The Top 10 Mountain Bike Destinations in North America

If there’s one thing that makes mountain biking such a special sport, it’s the opportunity to experience the complete breadth of ecosystems and landscapes the world over from such an intimate perspective. If you’re anything like me, traveling to different destinations ignites your passion for life and makes you feel like a giddy kid on Christmas morning!

Choosing the top 10 mountain bike destinations in North America was no easy feat. To start with, we decided that this was to be a list of true destinations: not residential areas with good mountain bike trail access, but rather destinations that you could plan your entire year’s worth of vacation time around. While one could argue that the people who actually live in these places are truly doing it right, we realize that not everybody can make that happen, so stay tuned for our top 10 list of mountain bike towns, coming soon.

When we sat down to make these careful choices, we called on the expertise of the entire Singletracks blog team. Narrowing the list down to just 10 places was a very difficult, controversial process. There was quite a bit of disagreement, even internally, about which towns should make the list, and which ones weren’t deserving. Regardless, each of the 10 locales listed below is more than worthy of dedicating a week (or a month) of your vacation time to exploring on the back of your mountain bike.

Whistler, British Columbia

Top of the World Trail, Whistler. Photo: Mike Crane.

Whistler is the true mecca of all things mountain biking. While Whistler is perhaps best-known for its world-class downhill mountain bike park, the surrounding area is covered in excellent cross country and all mountain singletrack trails, such as Comfortably Numb, that aren’t served by the lifts.

We admit: British Columbia itself could arguably envelope this entire top 10 destinations list with such fantastic locales as Squamish, Fernie, Nelson, Golden, Kelowna, Kamloops, Vancouver, Vancouver Island, Revelstoke, and many more. Consider Whistler our nod towards everything BC. -mtbgreg1

Moab, Utah

Photo: Transrockies.

With a mix of old classics and new purpose-built trails spanning a wide range of environments from high-alpine singletrack to desert rock and sand, Moab is no slouch in the trail department. And, with the completion of The Whole Enchilada route, you can experience all of those environments in one epic ride. However, as many municipalities have learned, trails alone do not a destination make. So what makes Moab the mecca that it is?

In addition to all the great riding, Moab is also home to two national parks, a signature state park, and more open BLM land than you could ever explore in a lifetime. Wrap all this up with plentiful lodging, affordable eats, several microbreweries, excellent bike shops, and plenty of camping options, and you’ve got yourself a bona fide mountain biking destination! -maddslacker

Park City, Utah

Overlooking the town of Park City from a nearby trail, with more of the 400 miles of singletrack on the opposite mountainside. Photo: mtbgreg1.

From fast, swooping in-town singletrack to alpine riding spanning three vast ski resorts, Park City, IMBA’s only gold-level ride center, has something for every mountain biker. Downhill rides abound both on and off the resorts, but those looking for steep climbs will find plenty of aerobic rides, too. Epic length tours like Mid-Mountain and the Wasatch Crest are easily accessible and, if you need one, so are guides. Inexpensive condo rentals and great benefits like free concerts and local beer make Park City an excellent choice for your next mountain bike vacation. Who wouldn’t want a chance to explore over 400 miles of singletrack?!

-mtbikerchick

Crested Butte, Colorado

Trail 401. Photo: jkacuba.

Crested Butte is famous as one of the two birthplaces of the sport of mountain biking, but if you compare the current mountain bike trail access in Crested Butte, Colorado to that of Fairfax, California… well, there just isn’t a comparison. Crested Butte boasts hundreds of miles of the most picturesque high-alpine trails anywhere, all surrounding a quaint western mountain town with great food and beer. Classics like Trail 401 and the Reno/Flag/Bear/Deadman’s Loop will keep you so busy that you might not even have time to check out all the new trails that CBMBA is constantly building. Don’t want to pedal? Be sure to hit the ever-expanding bike park at Crested Butte Mountain Resort. -mtbgreg1

Downieville, California

Photo: gar29.

Tucked away in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California, Downieville embodies the true definition of “destination.” Located over an hour up into the mountains on winding two-lane highways from the closest interstate, Downieville isn’t a town that you pass through on the way to somewhere else. If you drive into Downieville, you’re there for a purpose… and that purpose is probably mountain biking!

While the Downieville Downhill is the marquee ride that everyone’s heard of, the town of Downieville is actually surrounding by a gigantic network of approximately 500 (or more) miles of mountain bike trails. In the crowded land of California, Downieville has plenty of singletrack elbow room, and fresh air to fill your lungs. -mtbgreg1

Fruita, Colorado

Trail: Zippety Do Dah. Photo: Jerry Hazard.

Using “Fruita” to encompass the entire Fruita/Loma/Grand Junction area means you get the best of everything: flowing, roller coaster rides at Fruita’s 18 Road Trail System, scenic variety at the Kokopelli Trails in Loma, and technical singletrack at Grand Junction’s Tabeguache/Lunch Loop Trails. With plenty of lodging choices ranging from hotels to campgrounds, and a variety of restaurants and brew pubs around, what’s not to love? The Western Slope of Colorado averages 245 days of sunshine each year, so your chances of having a great, sunny day of desert riding are pretty sweet–just like the trails.

-mtbikerchick

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Rider: Jerry Hazard. Photo: Jerry Hazard.

The capital of the Land of Enchantment is home to some very enchanting mountain biking.  You will find miles of delightful singletrack in and around Santa Fe, New Mexico.  The local rail trail makes for an easy out-and-back or you can rack up the miles by taking it all the way out to the Galiesteo Preserve, riding the loops there, and then heading back.  The La Tierra Torture race course is home to nice high desert cruising, and the Dale Ball Trails make for great juniper dodging.  If you want a brutal climb, head for Atayala Mountain, and if you’re looking for an epic downhill, shuttle the Winsor Trail.  Santa Fe is also one America’s great art and cultural hubs, so there’s always something else to do as well. -skibum

Brevard, North Carolina

View from the Pilot Cove trail. Photo: mtbgreg1.

The only destination on this list that isn’t located west of the Mississippi River, I believe that Brevard, North Carolina is truly worthy of being included on the short list of the top 10 destinations MTB in North America. The Brevard area is best known for the daunting network of hundreds of miles of challenging trails in nearby Pisgah National Forest, including such popular rides as Black Mountain and Laurel Mountain. However, don’t discount the other nearby trail systems, either: Bent Creek is a great IMBA-style suburban trail system. Dupont State Forest, located on the opposite side of Brevard from Pisgah, offers up easier singletrack on average than Pisgah, while also boasting some of the best exposed granite riding on the East Coast.

Factor in the fantastic southern food (fried chicken, anyone?), the exploding beer scene (Brevard is home to the second Oskar Blues Brewery location and Asheville will soon house breweries from Sierra Nevada and New Belgium, in addition to all of the local establishments), and Brevard is truly head-and-shoulders above every other potential destination on the East Coast. -mtbgreg1

Banff, Alberta

Photo: Banff Lake Louise Tourism / Paul Zizka.

Here’s the hidden gem on this list.  Everybody knows about Whistler and the North Shore, but the mountain biking deep inland, around Banff and Canmore, is equally worthy. More kilometers of pristine singletrack than you thought possible await in the most dramatic scenery on the continent.  On most routes, you’re more likely to see elk, moose, or grizzly bears than another human being. The Montane Traverse and Canmore Nordic Center (winter home of the Canadian National XC Ski Team) can be ridden right from the town of Canmore. Lake Minnewanka (closed to bikes during berry season) in Banff National Park is beyond stunning, and some consider the Jumping Pound Ridge/Cox Hill route to be the best singletrack in Canada. -skibum

Sedona, Arizona

View from the Highline Trail.

Question: Where can you find slickrock like Moab, singletrack like Fruita, and scenery that beats ‘em both? Answer: Sedona, Arizona.

What’s more, the best rides are all easily ridden right from town, with no need to drive anywhere. For relentless challenge and spooky exposure, head for the Highline/Templeton/Baldwin loop or the aptly named Hangover Trail. Intermediate riders will have a ball on the Chuckwagon/Mescal/Aerie network. Even novice riders can get in on the action on the Bell Rock Path and the Big Park Loop. Everyone will be treated to outstanding tread and the grandest scenery in MTB-land. If it gets too hot, you’re just a short drive from Prescott or Flagstaff, both of which offer a great variety of high-altitude rides. -skibum

Your Turn: Is your favorite mountain bike destination missing from this list? Let us know about it in the comments section below!

Update: We compiled a short photo slideshow to showcase the 10 best MTB destinations.

Related posts:

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  2. The 13 Best Spring Break Mountain Bike Destinations
  3. My Top Five: The Best Mountain Bike Trails in Western North Carolina
  4. North Table Mountain, CO: A Fat Bike Odyssey in Snow and Mud
  5. My Top Five: Best Mountain Bike Trails in the North Georgia Mountains

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About mtbgreg1

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.

23 thoughts on “The Top 10 Mountain Bike Destinations in North America

  1. To be honest I had a beef with this list during the draft stage since 9 out of 10 picks are located out west. But it’s hard to argue for making the list more balanced at the expense of including destinations that aren’t truly better than those already on the list.

    Outside of the west, I think the following are great locations worthy of a long weekend or even a week of riding. Each of these has roughly 100 miles (or more) of singletrack in the vicinity.

    - CAMBA trails (northern WI)
    - Kingdom trails (Vermont)
    - Augusta, GA
    - Santos, FL
    - Harrisonburg, VA

      • +1 for moving out west. I miss the great pizza, bagels, and seafood, but I’ve gotten over it.

      • Wait Sea food and Pizza. Don’t know about you but the only good pizza is in Chicago, and they don’t have good seafood! Thank you very much!

  2. I bet it is really hard to get that list down to 10…I can’t say I disagree with any of them except maybe Banff, and that is only because I don’t know anything about it. What’s more is that there are plenty more West Coast trails one could easily argue onto that list. There are great East Coast systems out there like Santos and Alafia/Boyette, and some that are developing like Coldwater Mountain, but the only other East Coast area I would argue might elbow it’s way into that list is the Ellijay/Dahlonega area. You have a TON of singletrack within and between those two cities, and within an hour-ish you can drive to places like Blankets Creek, Tsali, Jackrabbit, and Tanasi. I think it is interesting that the more populated, high volume East has far fewer epic places to ride than the west…there is still plenty of land to ride one, and they have had 100+ more years to develop it. It will be interesting for someone to see in 50-100 years to see if that remains the same as mountain biking continues to evolve.

    • Yeah, it was undoubtedly tough. There are so many fantastic destinations that leaving any out seems like a travesty!

      Very interesting that you chose Ellijay/Dahlonega as one of your choices for a top East Coast destination, since I lived there for the past 4 years :) The riding in that area is definitely great, but like you said, there are just fewer epic places to ride in the East, and those “epic” places just aren’t as “epic” as most Western destinations.

      • I knew you’d identify with that area, and unless someone goes there you just cannot appreciate it. I love, love, love riding here in Colorado, but I miss the deep green forests and the flora and fauna that you just won’t see if one’s list is mostly west coast and Canada. Pinhoti 1,2,3 and 4 has to be one of the best rides out there….

    • Well, most of the least congested areas are the least congested for a reason: they don’t have much great biking! Where would we draw the line between what is and what isn’t a mountain bike destination?

      Fortunately, this list as published has some great recommendations for least congested. First among these is Banff. There’s a good deal of tourist traffic in the area due to Lake Louise and Banff National Park, but the lion’s share of the best, most epic, and unbelievably scenic mountain bike routes are quite uninhabited. This is a place that really rewards the adventurous and those willing to take the trail less traveled.

      Even a place like Downieville, which has but a couple marquee routes, thins the people out pretty quick. Once everybody disperses off the shuttle on the Downieville Downhill, you’re not going to see each other much, even on the classic route. If you’re willing to take an alternate route, you’ll have even less company.

      For less congested routes in traditionally packed venues, check out this article:
      http://www.singletracks.com/blog/mtb-trails/mountain-biking-the-b-trails-5-routes-you-may-have-missed/

  3. I’m not going to knock your list because I haven’t been everywhere and I’d hate to have to narrow al the areas down to such a small list. That being said, I’ve been to most of them + Tahoe, Bend, Oakridge and the St George/Hurricane areas that didn’t make the list. The only one of your choices I disagree with based on your own criteria of “the area had to be a true destination”. I personally don’t think Downieville qualifies.

    Of the major areas out west that didn’t make the list, I think Tahoe is the best “destination’ area worth spending your valuable vacation time. That being said, I think the St George/Hurricane area tops *my* list for the riding that can be found nowhere else. I’ve ridden all over the West and I hear “this is the best place I’ve ever ridden” every time I ride with new people at Gooseberry Mesa. It just happened last week when I hooked up with two dudes from Revelstoke.

  4. Greg, I have read that article and even forwarded it to some friends that I’m trying to get to join me at Hurricane’s MTB festival next March. These same guys were supposed to meet me last weekend In the area but thought Gooseberry Mesa was in Moab so they flew into Denver and drove to Moab. When they realized their geography failure, they stayed in Moab so I was stuck in Hurricane with a bunch of hikers!! :)

    It all turned out well as I hooked up with those guys from BC to ride Gooseberry and then did the shop ride with Over the Edge and Quinton to Guacamole. Great times!! Can’t wait to go back. The local trails just suck after riding at a “destination” area.

      • Dallas….crazy, I know! I had told them to fly into Vegas but for whatever reason, they went the Denver route. Getting them to Hurricane is going to be an uphill battle. I had met these guys on a Cog Wild trip in Oregon and they loved the views in Moab but like the foresty, flowy trails in Oregon more than riding on the slickrock variety of Moab.

  5. For us senior types who can still get a little adrenaline flow going but may not be up to the most epic challenge, the Flume Trail at Lake Tahoe (GREAT scenery, four mile climb in the sand) was great. Closer to where I live is the Tsali trail system. I recommend the left and right loops for excellent scenery and fast, flowy riding. Ridden together (closed to bikes a couple of days a week, check before going) adds up to about 17 miles. Plenty in one day for an old grey mare like me:-)

  6. The only place I’ve been on this list is Brevard, and it’s definitely pretty awesome. I wish the Southeast had more like it. The main thing I don’t like about living in the Southeast is the lack of mountainous state owned land. At least where I live anyway. There are virtually no trails for MTB (only 2 trails that amount to about 16 miles within 30 minutes of my house, and maybe 4 more not so great trails under an hour away), ATVs, and off roading in your SUV/truck. I feel like there could be some really awesome stuff in Pine Mountain, GA (about 30-40 minutes from me) as there is the FDR state park, but there are only hiking and horse trails currently.

  7. This is a well done list and this site is a great resource for information. Nearly everyone probably has a different list. I have been to 9 out of 10 of the places on this list and the one I feel definitely does not fit is Banff, as otherworldly beautiful as it is. My list would include many more BC locations as an American who moved here for the riding. I believe Rossland, Nelson and Fernie all would potentially land on the list if the authors of this article were to ride them. Squamish and Pemberton are world class as well but could easily be combined with the Whistler pick as they are immediate neighbors. In fact, I can think of another half dozen Canadian towns, mostly in BC, that rival many on this list. My list would also include Bend, Oregon just beating out Bellingham, WA and Hood River, OR. I would have to knock off Santa Fe to make room although it is one of my fave towns regardless of the great biking. My advice, everyone make it a priority to get to the top 20 places you have heard about and have never been, no matter the sacrifice. Looking very forward to seeing the 10th on the list that I have not been to as I am there in three weeks!

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