If there’s one thing that makes mountain biking such a special sport, it’s the opportunity to experience the complete breadth of ecosystems and landscapes the world over from such an intimate perspective. If you’re anything like me, traveling to different destinations ignites your passion for life and makes you feel like a giddy kid on Christmas morning!
Choosing the top 10 mountain bike destinations in North America was no easy feat. To start with, we decided that this was to be a list of true destinations: not residential areas with good mountain bike trail access, but rather destinations that you could plan your entire year’s worth of vacation time around. While one could argue that the people who actually live in these places are truly doing it right, we realize that not everybody can make that happen, so stay tuned for our top 10 list of mountain bike towns, coming soon.
When we sat down to make these careful choices, we called on the expertise of the entire Singletracks blog team. Narrowing the list down to just 10 places was a very difficult, controversial process. There was quite a bit of disagreement, even internally, about which towns should make the list, and which ones weren’t deserving. Regardless, each of the 10 locales listed below is more than worthy of dedicating a week (or a month) of your vacation time to exploring on the back of your mountain bike.
Whistler, British Columbia
Whistler is the true mecca of all things mountain biking. While Whistler is perhaps best-known for its world-class downhill mountain bike park, the surrounding area is covered in excellent cross country and all mountain singletrack trails, such as Comfortably Numb, that aren’t served by the lifts.
We admit: British Columbia itself could arguably envelope this entire top 10 destinations list with such fantastic locales as Squamish, Fernie, Nelson, Golden, Kelowna, Kamloops, Vancouver, Vancouver Island, Revelstoke, and many more. Consider Whistler our nod towards everything BC. -mtbgreg1
With a mix of old classics and new purpose-built trails spanning a wide range of environments from high-alpine singletrack to desert rock and sand, Moab is no slouch in the trail department. And, with the completion of The Whole Enchilada route, you can experience all of those environments in one epic ride. However, as many municipalities have learned, trails alone do not a destination make. So what makes Moab the mecca that it is?
In addition to all the great riding, Moab is also home to two national parks, a signature state park, and more open BLM land than you could ever explore in a lifetime. Wrap all this up with plentiful lodging, affordable eats, several microbreweries, excellent bike shops, and plenty of camping options, and you’ve got yourself a bona fide mountain biking destination! -maddslacker
Park City, Utah
From fast, swooping in-town singletrack to alpine riding spanning three vast ski resorts, Park City, IMBA’s only gold-level ride center, has something for every mountain biker. Downhill rides abound both on and off the resorts, but those looking for steep climbs will find plenty of aerobic rides, too. Epic length tours like Mid-Mountain and the Wasatch Crest are easily accessible and, if you need one, so are guides. Inexpensive condo rentals and great benefits like free concerts and local beer make Park City an excellent choice for your next mountain bike vacation. Who wouldn’t want a chance to explore over 400 miles of singletrack?!
Crested Butte, Colorado
Crested Butte is famous as one of the two birthplaces of the sport of mountain biking, but if you compare the current mountain bike trail access in Crested Butte, Colorado to that of Fairfax, California… well, there just isn’t a comparison. Crested Butte boasts hundreds of miles of the most picturesque high-alpine trails anywhere, all surrounding a quaint western mountain town with great food and beer. Classics like Trail 401 and the Reno/Flag/Bear/Deadman’s Loop will keep you so busy that you might not even have time to check out all the new trails that CBMBA is constantly building. Don’t want to pedal? Be sure to hit the ever-expanding bike park at Crested Butte Mountain Resort. -mtbgreg1
Tucked away in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California, Downieville embodies the true definition of “destination.” Located over an hour up into the mountains on winding two-lane highways from the closest interstate, Downieville isn’t a town that you pass through on the way to somewhere else. If you drive into Downieville, you’re there for a purpose… and that purpose is probably mountain biking!
While the Downieville Downhill is the marquee ride that everyone’s heard of, the town of Downieville is actually surrounding by a gigantic network of approximately 500 (or more) miles of mountain bike trails. In the crowded land of California, Downieville has plenty of singletrack elbow room, and fresh air to fill your lungs. -mtbgreg1
Using “Fruita” to encompass the entire Fruita/Loma/Grand Junction area means you get the best of everything: flowing, roller coaster rides at Fruita’s 18 Road Trail System, scenic variety at the Kokopelli Trails in Loma, and technical singletrack at Grand Junction’s Tabeguache/Lunch Loop Trails. With plenty of lodging choices ranging from hotels to campgrounds, and a variety of restaurants and brew pubs around, what’s not to love? The Western Slope of Colorado averages 245 days of sunshine each year, so your chances of having a great, sunny day of desert riding are pretty sweet–just like the trails.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
The capital of the Land of Enchantment is home to some very enchanting mountain biking. You will find miles of delightful singletrack in and around Santa Fe, New Mexico. The local rail trail makes for an easy out-and-back or you can rack up the miles by taking it all the way out to the Galiesteo Preserve, riding the loops there, and then heading back. The La Tierra Torture race course is home to nice high desert cruising, and the Dale Ball Trails make for great juniper dodging. If you want a brutal climb, head for Atayala Mountain, and if you’re looking for an epic downhill, shuttle the Winsor Trail. Santa Fe is also one America’s great art and cultural hubs, so there’s always something else to do as well. -skibum
Brevard, North Carolina
The only destination on this list that isn’t located west of the Mississippi River, I believe that Brevard, North Carolina is truly worthy of being included on the short list of the top 10 destinations MTB in North America. The Brevard area is best known for the daunting network of hundreds of miles of challenging trails in nearby Pisgah National Forest, including such popular rides as Black Mountain and Laurel Mountain. However, don’t discount the other nearby trail systems, either: Bent Creek is a great IMBA-style suburban trail system. Dupont State Forest, located on the opposite side of Brevard from Pisgah, offers up easier singletrack on average than Pisgah, while also boasting some of the best exposed granite riding on the East Coast.
Factor in the fantastic southern food (fried chicken, anyone?), the exploding beer scene (Brevard is home to the second Oskar Blues Brewery location and Asheville will soon house breweries from Sierra Nevada and New Belgium, in addition to all of the local establishments), and Brevard is truly head-and-shoulders above every other potential destination on the East Coast. -mtbgreg1
Here’s the hidden gem on this list. Everybody knows about Whistler and the North Shore, but the mountain biking deep inland, around Banff and Canmore, is equally worthy. More kilometers of pristine singletrack than you thought possible await in the most dramatic scenery on the continent. On most routes, you’re more likely to see elk, moose, or grizzly bears than another human being. The Montane Traverse and Canmore Nordic Center (winter home of the Canadian National XC Ski Team) can be ridden right from the town of Canmore. Lake Minnewanka (closed to bikes during berry season) in Banff National Park is beyond stunning, and some consider the Jumping Pound Ridge/Cox Hill route to be the best singletrack in Canada. -skibum
Question: Where can you find slickrock like Moab, singletrack like Fruita, and scenery that beats ‘em both? Answer: Sedona, Arizona.
What’s more, the best rides are all easily ridden right from town, with no need to drive anywhere. For relentless challenge and spooky exposure, head for the Highline/Templeton/Baldwin loop or the aptly named Hangover Trail. Intermediate riders will have a ball on the Chuckwagon/Mescal/Aerie network. Even novice riders can get in on the action on the Bell Rock Path and the Big Park Loop. Everyone will be treated to outstanding tread and the grandest scenery in MTB-land. If it gets too hot, you’re just a short drive from Prescott or Flagstaff, both of which offer a great variety of high-altitude rides. -skibum