Liberty Mountain Trail System: A True Diamond in the Rough

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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