When I first reviewed my favorite local trail here on Singletracks, I vividly remember what was written by the reviewer before me. He gave the trail one star, mostly bemoaning the lack of challenge, which I thought was funny given that the trail is anything but easy. Most people consider it one of the toughest trails in an area with a lot of tough trails. Even if you were the long lost love child of Hans Rey and Marla Streb, you wouldn’t find it as easy as the reviewer implied. And even if the trail was easier, it would still be a great ride for the scenery and the variety it offers with a nice extended climb and a fun, long descent, smooth, fast, buff sections, gravelly surf, and rocky, technical spots. I thought it a shame that the reviewer chose to either pump himself up and/or put the rest of us down by demeaning a prime piece of singletrack.
Not long after that, however, I noticed that another reviewer on another trail had taken me to task for giving a poor rating on a particular trail, in part because it was too easy. Egad! Had I become a trail snob? Look—I downgraded that trail not just because it was easy, but because it didn’t seem to offer much even for a novice rider compared to other trails in the area . . . honest . . . really!
So, to help my fellow Singletrackers (and seek atonement), I offer this: my Top 10 list of Most Excellent Novice-Friendly trails. After all, beginner trails, if properly constructed or located in just the right place, can provide a fantastic experience for anybody who loves singletrack. What’s more, advanced fun, beginner-friendly trails are great for groups of mixed abilities who would still like to ride together. They also provide a place where a strong rider can introduce friends to the fine art of singletracking without dying of boredom in the process. Many of these trail selections offer “upgrade” opportunites as well.
Rustler’s Loop, Fruita, Colorado
If you’ve been to Fruita, then you know. Rather than stretch my brain for new words, I’ll simply quote the review I posted here on singletracks in 2008: “This has to be the best beginner trail in existence, as well as the perfect introduction to Fruita. What’s more, it can also be fun for an advanced rider–just see how fast you can take the corners. The trail has great flow throughout, and great scenery to boot.” It’s nice when a mountain biking mecca also has something for the less seasoned. For those who feel like they’ve “graduated” from Rustler’s Loop, you can continue on out Mary’s Trail and try to stretch yourself on something a little more challenging, or maybe even take a run on Horsethief Bench, although that will require a couple dismounts for all but the most skilled riders.
Intrepid Trail at Dead Horse Point State Park, Moab, Utah
Just 90 minutes down the road from Fruita is the original mountain biking mecca, Moab, which has long been known for its lack of novice options. Beginners would mistakenly head for the Slickrock Trail, thinking the “practice loop” would be suitable and invariably find themselves pushing or hurting, but never happy.
But in recent years, Moab has expanded its offerings in a big way with a whole host of novice-friendly options. First among these is the Intrepid Trail at Dead Horse Point State Park. This is a nine mile loop that can be shortened to four or two miles with well placed cutoffs. However, my wife, a decidedly non-extreme sportsperson, who had never once turned cranks over knobbies, rode the full meal deal with a couple easy dismounts, and loved every bit of it. For our part, my son, an advanced technical rider, and I had a ball as well. The trail is consistently entertaining and is always accompanied by wonderful, unique scenery.
Bell Rock Trailway, Sedona, Arizona
Sedona is yet another Southwestern desert destination, known for gnarly, advanced routes. However, the Bell Rock path beckons even the most timid rider. It’s wide, mostly flat, and has few, small rock obstacles, all easily ridden. Whatever the trail lacks in challenge, it makes up with the best scenery in singletrack land and that uber-cool Sedona vibe. Most riders start at the southern trailhead in the Village of Oak Creek , ride as far North as they like, and turn around. For the novice with a desire to step it up, but just a bit, it’s easy to add on the 2.5-mile Big Park loop for some genuine narrow, but mostly beginner-friendly singletrack.
Sandia Mountains Foothills Trail, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Fear not, not all these great beginner trails are in far off mountain bike destinations—some actually reside in or near large population centers. One of my favorite areas is the Sandia Mountain Foothills that run North and South along the entire east side of Albuquerque, New Mexico. There’s a series of networks here of varying aerobic challenge (none truly steep) and all technically easy with a few intermediate spots. I have taken total newbs here and they loved it. I have taken advanced riders here with much the same response. This has also consistently proven to be the most gorgeous sunset ride with the changing colors in the ebbing light.
Maah Daah Hey Trail, Watford City to Medora, North Dakota Badlands
Okay, so at 100+ miles of trail through truly remote, inhospitable country may not be your idea of a beginner-friendly trail. However, there are multiple access points and you can do an out-and-back of your preferred distance from any of them. There are some extended climbs from the bottom to the top of the badlands, usually in the 400-600 vertical foot range, sometimes with steep, rutted sections, but the vast majority of the trail is fast and swoopy flat. Your biggest challenge is likely to come from dodging cowpies (or the cows themselves) as much of the area is leased to local ranchers. Just bring plenty of water and turn around before you think you need to. Again, the scenery and swoopy parts will keep the advanced riders happy.
In part two, we’ll explore more great beginner trails and I’ll try to come to a conclusion as to whether or not I’m really a trail snob.