1. Chilowhee and Trillium—Coldwater Mountain, Anniston
The first phase of Coldwater Mountain’s purpose-built ride center brought us swooping flow trails with buff berms and pumpy straightaways—Mama Bear, Papa Bear, and Baby Bear. The other, newer side of the mountain, accessed by a separate trailhead, takes the playful personality of “Da Bears” up a notch with bigger whoop-de-dos, optional air-catching features, and fast descents. “This is one of the funnest trails I’ve ridden,” says Luna Pro Team member Shonny Vanlandingham. “It’s like a BMX track on a downhill slope.” It is one of those magical trails that delivers more downhill than you feel like you’ve earned. The trail starts with a climb that, while not short, is hardly grueling. And then the downhill payout just keeps coming. It’s like putting a quarter in a slot machine and getting a jackpot, every time.
2. Jekyll & Hyde—Oak Mountain State Park, Pelham
Yes, Oak Mountain is famous for Blood Rock, a short but technical downhill stretch that has seen more blood and bashed teeth than a rugby match. The funny thing is, your wheels never touch the eponymous rock, because it is sticking out of the side of the hill that flanks the jumble of rocks and roots. (You can’t miss it, because it has been painted bright red.) Jekyll & Hyde, while less intimidating at the outset, is more technically challenging AND playfully rewarding. As the name implies, the trail has a multiple personality disorder. When ridden in the downhill direction, you’ll meet Mr. Hyde first, and he’s a handful—a hand-built rock garden that requires more technical handling and finesse (if not raw chutzpah) than Blood Rock. Mid-way, the wicked potion wears off and the amiable Dr. Jekyll greets you with a roller coaster of dirt. For one of the most technically challenging rides in the state, ride UP Mr. Hyde, as the Cat 1 racers do in BUMP n Grind . Yeah, have fun with that.
3. The Wall Ride—Chewacla State Park, Auburn
It may be the only wall ride in the state, but its builders—the Central Alabama Mountain Bike (CAMP) members—weren’t whistling Dixie when they designed this fun feature, the star of a new skills park that is still a work in progress. Towering at least three men high, with the slope of a rice bowl, it is probably one of the only places in the state where body armor is recommended. Why? To ride this thing, you have to commit . You’ll first ride up a wooden bridge that hurtles you downhill toward the wall ride with the speed you need to make the parabolic arc, which can take you 10 or 15 feet off the ground. After the wall comes a series of sinuous bridges, skinnies, and a few pumps and jumps. Across the road, still under construction, is a series of progressive dirt jumps that will also add a much-needed park-style feature to the state’s portfolio of dirt.
4. Mountain Mist—Monte Sano State Park, Huntsville
This trail doesn’t bother with a prelude. Right from the trailhead, it gets all up in your grill with tight switchbacks and a somewhat loose and rocky descent that has become a sort of rite of passage for local riders. It is to Huntsville what Blood Rock is to Pelham. But don’t let the scare you. After the trial-by-fire downhill entrance, the trail levels out into a fun necklace of rock gardens on gently rolling terrain with occasional pitches. Not too pedaly, not too steep, it is more about skill than fitness. It’s also a great trail to ride in the summer, because of its location in a ravine (though bug spray is recommended).
5. Pig Iron Loop and Cannonball Loop—Tannehill State Park, Tannehill
This trail’s distinction lies not so much in its texture—which is plenty fun—but the historical setting in which it lies. Tannehill State Park was once an iron furnace, and furnace, gristmill, and 45 other historic buildings throughout the park bear testimony to the region’s iron-making past. Pedaling here is like riding through a life-size history museum (without being chased by the security guards) because there is so much to see. There’s also a small pond and stream where you can wet your feet and skip a few stones, though swimming might be iffy. The trails are forgiving and playful, with great flow and nice curves better suited to beginner riders than the other trails mentioned here. Be aware, though, that the third Sunday of every month the park hosts Trade Days, sort of like a giant swap meet, and the parking lot can be brimming.