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If ever there was an under-acclaimed trail system, a network of trails that flies way, way below the radar, it is the Liberty Mountain Trail System in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Dan Lucas and Ryan Claeys hitting a wallride high up on Liberty Mountain. Photo: mtbgreg1.

Located in a 5,000 acre forest on the Liberty University campus, reports on the actual number of miles of trails vary. The official website claims 65 miles of single- and doubletrack (aka old fireroads), but there’s no telling when that was last updated. According to Ryan Claeys, there’s definitely over 50 miles of quality trail hidden away in the forest.

If anyone knows, it’s Ryan. Ryan is employed by Liberty University as a full-time “trail boss.” His job consists entirely of riding, maintaining, and building singletrack for the University. Despite having ridden here since the 90’s and having been employed as the trail boss for a year and a half, it can sometimes still take Ryan a second to get his bearings in the vast trail system.

Hold up. Stop and think about this for a second: Liberty Mountain employs a person full-time who’s dedicated solely to building and maintaining singletrack trails. How many trail systems in the United States can claim that? I’m not sure, but not many. Excluding ski resorts, there might be what, maybe a handful of trail systems with a full-time trail boss? This by itself sets these trails apart!

One of the trailheads is located next to the Snowflex, one of only two summer ski slopes of its type in the world. As a nonprofit organization, Liberty University has to spend all of the money it makes... and it makes a lot.

Ryan’s tireless work also makes for an incredibly dynamic trail system. New sections of trail and new wooden features go up seemingly overnight. When we were there, Ryan had just started work on a massive step-up to ladder drop–and by the time you read this it will have been long done.

Part of the platform for the step-up.

The Trails

Infrastructure and monetary support aside, what are the trails like?

If you can, be sure to bring your all-mountain or freeride rig with you, as these trails are not for the faint of heart! Most of the trails deliver short, steep, punch-to-the-gut climbs to the top of a ridge and a balling, technical descent back down the other side. Each trail has its own unique feel, though. Some are filled with jumps and berms, others are much rockier, and many are scattered with well-built ladder bridges and drops.

Ryan Claeys on his "trail maintenance vehicle" (aka tricked-out Trek Slash), SRAM the trail dog, and Dan Lucas descending Psycho Pathe. Photo: mtbgreg1.

This is a true paradise for riders with 6+ inches of front and rear suspension on their rigs. Wooden features and jumps are hidden all throughout this trail system, and when you round a corner in the trail you never know what you’ll come across. All of the features are well-built too–Ryan doesn’t cut any corners. His features are built to last.

Even if you aren’t running any rear suspension, these trail are still worth a visit. All of the major obstacles include bypasses and ride arounds, so you can turn these trails into a simply aerobically-challenging singletrack ride if you prefer.

Currently, there aren’t any beginner-friendly, flowy, IMBA-style singletrack trails out at Liberty. The only beginner trails are essentially old fireroads, but they do provide access to the beautiful forests and ridges for those interested in exploring. But after talking to Ryan about his vision for the place, he is definitely planning on building more flowy, XC-style trails in the future. Along with that, he’s also planning massive BMX-style dirt jumps and DH trails that are even more challenging! To play off the massive amount of trails, Ryan also wants to build trail-side campsites and fire rings, allowing for a mini bikepacking destination right above the town of Lynchburg. “We can have everything out here!” said Ryan.

Mtbgreg1 riding the dam. Photo: Dan Lucas.

Obstacles to Overcome

In addition to the lack of beginner-friendly singletrack, the other major obstacle to Liberty Mountain becoming a true destination trail system is the lack of trail mapping. While there is a trail map on the official university website, it is very inaccurate: some trails listed have never existed, some trails that say “TBA” for the length have been around for a decade, and none of the newer trails and reroutes that Ryan has built are included. Ryan has pushed for better trail mapping for some time, but the university bureaucracy has been tough to deal with.

In actual fact, not much more would really need to be done: almost all the individual trails out in the trail system are named and signed. All that remains is to create a comprehensive map and trailhead kiosks to help navigate through that maze of trail signs. Until that happens (and even after), venturing out into the maze of singletrack unguided will continue to be an adventure!

Rider: Dan Lucas. Photo: mtbgreg1.

Final Thoughts

Whizzing by Liberty Mountain at 70 mph on the highway, or even parking your car in the lot below the Snowflex, you might have no idea that this web of miraculous, technical singletrack weaves through the trees surrounding you. The only clue is the odd narrow dirt trail or two heading off into the forest.

Ryan Claeys (as well as others) have been quietly building a technical mountain biking paradise in the forest on Liberty Mountain. While they don’t actively seek out praise and adoration for their hard work, singletrack is built for one purpose: to be ridden. And with over 50 miles of singletrack (and growing rapidly), Liberty Mountain isn’t about to be overcrowded anytime soon.

The word is out: Liberty Mountain has some of the best all-mountain riding anywhere. Start planning your trip today!

Your turn: Want to help create a usable trail map for Liberty Mountain? Upload your GPS data from Liberty here.

Many thanks to Ryan Claeys and Dan Lucas for showing me around!

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# Comments

  • fleetwood

    Nice write up. I live only a few hours away and this is the most information I have ever come across on the trails.

    I wonder if the University has kept it under the general public’s radar by design, or if it is they don’t know how to market it. I am sure they are leveraging the trails, as well as Snowflex, as a way to entice outdoor-minded students.

    I also think some people outside of the University are apprehensive about the place because of the religious ties, but an awesome trail system is an awesome trail system, right?

    Anyway, thanks for the info and pics. Sounds like you had a good time in VA. Looking forward to further reviews.

    • mtbgreg1

      Thanks man! Yeah, it sounds like Liberty really has a certain stigma surrounding it, but like you said–good trails are good trails!

      As for why it’s not marketed more, I’m not sure. It sounds like currently there’s a group of locals that rides there pretty regularly, but that there’s just as many or more runners that use the trails due to the running team and kinesiology (?) program at the school. IMO, the riding scene here has the potential to get big… And fast!

    • smokinspokes

      I hate to be a party pooper, but I get the impression that the person(s) responsible for the construction and maintnance of the trail system have purposefully neglected to share their handiwork with the general public, and have done so in an effort to lay claim to a rather large swath of land solely forthemselves and their core group of riding buddies. I lived in DC for NINE years and was forced to get very creative in my own traill building because we had no access to anything even remotely close to a “trail system”. I feel that the outdoor sporting industry has always been about sharing with those who take interest in similar endeavors, so I am somewhat alarmed by their lack of initiative to bring more riders into the fold. I guess they just forgot to get to that. I wonder if the University likes the fact that they are losing ouy on so much potential opportunity.

    • jer1600

      This is in regards to smokinspokes comment. I have lived in Lynchburg for two years now and have seen major progress in the last few years in regards to the Liberty trail system. I am in no way affiliated with the University but I must give them huge props for allowing people to ride on their property. Liberty hired Ryan (or so I’ve been told) to maintain and build new trails. This is more of a recent development so if you have been away from the area it might explain why you were not aware of the system. What I have been told is that the trails were originally built and maintained by a professor and his students in the kinesiology department. They and the cross country team used them for trail running but were open to the public as well for mountain biking. The mountain biking community has recently put forth a lot of effort into Candlers and it is slowing becoming an amazing trail system.

  • jeff

    I noticed we shared a quick news item about this trail system back in 2007 when the NYT wrote about the university using the trails to entice more students. Back then the plan was to charge non-students a fee to ride the trails but I guess that never happened?

    I also recall a good bit of the MTB action in “The Potential Inside” was filmed on the Liberty Mountain trails. Definitely on my ride wishlist.

    • mtbgreg1

      Now that you mention it, I do remember something about the potential inside being filmed there. But yeah, idk if the fees ever came to fruition. The accessory trailhead infrastructure is what’s really lacking. Besides a couple gravel parking lots and a nearby visitors center, there’s not much.

  • RoadWarrior

    The trail system is now in my backyard, so will have to check it out. Also the winters around Lynchburg are usually pretty mild, making it a good winter time ride.

    • mtbgreg1

      Definitely man! And we could definitely use a LOT more GPS data from there 😉

  • AJ711

    Welp, there is yet another trail system to add to the wishlist. And I travel through that area headed to Smith Mountain Lake to visit my parents. I may have to drag the mountain bike down there for an extended vacation and ride some trails down there.

    Excellent write-up and awesome photos!

    • mtbgreg1

      Thanks, glad you enjoyed it!

  • CraigCreekRider

    I live a little over a hour away and have never been. It has a reputation for being a little tricky to find your way around.and being the locals favorite. My guess is there is a map around somewhere, with all the GPS’s and mapping software out there these days. If the purpose of the trails is to attract students, then they probably already know their way around and don’t need a map. A map would be more for us tourists, which they may see no benefit to having with lawyers and liability and stuff as it is these days. Thanks for the write-up and pics Greg, I’ll have to check it out sometime. Probably just go over there, find a trailhead and start riding.

    • mtbgreg1

      No problem!

      Yeah, There are so many options out there that you’re never really far away from the car if you decide you want to head back. Riding with a GPS (or a smartphone w/GPS app) would probably be a good idea to help figure out which way is back though.

    • mtbgreg1

      As mentioned in the article:

      “While there is a trail map on the official university website, it is very inaccurate: some trails listed have never existed, some trails that say “TBA” for the length have been around for a decade, and none of the newer trails and reroutes that Ryan has built are included.”

      However, I guess it’s not a bad starting point.

  • lynmtb

    Perhaps you were only showed the good parts of liberty’s trail system. There is huge potential for a great system but currently the trails need work to be a true destination.

    -“almost all the individual trails out in the trail system are named and signed” less than 50% of the trails have signs and most new signs put up in the last year the letters are falling off.

    -“All of the features are well-built too–Ryan doesn’t cut any corners. His features are built to last.” His work may be improving but I guess he didn’t show off the fallen over teeter tooter, the broken drop or his use of landscape timbers.

    Many of the features have short landing or flat landing which really takes away from the fun. They need more thought into the flow between things and location. Also the trail system lacks progression you only have small 1foot tall natural things and 8ft tall road gap level features.

    Overall the trails need to have more maintenance and work to keep trails clear and berm corners and switchbacks to add flow and less building of random features that less than 1% of riders will ride. Liberty could be one of the greatest trail systems in VA but not with the current direction it’s going in.

    • mtbgreg1

      Yes, it is entirely possibly that we saw some of the best trails, and there is definitely room for improvement and more beginner/intermediate trails (as I mentioned in the article).

      Re: maintenance, just because there is one guy employed to work on these trails full-time doesn’t remove the responsibility of locals who use and benefit from these trails on a regular basis to also help with the maintenance and up keep. After talking with Ryan, it sounds like that it has been a struggle to get community involvement and assistance. One guy can only do so much

      Re: “Liberty could be one of the greatest trail systems in VA but not with the current direction it’s going in.” Didn’t you just say that perhaps I was shown some of the best trails and the best features? Well, I did ride a couple older trails but mostly we rode newer stuff and stuff that was still under construction. If the newer trails are the better trails, then doesn’t it make sense that Liberty Mountain is indeed moving in the right direction? Your argument seems self defeating.

    • lynmtb

      The locals have put in large amounts of time at candlers clearing debris after storms and leaves this fall. Help has been offered to Ryan but been turned down as he said he liked working alone. It’s hard to get people in on a project if they don’t agree with what is being built and they see how much time/money is being wasted by a paid trail boss.

      As far as the trails most old trails were not planned out that well either but its hard to change that but the new trails could be so much better.

  • smokinspokes

    I think social media outlets that service the mountainbiking communtiy would prove to be a very useful tool in recruiting volunteers for trail building/maintnance. And what about the LBS’s in the outlying areas such as Baltimore and DC?

    • mtbgreg1

      Well we are doing our part to get the word out 😉

      And I do know that Underdog Bikes out of Roanoke is working on putting together a sponsored trailwork day up there.

  • jtorlando25

    May be checking their trails out this weekend. I’ve heard them mentioned through the grapevine but I’ve never heard that they were anything more than lame xc trails. Sounds like it has the potential to be a very cool place to ride!

    • mtbgreg1

      Let us know what you think!

    • cambergb

      mtbgreg1, I am new to singletracks.com but have been riding all my life. I notice you ride alot of different trails. I am semi-retired and was wandering where you live and if you would be interested in hooking up to ride. I am always up for checking out new trails. My e-mail is onpsgrant@gmail.com Let me know. Thanks, cambergb.

    • mtbgreg1

      @cambergb, I live down in North Georgia. Where are you from?

  • cambergb

    mtbgreg1, I live in North Florida, and I have plans to ride in your area in the near future. What do you recommend in your area that you could show me around. I will be looking for epic singletrack.

    • mtbgreg1

      I mean, check out the database: everything in North Georgia is listed there. I live in Dahlonega, So the Bull/Jake mountain is right nearby. I wouldn’t say it is THE best in North Georgia, but it isn’t too shabby!

      Tons of great singletrack west of us in Ellijay (Pinhoti, Bear Creek, etc), further west in Dalton (Snake Creek Gap Pinhoti), and west and north (Five points trail system).

      Send me a PM or an email when you plan on coming up, and maybe I can squeeze in a ride.

  • crud29

    Hello,
    I live in Michigan, originate from Cali. BMX style rider on a 29er. You are the man, who in their right mind could not love what you are blessed with in your yard. Planning my trip now. Camping would be the cat’s meow, take with you what you bring rule ride’s well.
    Have fun,and thanks for what you help to build.

  • stumpyfsr

    Greg, could You update directions to the trailheads on the trail page? You was there and know the best way, I guess.
    I went to Candler Mt TH yesterday and it was closed for construction. The other, about 100 feet downhill, didn’t look like ridden a lot neither. Since trail was very wet, I wasn’t even looking for another TH, but want to come back next time and actually ride it.
    Thanks for help in advance.

    • mtbgreg1

      Hey man, that big parking lot below the snowplex is the best one I know of. If it looks like it was under construction, maybe they are turning it into something better, so I think we should leave it in the database.

      For next time, you could try pulling up the trail map on your phone via the mobile app and finding another spot to access it. Liberty Mountain is very expansive and looks like it hits or parallels a few different roads… but I definitely don’t have enough experience there to really tell you where another good option is.

    • stumpyfsr

      Thanks, man. Now I see that Snowflex is a bit more up on the road then Candler Mt TH I went to (across Wingate Inn).
      Snowflex’s website has a good map how to get there, while iPhone’s map doesn’t even show Monogram Rd off of Candlers Mt Rd.
      thanks for info

    • mtbgreg1

      Did you pull the GPS location for the trailhead directly from the website/app? I just looked at it and it looks like it leads almost right up to the Snowplex. I can try to tweak it a little bit, but it’s pretty close.

    • stumpyfsr

      Nope, I didn’t use GPS. Only read a direction from the page and went there. When you park at Wingates Inn parking lot and crossCandlers Mt Rd, there’s a barely visible sign in the woods “Trail closed for construction”. Then I went about 100 feet downhill to another TH right at the intersection of Candlers Mt rd and Liverty Mt Rd and that one alright, just a bit overgrown.
      I guess, no one use it anymore because of Snowflex parking which is slightly uphill from Wingates Inn

    • mtbgreg1

      Ah, gotcha!

    • jer1600

      stumpyfsr you are correct that the snowflex parking is just up the hill from the Winngate Inn. I would recommend parking there. According to some people in the know, either the state or city has decided to put in a new interchange on candler’s mountain. As you are driving up to the mountain, you can see a large clear cut area below the LU monogram. Thus most of the trails below monogram road (see link to map below) are closed. These trails were great XC trails and it is a shame to see them closed. The rumor is that they are not even going to begin work on the interchange until 2015.

      If you are looking for a more XC experience head down lake trail from the snowplex parking lot then make your way over to a trail to far, deans list, etc. If you are looking for more downhill/all mountain experience then ride playground, psycho path and the other trails in that area. If you would like exact directions feel free to contact me. If there is no way to contact someone on this website then reply to this post and I will try and get in contact with you. I love these trails and would be more than happy to give you some info on them since they are a little difficult to navigate.

      http://www.liberty.edu/media/7705/facilities/trails/trailmap_2012web.pdf

    • stumpyfsr

      Thank you, jer1600. I’ll follow your suggestions. I’m more oriented towards all-mountain trails. Don’t know when I’ll be back into area again but this trail system is on my radar for a long time.

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