Finding good places to ride a Mountain Bike is enigmatic at best. Only a few riders are fortunate enough to be blessed with trails on every hand. There are many ways to find out if there are areas to ride near you and find them if they exist. Some of these methods are obvious and you may have already tried them, and others you may not have thought of. Here are some with which I have had success during the last 15 years of mountain biking.
1. Local Bike Shop
2. Other Riders
3. The World Wide Web
4. Guide Books
5. Atlas & Gazetteer
6. U. S. Geological Survey Maps
7. National Forest Lands
8. Wildlife Management Areas
9. Other Public Lands
10. Private Land
11. Go for a Drive & Look Around
The Local Bike Shop
Your local bicycle shops should be the easiest source of trail information for your area. Some shops are troves of trail information both local and regional. Some other shops have none. Any bike dealer should at least be able to tell you where their customers ride in the area. A good dealer realizes good places to ride enhances their business and will therefore provide you with maps and as much information as they can. Just because the shop does not now of places to ride, does not mean that there are not any near you. Even if the LBS does not know of any trails, that does not mean none exist, so don't quit looking. The shop operators are often too busy to ride and explore, so must rely on others for their information.
Try to meet other mountain bikers and find out where they ride. See if there is a bicycling club near by. The riders in the club should know of good places to ride. A bike shop may be able to put you in touch with other riders.
The World Wide Web
Much information can be found about almost anything on the web and mountain bike trails are no exception. By doing a search for your area such as "mountain biking alabama" on different search engines you may find some local pages. These pages may have links to other pages with trail links and so on. Some pages have maps and directions to riding areas both local and regional.
Guide books are an obvious source of trail information. Books such as Mountain Biking Alabama by Chris Snyder and the Off the Beaten Track series may help you find trails you want to ride. Along this line bicycling magazines often have feature trail articles. These sources are very good, but the down side of them is they usually contain the more well known places. If these places are near by, you should know about them already. They are unbeatable for finding great areas close enough to go ride, but not necessarily close enough to ride every day or even every week.
Atlas & Gazetteer
A company named DeLorme publishes an Atlas and Gazetteer for all of the 50 states. It contains a topo map of each state in a bound volume. It can be an excellent way to locate a riding area. The MSRP is $16.95 for most states and will be a couple of dollars cheaper at discount department stores such as Wal-Mart. It is a great bargain for the information which it contains. DeLorme has a web site. The URL is http://www.delorme.com .
U. S. Geological Survey Maps
Many excellent maps are available from them. My favorite format is the 7 ½ minute topographic quadrangle maps. They have a very large scale of 1:24,000 and each sheet is 22 by 27 inches covering about 60 square miles. Cost is about $5 each. They show great detail and have helped me locate places to ride. They also show enough detail to help explore an area once you find it.
National Forest Lands
All national forests do not have mountain bike specific trails, but have places you can ride. Official policy is that bicycles can ride almost anywhere. Places where they cannot be ridden are on Wilderness Areas, hiking trails which are posted closed to bicycles, and specific areas posted as closed to bikes. Bicycles can be ridden on horse trails, ORV trails, gated roads, closed roads, roads blocked with dirt piles, ditches, etc. and old jeep or logging roads. This information came from a conversation with Joy Malone of the Forest Service in July 1999. The Atlas & Gazetteer is an excellent way to locate small isolated sections of a national forest. The Ranger station for that forest will have maps and some information on days that "persons who know are there."
Wildlife Management Areas
These managed hunting areas can be excellent places to ride the nine months when hunting season is closed. These areas are usually owned by the National Forest, Timber Companies, Paper Corporations, Mining Company lands, States, or other large land holders. The areas usually have miles of dirt roads and jeep trails which are good riding. These areas can be located by looking in the Gazetteer. A good locator is the Web site of the Fish and Game Department of your state, Department of Conservation, etc. Most of these areas are open for use to hikers, horses, bicycles and other non-motorized users. Before riding on any WMA you may want to get more information on that particular area. A few areas are open for use, but a permit is required, although this is not normal. A few even have mapped and maintained trails on them (but not in Alabama).
Other Public Lands
Bureau of Land Management, private holders such as The Nature Society, land trusts such as The Huntsville Land Trust, some National Park Land, National Preserves such as Little River in North Alabama, all have land which is a prospective riding area. Some of the best riding is on land with no bike trails but miles of old roads and such to be explored.
Many times the owners of private land will let you ride bicycles on their land. Some of it has jeep roads or ORV trails you can ride. Finding the land and the owners can be difficult, but may be worth the trouble. It also may be easy in your area.
Look Around You
Go for a drive in your can and look for places which could be good riding areas. Look for timber or paper corporation lands. Many times these owners post the perimeters with their signs. Look for gated woods roads. These sometimes indicate large land holdings. If there are no signs you may have to do some research to find out who the land belongs to. Around here a small country store is a good source of land information. Look for hunting club land. In the South East there are many hunting clubs who lease their land from the owner. You may be able to get permission to ride at certain time of the year on hunting club lands. By riding around, map in hand, doing a little research, and making a few phone calls you may locate a great place to ride. This method has yielded some of my best and most used mountain biking areas. Maybe I am fortunate, but I have not been refused permission to ride any where I have asked permission. One hunting club even told me I could ride during hunting season if I would ride mid day like from noon until 3:00 P.M. and not on Saturdays. Look around and don't be afraid to ask around.
Always keep in mind the fact riding places change. Some of my old favorites that my son and I started biking on can no longer be ridden. Some are closed, some grew up with weeds and woods, some washed and got too rough to be fun, and some have simply been replaced with places which are more fun for what-ever-reason. If you come up with a good way to locate riding places and would like to share it, e-mail it to me. I am always looking for new rides and new ways to locate them.
Alabama Mountain Biking
Hokes Bluff, Alabama
Aaron's Alabama Mountain Biking