Guide: Finding Your Dream Trails

Durango High Country

The desire to explore the singletrack world has been a passion of mine for many years. Rolling into an unfamiliar trail system can be challenging not only in finding the best trails, but also the best way to stitch them together.  With the advancement in technology, finding the sweetest trails has become much easier.  I’ve been putting technology as my socialization skills to the test in order to find the goods over the last few summers of traveling.

Some of my all-time favorite trails are ones that are rarely if ever spoken of by the popular mountain bike websites or magazines.  Many of the rides they do rave about don’t really excite me or are nowhere near as good as other trails in the same area.  I guess “to each his own” as we all have varying ideas of what makes the perfect ride.  The main problem is discovering the best routes for you and then navigating them without getting lost (which is not always horrible.)

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5,000 ft of descending on Martha’s Creek DH in Revelstoke, BC awaits. (Photo: Josh Lawrence)

The new apps have definitely made route finding a much easier.  They aid planning, keep you on track and can even help you find your way home.  If there are lots of turns or new trails that are unmarked, apps can be challenging.  The best app to use may differ depending on your geographical location.

Trailforks:

-Seems to be best in the west especially the pacific northwest and Canada where more users are connected with the parent company Pinkbike.  Many great trails in the midwest and east don’t exist on Trailforks although its getting better.

-Trail ratings vary greatly and often times differ from local ratings (blue square vs black diamond ratings)

-Allows you to see who built and maintains the trails you want to ride and even make a monetary donation right from the app or link up to their Facebook page to see if there’s a group ride tonight.


MTB Project:

-MTB Project is awesome with suggested routes and ability to use GPS to record ride directly in the app. There are areas that MTB Project has trails and Trailforks does not – mostlly east.

-GPX tracks can be downloaded directly from their website.


Downsides of relying on these:

  1. Using an app can be fairly frustrating on trail systems that have a turn every 20 feet as it takes time to pull the phone out at all these intersections to determine if you’re going the right way
  2. Some trails on the apps aren’t actually trails and in fact are dirt roads or paved pathways.
  3. Accuracy. Suggested trail directions aren’t always the most desirable direction.  I’ve ridden up some designated blue runs on the app that were actually black diamond DH runs.

The best way I’ve found to use Trailforks and MTB Project is route finding while on the trail.  Although this requires the need to stop, pull out the phone and open up the app….no cell signal is needed if you’ve previously downloaded the maps for the state you’re in.


GPX File Downloads:

GPX tracks that you can upload to your Garmin or phone can be excellent navigation assists if you can find the tracks to download.  With the Garmin Edge 520 or higher end models, you can load GPX routes into quite easily.

I’ve loaded some challenging twisty GPX courses with twice as many turns as miles trail and had very good luck finding routes like our recent 140 mile Wasatch Traverse .  GPX tracks are incredible tools with the route loaded into the Garmin that guides you visually on-screen and with audible notices if you make wrong turns.

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Enjoying some Queenstown, New Zealand awesomeness.
Enjoying some Queenstown, New Zealand awesomeness. (Photo: Tricia Davis)

Using GPX tracks and apps are nice aids, but direct communication is key to finding the jewels.  Take the extra time to plan your adventures by talking to friends and bike shops who have first hand knowledge of areas visiting.  Make sure you accurately describe the types of trails that you are looking for.  Be clear about trail level you’re comfortable with when talking to shops or locals in the know.  These are the folks I also like to ask “So what are your favorite trails?” Better yet, find out when they are having a trail building day, bring your work gloves and pay your “dig fee.”  The locals will feel better about letting you in on their stashes of gold-rimmed, super sweet singletrack and you’ll get to meet some great folks.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

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