The conditions have never been better to navigate dirt on two wheels. Beyond innovative bike designs, many beginner-tailored mountain bike trails now decorate the nation from red rock country out West to the white oak corridors in the East to the bald cypress of the South.
“To support the growth and longevity of mountain biking, many trail networks are purpose-built to accommodate a wide range of skill levels, including beginner,” Jen Audia, senior global product marketing specialist at Liv Cycling tells Bicycling. “Many feature designated skills areas with elements like a pumptrack and rock garden that are great for riders who want to practice skills and become more confident handling their bike.” A pumptrack is a series of smooth back-to-back rollers and banked turns, and a rock garden is a dynamic section full of rock features. Both human-constructed park obstacles help to prepare mountain bikers for the trails.
If you’re searching for those beginner bike parks or loop dirt trails around the country, here's a list of havens for your inaugural mountain bike adventure.
Destination: Atlanta, Georgia
Within 90 minutes of The Big Peach, the top-notch cross-country trails aren’t overly technical, whether you're heading to the woodlands or the mountainsides. Novice pedalers can warm up on the 3.1-mile Haw Creek Park Loop, a flowy, wide, and forested singletrack. You can also check out the bike skills area is on the park’s north side.
Equidistant and northeast of Atlanta is Fort Yargo State Park, where you can progress your skills and endurance on the 11-mile loop around Fort Yargo Lake with several 100-foot climbs.
Next, travel north to the Blue Ridge Mountains and the state’s official mountain bike capital, Ellijay. The new Pinhoti Trail is suited for intermediate and advanced riders, but the 3.6-mile Amadahy Trail is a stunning pancake route flanked with ferns and views of Carters Lake.
Destination: Austin, Texas
Start your adventure by piecing together short sections of simple beginner and intermediate trails at Walnut Creek Metro Park. Then step up your game with the dirt and limestone on Slaughter Creek Trail, a 5-mile route with a 200-foot easy climb. Or cover more distance at Muleshoe Bend Recreation Area’s 6.3-mile Great Escape Loop, which blends hardpack singletrack with stints of root-tossed and rock-strewn ground.
Rentals: Cycle Progression
Lessons: BetterRide 3-day MTB Skills Course ($849)
Pro Tip: Cool off in Onion Creek and visit an ancient Tonkawa rock shelter at McKinney Falls State Park, where you can stay in a cabin or camp overnight.
Destination: Bentonville, Arkansas
Bentonville is lauded as one of the most incredible ride destinations in the country if not world. Downtown launches more than 20 miles of artful singletrack, dubbed the Slaughter Pen Trails, that is progressive and clearly marked.
One mile west is Coler Mountain Bike Preserve, a hub with 17 miles of technical rock patches and fluid lines like Good Vibrations, an easy 1-mile section with playful turns and berms.
Cyclists can venture south to Fayetteville, too, which has more than 52 miles of rides such as the town’s 6.6-mile namesake lake loop. Or head over to Mount Nebo State Park Monument Trails, where the 2-mile Three-Cs Trail is refreshing for newcomers succeeded by intermediate circuits like Miller’s Goat, which requires an accumulative 652-foot gain.
Rentals: Phat Tire Bike Shop
Lessons: Ozark Bike Guides private skills lessons ($160-$260)
Pro Tip: “Definitely go to Pedaler’s Pub in Bentonville for post ride pizza and brews. Bike Rack Brewing Co. and The HUB Bike Lounge are connected—two other really cool spots,” Tyler Scott, Hustle Bike Labs co-founder tells Bicycling.
Destination: Hood River, Oregon
For a long, scenic ride follow the Klickitat River—part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System—on a converted railroad bed, complete with views of waterfalls and meadows with wildflowers in the spring. Today’s namesake trail segment is a mixed doubletrack and singletrack route that is fairly flat, which can be ridden as a one-way 13.8-mile ride (you just have to park a car at the end point or book a shuttle to make it back to the start) or as a 28-mile out-and-back route. For the most ambitious and excited mountain bike riders, an extended 31.3-mile rail-to-trail route exists, too.
For another flavor of adventure, book a shuttle drop-off in the famous, lush Post Canyon for a 12-mile downhill ride that takes you on Eldorado, Family Man, and back to town. Then jet over to the Timberline Lodge Bike Park on the south side of Mount Hood. This National Historic Landmark offers ample lift-assisted trails for newcomers including green- and blue-rated routes like Gotta Go and Gravy Train.
Rentals: Hood River Bicycles, Hood River, Oregon
Lessons: Brave Endeavors 3-hour private sessions ($500 for 1-2 adults) and adult clinics ($235-$275)
Pro Tip: For a luxury-meets-outdoors overnighter, consider the glamping sites at Westcliff Lodge, which offers expansive bright blue views of the Columbia River Gorge.
Destination: Bethel, Maine
Hit your first patches of dirt in one of North America’s favorite ski towns. This charming Maine town on the western side of the state is also a newfound hub for mountain bike trails.
Start with the flowy green-level trail network in Bethel Community Forest, which features lush batches of maple, beech, and birch trees. For a solid ride, connect Phoenix, Ghost, Limbo, and Flux trails followed by the intermediate 1.9-mile Tribute loop (clockwise direction only).
Next, enjoy Bethel Village Trails, a collection of five miles of easy- and intermediate-level singletrack in Bethel. The fluid 2.9-mile cross-country trail known as Double Helix is speckled with short, approachable ascents and descents with slightly rolling flats.
Rentals: The Red Jersey Cyclery, Conway, New Hampshire
Lessons: Grit Clinics offers private lessons and group clinics ($130-$375 per person)
Pro Tip: Saddleback Mountain unveiled a brand new mountain bike trail system in October 2021, featuring four progressive beginner and intermediate routes plus two advanced. So add that to your list, too.
Destination: Moab, Utah
In a region of pride-worthy technical terrain, Navajo Rocks Loop is a stellar spot for new riders to experience Moab. “I’ve taken a lot of beginners to this mellow area, which has slickrock that feels scary but isn’t dangerous and a little bit of sand that gives terrain variation, which feels exciting,” says Baker. The trail collection is clover-shaped, so you can choose your ride, going for a distances ranging anywhere from 4 to 16 miles. “The signage is great, so you don’t need to be afraid of getting lost,” Baker says. Suss out how long one of those little clover leaves takes you to ride to decide how long you want your day to be. “These trails are still fun for intermediate riders, because you can really rip through there,” Baker adds.
Rentals: Moab Cyclery, Moab, Utah
Lessons: Moab Mountain Bike Instruction ($85 per hour for one then $40 per hour per additional student)
Pro Tip: Reserve an Up the Creek campsite with hot showers and grill stations in town.
Destination: Durango, Colorado
In Southwest Colorado, Durango delivers a stunning desert-meets-alpine panorama, and pups are welcome. “Start at Horse Gulch on a combined 6-mile route of Meadow Loop and Stacy’s Loop,” local Yeti Cycles Ambassador, Nichole Baker tells Bicycling. To start, riders practice shifting on a slightly rocky, low-grade dirt road ascent through a valley. After, smooth dirt singletrack winds through a meadow followed by a semi-slabby descent. “Riders can dismount to walk or get that first adrenaline rush of riding something comfortably intimidating,” said Baker.
Once comfortable, head to Twin Buttes to explore loops with mellow descents and greenhorn-friendly berms. Phil’s World, 41 miles west of town toward Cortez, has plenty of fun rollers for amateurs and equally entertaining for experts. Refuel with a picnic next to the Animas River Whitewater Park’s amphitheater steps, where you can cheer on rafters and river surfers.
Rentals: 2nd Ave Sports, Durango, Colorado (the shop boasts a rooftop condo rental) or Kokopelli Bike and Board, Cortez, Colorado
Lessons: Drift Hands ($75 per hour)
Pro Tip: E-bikes are permitted at Twin Buttes, so considering renting one to avoid the strain of that initial climb.
Destination: Knoxville, Tennessee
At the base of the Great Smoky Mountains, Marble City is among the nation’s best hosts of off-road cycling. It includes more than 1,000 acres of parks and preserves linked by trails. Kick off your two-wheeled day on Meades Quarry Loop, south of the Tennessee River. The 6.6-mile rollercoaster route is tucked into the 315-acre Ijams Nature Center and was built by the Appalachian Mountain Bike Club.
Rentals: River Sports Outfitters at Ijams Nature Center
Lessons: Ride Like a Ninja fundamental skills clinics ($279)
Pro Tip: North of Knoxville, Aspire Park (currently under construction) will debut 18 miles of bike trails plus a skills area.
Destination: Minneapolis, Minnesota
In the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Lebanon Hills heeds the call for newcomer terrain (and optional intermediate lines), 18 miles south of the Twin Cities. This 7.2-mile cirque provides berms, rock gardens, bridges, descents, and jumps that were volunteer-built by the Minnesota Off-Road Cyclists.
Get your foundation then take an excursion 125 miles north to Crosby, where the 21-mile Cuyuna Lake Big Tour weaves around nearly a dozen lakes including Manuel and Pennington Mine. Check-off the journey in one day or parse out segments like Drag Line North and South, a 4-mile circuit around Portsmouth Mine Lake.
Destination: Richmond, Virginia
On James River’s south bank, steer your bike along a relaxing 4.5-mile lollipop course, called Slave Trail to Pirate Trails, in the center of Richmond.
Afterward, travel 131 miles northwest to Harrisonburg, where Massanutten Resort developed 30 miles of singletrack on the Western Slope, which includes stepping-stone beginner and intermediate-level singletrack.
Rentals: Massanutten's Mountain Bike Shop
Lessons: All In MTB private lessons ($75 per hour for one then $50 per hour for an additional 1-2 students)
Pro Tip: Camp or rent a cabin at Pocahontas State Park, where you can pedal more than 25 miles of directional routes.
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