mountain biking trails
Zach Dischner/Flickr
By Wesley Grover / April 12, 2019 9:55 am

The U.S. National Forests are the forgotten stepchild of American adventuring, forever in the shadow of our beloved National Parks. Why, exactly, we’re not sure.

As it turns out, our national forests are home to most of the country’s most epic mountain-biking trails — and we’re not just using hyperbole here. Each year, the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) designates a list of trails as IMBA Epics. Using a host of criteria, these rides must be at least 80% singletrack (the trail is no wider than the bike), 20+ miles long, technically and physically demanding, and offer a true backcountry experience.

So, no, we’re not talking about some lollygagging, strap-the-kids-on-the-back bike ride. These are trails of the decidedly sphincter-clenching variety, and we do not advise dogearing them for your first ride of the season.

There are 46 IMBA Epics around the world with the distinction, and nine of them can be found U.S. National Forests. If you’re looking for a legitimately epic experience on two wheels, the list below is a good place to start.

Don’t tackle them solo, and always know what you’re getting into — hit these tracks without adequate training, and you are going to have a very, very bad time.

Mountain Biking Trails
Surveyor’s Ridge (jrex Anderson/MTB Project)

Mt. Hood National Forest, Oregon
Surveyor’s Ridge (20 miles)
Imposing switchbacks, high-speed descents, and ridgeline traversing, Surveryor’s Ridge has all the features to rightfully call it a legendary track that winds through the gigantic pine and fir trees of Mt. Hood National Forest.
Après at: pFriem Family Brewers

Ouachita National Forest, Arkansas
Womble Trail (35 miles)
Rambling through the dark pines and hardwoods that line the banks of the Ouachita River, the Womble Trail is an intermediate level backwoods ride that climbs just over 4,000 feet of elevation and is in peak condition during spring and fall.
Après at: Superior Bathhouse Brewery

mountain biking trails
Cannell Trail (Rick Barbee/MTB Project)

Sequoia National Forest, California
Cannell Trail (26 miles)
Set in the High Sierra, Cannell Trail earns its Epic status as a high-altitude endurance challenge that reaches 9,200 feet and ends with an eight-mile downhill overlooking Lake Isabella that’s known as “The Plunge.”
Après at: Kern River Brewing Company

Chattahoochee National Forest, Georgia
Bull and Jake Mountain (25 miles)
Steep downhills, waterfalls and plenty of loose rocks make the trail network connecting Bull and Jake Mountains a must-ride in the southern part of Appalachian backcountry.
Après at: You’ll find some options in nearby Dahlonega, like Wolf Mountain Vineyards, but Chattanooga is about two hours away for a more satisfying selection of breweries.

Willamette National Forest, Oregon
O’Leary Trail Loop (19.7 miles)
The O’Leary Trail is a classic passage for experienced riders looking for primo backcountry that snakes through massive Douglas firs and ascends nearly 6,000 vertical feet. Don’t let the alpine meadows and wide-open views distract you, because this remote and challenging ride is not the place to mess up.
Après at: Make the hour-and-a-half drive into Bend and sip some suds at the Deschutes Brewery Public House.

mountain biking trails
Rock Lake (Leslie Kehmeier/MTB Project)

Chequamegon National Forest, Wisconsin
Rock Lake (27 miles)
Set deep in the wilderness of the Upper Midwest, Rock Lake presents technical and challenging features for intermediate and experienced riders. The multi-terrain trail includes narrow, tree-lined corridors, rock gardens and plenty of dips.
Après at: Rivers Eatery

Umpqua National Forest, Oregon
North Umpqua (72 miles)
A celebrated singletrack showcasing the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest, North Umpqua boasts varied terrain through lush ferns and pines. As the trail winds along the Umpqua River, there’s opportunity for fishing, as well as soaking your legs at the hot springs.
Après at: True Kitchen + Bar

Upper Buffalo Headwaters (Leslie Kehmeier/MTB Project)

Ozark National Forest, Arkansas
Upper Buffalo Headwaters (20 miles)
This well-rounded singletrack was hand-built by Progressive Trail Design and presents riders with a mixture of banked turns, narrow passages and big drops as they charge past turquoise waterfalls and rocky cliffs.
Après at: BYOB

George Washington National Forest, Virginia
Southern Traverse (36 miles)
An absolute grind of a trail, the Southern Traverse starts off with a 4-mile climb that separates the strong from the weak and culminates in an 11-mile singletrack ridge that drops into a rewarding 1,100-foot descent.
Après at: Redbeard Brewing Company