How To Plan the Perfect MTB Road Trip

Everyone defines their perfect MTB road trip differently. For some, it might be stringing together a long loop of mountain bike trails at different locations to drive to and hit, one after another. For others, it might be driving cross-country non-stop to reach a destination that has enough singletrack to fill a full week of vacation time. For still others, it might be a combination of the two.

This summer my wife and I are going on an epic road trip. This road trip is so epic that we don’t even know for certain how long it will be or how many trails we will ride yet. However, we do have a plan in place about where we will start, and here’s how we went about getting to this point.

The view from Porcupine Rim, one of the trails I’ll get to ride this summer. Photo: maddslacker.

Getting Started

To figure out which approach you want to take when planning your road trip, start by determining your purpose. Do you want to ride epic downhill, desert slickrock, high alpine lung busters, or something else? The primary focus of our trip is to visit the San Francisco Bay area and the Los Angeles area to ride trails that aren’t already in the database. As a result, our destination was already chosen for us.

While those are our main destinations and we will be spending a significant amount of time at each of them, along the way we are definitely going to add in a number of different trails. To figure out exactly which trails to ride and which to skip, I started with the list of the best mountain bike trails in the world. While we are going to be spending some time in Colorado and driving through Utah on our way to California, we are obviously going to have to skip over some really amazing trails. However, one thing I decided that we could not do is just drive past a trail that is on the top 10 list. Turns out, our path is taking us near a lot of top 10 trails that I had never ridden before: Porcupine Rim, Slickrock, and 18 Road Trails. I am definitely going to sink my tires into the dirt at each of those trails!

We are also going to visit a couple of spots that are close to the top 10 list but not quite on it, including Park City and Downieville. There are a few spots that we probably won’t be able to fit in, such as the Tahoe area. While those trails might wind up on a list of regrets, we can at least take solace in the fact that we are still young and have our whole life ahead of us to travel to these places another time (Lord willing)!

The Destination

Once you reach the destination where you want to spend some serious time, how exactly are you supposed to pick which trails to ride and when? Obviously, starting with the database and choosing some of the highest-rated trails is the best idea, but what if there is an area that is really dense with trails, there are tons that you have to choose from, and you need to remember which ones to ride?

Well, I developed a little system using Google Maps that works pretty well. In case you weren’t aware, if you have a Google account you can create and save custom maps with various place markers. I took the data for the trails I wanted to ride in each specific area (SF Bay and LA) and created two different Google maps. After plotting all the points, it’s easy to see exactly which trails could be ridden together on which days. Of course, the searchable Google map on Singletracks does that for you, but plotting hand-picked trails on your own map will eliminate distractions and clutter from trails that you have decided, for one reason or another, not to ride.

For instance, here’s a screenshot of my Bay Area riding plan:

As you can see, I have categorized the trail markers using different colors. For you, perhaps green will be the best trails, blue the second best, and red the worst, etc. On my map, I categorized the trails by the amount of information we have on Singletracks: green for the most (and so good that we can’t skip over them), blue for some information but not enough, and red for none. As a result, the red and blue trails are my priority. As you can see, there aren’t very many red trails on this map, so LA is actually even more of a priority than the Bay Area:

After plotting the trails and seeing where they were located, I visited and researched a few quality campgrounds that would be centrally located to the trails I wanted to ride, and also added those to the map as well. If there are other attractions or things you want to do while on vacation, you could definitely add those to the map as well, using different icons, and presto! you have a digital game plan for your vacation!

Moving Forward

The big question mark in our personal plan this summer is what happens after we leave LA. Right now we are tentatively planning on spending a few days in Big Bear and making that a mini destination all its own. However, we might have much more time than we initially thought, so there are still some decisions to be made.

Watch this space–I will keep you all updated as plans develop, and look for regular blog posts this summer as we travel the nation!

Your Turn: What’s your idea of the perfect road trip?

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