on people’s bucket lists? Answer in the comments below.