This is the second part of my exploration of novice-friendly western trails that are actually great fun for riders of all levels. Click here for Part 1.
Blue Diamond Trails, Las Vegas, NV
Here’s another great option close to a large population center. When I go to Vegas, I spend a whole lot less time on the strip than on the singletrack, and the hugely expansive trail system out by the hamlet of Blue Diamond gives seemingly endless miles of fast, swoopy singletrack in the shadow of a fantastic mountain range. A few of the trails have some high-level gnar, but these are easily avoided. Everyone from newb to hammerhead can spin for hours out here without getting bored. There’s plenty at Blue Diamond for the improving or adventurous novice to upgrade on as well.
Turtle Rock Trail at Vedawoo, Laramie, WY
Okay, so I had to throw this one in because it was the first trail I ever rode. Centerpiece of the Vedawoo area is the Turtle Rock formation and the trail that circumnavigates it. The trail is only three miles with no more than 250 feet of elevation change. However, this trail does have a couple tricky rock moves and one rather stiff (for a novice) climb. Even so, there’s nothing here to scare away a newer rider and the trail is way cool—just right to get the newer rider really jazzed about singletrack. This area also serves as a major rock climbing destination, so you can stop and watch otherwise sane humans pretend to be Spiderman.
Clear Creek, Buffalo, WY
On the opposite side of Wyoming lies the small, but old-west-style-friendly town of Buffalo. On the west end of town is a fantastic little stretch of singletrack paralleling Clear Creek through a sweet pine forest. For the basic ride, the grade is consistent but mellow throughout, so the occasional small rock gardens are both fun and navigable. On my last trip there, I saw about a dozen riders ranging from a helmetless ranch wife to full-face helmeted adrenaline junkies with big travel and dual crown forks. The latter was admittedly overkill, but the trail does throw a bit at you if you just want to charge through the downhill leg at maximum warp. If the basic route isn’t enough, check the description for an opportunity to extend.
Eagle Scout and Archery Range, Helena, MT
This is a rather unique trail in that it throws a little of everything mountain biking has to offer at you. There is one sharp, steep climb, but it’s not too long. There is a marvelous newb-friendly switchback that executes a full 180, but on a very moderate grade and without other obstacles. There are a couple small rock features, a sweet, flowy downhill, and even a little sand and gravel. Most novice riders will stroke right through these things without even realizing they are facing a challenge and then stop and look back with great satisfaction. This is a super place to take a novice friend to watch him/her grow new skills—and you’ll probably enjoy the trail a great deal as well, especially if you get to cross the street and add on the slightly more challenging and really flowy Rodney Ridge.
Kessel Run, Fruita, CO
I started this list in Fruita and I’ll end this list in Fruita. I know I’m laying a lot of info in one geographical area, but Rustlers and Kessel are so perfect in this regard, I can’t leave either one out. Kessel Run carries the seemingly contradictory status of being both the easiest and the most fun (according to many) trail in the 18 Road trail complex.
The fit and adventurous novice can take the Prime Cut trail up, knowing there will likely be a dismount or two. There are enough features on Prime Cut to keep the advanced rider jazzed as well.
The less fit or adventurous may simply take the dirt road up two miles at a very moderate grade. Then the fun begins: Kessel Run is like a bobsled run for bikes. You are constantly bobbing and weaving in and out of a ravine for the next two miles. The trail is tame enough for a beginner, and Mr. Speed Demon can get his Strava on if he wants. This trail also provides a custom-made lab for testing and improving one’s cornering skills. Just make sure the advanced rider leads!
Once at the bottom, it shouldn’t be a long wait for the less seasoned partner. About the time the ear to ear grin begins to fade from Mr. Speed Demon’s face, Mr. Beginner will arrive with an ear-to-ear grin of his own. The whole route is so easy, most folks do multiple laps, improving and speeding up on each one. If the novice finds this trail far too easy, he may progress to the likes of Chutes and Ladders or Joe’s Ridge.
These trails are just a sample—the best of the best of what I’ve encountered for beginner-friendly, yet excellent trails. Here are a few more trails with a little more geographical variety—maybe one or more of these are in your neck of the woods. Honorable Mention:
- Rosaryville State Park, Upper Marlboro, MD
- Wakefield Park, Annandale, VA
- Laurel Hill, Lorton, VA
- John Bryan State Park, Yellow Springs, OH
- Doin’ It Outdoors, Liberty, IN
- Cheyenne Mountain State Park, Colorado Springs, CO
- Little Rainbow Trail, Salida, CO
- Bonneville Shoreline Trail, Layton, UT
- Mueller Park Trail, Bountiful, UT
- Canmore Nordic Center, Canmore, Alberta, Canada
- Taos Valley Overlook, Taos, NM
So, am I a trail snob? Certainly not, at least in the way I was originally accused. I can have tons of fun on a well thought out beginner trail and I revel in the opportunity to share that joy with others.
But it turns out I am a bit of a trail snob in terms of my expectations, independent of the level of difficulty. If I’m going to get excited about a trail, especially a beginner trail, it should offer more than just a place to turn cranks. I want some scenery, some flow, or maybe some alternate lines where I can take a tough feature while my less accomplished accomplice can ride the easy feature or no feature at all. I first encountered this concept while skiing. Some resorts would groom just one side of a few popular runs, allowing moguls to build up on the other half. This was great as my kids were progressing—we could ride the chair together and take the same runs, but they could cruise down the groomed part while I punished my quads on the bumps. Isn’t it great to have options?
Where do you go to have a great ride without getting too gnarly?