The Outstanding MTB Trail Projects and Volunteers of 2023

These are the most ambitious and noteworthy MTB trail projects and organizations that made a difference in 2023.

Mountain bike trail builders and advocates rarely get the recognition they deserve. Yet without dedicated professionals, volunteers and builders, mountain bikers would have few if any quality trails to ride. It’s high time for us to share our stoke.

Looking back over the past year of Singletracks trail news coverage, interviews, and feature stories, we want to highlight a few of the projects and organizations that made the biggest impact on our collective riding experience in 2023.

Noteworthy trail projects and openings

Among the dozens of trail openings and debuts Singletracks tracked in 2023, a few monumental trail projects stood out based on their size, uniqueness, and the effort involved in bringing them to life.

Graham Cracker Route (Arizona)

The Graham Cracker Route in Arizona isn’t exactly a new trail; it’s more like a restoration and re-branding. With about 6,600 feet of descending and 2,800 feet of climbing along the 18-mile route, this is designed to be an epic singletrack ride. And there’s even a more enduro-style option for the most adventurous riders that winds to top of 10,000ft Heliograph Peak before dropping into the main route.

“The Heliograph Peak trail is kind of the double black diamond start and that gives you 7,300 feet of descending on S’mores,” says Nathaniel Gordon, project lead for the Sonoran Desert Mountain Bicyclists (SDMB).

In 2020 Gordon and the SDMB began looking into a trail restoration project in the area surrounding Graham Peak outside Safford, Arizona. The Arcadia trail and others in this zone were originally created by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s and 1940s, but a wildfire in 2017 led to severe erosion at the bottom of the trail which made it difficult if not impossible to ride. The group’s work helped re-establish the trail and made it suitable for riding once again.

Gordon says there’s a paved road leading to the start of the route at Shannon Campground for shuttle rides. Getting to the trail is a bit of a haul for mountain bikers living in Phoenix and Tucson but with elevations ranging from 6,700 to 10,000 feet above sea level, it’s a good place to beat the heat in hotter months.

Asked if he was surprised about recent interest in the Graham Cracker Route, Gordon replied, “I’m not surprised, because I believe it’s world-class terrain.”

Walden’s Ridge Park (Tennessee)

Walden’s Ridge Park opened in Chattanooga, Tennessee this year, driven by a massive outpouring of community involvement. While the area boasts plenty of quality mountain bike trails including Raccoon Mountain and Five Points across the border in Georgia, many local riders were looking for a more progressive trail experience. And Walden’s Ridge delivers.

“The level of community engagement in Chattanooga is something else,” says IMBA Director of Communications, Eleanor Blick. “Hundreds of people showed up to what is typically kind of a smaller, casual discussion-style meeting” outlining plans for the trail.

The North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy (NCCC) and the Southern Off Road Bicycle Association (SORBA) Chattanooga received a Trail Accelerator grant to fund planning for the trail system, and also a Dig In grant that helped fund construction. IMBA Trail Solutions ultimately worked to construct the trails, along with SORBA Chattanooga volunteers who completed handwork to finish the trails this year. The result: bike-optimized intermediate and advanced downhill trails that include jumps and features for progressive riders.

Photo courtesy Rhett Jones.

Station Mountain bike park (Texas)

We tracked a number of bike park openings in 2023, though Station Mountain in Texas stands out in more ways than one. For starters, it’s located in a state that’s not generally known for its mountain biking.

“You go to Utah with like population one million in the Salt Lake City area and it’s full of trails. Then Texas is like population 30 million and we have just a few parks,” said Rhett Jones in a podcast interview. “I saw a huge opportunity to make a proper park that we haven’t seen before.”

Oh, and the other thing that makes this particular bike park opening stand out: Jones is still in high school.

The teenager created a pitch deck, secured investors, and managed the professional construction of Station Mountain bike park, located northwest of Austin, and stayed on budget, opening to positive reviews little more than a month ago. With another bike park, Spider Mountain, located nearby, Jones designed Station Mountain Bike Park to offer something a little different.

“We have a line called 75 hits with 75 jumps from top to bottom,” he says. “They have fast tech and rock trails, and Station is more about jumps and rollers and longer laps top to bottom.”

Up and coming MTB destinations

These are the mountain bike destinations to keep an eye on in 2024. Each one saw significant progress in planning or construction in 2023 and will likely be on many riders’ radars in the future.

Wangetti Trail (Australia)

Construction began this year on the 94km Wangetti Trail which will connect three National Parks in Queensland, Australia running along a line between the coast and rainforest. More than $50M AUD (about $33M USD) has been committed to the project.

The Queensland Department of Tourism says, “Wangetti Trail will be Queensland’s first purpose-built multi-use walking and mountain biking track in a national park and one of Australia’s leading adventure-based ecotourism experiences, attracting visitors on an international scale.”

Strong Falls Trail System (Wisconsin)

The Strong Falls Trail System in Wisconsin is noteworthy not just for the quality of the trails, but also the speed at which the project was completed. According to IMBA, the Strong Falls Trail System, with 10.5 miles of singletrack, went from project planning and design to completion in just one year. Ultimately up to 50 miles of trails are included in the master plan for Strong Falls.

IMBA Trail Solutions and Rock Solid Trail Contracting worked with Marinette County to plan and construct the trails in record time. The local mountain bike club, MAMBA, mobilized volunteers to ensure a quick turn on the first phase of what promises to be an incredible destination-worthy trail network in the years to come.

Silverton, Colorado

The Silverton Singletrack Society (SSS) has embarked on a major project to bring up to 30 miles of singletrack to the town of Silverton, Colorado, which sits at 9,300ft of elevation and is located north of Durango. The SSS received a $250,000 grant from Colorado Parks and Wildlife to begin construction on plans developed with IMBA Trail Solutions.

Singletracks wrote about the project in May just before construction was set to begin. Blick of IMBA tells Singletracks, “the first few miles of Bakers Park were built this summer/fall with an assist from the youth corps, after a decade of advocacy.” 

Is your community working on a noteworthy mountain bike trail project for 2024? Get in touch and let us know about it!

Photo courtesy of Durango Mesa Park

Best in-town trail project

Durango Mesa Park (Colorado)

Back in 2021 Singletracks covered plans for a massive mountain bike park and event venue, Durango Mesa Park. Well, this year the first seven miles of singletrack officially opened to the public, providing a connection to the Horse Gulch trailhead and giving riders a taste of what’s to come for the public space. The freshly completed singletrack includes three downhill flow trails which is said to be a first within the city limits.

With a vibrant high school mountain bike scene and connectivity to trails throughout town, Durango Mesa Park is positioned to serve as a focal point for the town’s outdoor community for years to come.

Photo: Moab Field Office, US Dept. of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

Trail organization of the year

Moab Trail Mix (Utah)

If you’ve mountain biked in Moab at any point in the past 20 years, you owe Moab Trail Mix a beer. Since 2008 the group has facilitated the construction of 150 miles of world-class bike trails, with even more planned to open as early as next year. The quasi-government trail organization counts a diverse mix of recreational user groups and land managers among its committee members which allows for streamlined project planning and execution that’s surely the envy of trail groups around the US and the world.

“Each of those representatives represents a different non-motorized community: biking, hiking, equestrian, trail running, canyoneering, and climbing,” Trail Mix Committee Chair Colin Topper told me. “And then there are all the land managers, the BLM, the Forest Service and the local government, their city representative, a state representative, a county representative.”

Trail Mix receives county funding and also works to secure grants to help fund trail maintenance and construction. In addition, the group organizes volunteers who show up for monthly work parties at various trailheads around town.

“Just last month we had our volunteer appreciation event. We bought food expecting 40 people, and there were more than 120 people there, so we were ordering Domino’s pizza just to get people fed.” Topper says. “I feel like we’re doing a really great job of building this volunteer machine to take care of what we love and what people come here to love.”

The relationship with Grand County is perhaps the biggest key to the effectiveness of the Trail Mix committee and should serve as a model for other trail groups. “The partnership with the county gave Trail Mix a lot of influence with the BLM,” says Topper.

Photo: Eddie O’Dea

Long-distance bikepacking route of the year

Eastern Divide Route

Bikepackers have been intrigued by the idea of an east coast off-road bike route to rival the 2,700-mile-long Appalachian Trail for decades. By 2018 bikepacking race organizers and explorers from Florida to Canada had begun comparing notes with the goal of connecting the dots and establishing a route. This year, Eddie O’Dea became the first to ride the entire 5,900-mile Eastern Divide Route. His experience and notes will be used to document and improve the route going forward. Listen to our interview with O’Dea to hear about his ride and read about the history of the Eastern Divide project.

Another bikepacking mega-route, the 5,000-mile Orogenesis Route, entered the planning stage late last year / early this year, though it will be some time before the first through-ride can be completed. The non-profit Bikepacking Roots is working to support the Orogenesis project, along with several other long-distance trail routes in various stages of completion.