How To Build Mountain Bike Trails

Building a mountain bike trail does not need to be difficult and does not need to cost you a ton of money. It is something that can be done easily by a hobby mountain biker or a professional.

How can you build mountain bike trails? Building a mountain bike trail truly comes down to finding the right location, time and effort to build it, and then maintaining it. Truly, the most important thing to do is find a location that you have permission to build a trail on. Once you get this, the rest is pretty easy.

While it is not necessarily difficult to build a mounting bike trail, there are a lot of things to keep in mind before you build, during the build, and after the build. Follow the steps below to learn how to build your own mountain bike trail and how to make it a destination ride.

How To Build a Mountain Bike Trail

Building a mountain bike trail can be time-consuming but is not too difficult to do. The first thing you need to do is find a location and make sure you have permission to build the trail there.

You will want to make completely certain that you have permission to build the trail where you want to build it. It is easiest to build a trail on your own land, if possible. If you do not have the land to build on, see if you have a friend who has land you can build on.

How to build a mountain bike trail:

  1. Find a location
  2. Mark the trail
  3. Build the trail
  4. Prep the trail
  5. Add obstacles
  6. Ride
  7. Maintain

Finding the location can be one of the hardest parts of building your mountain bike trail. It’s easier if you have land and plan on building your trail on your land or a friend’s land. No matter where you build it, you’ll need to make sure you have permission.

Check out your local state and city’s rules and regulations on where you are able to build. If you aren’t finding answers, reach out to a local mountain bike club and see what you find out that way.

Otherwise, reach out to other mountain bike trail builders and learn how they found places to build. When you are looking for your location, scope out the slopes, terrain, scenery, and places that you’ll want to steer clear of (swamps, dense forest, cliffs, etc.).

The trail only needs to be a foot wide but you will want four to six feet of clearing for safe maneuvering.

After you find the location, you’ll want to mark out the trail with tape or flags. This will be time-consuming as you walk the trail and mark every 10 to 15 feet. You may also want to sketch out a map of your trail.

This will help you visually see the whole trail at once and note special things like where drop-offs are, scenic overlooks, climbs, descends, etc. Once the trail is marked out, you’ll want to carefully walk the trail and keep an eye on issues with terrain, sharp turns, etc.

Keep in mind it will be much harder on a bike than it is walking. Make any adjustments that need to be made at this point before you move to the next stage.

Now, start building your trail. You will want to pull out tools like a shovel, handsaw, clippers, etc. You want to clear out the brush and get the trail down as close to the dirt as possible.

You will also need to clear away brush alongside the trail so you have enough of a clearing to maneuver your bike safely through the trail. You want to keep in mind that while the trail only needs to be a foot wide, the clearing should be four to six feet for safe maneuvering.

After the trail has been cut down and it is clear where the trail goes, you will need to prep the trail. The biggest thing to keep an eye on at this stage is erosion.

You will not want to trail to erode. Look for areas where the trail has a steep angle – this is potentially where the trail could erode in the future. Make adjustments now so you have less upkeep later.

You will want to even this out while still keeping a slight angle so water moves off the trail and does not sit on it.

Go to the high part of the steep angle and dig out the dirt, placing it on the lower part. Pack it down. Do this for all parts of the trail that are prone to eroding.

You can also put logs or other retainers at the low part of the trail to keep the trail from sliding or washing out. The logs will also help keep future upkeep to a minimum.

The next step is a fun step – make sure to add some obstacles to your mountain bike trail. You can add jumps, berms, rollers, bridges, or just about anything you can think of.

This will add diversity to your trail and make it more fun and challenging. You can decide on how challenging you want each obstacle to be by adding more difficult obstacles, or less difficult by adding fewer obstacles. You can also go back and adjust obstacles in the future.

Now comes the fun part – ride the trail! Initially, you’ll want to ride the trail slowly to wear it in and get it smoothed out. This will pack in the dirt and get it ready for fast riding later. Your trail may appear bumpy but that should wear down in time as the trail gets more bike traffic.

Now that you have your trail complete, you can’t just let it be. You’ll want to maintain it and keep it safe for riders. Check on it after rainstorms to make sure nothing has washed out or branches haven’t fallen down on it.

If you have big puddles on your trail, adjust the slope of the trail so that the water won’t sit on the trail. Try to fix any problems you see as soon as possible so it doesn’t get worse or so someone doesn’t get hurt.

Tips For Making Your Mountain Bike Trail More Fun

Anyone can build a decent mountain bike trail, but how do you take your trail from decent to exhilarating?

With just a few easy actions, you can make your mountain bike trail more fun and make it a destination ride that people want to come ride. Follow the guide below to see what you can do to make your mountain bike trail the talk of the town.

Ways to make your trail more fun:

  • Finish it out fun
  • Obstacles
  • Jumps
  • Variety

One of the best ways to make people leave your mountain bike trail with positive, fun thoughts is to finish it out with a bang. This can be done in a few different ways. The end of your trail can have a breathtaking scenic overlook. This will leave a lasting impression on riders.

They will leave your trail wanting to tell other mountain bikers that they need to try the trail out. An easy way to leave a good impression is by putting a fun descend at the end of the ride. No one wants to end on a climb.

If you put a fun descend (with or without a few jumps), your biker will thank you and leave with a great impression of the whole trail. Another way you can leave the rider feeling elated at the end of the ride is by ending with fun obstacles.

Think of this as the grand finale at the end of a fireworks show. There are fun obstacles sprinkled throughout the trail, but the end has a ton of fun jumps, berms, bridges, and rollers for bikers to show off their skills.

Just like you can put a grand finale of obstacles at the end of the trail ride, it is important to sprinkle them throughout the trail. There are different types of obstacles to include – berms, rollers, bridges, and jumps.

Mix it up and include a few of each to keep the variety fresh for your riders. And then make sure to check on your obstacles and make sure they are still safe and doing what you want them to do. There’s nothing worse than a bridge that’s broken or rollers that have flattened out.

Jumps are an important part of a mountain bike trail. You will need to plan these out carefully so they are done properly and safely. Make sure your jumps have a good slope that isn’t too steep to get up.

Keep in mind the type of jump you want to build – there are tabletop jumps, double jumps, and ramp jumps, to name a few. You’ll want to ensure that there is enough space to build a jump on your trail.

You will want to ensure that your mountain bike trail has a good variety to keep your riders challenged and engaged. You will not want your ride to just be uphill, just like you don’t want it to just be downhill.

Make sure to include plenty of curves and obstacles to your trail. The more variety, the more fun it will be. You will also want to include some trail off-shoots that offer different difficulty levels.

These off-shoots will temporarily take a different route and then connect back with the original trail. This also makes the trail different every time you ride it. One time you can ride it down the main trail, and another time you can take a few trail off-shoots to keep the trail feeling fresh for your riders.

Where Can You Build a Mountain Bike Trail?

It’s important that you choose a good location when you build your mountain bike trail. You’ll want to make sure you have the proper permission to build the mountain bike trail on the land you want to build it.
Some bikers give all mountain bikers a bad name when they build their own trails without the proper permission.

Touch base with a local mountain bike association and see if they know of potential locations to build a new trail. With proper permission, you can basically build trails wherever.

What to look for when finding a location for your trail:

  • Close to home
  • Variety of elevation
  • Points of interest
  • Accessibility

If you are unable to build on your own property, you will want to build your mountain bike trail close to your home.

This will ensure that you’ll be able to take the time to build your trail in a shorter amount of time, as well as be able to maintain the upkeep of the trail after it is built.

And, of course, if it is close to your home, you’ll have more opportunity to actually enjoy the fruits of your labor.

You’ll want your mountain bike trail to have a variety of elevation. The best trails aren’t just flat. The best trails have climbs, descends, and flats. This keeps your trail interesting and fun for riders. It also gives more opportunity for obstacles and jumps along the route.

Another thing to keep in mind is whether there is a point of interest along your trail. Is there a beautiful overlook, or meadow? Try to find something of interest in your trail so that people want to visit it – not just for the great trail ride but also for the beauty seen along the ride.

How accessible do you want your mountain bike trail to be? Do you want it to be something that all skill levels can ride?

Or do you want it to be for the more elite mountain bikers? Or is this something you hope is more off the beaten track so only a few people know about it? Keep this in mind as you are scouting locations.

Make sure you know what kind of trail you want to build before you pick a location and start building.

How Much Does It Cost To Build a Mountain Bike Trail?

The costs to build a mountain bike trail varies depending on a variety of factors. You can keep mountain bike trail building costs low if you are building your own trail and plan on doing the majority of the work.

It gets pricier if you are looking to hire a professional to build the trail for you. It could cost up to $10 per trail foot. The average is approximately $5 to $6 per trail foot.

Factors that affect the cost:

  • Slope
  • Terrain
  • Workforce
  • Tools
  • Materials needed

Depending on the slope of the trail, there will need to be more work done to make it rideable and safe from erosion. You will need to look at the slope when you bid out your project. Same with the terrain.

Some terrain will be more difficult to dig into which will take more time and effort, and therefore cost more if you bid out the project.

Make note of the different terrains and slopes so you can have all this information available if you decide to bid out your mountain bike trail project.

If you can get a volunteer workforce, this will drastically cut back on the cost of the trail. It will not matter what the terrain is or what the slope is, it will all cost the same for you if the workforce is free.

It will just take more man hours if the slopes and terrains require more work. Many trails can be done with avid mountain bike volunteers.

If you need additional tools (shovels, weed whip, handsaw, clippers, etc.). If you do not have any of these tools, you will need to go out and purchase them.

You may be able to borrow some of these tools from friends, or these are all good tools to have in your toolbox for additional projects in the future. Plus, you may need some of these tools for upkeep of your trail over the years.

You may need to bring in additional materials to support your trail. If you need to bring in wood or logs to help protect against erosion, that will be an additional cost. You may also want to add rocks or retaining walls or bricks to your trail.

These costs can add up. And if you build a wood bridge, this could also add additional costs.

No matter how you decide to move forward with your trail, the important thing is to have fun. Do not be afraid to try innovative things with your mountain bike trail and make trail adjustments over the years.

If something is not working anymore, change it. If you want to add a jump, add it. Just because you made the trail one way today, does not mean that is how your trail needs to be in the future.

Mike Rausa

I'm a 42 year old married father of 3 that fell in love with mountain biking late in life. Mountain biking quickly became my go to fitness activity. I created this blog to help beginners to advanced riders with tips and strategies to improve your riding experience. More About Me...

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