Looking for the most challenging mountain bike trails in the US?
Seasoned cyclists always look for new challenging bike trails to explore, be it in the outback or amid groves of coniferous trees. Sometimes they even pave their own way in untouched areas! The spirit of mountain biking lies in losing yourself in off-road trails, so it is part of a cyclist’s identity to be fearless and adventurous. Many features make a mountain bike trail challenging. Some trails are steep, with grueling climbs and nerve-wracking downhill tracks. Others are known for obstacles that are difficult to avoid, such as large rocks and protruding roots, or even drop-offs and ramps. Sections of swamp or muddy terrain may impede the speed of your travel as well.
Because of these, there are specific skills that qualify you as equipped to traverse a difficult trail. Naturally, you need to have a high level of fitness. Stamina and endurance are two important traits that can be developed by exercising and consistent practice. Technical abilities like jumping are also a must-have since many trails have gaps and berms. But above all, the experience is the best coach for mountain bike riding. Expert riders can adjust the distribution of their body weight readily and are agile on rough terrain. Your rider’s instincts must always be in tune with the trail and with the surroundings.
Before setting out, make sure you choose the mountain bike track that is best suited to your riding abilities. If you’re confident that you have what it takes, here are five of the most challenging trails in the country.
Hangover (Sedona, Arizona)
Length: 3 mi
Terrain: Red rock cliffs
Don’t let the shortness of this trail fool you, because the Hangover stays true to its name. It definitely makes you feel like you have a hangover! It belongs up there with the most technical tracks, as one wrong maneuver can result in serious injury. Hangover is an open trail with overhanging rocks that urge cyclists to ride on cliff edges just to avoid them. Boulders are easily encountered in the ride. The trail opens to a stunning mixture of green and red, as shrubbery sprouts below the red rock cliffs.
Mt. Elwell (Graeagle, California)
Length: 15.3 mi
Terrain: Rocky mountain
Set on the border of Plumas, Mt. Elwell is a steep downhill trail. To reach the 7,818-ft peak, pushing your bike and traveling on foot may be necessary. This trail is relatively unknown compared to others in this list, so the cyclists who know of its secrets acknowledge the challenge that comes with finishing the journey. From the peak, the XC-style singletrack plunges down 3,300 ft through old-school switchbacks and flowing singletrack.
Virginia Mountain Bike Trail, from Little Mare Mountain to Douthat State Park (Virginia)
Length: 272 mi
Terrain: Rocky mountain, farmland, ridgeline forest
All in all, the Virginia Mountain Bike Trail spans 745 mi of diverse tracks and features, but the second part of the trail is much more challenging than the first. During the ride, you will be greeted by refreshing farmland and warm communities, picturesque crags, ridgeline forest (including the North Mountain trail), charming towns, and even established tracks. While all of these features seem easy and inviting, the Virginia Mountain Bike Trail packs a solid punch with steep climbs and desolate wilderness tracks sandwiched between intimidating sections of rock. There is more to what meets the eye in this trail.
Colorado 14ers Loop (Colorado)
Length: 285 mi
Features: Flowy singletrack, dirt roads, steep climbs
Terrain: Mountain range
The Colorado 14ers Loop gets its name from the fact that central Colorado has the largest number of 14,000-ft peaks in the Lower 48. The trail begins and ends in the quiet comfort of Salida, and along the journey, includes the towns of Buena Vista, Leadville, and Alma.
This trail is the manifestation of a rider’s endurance and skill, as it features very steep climbs that cannot be completed on wheels. The landscape is laden with large rocks and has little coverage, as most of the trail runs on open mountain slopes. This route was designed in such a way that it joins the dauntingly long Colorado trail but also incorporates the difficult ascents of the 14ers. West of the Colorado trail are four of the 14ers: Mt. Shavano, Mt. Antero, Mt. Huron, and Mt. Elbert. These peaks will challenge you to climb up 4,000 feet on foot to reach the summit, then allow you to showcase your technical skills on the steep descent.
Mounts Cameron and Lincoln follow after reaching Alma, then the route proceeds south past Mt. Sherman until the trail approaches its end in a downhill 2000-ft singletrack that leads back to Salida.
The Whole Enchilada (Moab, Utah)
Length: 32.6 mi
Features: Singletrack, doubletrack, dirt roads, slickrock
Terrain: Red rock cliffs, desert, forest
Moab is famous for its red rock cliffs, which have been smoothened and polished by the wind for years – hence the term slickrock! The Whole Enchilada joins four notable trails in the area: Burro Pass, Hazzard County, Kokopelli Trail, and Porcupine Rim; the last of which is infamous for being extremely unforgiving. From an altitude of 11,150 ft, the track drops down 8,000 ft. The scenery stealthily changes from evergreen forests to Warner Lake, and, finally, slickrock territory. In this downhill ride, you will encounter gaps and berms, stream crossings, upheaved roots, and rock drops. The trail is mostly exposed. While it is certainly one of the most challenging trails in the US, many cyclists consider The Whole Enchilada, particularly Porcupine Rim, their favorite ride.
Other noteworthy mountain bike trails are the Holy Cross and Psycho Rocks in Colorado, Captain Ahab in Utah, and the Farlow Gap in North Carolina. While you may be tempted to try these trails right away, make sure you are mentally, physically, and logistically prepared. Know your limits, but don’t be afraid to ride past them. Happy biking!
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