The 20 best mountain bike trails that Greg Heil explored in 2020.
I can't even begin to explain how incredibly "unprecedented" the year 2020 was. (And if I never have to hear that word again, I'll die a happy man.) But we all lived through it—we all have our own experiences to share from 2020 and the COVID 19 pandemic. We all had our plans for the year completely derailed.
So when you're faced with an utter shit storm of a year, what do you do? Focus on the few things that are within your control, and then make the most of them.
While international travel was off the table for 2020, thousands of miles of the world's best mountain bike trails are found right here in the good ole US of A. Instead of hopping on a plane I slid behind the wheel of my car, and the once-mighty interstate system of my dysfunctional country took me from Colorado to Arizona, Pennsylvania, Utah, Northeastern Oregon, California, Arizona again, more Colorado, a bigger dose of Utah, and a large helping of Southern Oregon to wrap things up.
Over the course of this chaotic year, I rode dozens of the nation's top trails and logged thousands of miles of pedaling. While I did re-ride a few perennial favorites, I spent most of the year exploring tons of new-to-me trails and destinations. Below, you'll find 20 of the very best trails that I rode for the first time in 2020.
Whittling the list down to 20 was a real challenge. Even just naming my favorites left me with a list of about 40, and I had to cut it in half. But the 20 that remain are all creme de la creme singletrack trails. All of these selections qualify as world-class mountain bike experiences, even if nobody has heard a few of these names
While this list is just an overview, I've penned dozens of guidebooks for FATMAP about these various destinations. So if anything here piques your interest, you can definitely dive deeper into each region and get more info.
Topping the list of my favorite trails of the year were a handful of routes in the Cascades. I don't know why this region doesn't get more ink, but flying down the loamy singletrack of the Cascade mountains is downright euphoric! O'Leary Mountain, Lawler, Eula Ridge, Heckletooth, and Rye Spur collectively convinced me of the supremacy of the dark black dirt in the Cascades.
Somehow I've reached the end of the year and I'm still only in mediocre shape—blame the shuttle runs. Apparently, 2020 was the year of the point-to-point shuttle for me. The Big Boulder IMBA Epic, Time Warp, WOW Trail, O'Leary Mountain, Lawler, Eula Ridge, Heckletooth, Classic Mt. Ashland Shuttle, Pauley Creek, Mills Peak, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, Mrazek Trail, and 9k Trail all thoroughly impressed me... and that's only the highlights reel of the shuttles I rode this year.
By far the best overall mountain bike destination I explored for the first time in 2020 was Downieville. While I had briefly passed through Downieville in 2012, this was my first deep dive into the region, and I'll definitely be back! Mt. Elwell along with the Big Boulder IMBA Epic, Pauley Creek, and Mills Peak especially impressed me.
Early in the year, I spent a month living and riding in Northeastern Oregon, and two of my favorite rides from my time there were this loop at MERA and the Umatilla Rim Loop. For more on Northeastern Oregon, be sure to dig into this guidebook.
Finally, there are a few outliers that don't fit any of the above categories. While I've ridden almost every trail in Colorado's Arkansas Valley, this spring I had an absolute ball pedaling the brand-new Camp Elevation and Unchained trails. While Spence Mountain is technically in the Cascades, the dry dirt there is much more reminiscent of Bend, since it's on the eastern side of the mountains. The descent on North Ridge is also arguably one of the most technical trails in Oregon. Finally, while I spent a couple of weeks riding in the Sonoran desert this spring, only one of the rides there managed to earn a spot on this top 20 list: Golder Ranch.
Whether you live in the United States, Canada, Europe, or someplace further afield, each of our home regions offers many lifetimes worth of adventures to enjoy. While international travel is a life-changing experience that everyone should take full advantage of, don't let limiting factors outside of your control rob you of the joy of exploration. Sometimes, the best adventures are hiding right under our noses.