Early Season Spots to Set Your Pace
By Jim MacNaughton
While the “early season” for mountain biking is generally considered to be the middle spring, for us snow-filled northern New Yorkers early season riding is best defined by the months of June and July. This is the time when our trail systems fully dry out and our legs steadily come back into shape. We’ll touch base on some of the best mountain bike friendly trail systems from the Capital Region to the Adirondacks that will help get you back into the riding groove!
North Bethlehem Town Park, located at 564 Russell Road (near City of Albany) is an early season treasure for the Capital Region mountain biking community. Just beyond the playground lies a dedicated four-mile singletrack mountain bike trail system. The soil is a mixture of loam and sand, so it tends to dry quickly. The system is set up into four distinctly marked trails that connect to form one loop: red (1.0 miles), orange (1.6 miles), yellow (0.6 miles) and blue (0.7 miles). As you enter up the hill behind the playground, look for the red flags on your right and follow, and then keep all flags to your right.
The trail itself is relatively flat but does have some punchy climbs and short downhills. There are plenty of well-built trail challenges along the way to help develop your MTB skill sets such as log rolls, bridges, small jumps and ramps. There is always a go-around line for those of us just getting back into it, or for or for those trying to break a digital land speed record! For those with families, the playground at the base of the trail is a bonus and the trails can accommodate riders of any age. Please remember to go slow as you pass through the playground. (townofbethlehem.org)
Further west in the Capital Region, Thacher State Park (near Voorheesville) has been busy with a variety of projects over the last few years. This has included a partnership with the Saratoga Mountain Bike Association to build and maintain approximately 15 miles of singletrack trails. Hailes Cave Road is one access point through the new skills park (see below), but there’s a $6 parking fee or use Empire Pass. In the northern portion of the park, use the Carrick Road trailhead and follow Fred Schroeder or Perimeter trail out of the parking lot. Or, you can also use the High Point trailhead off of Old Stage Road, though this is popular with hikers and it may be tough to park there on a weekend. Both northern options are free entrances that offer fun rocky trails with lots of views from the High Point and Hang Glider cliffs along the way.
The park has installed a mountain bike skills area, which includes a pump track and dirt jump park just at the end of Hailes Cave Road. Pump tracks teach riders the skill of “pumping” your bike forward over small roller jumps to pick up speed instead of pedaling. The jump park consists of several “tabletop” jumps – both rollable and jumpable. In that same area, there is also a series of small loop trails that act as a component of the skills area. (parks.ny.gov)
Heading north of the Capital Region, you’ll find the Luther Forest STEP (Saratoga Technology Energy Park) trails located on 345 Hermes Road in Malta. Originally built by mountain bikers, they have officially been adopted by the Saratoga Technology Energy Park. The six miles of swoopy singletrack trails are hard packed sandy loam, resulting in a relatively “smooth” riding experience, as far as mountain biking goes, with a couple of short steep climbs and a few fun technical challenges to keep you on your toes. The trail can get a little confusing as it loops and crosses in various places. However, you can’t really get lost as you are never far away from the road. Watch out for other trail users, as this is a multiuse area. (malta-town.org)
Heading further north, Gurney Lane Mountain Bike Park, located within the Town of Queensbury’s Gurney Lane Recreation Area, has seven miles of singletrack and six miles of double-track mountain bike specific trails for year-round enjoyment. Gurney Lane has a variety of professionally designed and built trails: from extremely fun trails, technical rocky trails with hard lines and easier alternative lines, to wider bench cut trails featuring berms, rollers and endless amounts of flow. Gurney also connects to the Rush Pond trail with 2.6 miles of double-track and a matrix of unmarked singletrack trails to explore. (recreation.queensbury.net)
The Brant Lake Bike Park, a newly developed singletrack mountain biking destination, opens on Sunday, June 10 at 9am. The park is on land directly behind The Hub – a bike shop, café and craft beer pub – located at 27 Market Street in Brant Lake. The trails were designed and built by Wilderness Property Management, a local professional trail building company. Mountain bikers are familiar with their work at Gurney Lane in Queensbury and the MTB trails at Ski Bowl Park in North Creek. Grand opening festivities include a send-off ceremony, live music, and a tap-takeover by Common Roots Brewing at The Hub – and six miles of fresh singletrack mountain bike riding. The trails are free and open to the public. (thehubadk.com)
In the Adirondack High Peaks region, there has been steady growth of trail building over the last decade. The Barkeater Trail Alliance, a non-profit organization has been building, maintaining, and advocating for a system of community and backcountry trails for ski touring and mountain biking. They have built 50 miles of trails. They build and maintain trail systems in the towns of Wilmington, Lake Placid and Saranac Lake, as well as maintain the pump track and dirt jumps at the Wilmington Town Park.
According to BETA director Josh Wilson and member Keith McKeever, some of the better early season trails can be found in the Hardy Road-Beaver Brook trail system. Trails such as the Coniferous trail, Double Time and Twisted Pine are relatively flat, packed sandy loam singletrack with an absence of roots or rocks. Trails such as Make Believe have more climbing/descending with bermed switchbacks and a rolling trail through a maple beach forest in between. Just down the road is a newly finished Three Sisters trail that acts as a community connector trail between the Quaker Mountain trail and the Town of Wilmington.
Other early season trail recommendations include the Flume trail system in Wilmington and the Craig Wood trails in the Town of North Elba (near Lake Placid). Good places to start with in the Flume system include the lower areas such as Delta, Lower Connector and the Double Time trails. As you go higher up in elevation, the trail difficulty climbs as well.
Also in Wilmington, the Poor Man’s Downhill trail is a three-mile singletrack downhill trail, which drops 1,200 vertical feet between the Whiteface Toll Road entrance down to the hamlet – near Up a Creek Restaurant and Leepoff Cycles. The Town of Wilmington offers a summer shuttle service at a minimal cost on Sundays from 1-4pm on June 17, July 1 and 15, August 5 and 19, and Sept. 2 and 16. (bikewilmingtonny.com)
Towards Lake Placid, check out the Craig Wood trail system. It is officially known as a “flow trail” with three miles of machine-built trails constructed in 2017. Flow trails generally feature packed terrain that generally has small jumps and bermed turns to keep your bike moving – and your face smiling ear to ear. The trails are owned by the Town of North Elba and are located adjacently to the Craig Wood Golf Course. On that note, please stay on marked trails and do not ride on or through the golf course. (betatrails.org)
From the Flume trails, you can also link up to the Whiteface Mountain Bike Park trail system that opens for the season on June 16 with expert, intermediate, beginner downhill trails, cross country trails and a new flow trail. A Whiteface lift ticket is required. Shuttle bus rides and bike, helmet and pad rentals are available.
Whiteface offers something for everyone. The trails accessed via Cloudsplitter Gondola are expert with lots of rocks, roots and drops. For riders looking for fast and fun trails, a shuttle bus runs twice an hour to access the trails on the lower half of the mountain. These trails are flowy and have some technical sections including small rocks and roots. The Whiteface crew is known for their excellent service and can help you match trail choices to your ability to help ensure a great experience. (downhillmike.com)
This list of trails to get you out the door is far from being all-inclusive. It is only a sampling of what’s available to riders of all ages, leg and lung capacities. Please use this list as a starting point to explore and discover even more options. We are incredibly lucky to live in a time and a place where mountain biking trail systems are seemingly growing by the day. Take advantage of it – get out, get dirty, and keep the helmet side up!
Jim MacNaughton (jimmac662nycap.rr.com) of Albany has been riding bikes in the dirt since 1979.