The future is here. A whole new generation of trails are being built by riders who are incorporating terrain that contains well-built jumps, bridges soggy ground, veers gradually uphill and and is made specifically to be fast, fun, demanding and accessible. The designers of these trails are thinking about flow, both uphill and down. Most of all, they're thinking about us, about mountain bikers—about building trails for pedaling, not walking or hiking.
Don't get us wrong: There will always be a place for negotiating log-overs, doing track-stand stalls to ratchet around tight switchbacks, not to mention knowing how to handle slick roots. These skills will continue to be essential as you cruise whatever trails course through your own personal backwoods lair. But they are relics of old trails, built decades or even centuries ago for horses and hikers. The new era of the mountain bike trail, however, is just beginning.
With organizations such as IMBA helping lead the charge, purpose-built trails are popping up worldwide: tracks that simultaneously raise the bar for trail standards while lowering it for new riders; trails built not just with public blessing, but often with public funding. In some cases, lots of public funding.
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Some of these trails, such as Paradise Royal in California, unfurl across remote backcountry; others, like Sandy Ridge, Oregon, combine the best parts of a purpose-built bike park, minus the chairlift. Yet others, such as those at Sprain Ridge Park in Westchester, New York, show that mountain bike-specific trails can be cut wherever riders can secure a slice of land to work with.
We've culled the country—and beyond—for standout examples of this singletrack revolution. What you're about to see, and read, changes everything. Forever.
Half Nelson, Squamish, British Columbia
A FAST, FLOWING DESCENT WITH 60 BERMS, FOUR DOZEN WATER CROSSINGS AND MORE THAN 100 JUMPS.
Combine the steep granite mountains that loom a mile above Squamish, B.C., with the wet, rainforest-like conditions and you have a perfect recipe for burly trails. In Squamish, some common rides feature mossy rock rollers the size of small buildings, and sloppy, rutted fall-line descents laced with roots, ladder bridges, drops, ruts and head-snapping g-outs.
Enter Half Nelson, a 1.5-mile flow trail that is unusually fun and, relative to the standard Squamish mix, less than constantly terrifying. It takes 30 minutes to ride to the top—less time than a shuttle would consume—and uses a sliver of gravity to pull you downhill, so it can be ridden its full length without brakes and without pedaling.
"One of the reasons Half Nelson is so good is that you don't need a $5,000 all-mountain bike to have fun on it," says trail builder Ted Tempany. "It's just as fun, if not more, on a cheap dirt-jump hardtail."
> Miles: 1.5 > Vertical loss: 900 ft. > Fun factor: 11 > Cost to build: $150,000