The 3 Best MTB Road Trips to Take in the US Right Now While Gas Prices Are Low

Gas prices in the United States haven’t been this low in almost 7 years.

Let that sink in for a minute.

If you’ve been thinking about taking a mountain biking road trip but have been putting it off for one reason or another, now is the time to fuel up your vehicle, load the bikes on the rack, and hit the road in search of sublime singletrack. The only problem is, with winter in full swing across the northern hemisphere, the places to score dry trails are few and far between. But we’re here to help you out: these are the 3 best US road trips that you should take right now while gas is below $2 per gallon:

California Coast

One of the most temperate climates in the United States exists along the coast of California. This area is doubly well-suited to a mountain biking road trip since California is the birthplace of mountain biking and there are thousands of miles of trails spread throughout the mountains there. It would be impossible to ride all of the trails in California on one road trip, so here I’m only including some of the very best, most popular, and lowest-elevation trails.

Now, exactly where you start this road trip depends on where you live, or where you decide you want to fly into and out of. Below I’ve outlined this as a point-to-point route running from south to north since, if you decide to spend enough time on this trip, you could potentially follow the progress of spring and even warmer, milder temperatures up the coast.

San Juan Trail. Photo: rickbarbee
San Juan Trail. Photo: rickbarbee

The first stop on your road trip should undoubtedly be the San Diego area. While I have yet to ride there myself, San Diego is home to warm temps year-round and a wealth of mountain bike trails. While reportedly some of the best trails aren’t on any of the maps, the most popular San Diego trails ranked on Singletracks include Spring CanyonNobel Canyon, and Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.

Next, head north toward LA and hit the San Juan Trail, one of the top-rated trails in California, on the way. Before you get up into LA proper, be sure to ride the classic trails down in Orange County, including true coastal trails at Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park, Laguna Coast Wilderness, and the Luge Trail.

The Mount Lowe trail.
The Mount Lowe trail.

Heading north through LA, be sure to hit El Prieto, the locals’ favorite, and shuttle Mount Lowe. These were two of my favorite trails from my own California road trip, so don’t miss these!

El Prieto
El Prieto

While I personally didn’t have a chance to stop in Santa Barbara during my California road trip, the riding here, and at San Ysidro, is renowned. Similarly, I didn’t have a chance to ride in San Luis Obispo, but the riding here is also well-known, with Montana De Oro State Park, located right on the coast, as one of the most popular trails.

Continuing north, be sure to stop at the expansive Fort Ord Trail System in Monterey. The home of the Sea Otter Classic, this trail system is well-worth a visit even if the festival isn’t going on.

Trail 49 at Fort Ord. Photo: Eric Foltz.
Trail 49 at Fort Ord. Photo: Eric Foltz.

Next up is Santa Cruz, which is home to a wealth of trails. However, the one must-ride trail is the Soquel Demonstration Forest, which is home to some extremely entertaining, aggressive singletrack. Upon reaching the Demo Forest and heading north into the Bay Area, the climate changes to a much more lush, rainforest feel. The massive redwoods of El Corte De Madera Open Space are guaranteed to accentuate this feeling, and you can’t miss out on the sweet singletrack beneath them!

El Corte De Madera Open Space
El Corte De Madera Open Space

Finally we reach the birthplace of mountain biking: Marin County. Camp Tamarancho is hands-down the best bike legal trail system in the county, so be sure to hit that up.

Camp Tamarancho
Camp Tamarancho

As you head north from the Bay Area temperatures continue to drop, but generally the coastal areas stay mild all year round. However, beyond this point you’ll need to keep a sharp eye on the weather to spot abrupt temperature drops and monsoonal rains. But if you’re up for a real adventure and haven’t had enough mountain biking yet, here are a few more trails to take you north through California:

2015-01-20 road trip ca

If you were to complete this epic road trip you’d have driven over a thousand miles, ridden hundreds of miles of singletrack, and seen some of the most beautiful places that our country has to offer… all in the middle of “winter”! Let’s get this adventure started!

-Greg Heil

Desert Southwest

Living on Colorado’s Front Range is magnificent, with stellar biking in the summer and skiing in the winter.  But even the most ardent skier may wish to escape winter and sink knobbies into dry dirt.  Fortunately, it’s easy to build a road trip that will take one through world class mountain biking in each of the four corners states (with a slight detour to Sin City). While our theoretical trip starts in Denver, it could almost as easily be tapped into from Salt Lake City, Cheyenne, or any other location along the way.

Southwest Road Trip
Circumventing the Four Corners in search of winter singletrack.

The first stop is only a few miles from home, in Pueblo (Colorado’s Banana Belt).  The trails at Lake Pueblo State Park are usually dry and give you the option of gnarly, rock-strewn descents in the canyon or miles of cross country riding on the prairie above the reservoir.

Pueblo Greg Heil
Miniskibum gets his freeride on–on the Free Ride trail at Lake Pueblo State Park (photo: Greg Heil)

Next, we hit trails in the land of the great green chile, New Mexico.  Albuquerque’s Foothills trails are beautiful, usually dry, and await your knobbies.  Outside of town is the unique White Mesa, rated #1 in New Mexico on Singletracks.

Foothills jkdouglas
Albuquerque’s “footies” are often dry in the winter. While mostly smooth, there are enough techy bits on the way to entertain most riders. (photo: jkdouglas)

Then it’s over to Tucson, AZ.  For maximum gnar, arrange a shuttle on the relentless, attention-demanding La Milagrosa trail.  For something more easy going but still unique and fun, head for the fast and furious Fantasy Island or the giant Saguaro forest of the Sweetwater Preserve.  For a good mix, go to the 50 Year trail.

50 Year
Tucson’s 50 Year Trail is full of options, keeping all levels of riders happy in the darkest days of winter.

A short jaunt up the road is the Phoenix megalopolis, which is filled and surrounded with top quality singletrack.  The gnar seekers head straight for South Mountain and the infamous National Trail network.  For killer scenery and the most entertaining singletrack, make your way to Gold Canyon, and for miles of stellar cross country, north of town is the Black Canyon trail, rated #1 in Arizona.

Cloudview
The Gold Canyon trail network east of Phoenix gives great scenery and special singletrack to the winter visitor.

A jog west will take you to Las Vegas, home to the world-famous Bootleg Canyon trails, featuring everything from butt-behind-the-seat downhills to miles of rolling desert cross country singletrack.  For better scenery and endless miles of quality singletrack, cross to the other side of town and hit up the huge network around Blue Diamond.

blue diamond marin brazil
For me, a strip of singletrack at Blue Diamond beats “The Strip” any day, but even more so in the dead of winter. (photo: marinbrazil)

In the biggest, quickest culture shock, you then go from the land of debauchery to the most conservative state in the union, but regardless of your political persuasion, you will love the trail offerings around St. George, UT.  Pick any of the three mesas above Hurricane: Gooseberry Mesa, Little Creek Mountain, or the Guacamole Trail.  If you stay on the south end of town, you can ride the likes of the Zen Trail or Bearclaw Poppy right from your hotel.

Zen
It may not look like much at the start of the Zen trail, but the backdrop is gorgeous and the upcoming mix of rock and singletrack is positively stellar.

One last stop in Moab will round out the trip nicely.  Moab can be iffy in the winter, but chances are good you’ll find dry trails.  If you don’t want to stray too far off the interstate on your way home, the easy Klonzo trails or wonderfully-varied Brands trails make an easy detour.

Brands David Darling
Deadman’s Ridge at Moab’s brands trails snakes around, through and over a delightful collection of desert rock formations. (photo: David Darling)

-John Fisch

Southern Appalachians

If you’ve ever ridden in the Southeastern United States, you know that it is uniquely beautiful. Choosing an ideal route was difficult given the density of excellent trails, but it makes the most sense to conduct a trip that starts close to the Atlanta area and loops through Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina, with trails that can satisfy riders of every ability. Enter this loop from any of the destinations below, and hit as many as you have time for.

This feature at Blankets Creek is fun to test your skills…and courage!
This feature at Blankets Creek is fun to test your skills…and courage!

Our journey begins with a short drive up Hwy 5 from Atlanta to Woodstock, GA to access Blankets Creek, a tasty 15-mile network of trails consisting of three serpentine loops and 871 feet of climbing. This trail is squarely an intermediate trail, but anyone can ride the smooth ribbons that wind along the lake. Expert riders pumping the rollers and blasting sharp corners won’t be able to wipe the grin off their faces. A small, but legit, jump park is hidden in the middle as a bonus.

From Woodstock, head an hour northeast on Hwy 19 to Dahlonega, GA, a hidden gem with miles of singletrack, and a mecca for roadies with scenic rolling hills and long climbs. A few short minutes west of town on Hwy 52 you can access the venerable Bull/Jake Mountain trails, the very definition of an IMBA epic. With over 30+ miles of trails in this network, you can rack up more than 2000 feet of climbing through lush Georgia forests, an unforgettable experience that will take you hours.

I recommend food, lodging, and rest, because the next destinatinon will be the sections of the Pinhoti Trail known as P1P2, and (maybe) P3, west of Ellijay—about an hour due west of Dahlonega on Hwy 52. I recommend stopping by Cartecay Bike Shop to say “hi” to Mike Palmeri and tool up your ride, and staying at Mulberry Gap Mountain Bike Resort for the night to get a fresh start. It’s easiest to get a shuttle from the Mulberry Gap staff, because you’ll do 13 miles with almost 2200 ft of climbing on P1 and P2, with another 6 miles and 1300 feet as an optional out-and-back on P3–all before returning to your Gap camp via a dirt road. This is Appalachian backcountry, so be prepared and ride smart. You are likely to see more bears than people, with lots of climbs followed by fast descents.

The Pinhoti Trail feels remote, peaceful, and full of perfect singletrack
The Pinhoti Trail feels remote, peaceful, and full of perfect singletrack

Get fresh legs and hightail it another hour north on Hwy 411 for Ocoee, TN to sample the 30 miles of the Tanasi Trail System. This system has tight switchbacks, rocks, steep ups/downs, and a whole lotta fun on red clay dirt. Grab a quick bite, then rest while you drive a little over an hour to Hayesville, NC on Hwy 64 to the Jackrabbit Trails for the ultimate cool down ride. This 13-mile beauty is an easy loop that anyone can do, but super fast and fun for shredders. A must-do.

Lastly, head for the hills of Tsali near Almond, NC, off Hwy 28. You could spend days here rafting, hiking, fishing, and of course riding, but the four clover-style loops that the Tsali Trail System offer are unbeatable. Almost 30 miles of flowy, smooth, pedally singletrack with breathtaking views of the emerald North Carolina mountains beckon you, as you depart right from the campground at the trailhead. Note: you cannot ride all loops in one day due to shared usage.

2015-01-20 southern apps big map

All this in only 350 miles and 7 hours of total driving–it is the ultimate Southern roadtrip to make the memories of a lifetime–on the cheap!

-Michael Paul

Looking to travel with your fat bike? Stay tuned…

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