The 9 Best Mountain Bike Trails in the US

Mountain Biking Southwest

Michael Svoboda / Getty Images

Coming up with an ultimate list of the best mountain bike trails in a country is a bit like trying to determine the best pizza topping—everyone has an opinion and there isn’t necessarily one correct answer.

Some bikers prefer cross-country hauls while others are all about the scenery. Advanced bikers may prefer only the steepest and most technical lines, while intermediate riders may appreciate jumps and well-sculpted berms. And believe it or not, some people even like the pain of a 2,000-foot-plus climb. So the “best” mountain bike trails can be pretty subjective.

The trails compiled here are mostly centered around well-developed climbing regions in the west, though that doesn't mean you can’t find amazing trails in places like Arkansas, Montana, or even Hawaii. If you’re looking for inspiration on where to plan your next mountain biking trip, read on.

01 of 09

Gooseberry Mesa South Rim

Mountain Biker Riding Through Boulders in The Southwest Desert - Gooseberry Mesa

Getty / MichaelSvoboda

  • Where: Hurricane, UT
  • Total elevation gain: +/- 360 feet 
  • Distance: 8 miles
  • What to expect: Slab rock, difficult features, punchy climbs, high exposure

There’s a reason the world-famous Red Bull Rampage mountain bike competition is held on the mesas of southern Utah—the terrain is epic, beautiful, and feels made for big jumps and fun rock climbs. And the trails on Gooseberry Mesa give the chance for non-pros to see the same amazing views.

The South Rim is the most famous trail, but it’s not for beginners. Expect a challenging cross-country ride close to the edge of the 1,500-foot drop with narrow, technical riding, punchy uphill climbs, and rock gardens where precision is a must. But if you’re willing to take it on, you’re rewarded with epic views and a lively lap that’ll test your skills and keep you on your toes from start to finish.  You can ride out on the road or take the North Rim from the parking lot for a full loop.

Address
Gooseberry Mesa, Utah 84779, USA
02 of 09

Tahoe Rim Trail

A woman mountain biking on the Tahoe Rim Trail

Getty / Andrew Peacock

  • Where: Lake Tahoe (CA & NV)
  • Total elevation gain: +/- 25,000 feet
  • Distance: +/- 165 miles
  • What to expect: Big climbs, big descents, lake views, wildflower meadows, wooded singletrack, rocky sections

The Tahoe Rim Trail is a microcosm of what to expect with biking in northern California—you'll get a little bit of everything, whether you like big climbs, fast downhills, slow cruising through valleys, or singletrack through old-growth forest. And, of course, you'll have views of bright blue Lake Tahoe nearly the entire time.

The 165-mile-long trail is popular with hikers, backpackers, mountain bikers, and equestrians, so don't expect to have much solitude. Also make sure you're familiar with where mountain bikers are and aren't allowed as some segments are closed to travelers on two wheels. Most mountain bikers do the eight segments of the Rim Trail in separate trips rather than doing the full loop—bikepacking with that much elevation gain and loss is no small feat.

Address
Tahoe Rim Trail, United States
03 of 09

Sidewinder, Vermont Kingdom Trails

Mountain biker at Vermont Kingdom Trails

KingdomTrails.org

  • Where: Burke, VT
  • Total elevation gain: + 42, - 150
  • Distance: +/- .35 miles
  • What to expect: Fast downhill riding, well-built berms and rollers, steep switchbacks

Sidewinder is a small part of the 100 miles of trails within Vermont's well-known Kingdom Trails System and is probably the most well-known and iconic of the bunch. If you love the feeling of a quick downhill line more akin to sitting in the front of a rollercoaster than actually riding a bike, you'll love Sidewinder. It's well-built and fast and made for bikers with the mantra "no breaks, no mistakes."

The trail is one-way only trail and with the high speeds of bikers coming down it, you'll want to obey that rule. Climb up one of the nearby intermediate trails and save your energy for the downhill—you'll want to be out of your saddle the whole time. You'll need a $20 day pass to access the trail system.

Address
478 VT-114, East Burke, VT 05832, USA
Phone +1 802-626-0737
04 of 09

Palisade Plunge

The Palisade Plunge, with a steep rock wall on the right and drop on the left

Author

  • Where: Palisade, CO
  • Total elevation gain: + 1,000 ft., - 5,000 ft.
  • Distance: 33 miles 
  • What to expect: High exposure, rocky downhills, steep switchbacks, technical singletrack, insane views

At 32 miles top to bottom and with a total descent of 4,800 feet, the Palisade Plunge is one of the longest mountain bike trails in the US—and a plunge certainly it is. Built into the edge of Grand Mesa, at times, the trail is no wider than 18 inches and even close to the edge.

It’s singletrack most of the way, passing though landscape ranging from slickrock climbs to desert terrain to full rock-rides, short crossings through cacti-dotted landscapes, and a fun bottom section riding through washes and gullies. You’ll certainly want to shuttle to the top, but you can ride all the back to to town and the shuttle company (Rapid Creek Cycles) from the bottom. You'll want to consider stoping for a well-deserved glass of wine at one of the wineries you’ll pass while cycling back to town.

Address
Palisade, CO 81526, USA
Continue to 5 of 9 below.
05 of 09

Downieville Downhill

A woman on the Downieville Downhill mountain bike trail

Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship

  • Where: Downieville, CA 
  • Total elevation gain: + 800 ft. , -5,000 ft.
  • Distance: 15 miles
  • What to expect: Varied terrain, high exposure, super fast downhills, occasional technical features, stream crossings

The primary and most well-known trail on the Downieville Downhill is divided into roughly four or five sections, depending on who you ask. The top starts out as flowy and mellow, followed by a chunky, rocky, and surprisingly fast section called “Butcher” that’ll weed out the first-time riders or those without a healthy risk tolerance. The next section is fast and smooth sidehill, followed by a pedaly up-and-down section hugging the edge of the steep canyon. 

The entire route is more than 16 miles, so budget a full day for your shuttle ride (with Yuba Exceptions or Downieville Outfitters) to the top of the Sierra Buttes and a full two-to-three hours for a first-timer to make it down. The trail is nearly all well-maintained single track and riders move at high speeds, so be aware of riders coming up behind you—this is not a beginner trail and you should be knowledgeable on bike etiquette before hitting the trail. Download a map before starting as taking a wrong turn may result in a mandatory steep climb back up.

Address
Downieville, CA 95936, USA
06 of 09

East Tiger Summit Trail

Small lake in the forest, top view. Tiger Mountain, Around the Lake Trail, Washington, United States

Getty / RomanKhomlyak

  • Where: Issaquah, WA
  • Total elevation gain: + 500 ft., - 950 ft.
  • Distance: 1.5 miles 
  • What to expect: Lush surroundings, loamy dirt, speedy downhills, a few technical sections

Tiger Mountain is loaded with mountain bike trails for everyone from beginners to experts, so you can head that way if you have a group of bikers of varied levels. Almost everyone with intermediate skills or above should be about to handle the East Tiger Summit trail—which is good, since it’s one of the best trails in the entire PWN. With well-built berms and smooth, fast areas dotted with chunky and bumpy rock gardens. But it's generally considered an intermediate trail, so you need not be a pro to give a try.

The ride is quick so it’s easy to lap, but be sure not to climb up the trail; treat it as a one-way. Before dropping in, take a few minutes to admire the views from the top—on a clear day, you can see Mt. Rainier as well as the Puget Sound. And the lush ferns and tall trees make it feel in places like you’re riding through a modern-day Jurassic park.

Address
E Tiger Summit Trail, Washington 98027, USA
07 of 09

Black Mountain Loop (Pisgah National Forest)

Mountain biking on singletrack trail near Brevard, NC

Getty / Cavan Images

  • Where: Brevard, NC
  • Total elevation gain: +/- 2,160 feet
  • Distance: 12.5 miles
  • What to expect: Steep uphills and downhills, root and rock rides, technical the whole way

For a long ride that'll make you truly feel you've earned your post-ride parking lot beer, set out on the Black Mountain Loop Trail in Pisgah National Forest. The entire loop is a leg-burner, gaining and losing more than 2,000 feet in the process. The first nine miles are uphill with some steep hike-a-bike sections, but it's worth it for the following 3-mile downhill section through washes, rock gardens, rollers, and downhill root rides akin to natural staircases. Don't let the relatively short distance fool you—with grades as steep as 21 percent, you'll be breathing hard the whole way. Plan at least a half day for this one.

Address
Black Mountain, North Carolina 28742, USA
08 of 09

The Whole Enchilada

A man leads a woman on a cross-country mountain bike trail ride in Moab, Utah, USA.

Getty / GibsonPictures

  • Where: Moab, UT
  • Total elevation gain: + 1,250 ft., - 7,800 ft.
  • Distance: 34 miles
  • What to expect: Singletrack, ledges, cliff drops, rock rides, canyons, mesas

The Whole Enchilada is one of the US's best mountain biking trails, sure—but it's regarded as one of the best in the world, too. Fortunately for riders who aren't fans of brutal uphill slogs, companies like The Whole Enchilada Co. and Coyote Shuttle Co,. run shuttle service to the top. From the trailhead, you'll drop nearly 8,000 feet over 34 miles.

The trail is divided into several sections, most of which have technical downhill, sections as well as jumps as gaps (many of which are optional). Be prepare for a long day and a bit of uphill pedaling right out of the gate. It's 34 miles, so plan to encounter a little bit of everything Moab biking is known for along the way.

Address
Geyser Pass Rd, Moab, UT 84532, USA
Continue to 9 of 9 below.
09 of 09

The Flow Trail

Woman riding mountain bike through forest, Santa Cruz, California, USA
  • Where: Santa Cruz, CA
  • Total elevation gain: - 1,250 ft.
  • Distance: 3.4 miles
  • What to expect: Well-built berms and features, minimal pedaling, perfect dirt, tight turns, redwoods

The trails at Soquel Demonstration State Forest are purpose-made for mountain bikers, rather than being mixed-use trails also suited to bikes. From routing to feature crossings, every decision was made to favor travel on two wheels. There are several trails made for speed, technique, and with minimal pedaling (called flow trails) that flow into one another to create a quick top-to-bottom ride. It's a solidly intermediate trail with plenty of berms, pumpy sections, and jumps to entertain more advanced riders. If you're new to the sport, move slow and you'll be fine (just be sure to move aside if a speedier rider comes zipping down behind you).

Address
Unnamed Road, Soquel, CA 95073, USA
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The Best Mountain Bike Trails in the US