Just as you get into the groove of dancing over the challenging lava, Oregon's McKenzie River trail gets ... paved? (photo: Skoofer)

Just as you get into the groove of dancing over the challenging lava, Oregon’s McKenzie River trail gets… paved? (photo: Skoofer)

In the many thousands of times I’ve set knobbies to dirt, I can’t remember a single time I wasn’t happy to do so. I don’t care what the trail is, what bike I’m on, or what the weather is, I’m always happy to be turning cranks. That said, I still find some trails have a reputation that far exceeds their actual merits. Here are 10 trails that just didn’t turn out to be all they’re cracked up to be, as determined by our Singletracks contributors or the mountain bike community at large. So, sit back, pop a cold one and read in horror as I skewer your favorite trail!

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By John Fisch

Rampart Reservoir, Woodland Park, CO

Sure, the views of Pikes Peak are excellent, but the "lake" is obviously artificial and there is better singletrack in the are (photo: Sophisto)

Sure, the views of Pikes Peak are excellent, but the “lake” is obviously artificial, and there is better singletrack in the area (photo: Sophisto)

When I first settled in Colorado Springs, I was introduced to the local love for Rampart Reservoir. Everybody loved this trail. Message boards were constantly filled with “Conditions at Rampart?” posts, and every spring people just couldn’t wait to get out there and ride Rampart again. It was an annual rite of passage that many repeated over the course of the summer.

What Rampart is is a mostly pleasant meander around the shores of a man-made body of water with some stellar views of the north face of Pikes Peak. What it isn’t, is worthy of all this praise and hype.

The trail is mostly decomposing granite, so it is continually gravelly. It is also mostly devoid of interesting features, until suddenly an unrideable one pops up; things go from easy green to dismount and back to easy green without much in the middle to entertain most riders. The body of water is obviously artificial, and the view is generally of a depleted reservoir ringed by that tell-tail dead zone between where vegetation was and the current water level many feet below.

On a personal note, I think the trail rides better clockwise, but most folks prefer counterclockwise.  It has become some sort of unwritten rule that the trail is meant to be ridden CCW, and other riders will definitely give you the stinkeye if you (horror of all horrors!) ride it the “wrong” way.

# Comments

  • mongwolf

    John, I always enjoy reading your articles about trails — such a vast experience. The only trail I have ridden of the 10 you listed is Rampart. I wholly concur with your assessment. I have ridden it once and have no intention of riding it again.

  • Greg Heil

    I guess I need to knock Cuyuna down my to-do list quite a ways! Realistically I’ll probably get it done in the next couple of years simply because it’s not far from family and friends in WI/MN, but now I’m not as stoked as I once was ???? That said, I still need to hit Duluth, and again, that’s not far from my Dad.

    Interesting to read your assessment of the McKenzie River Trail. I have fond memories of riding it, but for everything you said… it all rang true. The one thing that didn’t leave as bad of a taste in my mouth was the hiker traffic. I also hit it mid-week, which I think helped–but even then, there were quite a few hikers out and about. While I get that you’re not saying this trail sucked overall, just that you don’t agree with it’s ranking in OR, I still personally think it’s a must-ride trail! But will I do it again?? …probably not.

    Re: CAMBA cable cluster: I had the exact same experience when I rode there. That was quite a few years ago, so I had hoped it had changed for the better–guess not. Again, CAMBA is close to family, so I’m hoping to hit it again soon.

    Sounds like I’ve gotta get a Midwest road trip of my own under way!

    • John Fisch

      Cuyuna was great for what it was (and I suspect you’ll still enjoy it quite a bit), but I loved Duluth. I highly recommend it if you get the chance. I need to go back and hit some of the systems I missed when I was there, and they always seem to be adding new trails.

    • Bikesuperior

      I can definitely see the issues with the CAMBA system, I lived and rode there for some time and it required some local knowledge for a while to really get where you were going. It’s become better, but there’s still some confusion out there.

      I built with the CAMBA crew a few years ago, and it was a great experience, but my main reason for thinking it might be overrated is the lack of some more technical features. the system definitely caters to a type; xc racers. We were able to build the trail Danky Dank with some creative license, building jumps, rock features, drops and the likes. I know the terrain doesn’t work terribly well for much other style of trail besides fast, flowy, and smooth, but it does get boring.

    • Bikesuperior

      BTW, please come to Duluth! We’ve got a lot of great stuff going on and are always making new trail. I’ll shamelessly plug the Piedmont system as they’re the trails I love and work on the most.

    • Mark Larson

      Cuyuna is great! It’s uniquely beautiful with blue lakes and red singletrack (John might not like the artificial looking clarity of the lakes but they are beautiful and very clear!) It’s an XC pedaler’s dream & there’s about 30 miles of mostly one way singletrack to connect it all together so the only logical gripe that John should have with it is that it’s not his style. There is a lack of stuff for big hit bikes here but that’s not what Cuyuna is trying to be. Trust singletracks users on this one!

      I can see his point with Camba. It’s a big area with lots of trails. But there’s also a criss-cross of ski trails, logging roads, etc and it’s intimidating and you’ll likely pedal some non-singletrack no matter your route. But if you do lots of research and planning (very little cell phone coverage and signage isn’t the easiest) you can spend several days here riding great trail in primo national forest or make one really awesome ride. I usually look at the course maps of events and cross-reference with photos I’ve seen to make some awesome routes.

      But he’s right on about Duluth! Lift riding, awesome trails, flow, tech, big rocks, features and awesome summer riding weather and a cool city that loves mountain biking means you can pretty much do any kind of riding there. So if you need a huge variety of riding styles and gravity Duluth is the only logical place in the midwest not in the UP of Michigan.

    • Greg Heil

      Wow Midwest contingent coming out in Force! Guess I have my work cut out for me when I get back to NW Wisconsin!! Maybe this spring…


      I’ve ridden a fair amount of trails over the years, and being fairly local I’d say the assessment of Cuyuna is fairly accurate with one thing being overlooked. If given the choice to ride the Cuyuna trails or in Duluth I would definitely choose Duluth, but that will all depend on when it rained last, and how much. I can get to each trail system (Both have multiple trail heads) in about 2 1/2 hours, but if there was rain in the last few hours I’ll usually head to Cuyuna over Duluth simply because it tends to dry out quicker(IE if there was overnight rain it’s usually rideable by lunch). Both areas have some great riding, but there is definitely a more raw feel to Duluth, plus lots of beer and food options. It would be hard to ride everything in Duluth in 2 days, where all 25 miles or so of the trails on the Cuyuna system can be ridden in one big loop if you string it together right. That being said, Cuyuna has been expanding, and there’s a new section being built soon. But, so are the trails around Duluth. Still, given a choice for a day trip I’ll typically head to Duluth unless I’m getting ready for one of the races at Cuyuna, then I head there to check out the course.

      As far as the CAMBA trails, I definitely prefer the Namakagon Cluster, which includes the Rock Lake Epic, over the Cable Cluster… but if one wanted to you could ride a nice route from Cable all the way down through Mosquito Brook to the Hatchery Creek trailhead, and back. There’s definitely a lot of good riding up there and I highly recommend picking up a set of the latest maps at one of the bike shops in the area.

      There’s a lot of great riding within 3 hours drive of Minneapolis/St. Paul, so if you are planning a long day trip, or even a long weekend to hit a bunch of new stuff to an area you aren’t familiar with, there’s no shortage of options depending on the weather.

      If you decide to make it to either system Greg definitely hit me up and I’ll see if I can meet up with you.

    • wilsonm73

      I second Duluth as a fun trail system. I rode it two summers ago and really enjoyed the work they had done there. It was not a let down like Vernal.

    • John Fisch

      Thanks for all your work on Piedmont! I really enjoyed that system–it has a cool, old school vibe to it and you can get a real workout and have some techy fun along the way. I love how it is easily combined with Brewer, which is more modern and has cleverly incorporated some natural features. The two together make for great variety and tons o’ fun.

    • Greg Heil

      PHRANQUY, thanks for the offer! Will try to remember that whenever the time comes!

    • Mark Larson

      Yes, the Piedmont/Brewer double is amazing! Brewer might be my favorite trail I rode in 2016!!!

  • stumpyfsr

    Watch your back, John. Cause MTB inquisition won’t let it go for sure 🙂
    I agree with you on Cuyuna. It’s ranking is artificial. This is a fun trail but it has to be repeated. Duluth has enough trails for a long weekend and could be even more once Duluth Traverse will be finished.
    About humidity in Wisconsin, its best to be ridden in Spring and Fall. It does take time to navigate Cable cluster, but that’s a part of the game I guess.
    I think, there’s one trail should be added to your list – Buffalo Creek in CO. It’s a good system, especially Black Jack and Raspberry Jack. But overrated. There’re better trails that deserve to be #1. Although it’s my subjective opinion.

    • John Fisch

      Buffalo Creek, eh?
      I can see that. I really run hot and cold with regard to Buff Creek. Sometimes i go there and wonder what all the fuss is about. Sometimes I go there and have the time of my life. Blackjack and Raspberry are excellent additions that really up the variety and keep the area from just being pure xc riding, but no matter where you start from, there’s a lot of xc to get there and then it turns full on double diamond. The area seems to lack anything in between. Other newer additions, like Nice Kitty have really improved loop opportunities without having to incorporate roads.

    • Greg Heil

      Have you guys ridden Little Scraggy at Buffalo Creek yet? I’m hoping to get over there and check it out this spring. I know the folks that built it and based on their previous work, should be a riot!!

    • Greg Heil

      Pretty sure the loop portion is done…

    • John Fisch

      “Pretty sure the loop portion is done…”

      Oh, great, now there’s another ride I have to add to my already too-long list!

    • wilsonm73

      Li’l Scraggy is a lot more fun than much of the other riding at BC save for BJ, Sandy wash and Raspberry I have ridden it 3 times. Up Nice Kitty to Scraggy, then down Scraggy to the CT, then down Shingle Mill to the car. Scraggy has some great variety to it incorporating lots of stone features and then there’s all those turns they included in the downhill. I hate the crushed granite surface for traction but if yo do the loop I rode its like 7 miles mostly downhill. I either ride to Black Jack or to Scraggy, I mostly skip the other trails at BC.

    • finerbiner

      Little Scraggy (Esp the long bermd downhill) is a great addition to Buffalo creek.

  • CycleKrieg

    As a Cuyuna local, please allow me to defend Cuyuna.

    Cuyuna is short ups and downs. Sorry, we only have so much vertical. We can’t do anything about that.

    But… there are two ways to ride Cuyuna. One is string together trails into a “tour” so you move trail to trail. The other is to session trails or groups of trails. What I’ve found is that those that complain about Cuyuna’s “shortness” do the latter. Look at our big race in the fall, we string together a contiguous loop of 25+ miles trails without repeats or dropping any trail. So if you come here to sesson downhills, yeah, Cuyuna might not be your jam. If you are hear to ride a continuous loop, it’s pretty rockin’.

    The one other thing I will add here is that we at Cuyuna aim to be a “family friendly” destination. Much of our success comes from the fact that 1-2 mile long individual trails vs. a 9 mile beat down trail is better if you are herding a gaggle of kids. Someone gets tired, you can head back to the car easily. You aren’t 3 miles into the bush trying to get a crying 10 yr. old out.

    We are adding nearly 4 miles of trail this year, the largest skills area in the Midwest and next year we are adding more trails, including a 9 mile long advanced beat down single-loop trail. If pucker-inducing bomb tracks are your thing, Cuyuna might never be the best. If you want a place where the other parent and kids or domestic partner can have some fun while you scare the bejeebers out of yourself and everyone can meet back at the kiosk in 15 minutes, Cuyuna is the best.

    • John Fisch

      Appreciate the input! It seemed to me that combining the various Cuyuna venues into one big loop would require a good deal of connecting on paved paths; did I miss something? In any case, it’s great to hear about the future plans.

    • CycleKrieg

      Other than the stretch between the Rally Center and Bootcamp on the south side of Huntington (which will have a singletrack option this year) it’s possible to do the whole shebang with minimum paved trail riding, maybe less than 200 yards, just bits between the Dragline sections.

      I’m guessing what you missed was looking at the trail map as a bunch of trails instead of looking at how this trail relates to that trail. Things will get better after this year, as part of the new mileage, we are reworking many trails to reduce confusing intersections.

  • SJP

    Re #2 – Patapsco.

    Avalon area is the worst part of Patapsco. The trails are too wide, the hills aren’t steep enough. It is highly rated because it is near two big cities and lots of beginners ride there. Hilton, Daniels, Woodstock, and McKeldin areas are all within a few miles of Avalon, and are better, with steeper pitches and narrower singletrack.

    • John Fisch

      Thanks for the info. Wish I had known that when I lived in NoVa. I was told McKeldin, for instance, was all doubletrack.

    • SJP

      Sure. You are partially right about McKeldin. If you park in the McKeldin area, you wind up on the west side of the Patapsco river, and there is a lot of doubletrack. There is now a bunch of newer singletrack there, but you are always linking with the older doubletrack. You have to cross the river to the east side for a nicer loop, but the ford is usually more than hub deep. So, the better approach is to park on Woodstock road where it crosses the river, and ride north into McKeldin on the east side of the river, and/or south into Woodstock area on either side of the river.

  • wilsonm73

    I remember reading on singletracks.com in an article about Vernal that Red Fleet was like Downeville or Porcupine Rim singletrack in comparison. We were traveling through on vacation to Dinosaur National Park and I decided to bring my bike along. After riding it I was so underwhelmed that I wondered if I had ridden the right trail. It was fun, just way over hyped. They’ve done a great deal of good trail work there, but the expectation was way to high.

  • k2rider

    I’m with you on the McKenzie River Trail although like Greg, we didn’t have to deal with too many hikers and the ones we did see moved off the trail for us. My issue is that last 1/3 of the trail which is just too monotonous and doesn’t add anything to the ride.

  • Joe_Farrell

    I was wondering what trails were coming down the pipe from you. I was curious to see if any of my favorites were there and there were not.

    I have never done McKenzie but have spend time in Oakridge and Ashland (awesome). I was planning on doing McKenzie in June and still will, but I’m glad to read your article and not get too hyped. Perhaps I will be surprised now with lower expectations.

    A couple of trails I think are over-rated are the Flume Trail in Incline Nevada. Views are great, but sandy trails are not too fun. The Tahoe Rim Trail that parallels it at the ridge line is far better. The Slickrock Trail in Moab UT is okay…cool and different, but nothing I’d particularly would need to do again. I was a little disappointed.

  • streighty

    Actually, all of Oregon and Washington are overrated. You should all go ride other locations that are far better.

    • Jeff Barber

      ↑ Not sure if serious or trying to keep it all to himself. 🙂

    • Joe_Farrell

      Please tell us where to ride Mr. Half Glass Empty….

  • cambaron

    No doubt about it, the Cable area is one of the most densely “trailed” areas in the Midwest thanks to the presence of the American Birkebeiner, North End Ski Club and the CAMBA trails. Not sure what the housing development is referenced in the piece – perhaps the new Birkie Start area near your B&B. Just down the road is the North End Trailhead with immediate access to the Ojibwe singletrack. When the singletrack interfaces with the ski and other trails, the junctions are generally pretty clear.

    A few things you should know:

    Last summer we completely revised the maps for the Cable-Seeley-Hayward and Namakagon trail clusters.  We think you’ll find them much easier to use.  Our 100+ miles of singletrack stand out clearly on the maps.

    This summer we will be installing a new generation of “You are Here” maps at all trail intersections.

    We’re now very actively in the process of upgrading trail signage to complement the new maps.  Clear and consistent signage that makes it easy to stay on course when you’re out on the trail is our goal.  It’s a big job that we hope to have completed by next summer.

    BTW – the CAMBA trails are all on county and federal forest land so there aren’t any housing developments going up along our trails.

    Not much we can do about the humidity other than to say it’s usually cooler here in the northwoods than other places you may ride.

    The bulk of our trails fall in an intermediate range, but there is technical challenge on the Rock Lake Trail, Danky Dank and parts of Esker & Ojibwe. Otherwise we’re keen on giving people a solid cross country experience that varies from narrow old school to open and flowing.

    Give us another shot and check out some of the long uninterrupted singletrack between Hayward and Seeley, Seeley to Cable and Cable to Namakagon.  We think there’s a lot to like here for any rider!

    • dgw2jr

      That road he mentioned was probably a logging road.

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