5 Overlooked National Parks for Mountain Biking

Photo: NPS photo/Dave Bieri

Our nationally protected treasures offer some of the best mountain biking in the country.

You might not think that our national parks house so many miles of endless trails within their scenic borders. But now, rules and regulations in national parks are becoming more welcoming to bicyclists—inspiring such groups as the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) to build new trails for an expanded population of park-goers. Joining the nine national parks allowing mountain biking, more than 40 National Park Service sites now allow the sport, including such similarly protected areas as national monuments and national recreation areas. That offering is more widespread than riders realize, with previous bans continuing to be lifted and new areas coming online. Here’s a snapshot of a few more off-the-radar areas that deserve some serious mountain-biking recognition. (Just remember to glance up from the trail once in a while to take in your scenic surroundings.)  

New River Gorge National Park, WV

The newly established, 70,000-acre New River Gorge National Park and Preserve in West Virginia is quickly becoming one of the premier mountain biking destinations in the eastern U.S., partially for its proximity to major metropolitan hubs in nearly every direction. One of its most popular regions for riding is the easy-to-moderate, 12.8-mile Arrowhead Trails system, which links such trails as Clovis, Adena, Dalton, and LeCroy. Featuring four mountain bike loops, the system was built by the Boy Scouts of America, marking one of the largest youth service projects in NPS history. Other favorite trails for riding include the 8.6-mile Kaymoor Trail, 7-mile Southside Trail, 3.3-mile Keeney Creek Rails Trail and 5.6-mile Glade Creek Trail. And best yet, when you’re finished, you can cool off with some of the best whitewater rafting in the country, paddling down the New River Gorge. More Info: nps.gov 

Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, TN

Encompassing 125,000 acres of the Cumberland Plateau in both Kentucky and Tennessee, this sprawling recreation area protects the free-flowing Big South Fork of the Cumberland River and its tributaries. With its scenic gorges and sandstone bluffs, the rolling terrain is also a mecca for mountain biking, serving up more than 30 miles of scenic, winding singletrack trails for everyone from beginner to expert riders. The trails are maintained by the local Big South Fork Mountain Bike Club, ensuring their upkeep for riding year-round. Just pay attention to the weather; it can be unpredictable, regardless of the season, and a tad hot in the summer. For advanced riders comes the Collier Ridge Loop, marked with features such as drops and tight turns that offer a challenge, while beginners can test their pedaling stripes on the Duncan Hollow Loop, complete with an easy creek crossing. More Info: nps.gov

Cuyahoga Valley National Park, OH 

Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley National Park near Cleveland has blossomed as a mountain biking hotspot, with nearly 100 miles of singletrack riding paths, from multi-use trails for longer rides to shorter loops for quick afternoon hits. One fave: the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail, which runs straight through the park, complete with historical landmarks to take in during rest breaks. Another—the park’s East Rim Trail System—is a partnership between the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park, National Park Service, and Cleveland Area Mountain Bike Association; and it’s the park’s first trail built with mountain bikers in mind. It creates more than 10 miles of varied singletrack terrain, while connecting to other local trails beyond the park’s boundaries. Hint: Hit CVNP in the fall when its trees’ leaves turn a kaleidoscope of colors. More Info: nps.gov

Mammoth Cave National Park, KY

Sure, Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has the world’s largest cave, meaning its main attraction lies underground. But it has plenty to showcase above ground as well, including miles of serpentine mountain bike trails. While spelunkers are getting their subterranean groove, roll your tires on the 9.1-mile Big Hollow Trail, 2.5-mile White Oak Trail, and, for an easier cruise, 9-mile Mammoth Cave Railroad Bike and Hike Trail. The park also allows riding on several unpaved administrative roads, with more mountain bike trails currently under development. Then, when you’re through riding, put your bike aside and join the rest of the park-goers in the depths of the historic cave system. More Info: nps.gov

Redwood National Park, CA

Forget riding on your Tallboy. California’s redwoods are the real tall boys, and there’s nothing better than riding among them and along the spectacular California coastline. You’ll get all that and more in Redwood National Park, offering more than 50 miles of dirt roads and trails for tree-viewing rides. While most of the riding is on rehabilitated logging roads, where bike tires cause less erosion, that frees up your eyes to take in these massive wonders. Try Little Bald Hills Trail, which has 1,600 feet of climbing with portions of singletrack; Paradise Trail; Ossagon Trail; and the Last Chance and Gold Bluff Beach sections of the Coastal Trail. Bonus: temperate weather year-round for comfortable days spent in the saddle. More Info: nps.gov 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.