4 of the Best Places for Mountain Biking in the US

The sport of mountain biking originated in the United States, so it’s no surprise that there are endless great places to ride here, whatever your skill level. Our nomads share their favorites around the country.

Shares

A woman bikes through aspen trees near Breckenridge, Colorado. Photo © Getty Images / Jordan Siemens

Breckenridge, Colorado

It’s been said that Breckenridge (in the Colorado Rockies, about 80mi(129km) outside Denver) is just one big trailhead, and mountain biking fanatics, and even relative newbies, like me, swear that it's true.

With more than 800mi (1,287km) of trails in and around the town, which sits at a whopping 9,600ft (2,438m) elevation, cyclists may have as hard of a time choosing a trail as they do adapting to the altitude.

If I’m in the mood for a gentle and relaxing ride to help me acclimate, the River Trail that parallels the Blue River through town is a solid and bucolic choice. If I’m in the mood to test my courage, then the skill-building B-Line Trail with its jumps, wooden bridges and bermed turns is a true adrenaline rush. Either way, I’ve found trails that fit whatever kind of challenge I’m up for.

Hardcore cyclists can test their mettle on the advanced Wheeler Pass Trail. This old hiking trail is steep and unforgiving, one of the most epic challenges avid mountain bikers can take on. The elevation is no joke, and your lungs burn as you churn your way over ruts and rocks to climb up to 12,000ft (3,658m), so make sure your body is acclimated.

Weather can be tricky at this elevation, but the views and vistas make the misery of this trail well worth it.

The ride starts off with a leg-quaking climb that inevitably requires some walking. But the pain is rewarded by a beautiful forest ride and a fast and fun single track. I gazed for quite a while at surrounding 13,000ft (3,962m) mountains and the beaver ponds while catching my breath, knowing that the next leg of the trail was about to spike almost 1,500ft (457m) in a mile.

While you may cuss or even cry on the 11mi (18km) one-way Wheeler Pass Trail, it’s by far one of the most stamina-testing – and ultimately rewarding – trails in the Tenmile Range of the Rockies.

For a full listing of trails and a map, swing by the Breckenridge Visitors Center in Downtown. Later, reward a hard and beautiful day of riding with a cold one from Breckenridge Brewery. – Heide Brandes

Little Rock and Hot Springs, Arkansas

The great state of Arkansas, known to locals as “The Natural State”, is often known to outsiders simply as “where President Bill Clinton is from”. Indeed, the 42nd POTUS is from Arkansas and was also its Governor. It’s a green and glorious state with a growing reputation for its outdoors activities in general (hiking, biking, kayaking, tubing), and strong cycling scene.

No Arkansan itinerary would be complete without the bike-friendly capital city, Little Rock, which has produced a detailed cycling guide with routes for different skill levels and riding styles (mountain, gravel, and road) both within the city and in nearby state parks.

After leaving Little Rock, I headed to Hot Springs, an hour away. Though it’s best known for Hot Springs National Park, the real highlight of my trip was the Northwoods Trails system, a five-minute drive from downtown. The trail network is made up of nearly 30mi (48km) of trails that stretch across city, state, and national parkland, and is one of the few trail systems in the country that include national park trails open to mountain biking. These shared hiking/biking trails are wonderfully free of crowds.

A group of women mountain bikers on a trail near Hot Springs, Arkansas.
The Spa City Lady Gang. Image credit: Cassandra Brooklyn

In Hot Springs, Wednesday is the Spa City Lady Gang’s weekly group ride, when any female-identifying rider is invited to hit the mountain bike trails around the city. During my visit, a dozen or so ladies welcomed me to the Northwoods Trails and took me on a guided tour of the area. I was glad I joined them. There’s a trail network map at the trailhead, and the name of each trail is clearly signposted at the start, but once you’re on the web of trials, it’s hard to know how they all interconnect. Had I not gone with the gang, I would’ve been checking the photo I took of the map every few minutes so as not to get lost.

We twisted and turned through dense foliage, rotating between steep climbs and rugged descents – a few of which some of us decided to get off and walk – and stopped at several bridges and streams to catch our breath and take pictures. While the Northwoods do have more challenging trails, the gang made sure we rode beginner (and a handful of intermediate) trails since I’m a relative newbie. As was the case in Little Rock, the trails are open year-round but may close after heavy rains. – Cassandra Brooklyn

Bend, Oregon

Almost any outdoorsy person living in the United States will have heard of Bend, Oregon. It’s like Boulder or Bozeman in that way, not too big, not too small, and packed with fun, world-class ways to play and be fit and happy outside. There’s skiing, hiking, fishing, and climbing, and all of it within a can-do-after-work distance. Specifically, though, people really like Bend for mountain biking and beer.

A wonderful pairing, anywhere, sure – but it’s Bend’s abundance of both that makes it remarkable. More than 300mi (483km) of single-track trails wend through evergreen forests and over passes and up into the airy, hinterlands of the Deschutes National Forest, a 2,500mi2 (7,300km2) swatch of public land that cradles the city. You can flow through spicy-scented ponderosas in sweeping S-curves on Phil’s Trail or climb into the strange cinder country of red gravel peaks on Flagline. There are lakes to reach on the Metolius Windigo and rapids to follow on the River Trail. It’s so good and varied that bike magazines do their reviewing here.

This is not slick rock, like that in Moab, or the root-riddled paths of New England. Some of the riding here is technical lava rock, but much of it is not. You can bomb steep trails over and over while riding the bike-friendly chairlifts at Mount Bachelor in the summer, or explore endless squiggles of pleasing, smooth, forgiving routes that weave through the woods and steppes. I’ve seen deer and eagles out there. I sometimes pack a small rod to fish.

Two mountain bikers on a forest trail near Bend, Oregon.
Riders on the Tumalo Creek Trail. Image credit: Dave Cox, Mountain Media

My friend Katy Bryce agrees we have it good. “We have everything,” she says. She’s the author of the guide book, Mountain Bike Bend, and the CEO of a local bike company. “I have my favorites, but there are infinite ways to link trails together to create your own fun and adventure.”

My favorite has always been how you can ride so many trails right from town – no car required. You can pedal along a new car-free footpath that dives and swoops its way to the Phil’s Trail Complex on the edge of town, where the pavement becomes duff or sand and perfectly tacky right after a rain. You can ride any time of year, really, though too much snow or heat mean April to July and September to October are best. That’s when I’ll spin up Kent’s or Ben’s – both easy green trails – and work my way over to a fast, hoot-worthy descent down Phil’s. It’s 15mi (24km) door to door and I’ll pass a dozen breweries on the way. I think we have 30 of them now.

If you're looking for a guided adventure, Cog Wild runs guided trips, shuttles, and skills courses in and around Bend. – Tim Neville

Fayetteville, West Virginia

West Virginia’s state motto,“Wild and Wonderful”, appears on welcome signs and license plates and is fantastically accurate. A variety of wild adventures – hiking, biking, rafting, mountain climbing – along with the state’s natural beauty make West Virginia a wonderful place to holiday.

I arrived at the Arrowhead Bike Farm, near Fayetteville in central-south West Virginia, on a warm September morning, half expecting the mountain bike trails to be closed due to the previous evening’s powerful rainstorm. Instead, I was greeted by a cheery skills instructor and learned that the region’s sandstone filters and absorbs rain quickly so, while trails in other states become sloppy messes after a storm, these trails stay open. In fact, they’re open year-round, even if it snows.

Arrowhead Bike Farm also offers skill-building workshops and guided tours (it also has adorable goats, a great restaurant, and awesome campsites). I’ve been an avid road cyclist for 15 years and enjoyed mountain biking in forests in Costa Rica and deserts in Jordan, but I’d never taken a mountain biking class. Just as personal trainers help tweak your form for a safer, more effective workout, a mountain bike coach helps you develop habits that will result in a safer, more enjoyable ride.

A woman rides a mountain bike through the woods near Fayetteville, West Virginia.
The author riding the trails at Arrowhead Bike Farm. Image credit: Cassandra Brooklyn

After a 20-minute session, that covered proper form for riding uphill and downhill and how to maneuver and increase stability while dodging trees, we headed to the trails. Intermediate riders should try the Dalton and La Croix trails, while experienced riders should check out the Wolf Creek Trail system a few miles away, which offers riders large rock gardens and downed trees to tackle. Since I’m still a beginner, we rode the Long Point Trail (in New River Gorge National Park), a mixed-use trail (shared with hikers) that leads to a spectacular view of the New River Gorge Bridge. The last .25mi (0.4km) of the trail must be walked.

During the ride, my coach constantly watched my form, reminded me where to shift my weight, and checked in to make sure I felt comfortable. He let me know when we’d be approaching a hill and suggested when I should switch gears and/or adjust my speed. It was great. Had I taken a lesson like this while in Costa Rica, I probably wouldn’t have run into a railroad track and broken off a pedal. Next time I’m in the area, I’ll be sure to visit on a Wednesday for their weekly women’s ride. – Cassandra Brooklyn

Related articles

Travel Insurance

Simple and flexible travel insurance

You can buy at home or while traveling, and claim online from anywhere in the world. With 150+ adventure activities covered and 24/7 emergency assistance.

Get a quote

No Comments

Add a Comment