Mountain biking in NYC sounds kind of ridiculous, and calls to mind trying to bunny-hop pigeons in the park versus shredding singletrack in a vast forest. But even if you're trapped in the concrete jungle that is Manhattan, there are options... and if you have car access or a free weekend day to take a train ride, there are even more rad options.
1. Cunningham Park
Best for: after work adventures
This is the park of choice for those trapped in the city for the summer. A long workday doesn't seem nearly as bad when you can end it with some time on well-groomed and well-maintained trails. The 358-acre expanse that makes up Cunningham Parkis one of Queen’s best-kept secrets, with a trail system that will have you grinning the second you duck into the woods. Thanks to devoted trailbuilders from NYCMTB and IMBA, the riding here is first class. The park is great for beginners and experts alike, with a host of trails for every ability level. The trails are theoretically one-direction, and it’s specified on the trail maps, but be warned that people don’t always follow the rules. End in Brooklyn for happy hour.
2. Six Mile Run
Best for: weekend day trips, especially if you have a buddy in New Brunswick or Princeton to crash with
This is a personal favorite, and not just because I went to college in New Brunswick and used these trails to learn mountain biking skills (and cyclocross skills). This is one of the farther destinations on the list, but it's worth it if you've already explored all of your other options, or want a change from NYC nightlife. Six Mile Run is in Piscataway, just a stone’s throw from New Brunswick, so by train and bike, it’s a solid two hour journey, though by car, it’s closer to an hour and a half. But for a day of fun in the woods—and an easy way to combine a fun, longer mountain bike ride with miles and miles of amazing towpath if you’re trying to get in a big volume day, this is a great option—especially if you’re going with a friend who is still a beginner mountain biker.
The trails at Six Mile are technical, but more focused on sharp, tight cornering with a few technical bridges and small drops thrown in. A newer rider will enjoy it because it isn’t overly intimidating, and assuming he or she has some basic cycling skills, most sections are completely ride-able. There aren’t many rocks, especially compared to many of the more technical trails in the region, so it’s a great beginner option because you’re less likely to get seriously hurt if you crash.
But before you start thinking that the trails are more for beginners than experts, think again. If you’re a technically skilled mountain biker, these trails are a great test of your handling abilities at speeds you can rarely get to on tech-y trails like those found in Sprain Ridge Park. It’s more like Cunningham Park but faster and less well-traveled: in fact, most mountain bikers refer to it as a secret spot in New Jersey.
3. Wolfe's Pond Park
Best for: those who are out of NYC options and looking for something new
Sometimes, you're just bored of your trails. Cunningham Park feeling old hat? Make an urban adventure ride over to Staten Island and find Wolfe's Pond Park! There are only four miles of trails, but it’s well-worth the trip—and if you want to add miles of singletrack. Mount Loretto Forest is only a mile and a half away down Hylan Boulevard, or you can practice your sand riding skills on the beach for great views of New Jersey across the water (this is also an awesome option for fat bikers in the summer or winter!).
Any level of mountain biker will find this park fun and challenging. Thankfully, there are plenty of twisty, rotted trails that an intermediate or expert can enjoy, but a beginner will still be able to make his or her way through most of the sections, albeit more slowly. And the short, steep climbs? Yikes. For a seasoned mountain biker looking for new adventures, Wolfe’s Pond Park is an awesome destination.
4. Blue Mountain Reservation
Best for: a close day trip
If you're looking for a long day on the bike but can't commit to a major trip outside of the city, then Blue Mountain Reservation is the perfect option. You can spend hours here (and head to Sprain Ridge before or after to add mileage), and still be back in the city in time for your dinner reservation. NYCMTB refers to it as “one of the best trail systems in the Northeast,” and they’re right on the money. It’s fantastic. Honestly, it’s one of the best examples of true East Coast riding in the area, defined by lots of short, steep climbs, crazy rock gardens, plenty of roots, and a heck of a lot of trees.
The vast majority of the trails fall into intermediate range, and it’s an accurate assessment: newbies can attempt them, but may find themselves walking more frequently, while experts will enjoy getting speedy on some hill repeats in the double-track that largely makes up the intermediate trails. There are shorter beginner trails (all double-track), and two sections of expert trails on double-track entitled “Limbo” and “Ned’s Left Lung,” respectively. And they’re tough. There are a lot of other black diamond sections of singletrack worth exploring, and while this park is fairly technical, intermediate riders shouldn’t be terrified, just cautious.
5. Sprain Ridge Park
Best for: technical riding junkies who are craving challenges
I'll be the first to admit that this park scares me. Because of that, it's become one of my favorites, because let's face it: in the US, our trails are getting tamed. This one has stayed wild. Really wild. The main loop at Sprain Ridge Park is about 4.25 miles, but if you jump around on all of the trails, you’ll make it to 12. And it’s a long 12, at that, so plan to be out for at least a couple of hours, even though on a map, this park doesn't look like much. Within the first 100 yards, you’ll encounter rock drops, log hops, and a whole lot of rock garden. Strange bridges, trails that seemingly disappear until you look closer and realize that yes, they do expect you to ride over that, are everywhere. Despite occasional glimpses of civilization, you forget where you are, because you’re so focused on each turn and feature in your path.
If you love riding technical trails, you’ll be in heaven. And if you get there early enough, you might even have the place to yourself. On weekends, definitely get there early, since those in the know start hitting the trails around 9 AM and it can get pretty crowded fast, since there’s not a lot of room for passing on the trails. The crowds are sparse on weekdays though, so consider heading out on a Monday rather than a Saturday.
6. Hartshorne Park
Best for: beach weekend getaways with the family
This is my personal favorite recommendation for summer, because it can be perfectly paired with a weekend of camping at Sandy Hook , and that means runs on the beach, lazing on the beach, eating hot dogs on the beach... and then some mountain biking. Just a couple miles down the road from Sandy Hook, Hartshorne Park has roughly 20 miles of singletrack in the park, but with plenty of trails (and some unofficial ones worth exploring), there are so many combinations of how to ride them that you can spend days there and still not be tired of the trail system. The trails are all marked with designations, from easy (green) to intermediate (blue) to expert (black) and they’re not kidding around with the designations. The black ones are rocky and ultra-technical, and it takes some technical prowess to successfully navigate the blue trails as well. The green ones are fantastic for beginners, though, and perfect for an expert looking to practice high speed riding.
This is by far the most family-friendly of the MTB adventures on here, since the kids can a) tackle the easier trails, or b) stay occupied at Sandy Hook while you sneak off for a ride. Perfect.