Writing this article has been a bit of a wild ride (pun definitely intended). I set out to write an article about the best mountain biking trails in Pennsylvania. But when I began doing my research, I learned that Female Mountain Biking is being seriously under represented. Which seems a bit odd since it is the fastest growing segment in the sport.
This information shifted my perspective on mountain biking entirely. And let me tell you, it took me down a new rabbit hole. What I learned is that woman’s mountain biking is exploding in popularity! Woot!! You go girls!! And even better, there are a significant number of women over 40 participating. Woot! Woot! Shred it up ladies.
This article is meant to be an introduction to mountain biking for women and a round up of the best places to ride in PA. But anyone new to riding can learn some of the basics of MTB in the paragraphs to come. And the section covering the best Mountain Biking Trails in PA are suitable for any rider regardless of gender or age.
An Introduction to Mountain Biking: Enduro Vs. Downhill Vs. Cross-Country
When discussing Mountain Biking there are three classes of ride/trail styles, Enduro, Downhill and Cross-Country (XC). Not only is the trail type different for each form but so are the bikes ridden. Let me break it down for you.
Enduro Mountain Biking
Enduro riding refers more to racing than casual riding. It is highly technical including steep climbs, big drops and massive jumps. It is an extreme sport. It is a cross between endurance and downhill riding. In the racing world it is completed in 3-6 stages sometimes over the course of multiple days. Transitions between stages can involve the use of ski lifts or even hiking to get a rider to the next stage.
Enduro riding is typically performed on full-suspension bikes with wide tires and long travel in the front and rear suspension.“Travel” refers to the movement that the front suspension fork can absorb. Like downhill riders, endure riders will be seen wearing full-face helmets and body armor.
This is exactly what it sounds like. Downhill Mountain Biking is a gravity-oriented sport that is all about speed rather than endurance. Trails take riders down the roughest single-track descents through rock gardens, massive drops, over jumps and roots. Good balance is required to navigate tough terrain at high speeds. Riders wear full face helmets, goggles, body armor and pads making them pretty easy to identify out on the trail. This is an extreme sport.
Because downhill riding is based on gravity and skill rather than pedal-power, these bikes sport fewer and smaller gears that allow for greater clearance. These bikes have both front and rear suspension and large rotor brakes.
Cross-Country (XC) Mountain Biking
Cross-country is the least extreme and most user-friendly especially for those of us who aren’t in our twenties at this point. It is the most popular form of MTB. The Olympic Games recognizes it as a sport. It is performed on technical trails, including open fire roads, winding narrow single-tracks with obstacles such as rocks, ruts, and roots. In competition, speed is obviously important but for the leisure rider out to have fun, it is more about the terrain.
XC bikes are single suspension, also known as hardtail. They are built for climbing and quick handling but they are not very forgiving. These bikes sport knobby tires and shorter suspension travel. This shorter travel is what leads to a rougher ride than some other bikes. XC riding requires the least amount of specialized gear.
For the purposes of this article and the trail recommendations within it, we will generally be talking about cross-country trails/riding. There is some crossover but that is the nature of cross-country mountain biking.
Getting the Skills for Female Mountain Biking
This article did some serious evolution before getting to where it is now. I set out to write an article about the best places to mountain bike ride in Pennsylvania. But when I reached out to one mountain biker I know (my brother) he told me female mountain biking is where it’s at. I told him, I write for people over 40 and wondered if this was something that people in that age group take up as a new activity. And sure enough, it is.
He then connected me with Connie Scheunemann who, with her daughter, runs Girls ROC, a skills camp to introduce women to the sport and improve the skills of those already involved in MTB. The 4-week camp in Danville, PA progresses participants to new skill levels each week. The intent is to help the girls build confidence in their abilities. As a byproduct, the camp has become a feeder for the team.
Girls ROC began when Connie’s daughter Allyson got involved in interscholastic riding. Allyson wondered why more girls weren’t riding, or even getting outdoors. At the same time, she was working toward getting her Gold Award with the Girl Scouts. This is the organization’s highest award, equivalent to the Eagle Badge in the Boy Scouts. This became her project to earn her award.
Today, Connie and Allyson offer a camp to older women, many of whom are the mothers of some of the young riders. What they learned was that women, especially moms who have kids in the sport would like to be able to ride with their teens. However, often, especially when it is a son (or husband) who rides, they get left in the dust to try to figure it out for themselves. The Ladies ROC Beginner Camp is a full day of skills-building geared toward these women. This year, the Scheunemann’s added a 50+ Camp. Like the beginners camp, it is for women just starting out.
I will be attending the Ladies ROC 50+ Camp next month. I will let you know all about that experience in another article. Let’s hope I don’t break a hip. I already have one titanium joint.
A Word of Caution
Before jumping into the best places to ride, a bit of precaution should be taken especially surrounding hunting in Pennsylvania. Hunting season in PA typically runs from October through April with some variation. But, you could argue that hunting is always in season in PA as there are no closed seasons for certain animals.
Many of the areas popular for riding are also frequented hunting spots. This includes state forests and parks. That said, please be aware that you are sharing the forest with hunters. Wear appropriate hi-vis gear so you can be seen and recognized as a rider and not a deer or other wildlife.
If you are a Pennsylvania, you probably already know this but if you are a visitor to the state this may not be so obvious.
Shred the Best Mountain Biking (MTB) Trails in Pennsylvania
While Pennsylvania may not rank as one of the top states for mountain biking, it is a natural destination for a mountain biking getaway. Pennsylvania which translates into “Penn’s Woods” after William Penn, is graced with sylvan landscapes, rolling hills and evens some thrilling descents making it an awesome location for riding.
For the purpose of this round-up have not included Rails to Trails type rides or gravel riding trails. Not that there is anything wrong with this type of ride. It is simply outside the scope of this piece. The trails listed in the article would be classified as cross-country rides.
Singletrack.com and MTBProject.com are user-based platforms where riders rate MTB trails throughout the country. Using rider ratings I’ve tried to cover the top-recommended destinations for MTB riding in Pennsylvania plus a few more that I received from speaking directly with PA riders.
Urban Rides - Philadelphia and Pittsburgh
Riding in Pennsylvania is not restricted to the more rural areas of the state. Visitors to PA who are experienced MTB riders or those who want to get in on the fun, do not have to choose between a city break or a countryside destination. Both of Pennsylvania’s major cities, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, have trails either within city limits or just outside them.
Wissahickon Valley Park, Philadelphia, PA
The best mountain biking trail within Philadelphia is the full Wissahickon Loop. This complete loop of the Wissahickon Valley Park is just a shade over 15 miles and takes in some of the prettiest scenery in the city.
The complete loop is two-parallel trails along opposing sides of the Wissahickon Creek in the valley. On the south side of the creek is the densely forested Yellow Trail, which winds through pine trees and several meadows, while offering one small stream crossing. On the north side of the creek, the Orange Trail weaves through rock formations and oak trees. Together, the two trails make a complete loop that has over 2500 feet of vertical climbing the walls of the gorge. The full loop is rated an immediate difficulty level and has a couple of challenging technical sections – two on the north side of the creek on the Orange Trail and one very narrow one on the south side Yellow Trail.
Next to the creek, the flat pedestrian/bike/horse roadway known as Forbidden Drive serves as a bailout. If you don’t want to complete any section of the ride, jump on the Drive and head back. Be sure to check out the Thomas Mill Covered Bridge in western end of the park. Originally built in 1737, it is the only surviving covered bridge in a major city in America. There are some benches here that make a nice water break.
Submitted by Lance and Laura Longwell of Guide to Philly
North Park, Pittsburgh PA
North Park is Allegheny County’s largest park with over 3,000 acres, including over 40 miles of single-track, multi-use trails. Most of the trails within this park system are suitable for intermediate level riders with at least one short beginner loop and several sections for advanced riders.
The North Park Outer Loop with V8 trail covers more than 19 miles and is rated as intermediate to difficult. The course is broken into four segments including some technical singletrack, some short uphill climbs and some fun fast downhills. Parking for the loop is located at Pie Traynor Field off South Ridge Drive.
Intermediate to advanced level free-riders and downhill riders may want to give the Dr. J Freeride Trail a run. According to Trailforks.com, “The trail is fast and flowy with elevated wooden bridges, drop-off features, jumps, banked turns, a rock garden, and skinny wooden bridge features.” Despite the Dr. J trail being listed on multiple websites as being suitable for “intermediate to advance” riders, it does have a Black Diamond difficulty rating.
After a day of riding, head into Pittsburgh to enjoy all the fine food and flavors the Steele City has to offer. Those that want to try their luck on the slot machines, table games, or sportsbook should head to Pittsburgh LIVE! Casino in nearby Greensburg.
Moraine State Park
If you are looking for a challenging mountain bike trail requiring technical skills to conquer, consider tackling the one at Moraine State Park on the western side of Pennsylvania. Located near Portersville in Butler County, the park is easily accessed in just a few minutes from both I-79 and Route 422. Pittsburgh is the closest large city, sitting about 40 miles to the south.
Trailheads can be found on both Alexander Ridge Road and Mount Union Road, with parking areas to accommodate multiple cars at each one. Mount Union Road is a much smoother ride for those with lower clearance vehicles.
Bicycles can be rented at the Spoke House Bike Rental building, located just off of North Shore Drive in the park. Five miles separate the bike rental building and the closest mountain bike trailhead.
There are around 6 miles of trails in this system, woven into loops that can be combined or divided into rides of various distances. Much of the terrain is very rocky; it could be compared to rock crawling in an off-road vehicle. Care should be taken if the rocks are wet, as they can become extremely slippery and dangerous. Much of the trail is through wooded forests, so even though Lake Arthur is not far away, there are limited views of the water from this trail. Better views of the lake can be seen from the all-purpose paved bike trail along the North Shore.
Submitted by Samantha of PA on Pause
Jakes Rocks located in the upper northwest corner of the state in the Allegheny National Forest is a favorite among Pennsylvania Mountain Bikers. Riders of every level will find a trail that is right for them amid the 47 miles of trails at Jakes Rocks. The park situated on the Allegheny Reservoir offers 6 easy, 13 intermediate and 2 difficult trails.
Newbies and intermediate riders will want to try the Green Loop. The trailhead for this 4.2 mile loop begins at the Picnic Area parking lot for Jake’s Rocks National Recreation Area. This loop offers tight twists, fern meadows, rock gardens, fun downhills and views of the reservoir.
Intermediate riders will enjoy the 11-mile Big Loop. This ride also starts at the picnic area. Riders will encounter a sustained downhill that drops over a mile and a half, wet areas and large boulders. Watch for remnants of abandoned coal mining structures.
This ride will take you through the Three Sisters area, the only section built by hand by local volunteers. This section offers some very tight rock chasms and opportunities for stunning photos.
Ohiopyle/Laurel Highlands area
Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands offers many options for MTB enthusiasts. Riders will find everything from gravel trails on the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) to steep downhill rides at Seven Springs Mountain Resort. If you’re not traveling with your bike but want to explore off-road, pick up a rental from one of the outfitters in the absolutely adorable tiny town of Ohiopyle.
For riders seeking a thrilling downhill ride with technical terrain, try McCune Trail. This challenging 3.5-mile trail is located in Ohiopyle. You will find the trailhead on Sugarloaf Rd. This trail offers fluid singletrack and technical rock gardens that follow a ridge. Riders recommend taking the trail in a counter-clockwise loop if you want to avoid a substantial climb in favor of a thrilling downhill descent.
Beginners and more advanced riders looking for an easy warmup should consider the Canyon’s Edge Loop. This 1-mile loop connects the Upper Canyon’s Edge of McCune to the lower sections of Sugarloaf and Baughman, toward the iconic overlook.
Following your ride, reward yourself with a visit to one of the 40 stops on the Laurel Highlands Pour Tour route. The tour includes wineries, distilleries, breweries, meaderies and even a cidery. Pick your poison!!
Central and South-Central, PA
In terms of both variety of rides and quality of trails, Central and South-Central Pennsylvania is the place to ride. There are tons of places to ride and trails that will please riders of every ability level.
Rothrock State Forest
Located in what is known as Happy Valley, southeast of State College, the home of the Nittany Lions, Rothrock State Forest offers some of the premier riding in the state. With 431 miles of trails distributed across over 96K acres, every rider will find a trail that challenges their abilities. According to the MTB Project, there are 21 Easy trails for those new to the sport or simply seeking a leisurely ride. Intermediate-level riders can choose from 46 trail rides. And, experienced riders will find 39 Difficult Trails to challenge their abilities.
There are also a number of organized rides and riding groups in the area. Novice riders and visitors may want to join in on the Thursday evening rides organized by the Nittany Mountain Biking Association. This will provide riders with an introduction to the trail system within Rothrock State Forest. More advanced riders may choose to connect with The Bicycle Shop in State College for one of their Tuesday evening rides.
Additionally, Rothrock State Forest hosts multiple MTB competitions throughout the year for those with a competitive spirit. Rothrock State Forest is home to the seven-day Trans-sylvania Epic, the Wilderness 101 endurance race, and Rothrock Trail Mix, featuring a 22-mile endurance course and a 19-mile short course. Gravel riders can participate in the Rothrock GRIT Gravel Grinder which takes riders over the rugged ridges of Rothrock State Forest and supports the local community.
Penn State Football fans can plan an early morning ride and still be back to campus in time to do some tailgating before the game.
Raystown Lake AKA Allegrippis
Allegrippis is a system of mountain bike trails designed by MTB riders and built in conjunction with the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA) at Raystown Lake. It consists of 24 multi-use trails covering 36-miles. The trails arranged as stacked loops offer sloping, moderate to rigorous inclines, stream crossings, and wildlife viewing areas. The stacked loop system allows riders to choose a short ride at whatever skill level suits them or one covering the entire trail system.
Trails within Allegrippis have their own rating system: “easiest”, “moderate”, and “most difficult.” It should be noted that this rating system is specific to the Allegrippis Trails system and should not be compared to other trail ratings. With this in mind, Trailforks.com lists 5 easy, 16 intermediate, and 4 difficult trails.
You will find parking and trailheads along Seven Points Road and on Bakers Hollow Road just before the Susquehannock Campground Entrance Station.
In 2016, the Raystown Mountain Bike Skills Park opened near the marina. The skills park consists of 2 acres of skill features including berms, natural and fabricated features, and some small vertical drops. It’s a nice complement to the Allegrippis Trails.
Plan to camp, rent a cabin or even a houseboat, and spend the weekend or a week in Raystown Lake. There is plenty to see and do in the region including kayaking, hiking, SUP, and horseback riding. But Raystown Lake isn’t just for outdoor enthusiasts. Visit a winery or see a play. Take the kids to the Wildriver Water Park or DelGrosso Amusement Park
If you came here looking for great places to mountain bike in PA, I hope you found some trails to check out when you are visiting. If you are new to MTB, then hopefully you’ve found some resources to get you started. And to my female readers, get out there and shred like a girl.
Mountain Biking Resources
Liv-Cycling is the go-to resource for female mountain biking. This site covers everything including gender-specific bikes, gear, maintenance, racing, advocacy, and more.
International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) is a membership-based organization whose mission is “To create, enhance and protect great places to ride mountain bikes.” Their goal is “To grow the quantity and quality of mountain bike trail communities across the U.S.”
National Interscholastic Bicycling Association (NIBA) has everything you need to know about interscholastic riding including how to get involved with coaching and team support.