8 of the Most Technical Mountain Bike Trails in the USA, According to the Singletracks Community

Technical trail obstacles are the difference that separates mountain bikers from road bikers, sort of in the same way that opposable thumbs separate humans from, say, turkeys. Of course not all mountain bikers enjoy technically challenging trails, but for those who do, we put together a list of some of the most technical MTB trails the USA has to offer!

For this list we surveyed Singletracks members and asked this simple question: “What is the most technical MTB trail you know of?” The answers tended to cluster around a few spots, which makes us think a good follow-up article could be about the top destinations for finding gnar. But for now, here are the trails Singletracks members report are the most technical in the USA:

Farlow Gap (Pisgah Forest, NC)

Leafy rock drop. Photo: Foxlake64.
Leafy rock drop. Photo: Foxlake64.

The Singletracks team recently spent a long weekend in Pisgah, and during our uber-challenging Laurel Mountain / Pilot Cove ride, we asked our extremely fast and capable guide, Megan, which trail in Pisgah she thought was the most technical. Her response: Farlow Gap. Well, it turns out Singletracks readers agree, and they mentioned Farlow Gap more than any other trail in our survey. This trail drops 2,000 feet in just 3 miles and is littered with rocks and roots pretty much the whole way down. The second part of the descent, down Daniel Ridge, is no picnic either.

For the record, Megan said she thought the Laurel Mountain / Pilot Cove ride was the second most technical ride in Pisgah.

Portal Trail (Moab, UT)

Talk about exposure! Photo: paradix
Talk about exposure! Google Earth screenshot from paradix

There are a number of factors that make a mountain bike trail “technical,” including things like the width of the trail, steepness, the size of rocks and roots, man-made features like ramps, and exposure. That last factor, exposure, is on full display on the Portal Trail in Moab. Even if you’re not familiar with the name of this trail, you’ve probably seen a photo of the (very real) sign on the trail that states, “Dismount now! Do not attempt to ride the next rock. 200 foot cliff. Three riders have died here.”

The Portal Trail is a part of the Mag 7 trail system and features plenty of rocks and vertigo-inducing exposure, if that’s your thing.

Dakota Ridge Trail (Denver, CO)

Photo: James S
Photo: James S

The Dakota Ridge Trail is located just outside of Denver, making it a popular destination for many riders. But don’t let that accessibility fool you! Dakota Ridge features insanely-chunky rocks, steep climbs, and ridge line exposure on both sides of the trail. I’m sure there are folks who can ride the whole thing but most mortals will walk some–or heck, most–of this trail.

Blackjack / Raspberry Ridge (Pine, CO)

Photo: Michael Paul. Rider: Mark.
Photo: Michael Paul. Rider: Mark.

Blackjack and Raspberry Ridge are two short connector trails within the Buffalo Creek trail system near Pine, CO. Buffalo Creek is one of my favorite trail systems in the world, and many others enjoy it as well due to the number of expansive, flowing, XC-style trails available. But Blackjack in particular is best described as anything but XC-style or flowing. The technical highlight of the trail is a feature known as the Slot Machine, a 20-ish-foot rock waterfall with lines that are as slotted as they are steep.

True story: Greg and I rode Buffalo Creek a few years ago, shortly after the Blackjack and Raspberry Ridge trails opened. When we got to the “Slot Machine” we surveyed the line, and I quickly decided I wasn’t going to attempt it. But Greg really wanted to ride it. He even went so far as to make a few approaches before stopping short. Finally I told him not to attempt it if he was hesitant in any way, because I didn’t want to be the one dragging his potentially-broken body back to the road!

Moore Fun (Fruita, CO)

Photo: DurangoMtBikeTours
Photo: DurangoMtBikeTours

Depending on how you view technical MTB trails, “Moore Fun” could be an oxymoronic trail name. Like the technical trail picks in Moab, Moore Fun features plenty of ledgy exposure and rocks galore to keep riders on top of their tech game.

If you thought Fruita was more flow than whoa, don’t worry–there’s plenty of flow to be found in the area too. The trails in the 18 Road system are generally far less technical than those found in the Kokopelli Area, where Moore Fun is located.

Porcupine Rim (Moab, UT)

Photo: Bob Ward
Photo: Bob Ward

Porcupine Rim is perhaps the most famous of the technical mountain bike trail rides. For one thing, mountain bikers have been riding the trail forever, and for another, a lot of people ride it. Unlike some of the other picks on this list with just a few reviews from Singletracks community members, Porcupine Rim has been reviewed 86 times over the years. The trail itself isn’t particularly narrow, but it does offer Moab-style exposure and steep, rocky descents.

True story #2: I once wimped out on a chance to ride the Porcupine Rim trail due to its technically-demanding reputation. I was at the end of a bikepacking hut-to-hut trip and part of our group decided to finish the 7-day trip by riding down Porcupine Rim, fully loaded. I, on the other hand, rode down Sand Flats road instead. Maybe next time…

Captain Ahab (Moab, UT)

Photo: bonkedagain
Photo: bonkedagain

Captain Ahab is located in the Amasa Back Area and offers up four miles of steep slickrock descents and chunky rock sections. Captain Ahab doesn’t seem to have quite as much cliffside exposure as the other Moab trails included higher on this list. And honestly, experienced riders should be able to clean the whole descent. But make no mistake, this is still a double-black diamond-rated trail!

Hangover (Sedona, AZ) 

Photo: Greg Heil
Photo: Greg Heil

Is it possible for a mountain bike trail to become a YouTube star? If so, Hangover is probably one of the first thanks to POV footage from Nate Hills showing just how “sketchy” this trail really is. Hangover, I’m guessing, gets its name from all the overhanging rocks on the trail that force riders to steer toward the edge of the cliff leading to the canyon below. Not only does this trail feature white-knuckle-inducing exposure, there are significant rocks and boulders to navigate along the way.

The White Line trail is another technically-challenging trail in Sedona, though as far as we know, it’s not exactly legal to ride. Unlike other trails on this list, the pucker-factor on the White Line trail is due purely to exposure and little else in the way of technical factors.

Beyond the Top 8

Within our survey data we had a massive tie for 9th place, and every one these trails certainly deserves an honorable mention:

To be honest, some of the trails on the honorable mention list might be even more difficult than the ones listed in the official top 8! But as we’ve discovered, many of the most technical trails just aren’t very well known, since few riders actually seek them out.

Your turn: Where do you go to find the most technical mountain bike trails? We’d love to hear about your favorites!

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