Yesterday, I told you about 10 trails which you fail to appreciate in the way they deserve to be appreciated. In the interest of keeping balance in the universe, I must now share with you those trails which you seem to place too much emphasis on. These are trails you, either as the Singletracks community or the mountain bike community at large, inexplicably overrate given their inherent drawbacks or the availability of even better trails in the immediate area.
Sweetwater Preserve, Tucson, AZ
Sweetwater is a very nice trail system; much of its appeal lies in its location in the midst of one of the Sonoran Desert’s densest saguaro cactus forests. But there’s nice and then there’s inexplicable devotion. Sweetwater showed up in our poll of the top 20 rides in the west for scenery. I know the poll wasn’t for the best trails overall, just best trails for scenery, but even that is crazy. Now I like the big cacti as much as the next guy, but that’s all there is there. More and more saguaro. No stunning views of mountains, lakes, streams, no other type of foliage, just brown upon brown punctuated with the big green cactus-trees. It gets pretty monolithic after a while. This is a fun place to take a newb or a first-time visitor to the Sonoran landscape. Beyond that, there’s not much reason to return, especially with the likes of the 50 Year Trail, Aspen Draw, and Fantasy Island nearby.
Joe’s Ridge / 18 Road, Fruita, CO
Joe’s Ridge is an interesting case, sitting right between Kessel Run and Zippity Doo Dah. If it was anywhere else it would be wonderfully unique and worth frequent visits. But as it sits, it has neither the white-knuckle steeps and exposure of Zippity, nor the fun, freewheeling flow of Kessel. Rather than being a Goldilocks-style “just right” compromise of its two neighbors, it forsakes what make both of them great and just settles for something in between. Come to think of it, the whole 18 Road area has neither the technical wonders of the nearby Lunch Loops nor the variety or scenery of the Kokopelli network. The area gets maybe 10% of my Fruita time, if that.
Switchgrass, Wilson, KS
According to most, this is the best trail in Kansas. I’m not sure I agree, but even if it is, that would be like saying Blanche was the hottest of the Golden Girls or your five year old was the best pianist at her kindergarten recital. There are definitely some goodies along the trail and it’s certainly the best thing for at least a hundred miles in any direction, but number 28 in the country? I can think of 28 trails in Moab alone I’d rather ride than Switchgrass. 90% of the time, the view is of brown, dead, empty prairie, and that very artificial reservoir. You also get good views of all the RVs in the campgrounds, since there are no trees to obscure your view. There’s plenty of miles, but that’s because the trail constantly doubles back on itself and you’re usually looking at what you rode a mile ago or what you’re going to ride a mile from now. And the wind! Having lived in Cheyenne, WY and central Montana, I never let wind stop me from enjoying a ride, but no trail with that much wind deserves to be #28 in the nation!
Schaeffer Farms, Germantown, MD
I have never been so bored by a highly-rated trail as I was at Schaeffer Farms. Even the trail names were boring: “White trail,” “Yellow trail,” “Blue Trail,” etc. They meander through meadows and woods utterly lacking in flow, originality, or character. This was as generic a ride as I’ve ever seen. Raving about Schaeffer Farms with the likes of the Frederick Watershed, Gambrill State Park and even Greenbrier State Park nearby is like raving about your local Applebees when there’s a plethora of high quality, unique local restaurants in the neighborhood.
Emerald Lake, Bozeman, MT
I have heard more than one person call this the most beautiful ride in Montana. It is indeed beautiful, but I find it not only not the most beautiful ride in Montana, but not even the most beautiful ride in the Bozeman area. Again, if this ride were most anywhere else, it would be a crowning jewel… but here, it’s not even average. It’s only five miles each way on a simple out-and-back. Much of the “singletrack” is wide enough for my minivan. It’s also one of the most popular hiking and equestrian trails in the area–so much so that bikes are banned on certain days, and even on the days when they’re allowed, you’re still going to get plenty of dismounts to let hikers and equestrians pass, most of whom will just frown at you for your effort to share the trail since you shouldn’t even be there anyway as far as they’re concerned. It’s a nice trail, worth doing at least once, but afterward, it’s better to stick with the likes of the Bangtail Divide, Chestnut Mountain, Leverich, or even South Cottonwood with all its options.
White Mesa, San Ysidro, NM
This is truly a unique trail and well-worth visiting, but #1 in New Mexico? Here’s my New Mexico Top 10:
- Otero Canyon
- Winsor Trail
- South Boundary Trail
- Alien Run
- Faulty Trail
- Devisadaro Loop
- Atayala Peak
- High Desert Trails
- Guaje Ridge
- 10K Trail
Notice what’s missing? White Mesa, and for good reason. (Were I to continue the list, it would probably show up around #13). While it’s unique, it’s also quite dead. People rave about the fantastic desert scenery. At least the deserts in Arizona have green cacti and the deserts in Utah have red rock. This desert is all just so much brown. Or is it grey? Really, it’s just a bunch of grey-brown, and dead grey-brown at that. This place makes Switchgrass look like the Amazon rain forest. Really, the moonscape is equally life sustaining. And the often sandy singletrack isn’t particular entertaining, either. Kudos to the BLM for developing this trail network, though. I’m really glad I went… once.
Maah Daah Hey Trail, Western ND
This is an IMBA Epic. There’s 100+ miles of singletrack. What’s not to love? Maybe if the trail wasn’t torn to shreds by grazing cattle, that would be nice, not to mention the joy of dodging all those cowpies throughout the trail’s length. And this is North Dakota, so it’s under snow 7 months out of the year. When the snow melts, a single raindrop can turn the trail into an unrideable clayey mess. And as cold as it gets in the winter, it gets equally hot in the summer. An occasional tree might be nice, but there’s absolutely zero relief from the sun. The northern end of the trail has a two-mile section which cuts through a remote corner of the north unit of the Teddy Roosevelt National Park with no ridea-round available on the adjacent private property. 100 miles of continuous singletrack and you can’t do a through ride because 2% clips the corner of a national park. Ridiculous.
Alum Creek, Columbus, OH
I first rode Alum Creek fully 48 hours after the last rain. It was still a boggy mess. But I was told it was a great trail if you catch it at the right time. Next time I made sure it had been at least 72 hours since the last rain. Same result. Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice… well you know the rest. Nonetheless, given the constant raves, I made yet another journey after a rare full week without rain. Most of the trail was dry, but there were still little black swamps lingering at many depressions in the trail. What was dry wasn’t worth the drive given that I lived closer to Ceasar Creek and Hueston Woods. Three strikes and Alum’s out. I suppose if I lived on the north side of Columbus and could really pick and choose my ride times, I could find a good day, but even then, I doubt it would live up to the raves of the locals.
Good Water Rim, Castle Dale, UT
Here’s another one which gets raves for its scenery, and rightfully so. The “little grand canyon” is nothing short of spectacular and 16 miles of this route snakes its way along every contour of the canyon’s rim giving the rider a constant eyeful of one of earth’s most dramatic pieces of topography. The problem is, after enough of these curves and coming around yet another curve to face yet another view of the same canyon, it gets quite monotonous. Halfway through the singletrack portion is a bailout on to the dirt road that returns three miles to the trailhead. About two miles after that, we were really wishing we’d taken it. The trail itself isn’t much to speak of, just an infinite assortment of little ledges, loose rock, and twists and turns which get increasingly annoying as the miles wear on. When we reached the end of the singletrack and hit the 6 miles of dirt road that took us away from the canyon rim and back to the trailhead, we were quite glad to be making good time toward getting out of there.
Fountainhead, Fairfax, VA
Fountainhead is far and away the most popular ride in northern Virginia. It’s easy to see why since it offers more miles and more challenge than most rides in the area. The place has a dedicated crew maintaining it, it has stacked loops so you can customize your ride, and it is both unidirectional and hiker-free, meaning you can hammer ‘til your heart’s content with little fear of conflict. So what’s the problem? First of all, Fountainhead seems to have two conditions: “wet” or “closed.” Of course, I always appreciated the closures as they were necessary to preserve the quality of the trail, but they were far too frequent for this to be a top-ranked trail. And when you can ride it, it’s just a constant series of very steep ups and downs through about a gazillion drainages punctuated by incessant and highly-annoying roots, most of which were continually slick. Even when it hadn’t rained, the roots are treacherous with morning dew in that very high humidity thanks to its proximity to the coast. I was glad to have Fountainhead, but could never think of it as an elite trail.
(Author’s caveat: I actually like each trail listed here; exaggeration was liberally employed to emphasize why I like them apparently less than others.)
Your turn: Is there a trail you just don’t “get” like others, or where have I missed the boat on any of the above? Share your comments below.
I agree on White Mesa, good, but not “best in the state” good.
PHIL’s WORLD!! How the hell is this trail always rated among the best in the country?!?! Mindless flow with no scenery, and it covers about 4 square miles with 25 miles of trail! It’s all turns!
I agree 100 percent. When I went to Colorado I thought it was my least favorite trails of all the ones I rode. Definately a good local trail if you live in Cortez but not worth driving to and if you’re in southwest go to Durango.
My only experience with Phils World was doing it INSTEAD of the Durango trails after an unexpected snowstorm turned the Telegraph to mush. Phil’s was dry, and I was not as impressed as other trails I’ve ridden, but I came away from that trail really satisfied. For one thing, there are parts and features of PW for everyone, which is why it is popular. Also, if you live west of Cortez, Phils is probably the best, closest trail. I think it is a great trail…once or twice…but not going out of your way for if you go to Durango to ride on vacation
I couldn’t disagree more. I love Phil’s World. As a matter of fact, I think it’s the best designed trail system I’ve ever been on. 100% singletrack, 100% directional, great signage, plenty of trail variety as every loop is a little different and every person I’ve taken there has raved about the scenery. I have family in Durango and make the trek to PW every year to get a ride in. Just goes to show, we all appreciate different types of riding.
I have to disagree about Switchgrass–I think it’s a great trail system. Granted, time of year might play a role. When I visited in early summer it was all green and verdant and the reservoir was sparkling! Fast flowy parts, some techy rock spots, and miles and miles of trail with a campground right in the middle!
skelldify, I rode a small part of Phil’s World and was similarly not blown away. Still, I guess I should reserve judgement until I get a chance to ride the whole system.
I have not ridden this, but I was thinking the same thing. I have driven by where the trail is on I-70 many times, and in the summer, it seems like a beautiful place to ride. It’s a different trail than Porcupine Rim for sure, but a trail that reminds you of the heartland…which is pretty cool. It’s like an easier version of Curt Gowdy SP.
I also had a great time at Switchgrass. It was blazing hot when I rode there, but I thought the trailbuilding around the edge of the reservoir was pretty ingenious and entertaining, and I thought the lake scenery coupled with the rolling prairie hills was pretty remarkable for Kansas. If I have the time, I’d definitely stop there and ride again.
If I had to choose an 18 Road trail, Kessel and PBR would rate above Joe’s Ridge. For me that one is never a “destination” but more like a way to extend a ride.
I agree but I also agree that 18 Road is my least favorite “area” out there. I’d say Kokopelli is my favorite due to variety & scenery but Lunch Loops is nipping at it’s heels.
It must be great to have these problems to debate about…
^^^ Very jealous rider right here, folks.
I have ridden several of these trails and I’m not sure if I agree, but your comment about the Golden Girls had me laughing out loud. Not sure what overrated means exactly, but implies it’s still a good trail, just not as great as its rating??? If these trails were the worst you rode, it would be a charmed life! Like your previous article also.
Yes–still good, or even great . I just dig them a little less than others–either that or there are other trail I like more in the immediate area.
And yes, life is indde good!
I don’t think I’ve ridden any of these. In some ways I could put Landahl on this list. Granted it doesn’t rate as high as one might expect, being so close to KC, but take”RimJob”(and the other colorfully named trails) for instance. Little flow tons of rock/section riding. If you have the skills mosseltoph, but for me at least it’s a big hike a bike.
Interesting point. I really seem to like trails that lack flow, often better than ones which supposedly have great flow. I guess if the trail has flow, then there’s no need for me to creat the flow, which for me is more satisfying. Landahl is a good example of this.
On the other hand there is a ton of amazing trail out there, and my skills have grown since I’ve been there. Finally planning to return.
John; always enjoy your articles, this one included. It was great riding in Florence with you last weekend. That trail needs someone to give it an appropriate name. I nominate you.
Don’t worry, John, I don’t like any of those trails more than you, you’re a alright guy! 😆
I’ve only ridden Sweetwater from the list and I would completely agree with your assessment: it’s a good ride but there are better ones out there like 50 Year Trail and Fantasy Island (I haven’t ridden Aspen Draw.)
That said, I think Sweetwater is much better if you’re bringing beginners with you. The saguaros are pretty cool, there isn’t too much elevation change, and the signage is simply outstanding.
With the excellent signage, you and your beginner don’t necessarily need to ride together. The better rider can break off on a more technical route and meet up where the trails join again.
Fantasy Island isn’t bad for beginners (50 Year would be), but I think Sweetwater would be better….and Fantasy Island just begs to be ridden at full speed!
Interesting to read your take on a bunch of these trails, John! Thanks for sharing! Trails like Sweetwater, Emerald Lake, White Mesa, and the Maah Dah Hey have been on my to-do list for some time, so if I get the chance I’ll still probably give them a whirl. However, it’s good to have my expectations in check 🙂
Ha! Had to laugh in agreement with both 18 Road area and Goodwater Rim. I always try not to roll my eyes when the group wants to start the trip at 18 Road as it’s exactly NOT the best stuff there. And Goodwater ridden once is enough.