The second-largest state in the U.S. (after Alaska) in terms of total land area, Texas boasts an incredible number of mountain biking challenges, through terrains that include rocky deserts, slippery slopes and miles of swamps and coastline along the Gulf of Mexico.
Although a populous state in certain areas, Texas offers plenty of peaceful and often demanding trails that regularly attract riders from across the country looking to tame the state where “bigger” is always considered “better.” If you’re thinking about doing some mountain biking in Texas, below we have highlighted five of the state’s most scenic and challenging off-road mountain biking trails and the characteristics that make each of these rides so appealing to some of the most seasoned riders in the country.
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Palo Duro Canyon State Park
Located in the city of Canyon in Texas’ renowned Panhandle, Palo Duro Canyon State Park is consistently rated among the top mountain biking areas in the state—a park that must be seen to fully appreciate.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park features three main mountain biking trails: Givens, Spicer and Lowry Trail (GSL, for short); Lighthouse Trail; and Capitol Peak Mountain Bike Trail, each with its own unique set of obstacles and challenges.
Of the three main trails, GSL seems to offer the most excitement, and is recommended for intermediate to advanced riders only. Offering gorgeous views of the valley below, this red-dirt path is not overly steep, but it does feature some hairy drop offs, fast berms and large obstacles as it winds its way down the course.
Lighthouse Trail, the most recognizable track at Palo Duro Canyon State Park, is a wide and beautiful path that was once exclusively intended for hiking and exploring. As a result, the course, which can be ridden by mountain bike enthusiasts of all ability levels, has but a few difficult climbs and drops, and for those climbs that are too steep, beginners can always take an alternate route that bypasses those sections. Intermediate to advanced riders will love the challenge of this track’s downhill section, which is loaded with small to medium obstacles, all of which are set in loose, precarious sand that can make traction extremely difficult at times.
Finally, there is the Capitol Peak Trail, which commences with a slight climb along a wide and windy path that is dotted with desert prickly pear (watch those tires). The descent is all single-track, with plenty of opportunities for advanced riders to catch “big air” as they speed their way down the loop. Most of the course is set in the rocky red clay indigenous to the area, but there are a few sandy spots so be sure to hang on with both hands.
Rocky Hill Ranch
Riders looking to challenge themselves on one of Texas’ most-loved mountain biking trails need look no further than Rocky Hill Ranch. Located in the small town of Smithville, Texas, the trail system at Rocky Hill Ranch offers something for everyone’s tastes, including steep climbs; tight, fast single track; and even faster downhill descents.
Rocky Hill Ranch tests riders from the onset with a series of demanding and very steep climbs. These climbs are so difficult, in fact, that beginners may want to opt instead for the bypass known as Gray’s Way. Once at the top of the course, in a section known as “Off the Lip,” riders are treated to a series of berms and whoop-dee-dos that wind in and out of a dry creek bed, before arriving at the descent known as Omar’s Howl, a fast downhill section that, if survived, is guaranteed to put a smile on your face
Sam Houston National Park (Double Lake Recreational Area)
Situated in the town of Coldspring, Texas, a city in San Jacinto County, the Double Lake Recreational Area of Sam Houston National Park is an area built exclusively for mountain bike devotees.
Double Lake’s mountain biking loop is very well constructed and designed—a fast, flowing and winding track offering scenic views of the park named for one of Texas’ larger-than-life heroes, Sam Houston. As local riders are quick to point out, the entire Double Lake trail is true single track, save for the initial 20 yards from the trailhead, and the entire course is regularly maintained by volunteers from the Greater Houston Off-Road Mountain Bike Association, or GHORBA.
Double Lake is suitable for all riders, although certain sections require at least an intermediate amount of skill. Although the trail lacks the elevation of some of Texas’ other popular trails, speed is never an issue. In fact, the faster one rides this awesome track the more exciting it becomes, as riders sweep in and out of high-banked turns, brushing against the adjacent trees as they strive to maintain their speed.
Brazos Bend State Park
Brazos Bend State Park is located in Needville, Texas, a small town of about 2,500 residents in Fort Bend County, within the Houston–The Woodlands–Sugar Land metropolitan area.
Brazos Bend State Park has over 21 miles of trails that are regularly ridden by the area’s beginner to intermediate riders. Although double track by design, there are just enough troublesome roots and hungry gators to keep this trail interesting, and the sections of track that traverse the region’s wooded areas make for a gorgeous shady ride. The trail system at Brazos Bend State Park is not advanced by any means, but it does present its fair share of technical challenges—challenges that can help less-seasoned riders prepare for more demanding courses.
Brazos Bend State Park has a $7 admission fee for day use and there are restrooms throughout the park that include showers. Campers are also welcome at most times of the year, with campsites that feature both water and electrical hookups.
Flat Rock Ranch
Although the trail system at Flat Rock Ranch is located in the town of Comfort, Texas, the experience it offers riders is anything but comfortable. A challenging and often severe course designed to test a variety of skills, Flat Rock Ranch is currently the premier Texas mountain biking destination—a place that is a must-ride for anyone within driving distance.
Flat Rock Ranch features a number of trails and loops, and with the exception of the very manageable “No Sweat Loop,” the course is designed exclusively for intermediate, advanced and expert riders. The trail system at Flat Rock Ranch initiates with the Lower Loop, which immediately hints at the course’s high difficulty rating, butting riders side-by-side with sheer drop offs as they delicately make their way through the system of trails. Near the top of the Flat Rock Ranch Trail is a section that is appropriately named “Evilworm”—a twisted section of obstacle-laden downhill that can take riders to top speed in a matter of seconds.
Jam-packed with challenging switchbacks, brutal climbs and hair-raising descents, Flat Rock Ranch is quite simply an expert rider’s dream—and a beginner’s nightmare.
image credit: Texas Parks & Wildlife