The life of a mountain biker can sometimes be frustrating. Being a smaller niche group of the population, many times our needs are overlooked to a broader scope of the population. Many local clubs have been successful in lobbying land owners and managers to allow trails to be built, but many more are met with instant rejection.
For a very long time the US National Park Service was one of those organisations. Mountain biking was simply too small of a user group for park organizers to devote adequate time and money toward creating trail systems within the parks. But things are rapidly changing as the mountain bike community has increased exponentially over the past ten years. As a result, and also thanks to tireless efforts of passionate bikers, more and more bike trails are sprouting from our national parks. Seeing as the national parks were selected for their unique terrain and beauty, this is a very good thing.
Here are our top 7 National Parks for mountain bikers – There are many more worthy of recognition, and we would love to hear your favorites down in the comments. But for now, here are 7 to crank your gears (no pun intended – ok yes it was) -
Zion National Park, Utah- The red sandstone cliffs that tower above you seem immense and overwhelming as you whiz through the canyon on your bike. Due to the park’s popularity, A shuttle system was introduced to reduce congestion. Bikes however are still allowed, making this a great way to see the canyon. Other trails exist just beyond the park boundary giving you ample options to discover this unique, stunning southwest scenery.
Big South Fork National Recreation Area, Tennessee - The trail network at Big South Fork is arguably one of the best in the entire NPS system. A joint effort between the NPS and local mountain bikers, the trails are rider-designed with fun in mind. There are trails suiting all skill levels, so if you live nearby this can be a great weekend destination.
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, Big Island, Hawai’i - The diversity of terrain here is impressive, as is the beauty. Ride on dirt, grass, cooled lava… pretty much everything you see on the Big Island is unique to here. Add in the fact that you are right by the ocean and you have some amazing riding under your feet.
Redwoods National Park, California - This is where some of the first mountain biking in the world took place. As such there has been ample time to develop a good network of trails- well over 50 miles by this point. It can get busy in the summer months, so I prefer to go in early autumnn.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming - The first national park is also one of the most unique, with natural geothermal activity interspersed throughout. The trail system isn’t the most extensive, but the combination of beauty, wildlife, and immense geography make Yellowstone one not to miss.
Chaco Culture National Historic Park, New Mexico- The highlight of this southwest park is the Kin Klizhin ride – a 24 mile journey to ancient navajo ruins. This trail is not exactly a challenging epic (unless you ride at the height of summer), but the history that surrounds you is worth the ride. Aside from the Pueblo at the midpoint, you also see relics of ancient farming techniques on the high plains.
Mammoth Caves National Park, Kentucky - This trail system could be the best in the National Park Service, but it did not come without the tireless effort of local bike clubs. Initially the trails were built illegally, and the NPS was actually going to destroy the trails at one point. But thanks to successful lobbying by the local mountain bike community, the trails not only were kept open, but new ones have been developed with the authorities’ blessing.
Many of these trail systems are still in their adolescence. Some are only a few miles, but the fact that the trails exist mean that the mountain bike community is finally getting recognition from the National Park Service. With continued effort from interested user groups such as local bike clubs and IMBA, future trail development should continue along – as long as everyone continues to treat the trails with respect and care.