Riding the Top 10 MTB Trails in the World, Part 1

As many of you may know, I spent almost two months this summer traveling the nation and riding my mountain bike. One of my main goals when I was out west this summer was to ride any of the trails on our top 10 best mountain bike trails list that I hadn’t ridden yet.

Our list is constantly changing based on user ratings and other factors computed by our ranking algorithm, and some of the trails I went out of my way to ride this summer are no longer even ranked in the top 10. However, a few weeks ago I went and took another look at the list and realized that I’ve now ridden the 10 best mountain bike trails in the world, as ranked by Singletracks.com!

I thought it would be interesting to take a look at what my initial impressions were of these 10 trails, a photo that I took out on the trail (if any), and what I really think of these trails now that I can look back on them with the clarity that retrospection provides.

1. Buffalo Creek, Pine, Colorado

Original review, June 2008:

“Ride sandy wash trail down towards the road, like the description. It’s a good ride, but not technical at all.” (4 stars.)

I first rode Buffalo Creek at about the same time that I discovered Singletracks.com, as I was new to Colorado and looking for trails to ride. Remarkably, one of the trails closest to the camp that I worked at in the summer of 2008 was Buffalo Creek–the “best” mountain bike trail in the world.

There’s no doubt about it: Buffalo Creek is an excellent trail system with tons of amazing cross-country singletrack. However, I’d say that it is far from the best trail I’ve ever ridden. I find it interesting that in my initial review I only gave it four stars, while now I think that it is definitely deserving of a full five. For instance, the addition of the technical Blackjack trail has given Buffalo Creek a whole new technical dimension that it never had before. Hopefully the trail system continues to diversify.

2. Porcupine Rim, Moab, Utah

Original review, June 2012:

“What a fun ride! Amazing views, crazy gnar, tons of drops… the only thing is this isn’t really singletrack. The choose-your-own-adventure approach is fun at times, but then it gets kind of old. The sandy sections are pretty unfortunate too.” (4 stars.)

Porcupine Rim is one of the trails that I went out of my way to ride this summer. It’s a great technical ride, but as my review mentioned, most of it isn’t actually singletrack and there are some massive sand traps that are no fun at all. However, if I was to consider The Whole Enchilada route (Porcupine Rim is a big part of it), I would have to say that The Whole Enchilada is easily one of my favorite rides of all time and definitely worthy of a top 10 spot! For more information on The Whole Enchilada, read my blog post from this summer.

3. Blankets Creek, Woodstock, Georgia

The author on Quehl Holler. Photo: GoldenGoose.

Original review, June 2011:

“I finally rode here for the first time about a month ago, and I loved it! The quality workmanship is so evident in this trails with the careful benchcutting, swooping flow, and big banked turns. Quehl Holler was an absolute riot… I can’t wait to hit that again! As for the XC trails, South Loop was my fav, I loved all the rocky climbs, and Van Michael was a blast as well. The exposed section above the water was so fun, felt like I was back out in Colorado!” (5 stars.)

In retrospect, I’m having a hard time believing that I gave Blankets Creek 5 stars and only gave Buffalo Creek and Porcupine Rim 4 stars each originally. Reflecting on all the trails on this list and the hundreds of trails I’ve ridden across the nation, I don’t think that Blankets Creek should be ranked number 3. In fact, I don’t think it should appear in the top 10 list… or even in the top 100… at all! However, the fact that I gave it 5 stars back in 2011 is rather telling… and it does explain how Blankets Creek came to be number 3 on the list.

Specifically, people tend to rate trails based on their region. While perhaps Blankets Creek is a 4 or a 5 on an Atlanta or Georgia standard, if you compare the best Georgia trails to even the mediocre Colorado trails, no Georgia trail would ever rate beyond a 3 or, at most, a 4. Blankets Creek’s excellent rating is evidence that people rate trails based solely on their own experiences, and even if they’ve ridden out west they still rate trails based on the experiences that are fresh in their minds. This is an excellent reminder to take every rating you see and every review you read with a grain of salt.

4. Tsali Recreation Area, Bryson City, North Carolina

Original review, August 2011:

“What can be said that hasn’t already? Well let me say this: these trails live up to the hype: there is no let-down here! The most Colorado-esque trails I’ve ridden east of the rockies.” (5 stars.)

Yes, these trails are very reminiscent of Colorado–especially trails like Buffalo Creek. Tsali has a lot going on: flowy singletrack, great views, and awesome camping. It’s a classic too, having been a major Western North Carolina destination for decades. However, based on today’s modern standards, Tsali doesn’t have very many miles for a true destination trail system (partly because only half of the system is open to bikes on any given day), and there is very little variety here with almost no technical riding.

Tsali is still, and will always be, a great trail system, and while I’m not sure that it’s one of the 10 best trails in the world, it’s definitely not shabby!

5. Slickrock, Moab, Utah

Original review, June 2012:

“What a fun time! Getting the insider’s view into the best lines thanks to Chad was awesome… flowed way better than the designated trail! As I’m sure you’ve heard, the traction both up and down is fantastic. Riding slickrock and not being tied down to one specific line is a truly unique experience that everyone should have.” (5 stars.)

Another trail that I went out of my way to ride this summer, Slickrock has been a classic mountain bike experience since the 80′s, and it is still worth riding today! While some people don’t seem to praise Slickrock as highly nowadays, I think that it deserves to be on this list if just for the unique experience that it provides. There are many other trails that have sections of slickrock incorporated into them, but how many are located entirely on this super-grippy sandstone? Please correct me if I’m wrong, but Slickrock is the only one. This is a must-ride trail!

Stay tuned for part 2: Monarch Crest Trail, Colorado Trail, 18 Road Trails, Trail 401, and FATS.

This entry was posted in MTB Trails, Singletracks and tagged , , , , , by Greg Heil. Bookmark the permalink.

About Greg Heil

My name is Greg Heil, and I am the Editor in Chief for Singletracks.com. I've been mountain biking seriously since 2005, and I love to travel and ride new trails. My travels have taken me across the United States multiple times. To date (November 2013), I have ridden hundreds of different trails in 18 different states, and am adding more singletrack to my trail resume every year! I enjoy all types of mountain biking, from ultra endurance cross country all the way up to chair lift-accessed downhill runs.

24 thoughts on “Riding the Top 10 MTB Trails in the World, Part 1

  1. Regional comparison bias is definitely present in the ranking system. I think another related issue that further skews the overall results is the location of the majority of Singletracks users. The four states with the most users are California, Colorado, Georgia, and North Carolina. With the exception of California, the top 10 trails reflect those areas. (FATS is right on the boarder of GA). These trails simply get more Singletracks visitors and have a much better chance to fly up the ranks.

    On top of that issue, I know I have the tendency to rank trails based off past experiences. However, I rarely go back and change my original rating to reflect how that trail would have rated given my new experiences on other trails. My tastes and skills have changed over the years and nothing short of re-ranking each trail every time I ride something new would actually reflect my current personal ranking order. Like Greg said, Blankets Creek is a 5 star trail in GA. But once you’ve ridden good trails in other areas you quickly realize that it shouldn’t be in the top ten list for the entire database.

    It would be cool to see how the list changed if there was a way to relate each regions trails to one another. Maybe give heavier bias to specific reviews from people who have rated trails in mulitple regions/states that would allow for comparison. It would certainly be helpful when trying to figure out which trails to ride when planning a trip.

    • There’s actually some basis for the regional bias that gives it credibility. There’s a reason there are more singletracks riders in certain areas–because that’s where the best trails are! Some people get into MTB because they live in a place that’s great for it. Some people use MTB as part of the criteria for choosing where to live. Between those two groups, you’re automatically going to skew ratings toward certain areas (CO in particular), but this is, to a degree, legitimate skewing. I agree Buff Creek, awesome as it is, isn’t #1 and benefits from being so close to a large population center, so there’s certainly some “over-skewing” present. But, on the whole, it’s not so marked as one might initially think. Despite being nowhere near any population center, some trails still make the list (think Moab/Fruita).

  2. Perhaps your system could rank or re-rank by region. I’d think Blankets is in the top 10 for Georgia, but where in that top 10? That would be interesting for locals as well as visitors.

  3. Congrats on riding the top 10! AFAIK you are the first to do so.

    Greg and Jeremy both bring up good points about how the overall list shows a regional bias, though at the state list level I feel like the rankings are fairly accurate. So comparing trails in Georgia to trails in Colorado is like apples to oranges but comparing Georgia trails to Georgia trails results in a much more accurate picture. Also, if we substitute “most popular” for the word “best” in the list titles that might make more sense to folks.

    I think some data analysis is in order to figure out just how many Singletracks members ride locally/within their state, regionally, and nationally. I suspect there may be enough riders who travel within their region to make regional lists (southeast, northeast, etc.) fairly accurate. But I’m guessing very few have ridden extensively in multiple regions.

    • Thanks man!

      Re: traveling widely,
      That may be true… probably either you, I, or skibum. I have yet to ride in the PNW or the NE, and I’ve only hit one or two trails in the SW (AZ, NM, UT Etc) region. I guess I can accurately claim to have ridden the SW, although I do want to plan a winter MTB trip to AZ one of these years. I’ve got the PNW on-tap for next year, and as far as the Northeast…. one of these years ;)

      • Well, I’ve got much of the SW covered, with lots of time throughout AZ, NM and UT, but I still have the same holes in the Pacific NW (I don’t think Tahoe counts) and the NE (1 trail in Maine that wasn’t even singletrack).

        Just an observation, Greg. No Arizona trip is complete without time in Sedona. If you go in the dead of winter, there’s a good chance Sedona trails will be under some snow. It’s best to go late fall or early spring–that’s when you’ve got a good chance of riding anything in Sedona and can still hit the great rides around Phoenix and Tucson away from the triple digit temps.

      • Greg, if you plan to hit AZ in two trips (one to hit Sedona and the other to hit Southern AZ), I’d definitely recommend hitting Southern AZ during the 8 days of Christmas riding in/around Tucson. It’s put on by the forums users of tucsonmtb.com. They’re an awesome group of riders that don’t mind new folks tagging along for rides.

    • And I forgot: beyond those of us who have ridden extensively throughout the US, there is a super elite group of riders who have traveled internationally. The only riders I can think of in this category are big time pros (Hans Rey, Brian Lopes).

    • You may have to look to RoadWarrior for competition. I personally have started racking up a few trails, but I’m staying E of the Rockies and and mostly E of the Mississippi.

  4. I’ve ridden all of these. I live in Moab and ride SR and PR quite frequently. I also lived in the NE and a brief stint in the SE.

    1) I was very under whelmed with the SE riding. FATS is a great trail network and super fun for a little while but the hardpack SE smooth clay roller coaster that is, becomes a little trivial for my tastes. I found this consistent through outmost of the region – certainly Tsali! Only place that really broke that mold was places in Pisgah. How can Tsali and Fats make the list yet no mention of Pisagah?

    2)Nothing from the NE? Winters suck but I’ll take just about anywhere int he NE over the SE any day.

    3)As a Moab resident, I do not understand the love affair with with slick rock and porcupine rim proper. Slick rock is somewhat featureless, crowded and little more then a long string of out-of-saddle hill sprints. Parts of PR are very fun, but parts of it down right suck – jeep road chatter. That being said, the rest of the enchilada ride is 100% epic and I use that word very sparingly. Also, so many other great, great rides in the Moab area!

    Lastly, I concede that depending on your ability and trail taste your opinions will vary very much so. I’m not an XC rider and have a strong appetite for desert chunk, fast ST and general technical entertainment as demonstrated here: http://singletrackhack.com/its-all-about-the-ride/

    • Pisgah, as an area, should be top 10 along with Whistler, The Front Range of Colorado, and Moab. But it’s hard to name the “best” (or as Jeff mentioned, most popular) trail in the Pisgah region. There are a TON of trails there that are mostly linked together to create long loops. I think none of the specific trails in Pisgah got the list because they are being overlooked more and more frequently by the newer, more groomed, trails in the area such as Benk Creek and Dupont State Forrest.

      • +1 on Pisgah as a destination! But like GoldenGoose said, it doesn’t have that 1 iconic trail.

        But as an area, Pisgah is probably in my top 5 favorite places that I’ve ever been!!

  5. I’ve done most of my riding in the West with a bit here and there in the Appalachians and Midwest and currently have 7 of the top 10 under my belt. One place that I absolutely adore though is Levi’s Mound in Wisconsin. It has 21 out of 22 reviews as five stars, sixty something members having ridden it and forty something on the wishlist. Yet, it doesn’t crack the top 1000. Not sure if it’s top ten, but I would have guessed it would have made the top 50.

    • Awesome to hear such rave reviews of Levis! Having learned to ride mountain bikes there and knowing both of the guys that really pioneered the trails there and maintain them today, Levis will always have a special place in my heart. I’d say that it’s at least top 200 material! 50 might be pushing it, but top 100 or 200….

      Some awesome singletrack to be had there!

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