Racing mountain bikes in the heart of Richmond, Virginia. Photo: Robert Hunter.

Racing mountain bikes in the heart of Richmond, Virginia. Photo: Robert Hunter.

While we all love to dream about shredding the best mountain bike destinations in North America, the sad fact is that most of us will only ever get to visit those places… and we have to live somewhere else to pay the bills. So if you can’t spend 365 days per year riding in a world-class MTB destination, your local trails should at least be respectable. That’s why we put together this list of the top 10 North American cities for mountain bikers to call home.

The Process

We began by limiting our choices to the top 100 metropolitan statistical areas in the United States. And, if a Canadian city was to make the list, it would have to be large enough to make it into the US’s top 100. Unfortunately, limiting our choices in this way means that there are dozens of smaller towns with fantastic mountain biking that don’t qualify. (Bend, Oregon comes to mind.)

With this list in mind, we opened it up to our editorial team, with a combined total of more than 100 years of mountain biking experience, for nominations. After building a possible list of options, we argued and fought amongst ourselves, trading good-natured insults back-and-forth, until we finally arrived at this top 10 list.

If you’re looking to relocate and the quality of the local mountain bike trails is a determining factor, rest assured that all of these cities make great choices.

Los Angeles, California

Population: 13,053,000

San Juan Trail. Photo: rickbarbee.

You might not think that the second-largest Metropolitan Statistical Area in the United States would be a good place to be a mountain biker… but you’d be wrong. The hot, dry San Gabriel mountains offer up a wild maze of trails and a 12-month-per-year mountain biking season, with many more trails (like El Prieto) starting right from the edge of the city, or even completely contained within the city itself (like Turnbull Canyon).

To be completely honest, there aren’t many places where you can drop 5,000 vertical feet in a shuttle run and end up at a burger joint or a bar, but in LA you can shuttle high up into the Los Angeles National Forest and ride your mountain bike all the way back down the mountains into the burbs.

Yeah, there are probably some downsides to living in So Cal… but a lack of mountain biking opportunities isn’t one of them.

-Greg Heil

# Comments

  • delphinide

    Interesting list, because some of these places are not places I’d personally move for the mountain biking access (i.e. LA, Boston). I would disagree with Augusta on the list. FATS is one of my top 10 all time trails…I simply love it, but I have ridden almost all of the singletrack in and around Augusta and it is fairly blaise. No offense to people to live there, but I would put Birmingham, Little Rock, or Tampa in it’s place. The latter boasts access to Croom, Boyette, Alafia, etc.. though you could make a fair argument that those trails are not within the metropolitan area. Also, seeing Denver as honorable mention is a little surprising. There are a lot more trails right on the front range than were mentioned: Deer Creek, Lair of the Bear, Chimney Gulch, Apex, Mt Falcon, Green Mountain, Red Rocks, Matthew Winters, Hogback, North Table Mountain, South Table Mountain, Bear Creek Park, Centennial Cone, White Ranch, and Golden Gate Canyon, to name a few..and most of them are really technical and gnarly. That doesn’t even include other trails like Bergen Peak, 3 Sisters, or Marshall which are only a 20 min drive into the mountain. In fact, people in Denver don’t even consider Colorado Springs worth the drive to ride trails…so I need to get down there an check out some of those trails with you skibum 🙂 All I ever hear about are Palmer and Air Force…and people actually bypass the Springs to ride Lake Pueblo.

    Most of have a good idea of some of the smaller, legendary towns like Durango or Fruita or Moab that have a high concentration of high-quality trails, but I think it would be interesting to see a list like the one you’ve written here, but that includes trails within a 50 or 100 mile access to trails.

    • Greg Heil

      In general, we considered the access to major destination trails from these big cities (see Vancouver, Salt Lake, and more). The fact is, if you include trails within 50-100 miles, then you can hit all of the Denver trails from Colorado Springs, as well as many of the trails just up the mountains from Denver (Buffalo Creek, etc.) with just as much ease. Colorado springs is also closer to epic destination trails like the Monarch Crest… And when you consider the ease of access to in-town COS riding and the fantastic mountain biking in the mountains directly above COS (the mountains actually but up against town there, unlike in Denver), the Springs still wins out 🙂

      However, this was definitely a point of contention that we went back and forth on for a while, before finally settling on the Springs. Still, Denver does get an honorable mention 🙂

    • delphinide

      Yeah, Denver basically has NO decent mountain bike trails unless you include Golden, Lakewood, and/or Highlands Ranch, which are separate cities in the “metro area”. Denver does have one saving grace over Colorado Springs: much closer access to a lot of ski resorts, which also have excellent bike parks/trails in the summer (Trestle, Keystone, Vail) and closer access to epic sections of the Colorado Trail, like Searle Pass. Denver is also closer to other smaller trail epicenters like Boulder, Buffalo Creek, Ft Collins, and oh..Colorado Springs 🙂 haha. Fortunately, Denver and the Springs are only about an hour away…so all of those trails are an easy daytrip no matter which city you live in.

      I’ve always been surprised that the Springs doesn’t have a ski resort closer.

      I’m also surprised that skibum didn’t mention the Barr Trail (Pike’s Peak)…that is a crazy hard trail right outside of town. On my to-do list…as a shuttle.

    • Greg Heil

      I bet he didn’t mention it because there are just too many trails in COS to mention!

      And yeah, we basically didn’t give Denver and the Springs two different spots on the top 10 list because they are so close together… like Jeff said, “Really, the DEN-COS Megalopolis gets our nod.”

    • maddslacker

      @delphinide, believe me, I fought hard for Denver and got summarily shouted down …

      That being said, technically you and I don’t line *in* Denver either, so there’s that.

    • jkldouglas

      So, I clicked on the link detailing the top 100 metro areas and am kinda confused as to why Lakewood, Golden, etc. aren’t considered part of Denver. I know I personally lump them in with Denver as part of the metro area. If you look on a map you can’t tell where one starts and the other stops.

    • delphinide

      @jkldouglas: true, and they seem to be included on the list these data were pulled from.

    • Jeff Barber

      For me, COS gets the nod over DEN for trail accessibility (Greg touched on this). There’s Palmer Park right in town with plenty of tech plus you can get to Cheyenne Canyon and the National Forest trails by riding just a couple miles west of downtown.

      And there’s this (spoiler alert): We’re working on a list of MTB leaders’ favorite trails and two of the original Repack riders actually mentioned Captain Jack’s in COS as one of their favorite trails anywhere. Pretty solid endorsement. 🙂

    • wilsonm73

      Man, I think you guys missed out on the in town options in Denver if you want local stuff. Ruby Hill bike park and Golden bike park. Cherry Creek also has bike specific trails in town.

      Also not sure you can separate all the suburbs that but up against the mountains from Denver. No one that I know considers any of the suburbs something different than Denver. You didn’t separate the suburbs for the CA locations.

      Technically downtown CoS isn’t up against the mountains either, what’s close to the mountains are the suburbs. I agree with Paul, other than Palmer there’s not a lot down there I’d drive for and wouldn’t choose it over Denver ever. We do seem to drive right past it to Canyon City or Pueblo. There’s so much more riding here and so much more to do in Denver. More jobs in Denver too. And Jefferson County is finally starting to build new trails like adding to Dakota and 9 more miles to Deer Creek.

      Greg its 2hrs 36mins from CoS to Monarch and 2hrs 56mins from Denver. Seems irrelevant. I think you got it backwards, Denver is the hub, CoS is a destination from Denver. But hey its an internet opinion and I really think like that “other” MTB website Colorado is really the Front Range, High Rockies and Western Slope. So you’re Denver/COS/Boulder megopolis is a more accurate picture of how most people view riding here. I’d choose any place here over living in CA though because of the traffic.

      I rode in Phoenix last year and it was really good, but man I had to drive a lot to get to good trails there as well as it was 106 degrees at 8pm in the evening.

    • finerbiner

      I’ve been in the Sprigs 2 years now and am confident you can’t find a better front range MTB home base. I live close to Ute and can ride there for a lunch ride anytime.For a neighborhood ride, the place is awesome and only getting better. I can also include Pictured Rocks, Council Bluffs and Palmer park for a monster ride right from my door. The Falcon trail is minutes away as are Red Rocks, Cheyenne , Stratton etc… All of which connect to endless trail riding. In winter, Canon City and Pueblo provide near year round riding.
      Everything Denver metro has to offer is 1 hr away. This place is a bike riders dream!

  • jkldouglas

    I thought this was a really good list. I liked the idea of limiting it to the top 100 metro areas, since that means most people would be able to actually find a job instead of a place like Durango where not everyone could move there and still be employed at a reasonable income level. I can’t imagine how hard it was to narrow it to ten. With having to narrow it down, it will inevitably start a peeing match between people that live in different locations.

    I live in Albuquerque and, to be honest, was a little surprised to see us on the list. While I think we are a great mountain biking town (I can ride my Stumpjumper year round and and am still discovering new singletrack even though I have lived here for over two years), most people just ignore Albuquerque, and New Mexico for that matter. I can’t tell you how many people have responded “Why did you move there?” or “And you like it?” when I tell them that I moved here from Florida. Most people just know that Albuquerque is where Bugs Bunny always takes the wrong turn. My wife and I had a choice between Portland and Albuquerque when we relocated for my wife’s work and mountain biking was a fairly large reason we ended up in Albuquerque.

    • delphinide

      I was happy to see ABQ on the list for all of the reasons they mentioned. It is a great place to ride…and I look forward to riding Otero, White Mesa, and the foothills again. For anyone who hasn’t ridden the trails in and around ABQ, it should be on your list.

    • jkldouglas

      They are also starting to add quite a few trails up in Placitas, just North of Albuquerque. They are definitely more XC than anything else, but it looks like a great place to take the singlespeed. Maybe get some training ride in for some 12 hour races.

    • skibum

      I only stumbled onto Albuquerque because my job had me traveling there regularly. Whenever I travel, I try to take my bike if I can and, over the course of a few dozen trips to the Duke City, I’ve ridden most everything (that’s legal) there. fortunately I also get to hit the stuff between home and there as well (Santa Fe, White Mesa, etc). If not for having family in CO, I think we’d have been just as likely to settle in ABQ.

    • jkldouglas

      That makes sense. I noticed that you had left a trail review on almost every trail around Albuquerque and figured you either lived here at one time or traveled here quite a bit. To be honest though, I kinda prefer Albuquerque being off people’s radar. The trails stay less crowded that way.

  • Todd Posson

    What about Kansas City? 10 trail systems in the metro area that add up to about 125 miles of specific mountain-biker-built trails, plus Lawrence area trails +/-30 minutes away (Clinton, Perry and LRT add about 60 miles to the total). We have trails inside the City core, along with trails at every corner of the suburbs. We have rocks and tech, smooth flow, and everything in between. Great cycling culture that includes 3 Cyclocross Nats. Reasonable cost of living and a good (and growing) craft beer industry in town.

    • skibum

      I never rode the trails in town, but I did love some of the stuff within a fairly quick drive from there (Landahl and Fancy Creek).

    • Greg Heil

      Yeah, Asheville is one of the towns we would have liked to include that didn’t make the size cutoff.

    • jkldouglas

      There are some great cities in the Appalachians, but almost everyone I thought of wouldn’t make the size cutoff, like Asheville.

  • voyager7

    Interesting picks for Phoenix. McDowell is certainly great but I’d go to Usery before Gold Canyon – the trails aren’t better enough to warrant an hour drive past Mesa. It should be mentioned as well that there’s mountain biking 5 minutes from Sky Harbor (15 from down town) at Papago

  • raaiken

    i would love to see the reverse of this list. the best mtn bike towns with 40,000 or less inhabitants

  • pedalhound

    Lists like this are hard, everyone thinks their trails are the best and if you leave them out they get their feelings hurt and cry foul.

    I would have a hard time making a list of the top 10 places to ride in BC, all of NA would not be easy. Good job on tackling it!

    I did chuckle at the photo you used for Vancouver though…that’s Tzouhalem, in Duncan on Vancouver Island, about 5 hours away and it would cost $200 to get there and back…stupid ferry’s.

    • Greg Heil

      Ha! Thanks for the heads up. While this list definitely takes into account the riding in the general region, if you have a quality photo that is next to or in Vancouver that you would like us to feature instead, please feel free to send it my way!

  • cyurtinus

    It’d be interesting to see an expanded list of all or most of the top 100 metropolitan statistical areas. I’m really partial to Boise, ID because I live there but I’d like to know where Las Vegas came in at.

  • eyejustamazeyall

    some props to my city, miami, fl – 3 awesome parks inside the city itself (virginia key, oleta, amelia), markham park a 20 minute drive away, and 2 IMBA epic parks within a 3 hour drive. huge mountain biking/cycling scene, proof being one of the biggest critical mass rides in the country every month.

    • paulonius

      With all due respect I’ve lived in Miami Lakes and while it’s admirable the amount of work they’ve obviously done to make a damn good off-rod trail riding area in Oleta, it simply can’t compare in terms of technicality or infrastructure or just plain overall riding to place slike Vancouver BC where I live now.

      Incidentally, weren’t the Oleta State park trails kinda wiped out by a major storm a few years ago? I hope they’ve managed to rehab it back to it’s pretty decent rideable state.

      (For fear of sounding overly critical, Oleta State park mountain bike trails helped me maintain my sanity when I lived and worked in Miami!)

  • dgw2jr

    I have mixed feelings about the riding in the SLC area and the Wasatch Front in general. Good views, lots of miles, and quite a bit of variety. The flip side is there are so many people everywhere all the time, and there isn’t much tight twisty single track because there aren’t many trees. It seems like the trails were hiking trails before they allowed bikes so you just kind of climb straight up forever and then ride back down again. It can get pretty monotonous. A lot of trails allow horses and motos so that takes away from the experience as well.

  • sheldon4900

    Great list! It could be called “Best places to have a career and mountain bike” with these larger cities. That’s career, not just a single job that could be lost and then you’re SOL.

    Did you consider Pittsburgh, PA? The metro area surely met the size requirements. Singletrack is plentiful here with at least 5 good riding areas within 30 mins of city center (N.Park, S.Park, Deer Lakes, Boyce, Bavington) plus Frick Park right in the city (which has a cool & unique urban-rogue-trail feel).

    I could see how it might not make the list if weather is considered, as it does rain comparable to Seattle (also not listed). However, fat bikes have extended the riding season lately, and who doesn’t love splashing through the mud?


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