Top 10 Mountain Bike Trails in the US 2020

In Cycling, Outdoor, Places

The scale and dramatic scenery of the North American landscape mean that it offers a wealth of destinations that are ideal for exploring on the two rugged wheels of a mountain bike. Whether you want the buzz of a busy, popular route or the sense of adventure that comes from taking on a trail-less-travelled, the United States is criss-crossed with bike trails to suit your needs.

Here is the run down of our top 10 mountain bike trails in the US. Which ones make it to your bucket list? Let us know on our Facebook page.

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  1. The Downieville Downhill, California
  2. 401 Trail Loop, Crested Butte, Colorado
  3. Torry Ridge, Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia
  4. Flying Dog Loop, Park City, Utah
  5. McKenzie River Trail, Eugene, Oregon
  6. South Boundary Trail #164, Taos, New Mexico
  7. Broken Arrow, Sedona, Arizona
  8. Bangtail Divide Trail, Bozeman, Montana
  9. DuPont Ridgeline Trail, Brevard, North Carolina
  10. Mountainside Loop, Kingdom Trails, Vermont

The Downieville Downhill, California 

Distance: 14 miles (approx)

Proficiency Level: Advanced

California is a mountain biker’s Mecca. In fact, the sport started here on Mount Tam in Marin County in the 1960s and you can find out all about it at the Marin Museum of Bicycling (when you take a break from exploring the trails).

The climate in California is perfect for the Giant Redwood and many of the bike trails snake through forests that are home to trees that are between 70m and 100m high. These huge Redwood trees create a surreal and awe-inspiring backdrop for anyone navigating a safe path on the trails at their base. 

You are spoilt for choice when it comes to mountain bike trails in California, but one of the most famous in the Downieville Downhill.  Home to the legendary Downieville race, this downhill dash (with a sobering 11 minutes of climbing in the middle) offers almost 4,000 feet of uninterrupted downhill. Take a bike transfer shuttle to the top of the Sunrise trail and follow the race route by doing the trails in the following order: Sunrise, Butcher, Third Divide then First Divide. 

The trail is singletrack for 85-90% of the ride and you can expect steep descents that require good technical skills to navigate. There are also creek crossings, waterfalls, swimming holes and long suspension bridges for you to enjoy en route!

This is not a trail for beginners and even intermediates may find themselves walking some sections (but that provides an opportunity to take in the magnificent scenery, so no too much of a hardship). Those in the know suggest riding a bike with full suspension for Downieville Downhill because, although it is possible to do it with a hard-tail, it is more fun and more comfortable to have rear suspension too!

For technical data on this trail and a lot of inspiring videos, photos and ride reports, visit the Trailforks page dedicated to Downieville Downhill.

The other advantage of mountain biking in California is that if you are travelling with family or friends who are less into mountain biking than you are, there are plenty of other things available for them to do too. From the flourishing vineyards of the Napa Valley, to the beautiful beaches, via Disneyland and Yosemite National Park to urban exploring in LA and San Francisco, there is something for everyone in the Golden State. 

401 Trail Loop, Crested Butte, Colorado

Distance: 14.1 miles

Proficiency Level: Intermediate/Advanced

California may be the original home of mountain biking, but several other states have started to give it a run for its money. Colorado is one such state. Where some places only have a handful of mountain bike destinations, Colorado is full of them, offering two-wheeled thrill-seekers the opportunity to explore varied terrain from rugged mountains to open desert.

If you want to take on a popular trail that many mountain bikers consider to be the best in Colorado, then have a go a the 401 Trail Loop in Crested Butte in the Rockies.  It’s scenic - offering incredible views of snow-capped mountains, lush meadows of wildflowers and groves of iconic quaking aspen – but it also offers sections that are fun and fast.

The MBT Project website claims that ‘when conditions are good, the middle section of the 401 descent is about as fun as mountain biking gets’ – high praise indeed! It’s not all adrenaline-fuelled descents, there is a substantial climb at the beginning of the route and another smaller one towards the end, but we have it on good authority that it’s well worth the exertion.

Torry Ridge, Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia 

Distance: 12 miles (the MTB Project link below states the distance as 7.4 miles, because it cuts out the punishing five mile climb at the beginning, but why would you want to do that??)  

Proficiency Level: Advanced

If you prefer a quieter mountain bike trail or you have planned a trip to Washington and are keen to get out of the city and indulge in a bit of challenging, off-the-beaten-track biking, try exploring Torry Ridge in the Shenandoah Valley.

It is not for the faint-hearted, presenting some punishing climbing at the start and then demanding all your technical expertise on two wheels to negotiate the rocky ridge on the way down, but if you have the skills it will reward you with some serious suspension-testing descents and some fantastic views of the national park.

If you are an elite mountain biker you will be able to navigate the rock gardens and the loose stones with relative ease and complete the descent in 45 minutes. Mere mortals should take it a bit easier and slow down to look up and enjoy the views now and again, especially if you are visiting in the autumn, when the foliage is at its most spectacular.

Flying Dog Loop, Park City, Utah

Distance: 16.9 miles

Proficiency Level: Intermediate

The International Mountain Bicycling Association has designated Park City a gold level ride centre with very good reason. It offers over 400 miles of professionally maintained singletracks, a free shuttle service to trail heads, two bike parks and numerous bike repair centres.

Some careful research has lead us to including the scenic 16.9 mile intermediate Flying Dog Loop in our rundown of the best mountain bike rides in the USA, but there are a lot of trail variations available for the route, so it can be extended or reduced fairly easily to account for differing skill levels. It is also possible to find semi-jump opportunities in sections that can also be ridden with two wheels firmly on the ground, which makes this trail a great option if you are riding in a mixed ability group.

McKenzie River Trail, Eugene, Oregon

Distance: 25.4 Miles

Proficiency Level: Intermediate/Advanced 

Voted the no.1 spot for bike trails in America by Bike Magazine readers, the McKenzie River area offers 300-year-old forests, lava fields, waterfalls and crystal clear lakes. Typically ridden from north to south (making it mostly downhill), this 25-mile trail starts off rocky, technical and challenging for the first 10 miles and the Bend Trails website recommends knee pads and platform pedals for this part of the trail. For the remaining fifteen miles or so, conditions are easier, with more flowing twists and turns and plenty of photo opportunities to distract you and slow your progress.

On average it takes 4-5 hours to complete the full trail, but if you don’t fancy the tricky technical bit at the beginning, it is possible to start your ride at Tamolitch Pool for a shorter, easier ride that allows you to enjoy your surroundings in a more leisurely fashion.

South Boundary Trail #164, Taos, New Mexico

Distance: 21.4 Miles

Proficiency Level: Intermediate/Advanced

Challenging your route finding abilities as well as your mountain biking skills, South Boundary Trail #164 explores the Sangre de Cristo Range in New Mexico’s Rocky Mountains, over peaks and ridges, across valleys and through conifer forests and aspen groves.  It is often considered to be New Mexico’s best cross-country ride and if you take on the trail towards the end of the year, you may have the added bonus of seeing the aspens in all their autumnal glory.

This trail is most often cycled from east to west to create the most downhill riding opportunities. Having said that, once you leave the comfort of the shuttle that takes you to the trailhead, the first 1.5 miles are uphill and you may well end up hiking some of this section. You are rewarded with the ‘Heaven on Earth’ section, which flows through conifers and aspen groves before depositing you at the foot of another 1.5-mile climb!  After this you are faced with route-finding challenges of unmarked trails and sections of undeveloped track that, if navigated successfully, take you to a final 3-mile descent that is steep and sometimes scary. This is not an easy ride by any means, but it is often a rewarding one.

Broken Arrow, Sedona, Arizona

Distance: 1.5 Miles

Proficiency Level: Intermediate/Advanced

It may seem strange to be shortlisting a ride that is only one and a half miles long in this list, but it is actually only a very small segment of the 230 miles of single track available in the Sedona area. It just happens to be a mile and a half of desert fun that culminates in a spectacular panoramic view – what more could you want?

Unlike many of the other trails on this list, Broken Arrow is a gradual ascent (rather than a descent) that combines technical sections with flowy trail. There are a number of rock steps to negotiate, but it is easy to dismount and walk these if necessary.

The ride ends at the picturesque Chicken Point, where you will have to take the compulsory social media shot of the scenic red cliff formations. From here you can either bomb back down the Broken Arrow Trail or extend your ride by going on to do the Little Horse Trail or the Chapel Trail. However you explore Sedona, make sure that Broken Arrow is part of your trip.

Bangtail Divide Trail, Bozeman, Montana 

Distance: 25 Miles

Proficiency Level: Intermediate/Advanced

If you are getting fed up with lengthy shuttle transfers from town to trail head, this purpose made trail (constructed in 2003) may just be the refreshing change you are looking for. Offering scenic views of wild flower meadows and mountain ranges this trail is 75% single track with flowing downhill sections and a few switchbacks and steep climbs to test your skills and stamina.

The trail starts just 7 miles south of the town and it is possible to ride there rather than get the shuttle. Once you get to the track, the first few miles are uphill, initially steeply and then more gradually. Your exertions are rewarded by wonderful views and fast, flowy downhill stretches in the latter half of the trail.

DuPont Ridgeline Trail, Brevard, North Carolina

Distance: 6.3 miles (circular route)

Proficiency Level: Intermediate

The setting for The Hunger Games, DuPont State Forest in North Carolina is also home to around 100 miles of mountain bike trails. DuPont Ridgeline Trail is part single track and part gravel road and it presents few technical challenges, making it more accessible to less experienced mountain bikers (though good speed control and braking skills are essential).

A good mix of climbing and fast downhill sections, this circular trail finishes with an exhilarating descent that will leave you with a smile on your face (provided you don’t slip in any horse manure, as the track doubles as a bridle way).

Mountainside Loop, Kingdom Trails, Vermont

Distance: 16 Miles (circular route)

Proficiency Level: Advanced

This circular route starts from the Burke Mountain Campground (with the option of starting from the Middle Burke parking lot, if camping is not your thing and you’d rather stay in comfort and get a shuttle to the trail). It starts with a switchback-laden climb through woodland and then descends quickly to Burke Lodge on a track that requires you to navigate exposed tree roots, the occasional jump and bridges without railings.

The second part of the trail undulates with less intensity that the first part, with the highlight being Moose Alley, a long downhill section that can be ridden fairly fast, despite the switchbacks and slightly technical features. The last three miles of the trail take you back uphill to the campsite, where you will definitely be ready for a drink!

We hope this list has made your tyres suitably itchy and that you are now contemplating your next adventure on two wheels! If you are lucky enough to visit any of these destinations, please tag us in your pictures and let us know that this article inspired your trip.