11 years ago an article about Fruita, Colorado was published in the New York Times. Some friends lamented that their favorite place to ride singletrack had been outed as a major mountain bike destination. Fruita — if you care — is 90 minutes away by car from one of the most famous destinations in mountain biking’s relatively short history. However, in the following weeks, months and years after that article was published, that Fruita “wasn’t Moab” seemed to matter less to mountain bikers intrigued by this new place to ride. Instead what Fruita could be scratched that itch all too common to those of us in search of new places to shred.
Mountain biking’s subjectivity means that hunting for an unforgettable mountain bike experience is less an ultimate pursuit and more a constant state of being. We asked some of our most trusted mountain bike sources, like Olympians Thomas Frischknecht and Jimena Florit, and Greek MTB advocate and retired racer, Alex Ioannidis, where they would recommend riding on their respective home turfs*. We also received a tip from Colorado’s Elevation Outdoors magazine about new gravel routes developed as part of a 10-year trail development plan in Steamboat Springs, Colo.
[*Destination criteria included: reasonable access from a major international airport; proximity to post-ride food, drink, and bike-friendly accommodations; and free of unrest due to terrorism.]
Special thanks to Trailforks and its community of users for supplying trail info for some of the destinations featured in this post.
The Engadin - Switzerland
Why? What stands out most are the endless trails, and a transportation system that lets you ride from A to B, and then return by train or bus. This gives every ride the opportunity to become an adventure. The Engadin is one of the very best mountain bike destinations I know of when the weather is nice. — Thomas Frischknecht, Olympic silver medalist and 3x world champion (marathon and cross-country)
Best time to go: Mid June – mid October
Getting there and away: Samedan-St. Moritz has an airport for those with private planes. The Engadin is 2 - 2 ½ hours by car from Milan, Innsbruck or Zürich; all those cities have major airports. The Swiss train system — aside from being extensive and punctual — accesses nearly every corner of the country, including the Engadin, which can be easily reached by train from the Zurich airport.
Trails: The area offers hundreds of kilometers of trails, since it was originally developed for hikers but now the trails can also be used by mountain bikes. There’s a bike park in Corviglia with shuttles by the trams and gondolas. Engadin is huge for its big day tours to Livignio, Poschiavo or Davos.
A multi-modal combination of riding to these destinations and then taking the train back is a very popular way to extend the radius of ride options.
“One of my favorite rides is from Pontresina over Bernina Pass to Poschiavo; lunch in the beautiful and historic town center; returning by train to the Bernia Pass; and then riding back to Pontresina,” Frischknecht said.
For a sample of Engadin’s ride quality, visit Engadinbike’s YouTube channel.
Frischknecht singled out the Sporthotel as his favorite because it is managed by mountain bike enthusiasts. “They know what we want,” he stated.
Given the Engadin’s proximity to Italy, riders are likely to refuel with a post-ride pizza or panini but beer still reigns supreme as mountain bikers’ top tipple and there’s more than just one microbrewery in the valley.
LBS: There are several bike shops in the valley that rent bikes if you don’t want to bring your own.
What the Engadin has in addition to 400 kms/249 miles of well-marked mountain bike routes set against the backdrop of a high alpine valley surrounded by those famous Swiss alps, is a powerful tourism organization to promote it. Thanks to territorial reforms that that went into effect on January 1, 2018, the Engadin St. Moritz Tourismus AG embraced the task of marketing the destination. To experience Swiss efficiency at its finest, visit the tourism website and you’ll be able to research, reserve, and then start fantasizing about riding in the Engadin inside of 30 minutes.
San Martín de los Andes - Argentina
Why? San Martín de los Andes has a cozy, small town feel, incredible views, a huge variety of ride options with respect to length and elevation gain (or drop), and a bike park. You don’t want to miss the cafes or confiterías where you can share post ride laughs, empanadas and — why not try a true local meal like the “picadas regionales.” If you are lucky, you might persuade the locals to invite you to be part of the “el tren de la alegria!” (ed. “The Happy Train, “which is a ride during siesta time, or between work shifts). — Jimena Florit Dolzadelli, pro mountain biker from Olivos, Argentina. 2x Olympian; and gold and 2x bronze medalist in the Pan-American Games
Best time to go: October-June
Getting there and away: San Martín has daily flights to/from Buenos Aires, which has flights to/from most anywhere in the world. Another option is to fly to Temuco, Chile via Santiago and then drive the final 280 km/174 miles to San Martín.
Trails: San Martín is surrounded by an abundant mix of trails for all skill levels and accessible directly from town. Or, if going down is more your thing, 21 km/13 miles outside of town is the Bike Park Chapelco — claimed to be the best bike park in Patagonia — which has nine downhill runs that add up to 20 km/12 miles of trails. The only drawback to Chapelco is its short riding season: January-February; otherwise it is a dedicated ski area the rest of the year.
Eat/stay/relax: With a population of 40,000 and a reputation as a premier destination for outdoor recreation, San Martín already has some basic minimum requirements as a mountain bike destination. In fact, San Martín holds such intrigue for mountain bikers that nine years ago, Tom Ritchey himself made his way there to check it out after racing in the TransAndes Challenge MTB stage on his Break-Away Tandem, which evolved from the timeless Break-Away frameset.
LBS: The Adventure Store is your one stop for: mountain bike rentals, repairs, event info, group rides…basically any level of engagement with the local MTB community — from basic area info to “tomar mates” (look it up) — can be found at the Adventure Store.
“San Martín de los Andes is one of the most sought-out destinations for South American mountain bikers,” said Flavio Bonilauri, founder and owner of the Adventure Store. “It is surrounded by mountains, lakes, and forests located inside the Lanín National Park, which is home to a network of natural trails that are ideal for riding singletrack.”
Abundant hotels, hostels, and bungalos plus a food culture that celebrates the post-ride beer and snacks, called “picadas,” made up of cheese, salami, peanuts, fried potatoes, and cold cuts, should stoke the motivation to make San Martín your next mountain bike destination. If you still need convincing, consider the modest $/€/£-to-Argentine-peso exchange rate, which should put any argument about the economics of this trip on ice. Just get there!
Mount Immitos, Mount Parnitha, Salamina Island - Greece
Why? As the race venue for the 2004 Olympic mountain bike event, Mount Parnitha already existed as a MTB destination instead of an artificial course laid out just for the Games. Since then the Hellenic Mountain Bicycling Association has been working toward developing more trails in the area, which includes the gnarlier Mount Immitos as well. After a few days of riding set on self-destruct, a day or two of languishing by the Aegean Sea may bring you back to life or, Athens is all yours to explore, it’s one of the world’s oldest cities.
Best time to go: March-June; or September-October (Tip: July and August are the fire season, so forest access is denied during those months)
Getting there and away: Both mountains are within the greater Athens area so arriving by plane from afar isn’t too complicated. Once on the ground, it’s best to rent a car to get around.
Trails: In general, Immitos is rockier and harsher than Parnitha. Immitos would appeal to more experienced riders looking for some enduro riding or technical cross-country. There are also some DH trails on both mountains. Parnitha covers a much greater area and offers many options for easier riding.
Eat/stay/relax: There are many hotels around the center of Athens and in the southern suburbs, close to the sea. Ioannidis recommends the Glyfada area as his personal favorite, likely because it’s where he grew up and attended school. There are many upscale restaurant and accommodations options there, Alex recommended letting them know ahead of time that you’ll be bringing bikes, so that they can better accommodate you. Glyfada’s location on the shores of the Aegean Sea to the south of Athens puts it at a distance from both Immitos or Parnitha, so once again you would need a car to get around. It’s about a half-hour drive to Immitos, or 45-60’ to Parnitha (depending on time of the day).
LBS: Reliable bike rental businesses are still in development, so it’d be advisable to bring your own if you want to get the most out of mountain biking in Greece.
Bonus destination: Salamina Island, which is only 20 minutes by ferry from the Port of Pérama, west of Athens. The forested area, Kanákia, to the south of this small island is a hotbed for Greek MTB racing (many UCI races have been held there over the years), and offers short but interesting XC routes. Alex advises, “Don’t expect to find ‘trails for days’ here but it’s a great opportunity to ride in a truly historic location.”
Steamboat Springs, Colorado - United States
Why? In 2013 voters passed a proposal to acquire $5.1 million of Accommodations Tax funding throughout 10 years specifically to develop trails intended for various uses. This means that the majority of residents in Steamboat Springs thought that it would be a good idea to create more space for outdoor activities, like mountain biking.
Best time to go: June - October
Getting there and away: Yampa Valley Regional Airport (Steamboat Springs/Hayden) is 22 miles from downtown Steamboat. Steamboat is a 3-hour drive equidistance from either Denver or Grand Junction. It is 2 hours from Laramie, Wyo. and 5 hours from Salt Lake City, Utah.
Trails: Steamboat has hundreds of miles of trails that can all be accessed from the downtown area. Main riding areas include: Emerald Mountain, Buffalo Pass, Steamboat Bike Park, and Hot Springs. Great rides include the "Stinger" lap on Emerald Mountain (42+kms/26+ miles of intermediate trails with 1,128 meters/3,700’ of elevation gain), Flash of Gold to Grouse on Buffalo Pass (intermediate to expert), the Continental Divide Trail from Rabbit Ears Pass to Mountain View, Pete's Wicked, Sunshine, Pioneer to Creekside (for the ambitious riders). Panorama and Fiddlehead are great rides for beginners, strollers, and adaptive cyclists.
Eat/stay/relax: Steamboat is home to a wide variety of accommodations, ranging from slopeside luxury condos and hotels to budget-friendly motels, rustic ranches and single-family home rentals. After a ride on Steamboat’s legendary trails, you’ve earned a relaxing soak in the Yampa River or the Hot Springs. Steamboat is also known for the excellent dining options to choose from one of 130 area restaurants and cafes.
LBS: Bike Shops include: Steamboat Ski & Bike Kare, Orange Peel, Wheels, Ski Haus, Pedego, Classic Crank, and Steamboat Bike Shop.
“We may be a small town, but our bike shops show that cycling is firmly engrained in our community.“ — Amy Charity, executive director of Bike Town USA®
Thanks to the Steamboat Springs Trails Alliance (a collaboration of four local nonprofits), which succeeded in passing the 2A Trails Project, residents and visitors alike get to enjoy beginner to expert multi-use trails, plus a network of city-wide paved connectors just for getting around. Thanks Steamboat Springs!
These four mtb destinations are meant to provide a few clues as to what’s out there in terms of off-road two-wheeled experiences. Mountain bike tourism is on the rise as more adventure seekers are finding new ways to literally bring their lifestyle along for the ride. “Mountain biking” has evolved to include cross-country, downhill, enduro, fatbiking, and even bikepacking and, as long as it continues on this evolutionary trajectory, “where to ride” will be as significant as “what to ride.”