Whoever first decided to make “going downhill” a euphemism for things going badly obviously wasn’t a mountain biker. While most of us love to ride up, level, or down, it’s the down that really gets the adrenaline going. It’s the down that we look forward to. It’s the down that we talk about over a beer after the ride.
Here are a dozen delicious descents to put on your 2017 wish map.
For this installment, I’ve set aside some of the usual suspects (i.e. Downieville Downhill, Monarch Crest, Whole Enchilada) to make room for some less-known but still-guaranteed-to-put-a-smile-on-your-face, rowdy, rippin’ downhill romps.
Barr Trail, Pikes Peak, Colorado Springs, Colorado
May as well start off our list with the mack daddy of ’em all. Where else on the continent are you going to find 7,600 vertical feet of continuous descending, all on singletrack? Okay so The Whole Enchilada drops about that much, but it takes well over 20 miles to do so, while the Barr Trail plunges that mile-and-a-half vertical in scarcely 12 miles of trail. If you’re looking to drop really fast, the Barr trail is the ticket.
Now for the disclaimers: First, the first few miles above treeline are littered with jumbled boulders, and you will dismount numerous times unless your driver’s license says “Hans Rey” or “Danny MacAskill” on it. Second, this is a hugely popular trail with hikers ascending “America’s Mountain,” so you’ll want to hit it midweek. Third, there is no commercial mountain bike shuttle service, so you either have to climb that monster first or arrange some sort of private shuttle, and pay the Pikes Peak Highway toll ($12/person or $40/vehicle). But once you overcome these obstacles, you will be treated to a downhill truly like no other.
Flat Pass, Moab, Utah
If you can’t abide the crowds of the Barr Trail, motor on over to Moab and hit Flat Pass. No, it’s not really flat and yes, it does make for an excellent downhill. I still find it amazing, and most welcome, that, even at this date, you can find a top quality, super-fun downhill all to yourself in America’s #1 mountain bike destination. After a stiff initial climb, there’s a 2,000 vertical foot descent on the most entertaining jeep trail around.
Jeep trail rather than singletrack? Sure, and that’s not a bad thing; it just means you can choose your line rather than having it dictated to you, and much of the trail offers wonderful alternatives from smooth, to rollers, to huckers. Unlike the more famous Porcupine Rim, there’s no commercial shuttle here, so you’ll need to pedal about 8 miles of backroad and busy highway to complete the 18-mile loop. Personally, I declare it so worth it.
Timberline to Rhododendron, Mt Hood, Oregon
I recently covered this as one of my top new rides of 2016, and it can not be overlooked specifically as a great downhill as well. Oregon is full of great downhills, including a handful of big name rides like the Alpine Trail and McKenzie River Trail, but this ride down Mt. Hood takes the prize for consistent downhill grins coupled with stellar scenery. And you can’t beat the local bus. which serves up 4,400 vertical feet of shuttle service for only $2 a run.
La Milagrosa, Tucson, Arizona
Want to add a little consequence for failure to your downhill rip? It’s hard to beat Tucson’s La Milagrosa. No, the trail is not lined with deadly exposure, just a wide variety of exceedingly-painful cacti. Take a digger here and you’re likely to have the usual cuts, abrasions, maybe some head trauma or even the odd fracture, but you’re positively guaranteed to become an instant human pincushion. The trail is chock full of technical challenges that invite a confident rider to do knuckleheaded things, and knowing the consequences really helps sharpen the focus. Remember to refresh your sealant before heading down this one.
Winsor Trail, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Running the distance between the Santa Fe Ski Area and the state’s capitol city is this super fun, flowy, and wonderfully-varied downhill romp, dropping 3,350 verts in 9.3 miles. What makes this one so special is how consistent the grade is while changing up the surface and scenery from time to time. If you reach the bottom without an incurable perma-grin, you’re definitely not doing it right! Click here for more detailed Winsor coverage.
Noble Canyon, Pine Valley, California
SoCal’s Noble Canyon takes the variety of the Winsor Trail and expands on it. Over the course of 2,300 vertical feet of descending, you’ll start in a magnificent pine forest, cross into lush creekside riparian terrain, and drop into very dry, desert conditions but still surprisingly close to the lower pine forests the nearby hamlet of Pine Valley is named for. Also along the way are some eminently huckable rocks with optional ride arounds, making this a great downhill choice for riders with mixed levels of aggressiveness and adventurousness.
Click to page two for 6 more incredible descents!