the 5 best mountain bike towns in the u.s.
Hot take: our national anthem should be “America the Beautiful” and not the “Star Spangled Banner.” Don’t get me wrong, the latter stirs my heart but the former always fills me with a sense of wonder, wanderlust and immense gratitude for the wealth of nature that surrounds us here in the United States.
Growing up, I was lucky enough to split time between the densely wooded, rock filled forests of the Northeast where I lived and in the big-sky, mountainous territory of Northern Utah, where my parents grew up. I fell in love with mountain biking later in life, but once I was bit by the bike bug, I couldn’t shake it. Our CEO and my older brother gave me the moniker of “Biggest Bike Nerd” that he knows, and I wear that badge with pride.
During the pandemic, this pastime has become a pursuit for many, and so I though it necessary to impart my nerd knowledge, gained by experience of the 5 best places to spend a weekend laying down lines on loam filled singletrack. For the hardcore enthusiasts to the absolute amateurs, there is something here for everyone.
PARK CITY, UT
We will start with a wide known favorite, and honestly, my favorite place to bike - Park City, Utah. What you have to love about Park City for Mountain Biking is the sheer variety of terrain that is suitable for a number of levels, the ease of access to some of the best trails in the country and of course, the climate. Growing up, my Dad used to say that nothing beats a Utah summer night, and dang it, he was right.
It’s almost impossible to oversell the wonder that is Park City for Mountain Biking, but there are some considerations that we will get into.
The Best Trail: It’s so tough to pick just one! But the Wasatch Crest loop is an epic trip that will give you everything you want in one go. Be warned that this loop is not for the faint of heart, it requires climbing ability, descending prowess and a bit of nerve to conquer all, but the reward is incredible views, an amazingly fun descent and a day well spent in one of my favorite places on earth. Shuttle services can take you to the right spots and provide guidance on the best way up and down.
Best Lunch Ride: Try the “Road to WOS” which provides a nice little climb, a fun and flowy descent and is easily accessible and finished in less than an hour.
The Pros: As mentioned above, Park City has terrain that is a good time for all. If you are a downhill only rider, Park City boasts the World Class trails on Deer Valley which range from European style expert level enduro rides to far easier flowy green circle descents and the impressive jumplines at the newly constructed Woodward Park City. If cross-country is your jam, take on the Park City Epic Loop which depending on which route you take, will see you covering 20+ miles and 10K in climb. Other favorite trails of mine are flying dog, mid-mountain, armstrong and spiro. Park City is best from June to September, the food is great and the weather in the summer is top notch but can get hot in the middle of the summer.
The Cons: Park City can be a bit costly in terms of lodging and food, so try staying in nearby Heber, Midway or Kamas and exploring options like packing coolers filled with food for mid-ride snacks, lunch or dinner. Also, because of the incredible access, Park City can be crowded at times both by local enthusiasts and visiting tourists. All that to say, plan ahead, enjoy your time and explore your options!
Long known as the Mecca of Mountain Biking, Bellingham delivers year round access to incredible trails, breathtaking views and the best dirt on Earth. Modern day tires were built for the tacky goodness that the Pacific Northwest consistently brings, and you can take complete confidence in every corner knowing that your bike will be glued to the ground.
Long days in Bellingham, and surrounding areas will have your face hurting, not from falls mind you, but from smiling ear to ear. Although Bellingham offers a bit less variety than a place like Park City and access is more remote, your reward is some incredibly built trails that offer a wealth of wood features, beaming berms and tons of fun. Let’s get into it.
The Best Trail: It has to be the hilariously named “Unemployment Line” in the Galbraith Trail system. With over 40 jumps in a single line, this exhilarating line was made from a mixture of handpacked and machine groomed expertise and has been refined over a series of decades. It’s fun, flowy and just an all around good time.
Best Lunch Ride: It’s hard to beat “Three Pigs” which is an incredible 1.5 mile ride meant to help you hone your skills on moderately challenging features and tricky trail sections ridden by all levels.
The Pros: For those who love the air up there, Bellingham is a dream. The lines here are made to go fast, go high and go hard. There are a number of bike parks so you can warm up or work up to the doubles, plenty of rental shops and it’s relatively close to Seattle, a large international airport so you can get in and out without a worry. The food is great, the drinks are endless and everyone here is so nice, you wonder if they are paid actors in a tourism commercial. Overall, it’s a great place to explore.
The Cons: As mentioned above, variety is not the name of the game in Bellingham. There are a lot of expert level trails with a lot of jumps. So if you are vertically challenged, don’t prefer a higher climate, etc. you may want to consider other options. Of course, there are entry level trails, but the people in Bellingham know what they like and build for the thrill. Bellingham is also a bit smaller, so access to lodging can be challenging but if you are willing to drive a bit, it’s a no brainer.
North Carolina will always have a special place in my heart. I went to graduate school in Durham, took one of my first real jobs in nearby Winston Salem and enjoyed exploring the entirety of this great state from the Outer Banks to the Appalachian Mountains. Brevard has always had an affinity for outdoor enthusiasts, but recently has refocused to become a premier destination for mountain bikers. It can hang with the big boys out West while providing something very different for locals and visitors alike.
The Best Trail: While there are a number of must-ride trails in Brevard, NC a local favorite is the Dupont Forest trail system. With over 80 miles to explore, you can get lost in the lush landscape, slide down some slick rock, fly down the flowy singletrack like the Ridgeline Trail #65.
Best Lunch Ride: A nice 5 mile loop to get done in about an hour resides in Laurel Mountain where you start at Yellow Gap Road and ride back to Pilot Mountain trailhead. Most of Pilot Rock is unrideable but it’s a decent hike, if you have time!
The Pros: Brevard is breathtakingly beautiful and what I loved about North Carolina is the year-round riding that can be done. Winter can be hit or miss with snow, but for the most part, the trails in Brevard can be accessed during most of the year. In my humble opinion, the prime time is really September - November when the humidity backs off a bit, the trails are a little, but not much cooler and the crowds are back to work and school. The food in local areas is amazing, the BBQ is a must try and there are more microbreweries than McDonalds, so you have to love that.
The Cons: Brevard is a bit of backwoods fun, but that all comes with a consequence. The trails are easy to access from the road, but the lodging is super limited. Plan on a good car situation so you can get there from a local hotel, or better yet just bite the bullet and stay in Asheville, one of my favorite places on earth, but easily an hour away from most of trails in Brevard.
I know what you are probably thinking. Two Utah destinations in a list of five? Yes. A resounding yes, and here’s why: they are completely different and equally epic. One of the things I love about Utah is that a three to four hour drive will take you to a completely different sort of climate and therefore, different trails and terrain.
Moab is an undisputed heavyweight when it comes to mountain biking, and features some of the best trails in the world. But while many older destinations are content to rest on their laurels, Moab continues to pour time and resources into building new and better trails to draw in new visitors and reward the loyal locals alike. All in all, Moab is a mecca for the mountain biking community.
The Best Trail: Not unlike the Wasatch Crest trail in Park City, one of the best trails in Moab gives you a taste of everything. The aptly named Whole Enchilada, which sees you covering a marathon distance in miles, grinding up a few grueling climbs and rewards you with fast, technical descents through alpine forests, exposed slick rock and pretty much everything in between. It’s an exhausting, exhilarating ride for the stout hearted.
Best Lunch Ride: Arggghhhh you ready kids? The best lunch ride in all the land is Captain Ahab, which covers roughly four miles of distance, nearly 500 feet of climb and is the most fun you may ever have in one hour.
The Pros: Moab is built for bikers and outdoor enthusiasts, so the lodging is plentiful, the food is cheap and cheerful, the views are incredible, and outside of the hottest months of the summer, the weather is unbeatable. It’s beauty is otherworldly to the unacquainted, with jagged red rocks cutting deep into every sightline and green sagebrush sprouting from every corner while the backcountry is filled with forests.
The Cons: Because it is so ideal in every single way, Moab can get busy at the peak times of the year, mostly in the spring months where the weather is perfect and people are looking to escape the winter blues. Also be warned, that because of the rocky nature of these trails, spills can be a bit more brutal here in Moab so bring all of your protective gear and wear it well.
LAKE TAHOE, CA & NV
If you’re anything like me, planning a mountain biking specific vacation isn’t going to fly with everyone in your family, and so may I propose a happy balance in the form of Lake Tahoe which spans the border of California and Nevada. Lake Tahoe is stunningly beautiful, and filled with activities for everyone in the group. Biking to be sure, but hiking, boating, restaurants, shopping, spas, etc.
The area is massively expansive, and covers quite a bit of territory which means that the riding possibilities are equally endless and fantastically fun. Admittedly, I know less about this territory but have a few friends who swear by Lake Tahoe as the destination for enthusiasts and amateurs alike.
The Best Trail: Don’t get sticker shock from the 165 miles of trails on the Tahoe Rim trail system, there are routes within routes that are suitable for any kind of ride but we list this as the best trail for that exact reason. With some planning you can get everything you want, and nothing you don’t within this expansive trail system If you want to get specific, you can’t miss Kingsbury South to Armstrong Pass which will see you covering between 15 and 18 miles in distance and will have you summiting to awe inspiring views of the cleanest lake in the United States.
Best Lunch Ride: The best mountain biking rides feel like a roller coaster and the Flume Trail is no exception. A small climb on the fire road leads a fun, flowy descent on the Flume trail filled with curving corners and moderate jumps.
The Pros: The views! Lake Tahoe is truly one of the most spectacular places on earth and a feast for the senses with its rich woodsy scents and breathtaking views. Your posts will look like postcards, and your memories will be of the blue waters, green trees and some of the best sunsets you have ever seen. More and more trails are being developed every year, so the variety continues to grow but the adventuring here is, in a word, epic. As mentioned above, this is not just a destination for bikers, there is a little something here for everyone.
The Cons: Expansiveness has its downsides as most of the trails here are lengthy and strenuous, and require a lot of stamina and time to get through. If short morning rides are your speed, Lake Tahoe may not be the place for you. Also, it’s important to note that it is not the easiest place to get to, with some local flights from Reno to Tahoe or a drive from the Sacramento or San Francisco area airports, 2 hours and 3.5 hours respectively. Lodging and food can also be pricey depending on where you stay.
There are a wealth of trails spanning the United States, but in a list of five places, the above are my favorites and I hope to experience many more in the future. Have a favorite place that didn’t make the list? Send us an email at email@example.com and we will do a follow-up article about some new, exciting places.