Everyone defines their perfect MTB road trip differently. For some, it might be stringing together a long loop of mountain bike trails at different locations to drive to and hit, one after another. For others, it might be driving cross-country non-stop to reach a destination that has enough singletrack to fill a full week of vacation time. For still others, it might be a combination of the two.

This summer my wife and I are going on an epic road trip. This road trip is so epic that we don’t even know for certain how long it will be or how many trails we will ride yet. However, we do have a plan in place about where we will start, and here’s how we went about getting to this point.

The view from Porcupine Rim, one of the trails I’ll get to ride this summer. Photo: maddslacker.

Getting Started

To figure out which approach you want to take when planning your road trip, start by determining your purpose. Do you want to ride epic downhill, desert slickrock, high alpine lung busters, or something else? The primary focus of our trip is to visit the San Francisco Bay area and the Los Angeles area to ride trails that aren’t already in the Singletracks.com database. As a result, our destination was already chosen for us.

While those are our main destinations and we will be spending a significant amount of time at each of them, along the way we are definitely going to add in a number of different trails. To figure out exactly which trails to ride and which to skip, I started with the list of the best mountain bike trails in the world. While we are going to be spending some time in Colorado and driving through Utah on our way to California, we are obviously going to have to skip over some really amazing trails. However, one thing I decided that we could not do is just drive past a trail that is on the top 10 list. Turns out, our path is taking us near a lot of top 10 trails that I had never ridden before: Porcupine Rim, Slickrock, and 18 Road Trails. I am definitely going to sink my tires into the dirt at each of those trails!

We are also going to visit a couple of spots that are close to the top 10 list but not quite on it, including Park City and Downieville. There are a few spots that we probably won’t be able to fit in, such as the Tahoe area. While those trails might wind up on a list of regrets, we can at least take solace in the fact that we are still young and have our whole life ahead of us to travel to these places another time (Lord willing)!

The Destination

Once you reach the destination where you want to spend some serious time, how exactly are you supposed to pick which trails to ride and when? Obviously, starting with the Singletracks.com database and choosing some of the highest-rated trails is the best idea, but what if there is an area that is really dense with trails, there are tons that you have to choose from, and you need to remember which ones to ride?

Well, I developed a little system using Google Maps that works pretty well. In case you weren’t aware, if you have a Google account you can create and save custom maps with various place markers. I took the data for the trails I wanted to ride in each specific area (SF Bay and LA) and created two different Google maps. After plotting all the points, it’s easy to see exactly which trails could be ridden together on which days. Of course, the searchable Google map on Singletracks does that for you, but plotting hand-picked trails on your own map will eliminate distractions and clutter from trails that you have decided, for one reason or another, not to ride.

For instance, here’s a screenshot of my Bay Area riding plan:

As you can see, I have categorized the trail markers using different colors. For you, perhaps green will be the best trails, blue the second best, and red the worst, etc. On my map, I categorized the trails by the amount of information we have on Singletracks: green for the most (and so good that we can’t skip over them), blue for some information but not enough, and red for none. As a result, the red and blue trails are my priority. As you can see, there aren’t very many red trails on this map, so LA is actually even more of a priority than the Bay Area:

After plotting the trails and seeing where they were located, I visited Tripleblaze.com and researched a few quality campgrounds that would be centrally located to the trails I wanted to ride, and also added those to the map as well. If there are other attractions or things you want to do while on vacation, you could definitely add those to the map as well, using different icons, and presto! you have a digital game plan for your vacation!

Moving Forward

The big question mark in our personal plan this summer is what happens after we leave LA. Right now we are tentatively planning on spending a few days in Big Bear and making that a mini destination all its own. However, we might have much more time than we initially thought, so there are still some decisions to be made.

Watch this space–I will keep you all updated as plans develop, and look for regular blog posts this summer as we travel the nation!

Your Turn: What’s your idea of the perfect road trip?

# Comments

  • trek7k

    Great way to get organized, this is something I definitely need to do before heading to Colorado this weekend! My plan is to drive almost straight through but I’m hoping to overnight at Wilson Reservoir in Kansas and ride the Switchgrass trails.

    Glad we’ll be able to overlap our travel plans a bit so we can ride with Corey in Colorado next week. Road trip!

  • mtbgreg1

    Yeah dude I’m so stoked to get to meet up! I imagine you saw in my itinerary that I’m planning to hit lake Wilson too. If you haven’t seen them yet, someone just uploaded some new photos to the switchgrass trail last week and they look AMAZING!

  • trek7k

    I must’ve subconsciously picked Lake Wilson after seeing your itinerary but I didn’t do it on purpose, I promise! Two summers ago I drove the same route and stayed in Lawrence, KS and there’s a trail there too, Clinton SP I think. Just hoping I get there with some daylight to spare – 17 hours from Atlanta.

    Yeah, those pics of Switchgrass sold me – looks very cool.

  • mtbgreg1

    What day are you leaving? I’m planning on doing 17 on Monday, gettin up early Tuesday to ride, and then doing the last 6 or 7 hours to boulder.

  • stillfat

    Budget some time for Downieville. It’s really out of the way and once you get there you’ll want to stay. IMHO, it beats most of the top stuff by a long shot. Also, reserve a space for a shuttle beforehand – they book up if you ride on a weekend.

  • mtbgreg1

    Thanks for the recommendation stillfat! Downieville is definitely on the itinerary! Planning on hitting it on the way to San Francisco.

  • TrevorDHyland

    Thanks for the concise advice on planning a trip. It helps a lot. I am planning a weekend trip for myself and about 7-8 other guys this August to Slatyfork, WV (only about 4 hours from where we live) and it really helps to get input on how to really plan the logistics of the trip. SO THANK YOU!

  • stevethousand

    Heads up on switchgrass trail – I ran tubed there last year and had multiple flats from thorns/cactus. It is quite beautiful though.

  • abegold

    Camping near California costal cities can be a nightmare full of generators and screaming kids, beware. However I did like the camp site near Morro Bay, Cerro Alto many years ago.
    Prepare for poison ivy at CA trails by water if allergic. Diluted chlorine or just washing after riding thru it usually works, hot tub! Beware of goatheads, too. They cause flats.
    Get exact trail head directions, couldn’t find the trailhead for the Forest of Nisene Marks and the bike shop in Santa Cruz wasn’t helpful.
    Downieville rocks, cool, fun and beautiful. Plan on taking a swim in one of the many trail side pools as your elevation lowers down the trail.

  • Luke_E

    Sounds incredible!! If you were interested in a little bike blog cross pollination, I suggest you reach out to Stevil Kinevel, head man of allhailtheblackmarket.com
    He’s been a blast to follow. Great writing and incredible insight into the past and present bike industry, plus I hear he can really shred. He lives in the Bay area, if you wanted to get the local scoop on trails I would recommend shooting him a note.

  • mtbgreg1

    @mtbikerchick, thanks for the offer, I might take you up on that!

    @abegold, thanks for the advice. Do you know of a good campground in the Angeles National Forest front country that you’d recommend?

    @Luke_E, thanks for the recommendation, I’ll be sure to check it out!

  • maddslacker

    Yeah, I can’t wait to hook up for the NUMBER 1 FREAKIN TRAIL in the database. 😀

  • tarvisg

    Tahoe is a definite must on visiting, so many trails. I am interested to find out what comes of the Los Angeles trip. If your headed back from there you should go thru Las Vegas and go out to Bootleg Canyon in Boulder City, great trails!!

  • Jared13

    Sounds like a blast, enjoy your trips!

    And thanks for the tip on the google maps. I’ll definitely be using that in the future.

    Thanks for the tip on the biking blob, Luke_E. I need some decent time killers 😀

  • AK_Dan

    Congrats on the trip! Most people never set out on anything such as this for one reason or another. This kind of thing can change the way you live the rest of your life, if you let it.
    Ive had just a little experience at the road trip myself- I have all kinds of tips and advise for you and what I see as speed bumps in your plan, but; You guys will develop your own tripping style and the way you like to do things, experience is the best teacher.
    How you view just being out there will make or break what you view as a successful trip in the end. Years from now it won’t be about how many trails you rode or places you got to see.
    People, although enjoying the same things can be very different, my cousin and I are like this- love the doing the same things and the same kind of country. But he is more of a destination guy where I am a journey person. He will bust his butt frantically with to-do’s and drive 100mph to get to a destination to ‘be there’. I on the other hand start with a pretty loose idea of where I am going, what Im doing and how it will take- as soon as I back out of the driveway ‘I am there’ already.

    We can’t wait to tear about your adventures buddy!

  • mtbgreg1

    Thanks for the comment, Dan! I tend to be a little type A so I might need to try to let things roll. We’ll see how it goes!

  • Johneblz

    My advice is too make as much time as possible to stop along your route. Its amazing what you can miss along the way. Even quick stops can open your eyes to some things you didnt expect to see. i prefer to drive at night in the dark and check in to my hotels and campgrounds as late as possible. That allows for as much riding time as possible. During my trip last month we found a great micro brew in Pennsylvania and some delicious pizza at Pies and Pints in West Virginia. Which is saying a lot coming from a New Yorker where the Pizza is usually unmatched. We also met some great people at New River bikes…get out of the car! You may not get many chances to pass that way again!!

  • KKeg14

    Thanks for sharing about gmail maps- that just made planning my trips a heck of a lot easier!

  • Bubblehead10MM

    The possibilities boggle the mind. From LA back to Denver free way routes alone either take you through all the UT hot spots again, or else Barstow, Lake Havasu, Flag staff, Santa fe, Ripon, Albuquerque, and the Springs. Going a long way around there’s some good trail around El Paso. I love the data collecting emphasis. I like to believe I’m charting new ground when I make a gps track.

  • jkacuba

    Great post and awesome comments! I love the google maps tip and didn’t know anything about it! I need to plan a Cali road trip for July (and a short one to Moab next weekend) so this will come in handy!

    If you guys take the I-40 route back from LA and want to check out some of the Albuquerque area trails I’d be happy to give some recommendations or be a tour guide.

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