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colorado trail bob ward

Quintessential Colorado on the Colorado Trail. At nearly 500 miles, few will ride it all, but all should ride at least some of it. (photo: Bob Ward)

Singletracks recently published its annual list of North America’s top trails as determined by you, our treasured Singletracks members. At the end of that infographic, Singletracks Publisher, Jeff Barber, threw out the challenge for someone to plot out the best possible route for the ultimate mountain bike road trip, hitting all those trails. This is just the sort of trip I would love to set up when I finally retire for good and have the time to take a few months to do such a thing. Well, I love a challenge, so here it is!

Route Optimization

Anybody can connect the dots, but doing so in the most efficient way possible is a real challenge, especially as the number of stops increases. That’s where the use of route optimization software comes in handy. There are literally dozens of such software packages on the market, usually targeted to delivery businesses looking to eliminate waste on their routes. Functionality–and price–vary widely and give the consumer a confusing  array of options. But for Joe Moutnainbiker, things aren’t that tough. There are a number of free online programs. However, most free programs limit the user to anywhere from six to 26 stops. Now most of us aren’t going to hit up more than 26 rides on a trip, but for this ultimate trans-North American journey, we need more.

I found two free online programs which allowed up to 100 stops, but after hours of working with each, they simply refused to kick back an answer, always reaching some kind of error statement before the final verdict arrived. In the end, I bit the bullet and found a site with a one-day subscription available for a mere 5 Euro ($5.76 off my PayPal account).  Despite being a European product, the US map was, for the most part, up to the task. So with the help of RouteXL I was off and computing.

Brown county zephxii

Brown County State Park in Indiana looks to be both beautiful and entertaining. There’s no way a transcontinental mountain bike road trip shouldn’t include this worthy state #1 (photo: zephxii)

Limitations

There were a number of limitations in entering, or even selecting, stops for the ultimate road trip. Hawaii was out of the question for obvious reasons.  While it is possible to drive to Alaska, it is so far out of the way, that it just wasn’t practical (sorry Lost Lake, I would have loved to have seen you).  Probably the best option would be to detour from Washington’s Galbraith Mountain stop into Seattle, and catch a cruse up to Alaska with the bike.

There were other limitations presented by the mapping software.  A few of the top trails have trailheads in remote areas which lie outside the map’s defined locations.  For these, an approximate location is the best I could  do. For shuttle rides, I used the endpoint as the location, assuming the rider would park there.

To keep the route generic, I simply linked all the rides into a continuous loop without regard to starting point, arbitrarily using Santos, FL as a the origin/terminus. Each road tripper can simply add the appropriate home location, which may or may not change the optimal route depending on where it is located. Alternatively, simply make haste to the loop and use it as is.

I have zero singletrack time in New England, so I'd love to hit the likes of Vermont's #1, The Kingdom Trails (photo: Rob Whelan)

I have zero singletrack time in New England, so I’d love to hit the likes of Vermont’s #1, The Kingdom Trails (photo: Rob Whelan)

Results

After manually entering the 56 locations (48 in the continental US plus 8 in Canada), the software did indeed kick out an optimal route.  I wouldn’t try to pull off 56 trails in 56 days, though. Some of the distances between trails, especially out west, are vast no matter how optimal the route. Some trails are also so epic, that a recovery day may be in order afterwards, even if there wasn’t a five-hour drive to the next ride.

On the other hand, there are multiple opportunities to hit multiple trials in a single day. Of course, weather can always disrupt the most perfect of plans. The rider will have to figure out for himself just how hard to push it.

Here is the optimal route for the standard North American trip described above along with an ordered list of stops:

Featured Image

0. Florida: Santos
1. South Carolina: Forks Area Trail System
2. North Carolina: Tsali Recreation Area
3. Virginia: Angler’s Ridge
4. Maryland: Patapsco Valley State Park
5. Delaware: White Clay Creek
6. New Jersey: Six Mile Run  
7. Connecticut: Rockland Preserve
8. Rhode Island: Big River
9. Massachusetts: Village Park
10. New Hampshire: Bear Brook
11. Vermont: Kingdom Trails
12. Maine: Carrabassett Valley Trail System
13. Nova Scotia: Wentworth
14. Prince Edward Island: Charlotte Old Town Landfill
15. New Brunswick: Velo Edmundston Trail
16. Quebec: Valle Bras Du Nord
17. New York: Shindagin Hollow
18. Pennsylania: Allegrippis Trails
19. Ontario: Hydrocut
20. Ohio: Ray’s Indoor Mountain Bike Park
21. West Virginia:  Mountwood
22. Indiana: Brown County State Park
23. Illinois: Kickapoo 
24. Iowa: Sunderbruch Park
25. Wisconsin: Nine Mile
26. Michigan: Copper Harbor Trails 
27. Minnesota: Cuyuna Lakes
28. North Dakota: Harmon
29. Manitoba: Brandon Hills
30. Alberta: Strathcona Science Park
31. British Columbia: Smith Creek
32. Washington: Galbraith Mountain
33. Oregon: McKenzie River Trail
34. Idaho: Eagle Bike Park
35. California: Downieville Downhill
36. Nevada: Bootleg Canyon
37. Arizona: Hangover Trail
38. New Mexico: White Mesa
39. Utah: The Whole Enchilada
40. Colorado: The Colorado Trail
41. Wyoming: Wilkins Peak
42. Montana: Line Creek Plateau
43. South Dakota: Centennial Trail
44. Nebraksa: Jewel Park
45. Missouri: Two Rivers Bike Park
46. Kansas: Switchgrass
47. Oklahoma: Lake Lawtonka
48. Texas: Flat Rock Ranch
49. Arkansas: Womble
50. Mississippi: Mt Zion Bike Trails
51. Louisiana: Lincoln Parish Park
52. Alabama: Oak Mountain
53. Tennessee: White Oak Mountain
54. Kentucky: Sheltowee Trace
55. Georgia: Blankets Creek

To execute the basic trip, not counting any detours for lodging, meals, gas, non-cycling activities, etc, you’ll log a whopping 362 hours of time behind the wheel covering almost 17,000 miles!  With a typical vehicle earning around 20mpg and assuming an average fuel cost of $2.25/gallon, that’ll come to just over $1,900 in gas. With that kind of mileage, there’ll be a few oil changes along the way as well.

Options

Of course, the list can easily be tailored. For those worried about their passport, and wishing to save a few hours/miles/gallons, a US-only trip can be had for a mere 306 hours over 14,500 miles, requiring $1,631 in fuel.

US ONLY

This run shows the US only route

0. Florida: Santos
1. South Carolina: Forks Area Trail System
2. North Carolina: Tsali Recreation Area
3. Virginia: Angler’s Ridge
4. Maryland: Patapsco Valley State Park
5. Delaware: White Clay Creek
6. New Jersey: Six Mile Run
7. Connecticut: Rockland Preserve
8. Rhode Island: Big River
9. Massachusetts: Village Park
10. New Hampshire: Bear Brook
11. Maine: Carrabassett Valley Trail System
12. Vermont: Kingdom Trails
13. New York: Shindagin Hollow
14. Pennsylania: Allegrippis Trails
15. Ohio: Ray’s Indoor Mountain Bike Park
16. West Virginia:  Mountwood
17. Indiana: Brown County State Park
18. Illinois: Kickapoo 
19. Iowa: Sunderbruch Park
20. Wisconsin: Nine Mile
21. Michigan: Copper Harbor Trails 
22. Minnesota: Cuyuna Lakes
23. North Dakota: Harmon
24. Montana: Line Creek Plateau
25. South Dakota: Centennial Trail
26. Colorado: The Colorado Trail
27. Utah: The Whole Enchilada
28. Wyoming: Wilkins Peak
29. Idaho: Eagle Bike Park
30. Washington: Galbraith Mountain
31. Oregon: McKenzie River Trail
32. California: Downieville Downhill
33. Nevada: Bootleg Canyon
34. Arizona: Hangover Trail
35. New Mexico: White Mesa
36. Texas: Flat Rock Ranch
37. Oklahoma: Lake Lawtonka
38. Kansas: Switchgrass
39. Nebraksa: Jewel Park
40. Missouri: Two Rivers Bike Park
41. Arkansas: Womble
42. Mississippi: Mt Zion Bike Trails
43. Louisiana: Lincoln Parish Park
44. Alabama: Oak Mountain
45. Tennessee: White Oak Mountain
46. Kentucky: Sheltowee Trace
47. Georgia: Blankets Creek

My Option

No matter how much I would like to ride with the recommendations of the Singletracks database, there are a few reasons I must deviate. First and foremost, I have ridden many of the state/province #1s. If I’m going to undertake such a trip, I’m going to hit new-to-me trails at every stop. In a couple cases, I simply chose to discard the standard recommendation and stick with something on my bucket list or something the actual reviews make me believe I would like better. There were also two cases where no specific ride was chosen, so I’m adding some in. Here are the deviations I would make and why:

Arizona:  I’ve ridden numbers 1 and 2 in this state, so it’s off to #3, the Black Canyon Trail.

California:  Done Downieville, so it’s off to Soquel

Colorado:  Living in Colorado, I’ve done not only #1 and #2, but I really have to reach far down the list to get to one I haven’t done.  So I’m just throwing the list out altogether and hitting what is reputed to be the state’s meanest and most beautiful trail, Telluride’s Wasatch Trail (not to be confused with Utah’s magnificent Wasatch Crest).

Who wouldn't want to ride this - especially if you've already ridden most everything else in Colorado. Telluride's Wasatch Trail (photo: alskoj)

Who wouldn’t want to ride this – especially if you’ve already ridden most everything else in Colorado. Telluride’s Wasatch Trail (photo: alskoj)

Kansas: Like Arizona, numbers 1 and 2 are in the books, so it’s off to Camp Horizon.

Maryland: Done Patapsco, so it’s off to Vineyard.

Massachusetts:  This is one where I’m just going off script.  Many from Mass. have decried the Singletracks choice. People I know personally speak more highly of Lynn Woods, so that’s where I’m headed.

Michigan: Like Arizona and Kansas, numbers 1 and 2 are in the books, so it’s off to Potawatomi.

Minnesota:  Been to Cuyuna, so next in line is Lebanon Hills.

Montana:  I’ve spent almost as much time in Montana as Colorado so again, the list of trails already done is deep. Here, I’m heading for my ultimate bucket list ride, the 5,000 ft-of-vertical-climbing epic Curly Lake Highline.

Nevada: Like Arizona, Kansas and Michigan, numbers 1 and 2 are in the books, so it’s off to The Flume.

New Mexico: Numbers 1 and 2 are in the books, so it’s off to Angel Fire.

Oregon:  Once again, numbers 1 and 2 are complete, so it’s time to hit Sandy Ridge.

South Dakota:  Centennial was an awesome #1, but been there, done that, so it’s time for #2, the Prairie Trail at Custer State Park.

Virginia:  This is another deliberate run off script.  I’m sure Angler’s Ridge has some fine trails, but all the chatter I hear points to Douthat State Park or Carvin’s Cove.  I’m heading for Douthat.

Wyoming:  Having covered #1, it’s time to head to Grand Targhee.

District of Columbia:  Yes, there is dirt in the nation’s capital, and it’s not just on the candidates. I’m adding the Fort Circle Trail.

British Columbia:  Smith Creek looks like fun, but the province’s #2, Rossland’s Seven Summits, has been on my wish list a long time, and I’m sure it’s all I hope it will be.

Alberta:  Alberta has some of the continent’s most gorgeous mountains, so why head so far out of the way to a trail system in a city on the prairie?  I’m heading for Banff’s Lake Minnewanka instead.

Saskatchewan:  We have little info on Canada’s great prairies.  The Trail Canada route in Saskatchewan is just a greenway in the city of Regina, but even without a stop, it’s close to the optimal route, so I may as well make a stop.  I can even stop and visit the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Heritage Center while I’m there.

My Option

This run shows my personal current dream mountain bike road trip

Of course, by the time I retire, I will probably have ridden a few more #1s and, if the last few years are any indication, many of the #1s will change anyway.  I’m keeping my data and will make changes as necessary.

Your Turn:  Have you any epic road trips planned or even dreamed?  If so, how do you scope them?

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# Comments

  • mongwolf

    John, I think you may need to seek medical attention for wanderlust. =) Wow, what an awesome trip that would be. Personally, I think I might seek to shorten the trip up just a little and select a few places to skip, such as FL and TX. Have you ever heard of “A Big Year” in birding? If not, look it up on Wiki. It seems you have come up with its equivalent in mountain biking. Very cool.

    • John Fisch

      mongwolf,
      I actually have heard “A Big Year” as I have a riding buddy who did that in 2015. In many places, he was able to incorporate riding into his birding.

      Of course it’s always easy to pare down the list to fit available time, money and personal preferences (i.e. just do a regional trip where you know the riding is good). On the other hand, I used to think dropping places like Texas was a great idea . . . until I rode Palo Duro Canyon, which was pretty spectacular. I’ve found at least three fantastic rides in Kansas and there’s the IMBA epic Maah Daah Hey trail in North Dakota of all places. Combine all that unexpected awesome riding with the way people rave about Santos and Alafia in Florida, and I’m pretty well convinced that there’s excellent riding to be had just about anywhere.

    • mongwolf

      Yes, I have heard there is some good riding in FL and TX. I was thinking I would drop them because I have been across both states and have no affinity whatsoever to either and they are so big so they would consume a lot of time. Actually it is kind of fun to find really good riding in the most unexpected places such as Kansas (FL and TX).

    • k2rider

      MW….there is no such equivalent in “birding” to mountain biking. 🙂

      I have a rather healthy reading buddy that is in his early 40’s and used to be a hardcore mountain biker & snowboarder who has now let fly fishing consume his life. Now I’m all for mixing things up and can understand that we all have passions that fade out and back again. However, he is constantly trying to convince me that hooking up on a fish is just as much a rush as riding the North Umpqua in Oregon or the Lunch Loops in Fruita. I personally think he’s screwy. Ih he moves on to “birding” next. I’ll personally drive him to the cuckoo house.

  • sternomac

    Vineyard really should not be listed as it’s own entry. It’s part of Patapsco and is less than a mile long.

    I’m also not totally sure how you’re seeing these ranked on Singletracks as Patapsco isn’t even listed as number 1 for Maryalnd.

    That said, alternatives include Loch Raven (get a local to show you around), Little Gun Powder, Rosaryville, Schaeffer, and Frederick Watershed. Fairhill maybe.

    • John Fisch

      Pretty good list there. Thanks for the clarification on VIneyard. I’ve ridden Watershed, Schaefer, Fairhill, and Rosaryville. Gunpowder sounds like a good alternative.

  • cavermatthew

    I just went to both Douthat and Carvin’s Cove. They are incredible!!! They are the best draining trails I’ve ever ridden. I rode them after days of rain and they weren’t dry, but I couldn’t see any tire tracks and the dirt was firm. Douthat offers up awesome Backcountry ridge riding, and Carvin’s gives you outstanding, feature filled descents! If you do ever get to ride them, prepare for the permanent grin you’ll have on your face!

  • cavermatthew

    Sorry, I forgot about the question. The epic road trip I’ve been dreaming of for some time is a road trip that hits all the big mountain rides in all the Appalachian states.

  • Bubblehead10MM

    As a Minnesotan, I’ve done many of the to trails. So hard to ever pick out just one in a state. if you’re hitting Lebanon hills, defiantlydrive five miles to Murphy Hanrehan. Lebanon is a diamond, Murphy is an old chunk of coal.

  • hproctor

    I’ve ridden 6 listed; scattered across the US from Santos to Galbraith Mountain, but I enjoy finding good rides that are totally unexpected just as much. The trails at the Bluefield, Virginia city park were a pleasant surprise on my recent cross country trek.

  • rajflyboy

    Florida is a good mountain bike state. Old Seth has proven that with video after video. Who knew?

    And 365 days a year riding weather. Awesome.

  • s1rfletch

    Man, you need to update the must-rides in Western Canada!
    MB – ride Reeves Ravine in Riding Mountain National Park
    SK – slim pickings, but Buffalo Pound north of Moose Jaw is right off of the Trans Canada
    AB – skip Edmonton, hit up Bragg Creek SW of Calgary
    BC – Fernie, Golden, Vernon all have trails that are amazeballs

    Killer iternerary, though! Love the inspiration to get out and ride!

  • Gdb49

    Wow! John, only you could write this article. Your wealth of knowledge is off the charts, I don’t think Singletracks would be the same without you. The article made me daydream about the trip, the sign of a great writer. Made me laugh a little- yes at you, cause this was the on taking of a mad man.

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