Courtesy of IMBA
For more than a decade, IMBA has recognized trails and trail systems around the world that stand out as models for the best that mountain biking has to offer. From rugged, long-distance treks to front-country networks that challenge and excite riders of all ability levels, the Model Trails program is designed to inspire the kinds of experiences that keep mountain bikers coming back for more.
“More” is definitely the right word to describe the 2015 class of inductees. In the Epics category, the six selected rides average over 60 miles in length, and offer stout challenges—along with jaw-dropping scenery—for even the most experienced trail enthusiasts. In the Ride Centers category, the interest and growth in this designation has absolutely exploded, with an unprecedented number of applications and fully 13 of these outstanding trail systems recognized this year.
This year’s class includes our first round of renewing Ride Centers: Each location is now required to resubmit an application every four years. To maintain a high level of consistency a reviewer from IMBA’s Trail Solutions team conducts an on-site visit to evaluate the center’s trail system, bike amenities and other criteria. “Earning a top-tier score keeps getting more difficult,” says IMBA Field Programs Director Chris Bernhardt. “We want to continually set the bar higher—just as riders’ abilities are always expanding and improving, so should the facilities that we recognize as the best places for mountain biking.”
Armstrong to Strawberry in California, 39 miles: This 90-percent singletrack route ranges from fast and flowing to technical and chunky. Soak in the views of Lake Tahoe and views of the southern Sierra. There are dramatic views of Strawberry Valley from the top of Lover’s Leap, 1,100 feet above the deck, just before the final rip-roaring descent.
Black Canyon Trail in Arizona, 68 miles: Riding the BCT from north to south offers a long, gradually descending route with plenty of pedaling and backcountry flavor. The northern segments vary from open desert to tight canyons. The middle sections, from Bumble Bee to the Table Mesa trailhead, offer the most dramatic scenery and adventurous riding.
High Country Pathway in Michigan, 82 miles: From beautiful hill top vistas to dark, cool cedar swamps and pine plantations, the HCP provides an extended journey deep in the woods of Michigan. Home to the largest free range elk herd this side of the Mississippi, the route crosses through three counties with very little sign of civilization.
Laugavegur Route in Iceland, 54 miles: A mind-blowing, multi-day, overland route in the highlands of Iceland. On this point-to-point hut adventure you’ll ride singletrack through a multitude of landscapes including geysers, multi-colored Rhyolite mountains, bubbling mud, endless lava fields and glaciated mountain vistas. The 54-mile trip is best tackled as three long days or five shorter rides. The last day from Þórsmörk to Skogafoss is truly epic and travels between two major glaciers, across the slopes of a cooling volcano.
Ouachita NRT in Arkansas, 108 miles: Newly opened to mountain bikes, this long-distance National Recreation Trail explores remote sections of the Ouachita Mountains. Expect rugged trail surfaces and some hike-a-bike, but also rideable climbs and rowdy downhill sections. The trail also connects with the Womble Trail, another IMBA Epic in Montgomery County—string them together for a mega-Epic!
Surveyor’s Ridge Loop in Oregon, 21 miles: One of the top trails in the state of Oregon, Surveyor’s Ridge is a Pacific Northwest must-ride. This is a true ridgeline ride, with aggressive short climbs and descents to distract you from the gorgeous views of Mount Hood. Expect technical rocky sections, open alpine meadows and a mountainous vibe from start to finish.
2015 Ride Centers
Enteries marked with an asterisk (*) had already obtained Ride Center status and were reevaluated in 2015.
Gold-level Ride Centers
The trick to being both a phenomenal place to be a mountain biker and a major metro area is community dedication to accessible, recreation-friendly open space. In the Boise area, this all started more than 20 years ago when creative mountain bikers and land managers planned an extensive trail system to offer great riding and community connectivity via a large singletrack network. Today, thanks in large part to a variety of volunteer-led groups, including the Boise Area Mountain Bike Association, you’ll find everything from rocky, mountainous terrain to buff trails and a bike park, all accessible from Boise and Eagle.
From the buffed-out, flowing trails at Lester to the freerider’s playgrounds at Piedmont and Brewer, the riding in Duluth is both high-quality and highly varied. The entire community has embraced trail-based recreation, including a major initiative to create the Duluth Traverse. This in-progress effort—led in part by the Cyclists of Gitchee Gumee Shores—will result in a 100-mile singletrack ride in an urban environment.
Nelson, New Zealand
Riding Nelson’s trails is a year-round adventure, with sunny days with bluebird skies the norm throughout the year. The riding options include several bike parks, as well as more natural trail in both plantation forest and native bush. The range of trail types is amazing, from gentle, family-oriented trail riding to full-on downhill runs, backcountry adventures and everything in between.
This small town styles itself as the mountain bike capital of the Northwest. The local IMBA chapter, the Greater Oakridge Area Trail Stewards—alongside other stakeholders such as the U.S. Forest Service and local bike-centered businesses—constantly works to improve the mountain bike trail options. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to sample the 30-mile Middle Fork trail, the 20-mile circuit of Waldo Lake and dozens of other high-quality options. But be sure to also leave time to sample the in-town eateries and bars that cater to the knobby-tire set.
Park City, Utah*
Since hosting the IMBA World Summit in 2008, Park City and its trail system have been on the rise. There are now over 450 miles of trail, all accessible from town. In addition to new development, Park City continues to show a strong commitment to maintaining and improving existing trails. Between the volunteer-led Mountain Trails Foundation, various city and county agencies, and the resorts, the collective annual trail budget tops $1 million, resulting in a huge amount of varied, high-quality riding.
Rotorua, New Zealand
According to Redbull’s mountain biking web series On Track, “When we die and go to mountain bike heaven, there’s a good chance it will probably look a lot like Rotorua, New Zealand.” The riding varies from extensive trails in the Whakarewarewa Forest to the gravity park at Skyline Rotorua, New Zealand’s first year-round gondola assisted bike lift. Rotorua also provides a plethora of other activities and attractions, including natural thermal spas and hot pools to rejuvenate your aching muscles after a hard day on the trails.
Silver-level Ride Centers
The Cuyuna signature is a cycling experience for families and experts alike that provides, without a doubt, overwhelming fun. More than 25 miles of purpose-built trails wind through a landscape created by 70 years of iron ore mining. Nature has reclaimed the area: water has filled the pits and turned them into 15 deep lakes, and trees and shrubs have taken root on the rocky, rugged landscape. It’s the perfect canvas for crafting year-round trails to conquer by bike, with all the riding skillfully cared for by the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Crew.
More than 20 different trailheads and 75 miles of singletrack can be accessed from the downtown area of Montana’s Queen City. To top that, Helena offers free shuttles that run five days a week, taking you to the best trailheads in the South Hills Trail System, as well as to the top of the Continental Divide to access the iconic Continental Divide Trail. Farther east, the Trout Creek Canyon-Beartrap Gulch loop navigates steep limestone canyons. Plus, Helena offers a vibrant, in-town cycling scene.
This lakeside community has been quietly assembling a diverse collection of trails with options for every ability level and riding style. Once known for its rugged backcountry trails, the Central Idaho Mountain Bike Association began adding purpose-built trails. On a summer day, you can ride a fern-lined trail through stands of towering old-growth Ponderosa, then test your skills on a lift-served gravity trail. Or ride an IMBA Epic trail to beautiful Loon Lake and discover the wreckage of a rare WW2 bomber before ending your day with a microbrew and dinner.
Bronze-level Ride Centers
Brown County, Indiana
Just a short distance from the major metro areas of Indianapolis, Louisville and Cincinnati, it’s no secret that Brown County has some of the best mountain biking in the Midwest. You’ll find a 28-mile mile IMBA Epic ride within Brown County State Park, with route options for every skill level. There are many more miles of flowing single track within the state park, plus more being built in the state park and neighboring state forest by the Hoosier Mountain Bike Association.
Hot Springs, Arkansas
Hot Springs isn’t just home to outstanding mountain biking, it’s also a first-class tourist destination. The geothermal baths alone have been bringing visitors to the area for hundreds of years. Trails, horse racing and historic hotels define the downtown area, while three IMBA Epic trails are just a short drive away—including the state’s newest Epic and longest mountain bike trail in the state at 110 miles long, the Ouachita National Recreation Trail. The Central Arkansas Trail Alliance and other volunteer-led groups help keep the trails in top shape.
The Greater Reading Trails System, overseen by the Berks Area Mountain Biking Association, consists of more than 125 miles of trails in 5 major preserves, all of which be accessed via the Schuylkill River Greenway Rail Trail. The trails range in difficulty from beginner-friendly to some of the most technical, rock-strewn trails you’ll experience anywhere. There’s also an abundance of in-town amenities, including bike shops, craft beer bars, hotels, music venues, restaurants and sporting events.
Big things are happening in Richmond, including the upcoming (Sept. 19-27) World Road Cycling Championships. For dirt lovers, rvaMORE and a host of partners have raised over $325,000 in just two years, opening miles of new trails, including a purpose-built hand-cycle line, plus a flow trail and beginner-level singletrack. Best of all, this is a truly urban-based center, with great connectivity allowing riders to access standout trails without getting into a car.
Twin Cities, Minnesota
Since 1994, the Minnesota Off-Road Cyclists (MORC) IMBA chapter has worked diligently on its mission of “Gaining and Maintaining Trails” in the Twin Cities metro area. Today, MORC oversees 85 miles of singletrack within 11 parks, and is the organization behind the acclaimed Cottage Grove Bike Park. And, during the winter months, there are over 50 miles of groomed singletrack trails to explore and enjoy.
Finally, IMBA’s 2015 Model Trails recognition includes the Northwest Arkansas Regional Ride Center. With theBentonville (silver-level) and Fayetteville (bronze-level) Ride Centers located less than 30 miles apart, the two towns have formed the the first and only region-wide Ride Center designation. Mountain bikers visiting the Ozarks can double-down, with a wide range of riding to choose from and two cycling-crazed communities hosting some of the nation’s finest trails.
Like what you see? Please support independent publishing by Subscribing To Dirt Rag Magazine today.