Singletracks Staff and Contributors’ Favorite Trails of the Year

We asked our staff and contributors to tell us about the best mountain bike trail(s) they rode this year.

This is a hard task. Especially for anyone who has trouble remembering what they had for breakfast yesterday. Fortunately, the best trail of (your) year should be more memorable than the best breakfast of the year, however, that is an assumption and there is at least one mention of breakfast in here too.

Singletracks is fortunate enough to work with a lot of great riders, writers, and contributors around the world. We sent an email to gather what everyone’s favorite trails they experienced are and ended up with a pretty solid list here, with picks from the Pacific Northwest all the way up to New Hampshire and back down South.

Here are our trail picks of the year. If you rode one of these this year, give it a shout out in the comments, or tell us what your favorite trail was this year and why others should check it ASAP.

Freedom Park, Williamsburg, Virginia

Richard Shoop

This year, we took a family trip to Williamsburg, VA in October. I rode the trails at Freedom Park there.  They have five loops totaling 20 miles.  The one I loved the most was Loop C.  It is an intermediate-rated trail about four miles long and has approximately 200ft of climbing and descending.  The cool part was that it had several black diamond features, like drops, jumps, and skinnies with ride arounds, so you could be as rowdy as you wanted to be.  It was a really cool trail in a place that isn’t considered to be a mountain biking destination. The first picture I attached is from Freedom Park.

Bonus: Bryson City, North Carolina

My all time favorite trail is the Left Loop and Right Loop at Tsali Recreation Area in Bryson City, NC.  Combined they are a little over 20 miles in length with nearly 2,000 feet of climbing and about the same amount of descending.  They are IMBA Epic trails that were redone a few years ago by Ed Sutton and his crew with Trail Dynamics and they have such great flow.  Though they are rated as intermediate, they are not for the faint of heart.  They go around the side of the mountains up there and there are drop-offs of a few hundred feet in places with little room for error.  But they give you breathtaking views of Lake Fontana and the surrounding area. 

Trace Ridge, Mills River, North Carolina

Jan Smith

Like so many others who visit the Brevard, NC region for mountain biking, I am a devoted fan of well-known trails like Ridgeline (at Dupont State Forest) and Black Mountain, Avery and Bennett Gap in Pisgah. But in 2023, I was looking for something fresh to ride. Local riders kept referencing a trail I had never heard of: Trace Ridge.

A look at the data on “Upper” Trace Ridge reveals a 2.7-mile-long black diamond rated trail with 933’ of descending and a mere 169’ of climbing. The Trailforks descriptions also sounded fun: gullied, technical, exposed rock, drops, very rocky and fast before a flowy finish. Lovely. Getting there requires effort, but it proved well worth the sweat equity.

After that introduction, it should come as no surprise that my favorite new trail ridden in 2023 was Trace Ridge in Mills River, NC.

Once you reach the actual top on Trace Ridge (and it is a burner of a long climb) you are rewarded with technical, chundery, non-stop downhill. Loose rock is everywhere, including in the landing areas for most of the drop-offs, and if you let the brakes go, the speed is unabated. Trace Ridge is a pure fast-reaction experience. But other than one larger log drop-off, none of the drops are so deep that they massively compress the suspension and slow you down. It is a very fast descent that requires constant attention and correction as the rocks come fast and furious, often attempting to smash the front wheel off course. But the rocks are never “full-garden” style like on portions of Avery Creek, and the drops are never full-on, deep, staircase style, bleeding speed in heavy compressions, like on parts of Middle Black or Bennett Gap. This lets you open up on Trace Ridge all the way from the top to the end. By the time you reach the parking lot at the bottom the adrenaline will be pumping. Yes….. I went back and did it again.

Staunton State Park and Cub Creek, Pine and Evergreen, Colorado

Matt Dunn

In the last few years, Cub Creek to Staunton State Park has been my favorite. The ride starts with a relentlessly steep and extremely technical climb for about 1700′, which in the end turns into a bomber, chunky, and enduro-style descent. After the initial climb, riders can connect to Staunton State Park which features a variety of flowy trails that provide the inverse characteristics of the Cub Creek chunk. My most recent loop was North Elk Creek to Rusty Buckle & Border Line, then back up North Elk Creek. The setting was the perfect time of fall with the leaves changing and moist soil from a recent rain. The ride has everything an experienced and fit rider is looking for! The last loop was roughly 20 miles long with 3,300ft of gain.

King Castle, Bend, Oregon

Travis Reill

I lucked out and was told about a trail relatively close to home that was a highlight of the year. There is a hidden gem just past the very popular McKenzie River Trail outside of Bend, Oregon. The trail is called King Castle and trumps the crowded McKenzie River Trail any day.

My preference is to ride as an out and back, although there is a forest road some climb that adds a mile or so on. As an out-and-back, a four-mile climb will return over 1600 feet of descending. King Castle combines tech and flow with a backcountry feel that can be harder to find than you would think. Plus, the loamy mountain soil is a needed break from the Central Oregon dust.

Black Canyon Trail, Arizona

Riley Missel

The coolest trail I rode this year was the Black Canyon Trail just north of Phoenix. It’s got miles and miles of stunning mountain vistas and thrilling flowy canyon sections–but it also has a healthy dose of rocky climbs and sandy riverbeds to make you earn those turns. It’s about 80 miles in total if you ride it from end to end and the total elevation gain is 4,858, with most of it rated as blue or black.

I rode the trail as a 3-day bikepacking trip with some friends, but there are plenty of trailheads along the way to park at and just ride a section. If you do ride the whole thing I’d highly recommend stopping at the Cleator Bar & Yacht Club near Crown King, and also in Rock Springs for the famous pie. Also, keep an eye out for the herds of wild burros–they’re so cute.

Ladies Only, Mt. Fromme, North Vancouver, BC

Wayne Parsons

Ladies Only is an iconic North Shore trail built by the legendary Todd “Digger” Fiander. Although Ladies Only is far from my current favorite, it has a special place in my heart. It was my first introduction to North Shore mountain biking back in the mid-90s when I was first learning how to ride. Back then, I stumbled upon this trail almost by accident. And after seeing it for the first time, I thought it was a hiking trail. I was convinced nobody in their right mind could ride it. 

Since I had just started mountain biking, most trails were daunting to me. I took this as a challenge and set out to learn how to ride challenging North Shore trails, like Ladies Only. It was almost an addiction to keep pushing my riding abilities and honing my craft. Like a lot of North Vancouver mountain bike trails, Ladies has a double black diamond rating due to a few butt-clenching features, like the Big Stupid, an off-camber rock roll at the end of the trail that exits through two narrow trees. Alternatively, there is an even sketchier exit that features a very steep fall line filled with bald roots and slippery rocks (see photo). 

I rode Ladies Only (that sounds so wrong) so many times that it became my training trail for racing downhill. I would push my 40-plus-pound downhill bike up there and loosely time myself, before the invention of smartphones and Strava. This trail almost single-handedly allowed me to make it to the elite ranks in downhill racing.

That was nearly 25 years ago. Back then I didn’t mind it if there were ladder bridges and log skinnies on a trail. Now, you can find me avoiding those trail features at all costs. Still, Ladies Only holds a special fondness that will always stick with me. I don’t ride it very much anymore, trading in slow tech lines with speed and flow. But I still like to go up there, sometimes without a bike, just to look around at all the old lines.

Kandagnar Trail, North Conway, New Hampshire

Melissa Stevens

This was an extremely hard exercise for me but interesting to reflect on the trails I’ve ridden this year. I decided to go with one that is probably lesser known, in my native land, New Hampshire. 

The Kandagnar trail is located in North Conway, New Hampshire and is part of the Hurricane trail system. It is right next to lift-assisted Canmore Mountain, but don’t be lured in by the lifts. This one is worth the pedal. The trail is rated double-black, though the locals say the Hurricane trail system rates extremely conservatively. The trail is a mile long with 900 feet of descent. I love it because it has everything that I want in a downhill trail, and with little to no people riding it, sessioning is a breeze. Rock rolls, techy root/rock sections, catch berms, and a creek gap at the end make this trail exciting. But it is the overall flow and use of natural features that makes this trail stand out for me.

Razorback Ridge Trail (at night), Ocala, Florida

Jeff Barber

The trail was almost literally a blur. 

I could barely see straight and it seemed as if every line choice was made wholly without thinking. Here I was, riding the Razorback Ridge Trail in Florida at night, fully experiencing the flow state for the first time in a long time. 

The Razorback Ridge Trail sits at the western end of the Santos Trail System and snakes a narrow cut through mounds of sand left over from a failed canal project abandoned decades ago. The tread – packed sand punctuated with awkward barky roots and coral-like decomposed limestone – is grippy enough, until it isn’t. In peeks and peripheral glances the forest reveals itself, frocked with palms and pine, dripping with Spanish moss.

Rolling up and down, twisting left and right, I found myself in a trance-like state that February night, unconscious of the miles rolling by. Occasionally, a sharp turn or steep climb appeared out of nowhere, jolting me back to the task at hand. But just as quickly, the flowy, rolly trail lulled me right back into the flow state. 

I’m sure Razorback Ridge is a fun trail to ride in the daylight, but that night I tapped into its electric, mysterious energy in a way I’ll never forget. 

Llano Carreta, Ixtepeji/Oaxaca, Mexico

Matt Miller

It is hard to narrow this down to one trail, but I’d say the most fun and distinct singletrack I rode was the Llano Carreta trail near Oaxaca, Mexico. I didn’t pick this just because it was in Mexico, or because it ends in a village where you can drink hot chocolate and eat chilaquiles (breakfast nachos) for breakfast. It is a sizable descent that takes you through a variety of climates and has the kind of rough and flowy singletrack that makes me smile.

The trail starts at over 10,000ft with swooping turns through evergreens while you punch through dry, loamy dirt. You’ll bob and weave down dense green forest for a mile-and-a-half or so, before plummeting down past human-sized agaves on chunky fall line. At the end, the trail has almost 4,000ft of drop over 4-miles. Don’t forget to arrange a shuttle.

Teocalli Ridge, 409.5 trail, Crested Butte

Sam James

Photo: Matt Jones

 This was my first time visiting and riding in Colorado. I was fortunate to take part in the media camp for the Pivot Shuttle AM down there, and showed up with zero idea of what this would actually look like, what trails we would be riding. We wound up riding some true backcountry classics, one of which was Teocali Ridge – an absolutely stunning climb full of wildflower meadows and incredible mountain vistas, topped off with an amazing high speed natural tech-flow descent.

Photo: Matt Jones

We added an extra climb and descent of the 409.5 trail since we were riding the e-bikes, which even with e-power was a brutal climb, followed by more high-speed tech and dusty corners, the likes of which we just don’t have here on the west coast of BC. While Teocali Ridge was absolutely beautiful and an amazing place to be, the 409.5 descent was a standout of the whole trip. 

The ride was 41km total with 1451m elevation gain and probably a black diamond level rating.