No time for a pilgrimage to Moab or Whistler? Check out these five epic MTB parks within a coo-ee of Melbourne and Sydney.
When people think of a mountain biker’s heaven, places like Whistler, Rotorua and Moab immediately spring to mind. Locally, Derby and Maydena in Tasmania have made their mark on the domestic riding scene throughout recent years.
Meanwhile, on the mainland, the trails and bike parks in north-east Victoria, along with the surrounding idyllic towns and mountains, are a mountain biker’s bliss. Five extensive trail networks exist within a hour and a half (max!) of each other: Yackandandah, Beechworth, Bright, Mt Beauty and Falls Creek.
The nearby villages and towns are home to an abundance of bike shops, cafes, wineries, breweries, restaurants, bike-friendly accommodation and enough attractions to keep the family entertained for months.
Each trail network is unique in its own special way. Best of all, this utopia exists just over three hours from Melbourne and a half-day drive from Sydney, so there is no excuse not to jump in the car and head on down the Hume. Paradise awaits.
Mystic Mountain Bike Park, on the outskirts of Bright, is the result of an innovative public, private and commercial partnership. The majority of the trails exist in a massive commercial pine plantation and are fully supported by the managing company, HVP. With community backing, the trails are regularly maintained and updated.
The park is a mixed bag of MTB goodness. Most of the trails sit on the lower slopes, close to the trailhead. Here, you’ll find something for everyone: flowy beginner loops, hand-built blue trails and steep, rocky expert trails. Further up the hill, a well-maintained road leads to the Mystic launch site, from where brave paragliders regularly take off. Three trails descend from the launch site but, beware, they are all expert level – including the downhill race track for the 2019 and 2020 MTBA National Championships.
A number of lesser ridden but equally epic trails run from even closer to town along Morses Creek and around Bakers Gully. The sheer size of the trail network means tackling it all in one day is near impossible. In addition, trailside signage is good, but not perfect. Before you head out, drop into one of the bike shops in town to grab a map, or use the Trailforks app for the most up-to-date version. From time to time, part or all of the park may be closed due to events, fire danger or logging operations, so before you ride, check updates on the Facebook page of ‘Mystic Park, Bright’.
The Big Hill Mountain Bike Park, just behind town in Mount Beauty, sits on the side of – you guessed it – a big hill. At just over 1000m, the top of the park is the starting point for the iconic Big Hill downhill track, which descends more than 600m over 6km. This high speed, rough-as-guts race track is part of Victorian, if not Australian, MTB folklore. But, rest assured, there’s more than just a DH track at Big Hill. The lower elevation slopes of the park are covered, with over 50 trails published on the park trail map!
Big Hill has been hosting MTB events for years, including multiple DH and XC national championships. If you look closely, you may even be able to find the old 4X race track. The racing history of the park is extensive and, luckily, many of the original race tracks remain open for riding.
The park is ‘old school’ mountain biking at it’s finest. If you’re after machine-built flow trails or dedicated climbing tracks, keep on driving to Falls Creek (just 30km up the road), but if you like your riding rough and raw, this is the place for you. Think steep chutes, ruts, off-camber sections, roots and rocks. This isn’t to say the park is not maintained, just ‘au naturel’. In fact, the local club (Team Mount Beauty or TMB) do a stellar job of keeping the tracks open all year.
With an extensive trail network, venturing out without a map may be a little naive. If you can, find a friendly local to show you around so you don’t miss the best bits, or stick to one of the suggested loops TMB has put together on its website. The majority of the park is suited to intermediates. The rugged nature of the park can mean a few tough climbs, but the classic descents well and truly make up for any pain.
Just a few years ago, Falls Creek was almost a ghost town in summer. Once the snow lovers had left their winter wonderland, the town and nearby terrain lay almost empty until the white, fluffy stuff started falling again. Luckily, the resort partnered with World Trail, who have been building all sorts of trails around the world for decades, to plan and build trails at Falls. Now, five years on, Falls has over 50km of cross-country and gravity trails tailored by expert knowledge.
For many, riding a bike uphill is challenging and far from fun. Yet, at Falls Creek, the exceptional trail design and construction has led to ascending trails which make climbing, for most, a lot more enjoyable and certainly easier. Clever consideration on the trail alignment, vegetation and contours of the land result in almost endless flow. While this is most noticeable on the descending trails, even the climbing trails like Jump Start, The Generator and Blackout see riders flowing between corners and over rollers, all the while going uphill.
Starting from the Village or Gully Trailhead, you have a few options – head uphill to access most of the resort’s trails, or head downhill along the aptly named Flowtown. This 5.8km trail dishes up endless flow and delivers jumps, rollers, gaps, berms and views galore. This is the jewel in the crown of Falls Creek’s network, and it’s made even better by a shuttle service operating on weekends during the MTB season, which will take you back uphill to the village. If you visit outside of the shuttle service days, or you are feeling up to it, the Packhorse trail is the ascending sister trail to Flowtown and will bring you back up to the village, albeit with a little less spring in your step.
Falls Creek is targeting the cross-country and all-mountain crowd with its network of trails. You won’t find mega jumps or crazy rock garden lines here, but there will be something to challenge all riders. This is new-school riding at its finest. If flow is your thing, then you just may have found your nirvana.
In 1852, gold was discovered in Yackandandah (or ‘Yack’, as it’s affectionately known) and, soon, the tiny town’s population grew to over 3,000. 160 years later, the legacy of the early miners lives on. The town is a tribute to the past with a plethora of historic buildings and a streetscape reminiscent of the 1800s.
As luck would have it, the early pioneers didn’t just benefit the architecture – their ingenuity and hard work is partially responsible for the more than 50km of trail just out of town today. It turns out old water races (channels cut across the land to bring water to the mining site) provide amazing, gentle climbing trails. Also, miners’ diggings and cuttings are super fun to ride around, up, over and in!
The amazingly dedicated local trail crew has spent thousands of hours shaping the trails, in a managed, sustainable and ecological way. It’s another example of trail builders having a great working relationship with the landowner.
Unlike most of the other riding destinations in the north-east, Yack is tailored just to the cross-country crowd. But don’t let that stop you from visiting. The trails are still super fun, varied and challenging. This is a real case of working towards your strengths. Rather than try and build trails which don’t suit the area, the builders have handcrafted an extensive network which perfectly showcases the terrain and their design creativity.
At the trailhead and on the maps, you will find colour-coded loops which join up the trails and make the planning and navigation a lot easier. All the loops start out with a climb (of varied length and gradient) but, thankfully, this also means each route finishes with a downhill that’ll leave you smiling when you pull back into the car park.
Beechworth is famous for its history, local produce and wineries. It’s easy to see why most visitors are content with just the main street attractions. But if you cast the net a bit wider to the outskirts of town, you will find a whole network of unique trails. Beechworth’s MTB attractions are split into two main areas: the Beechworth Mountain Bike Park and the Flametrees track.
After the obligatory pre-ride coffee and baked treat, hit the trails. Beginners should head for Flametrees. This is a 10km novice loop parallel to the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail. Despite being suitable for all abilities, with great corners, rock sections and a few steep pinches, it’s still a hit with intermediate and advanced riders.
Once you have warmed up on Flametrees, pedal back to town and follow the signs to the Beechworth MTB Park. In this relatively small parcel of land, granite is king! Nonetheless, don’t expect endless rock gardens and boulder fields. Instead, expect a network of trails which embraces the region’s rocks and cleverly works with them, without going over the top.
While the park lacks elevation and size compared to most north-east MTB parks, there are still over 12 trails (including downhill tracks, jump trails and a pump track), catering to all abilities. With a heap of trails in a small area, you are never far from another track. This makes creating loops easy and keeps visitors entertained, trip after trip. Unlike most other parks in the region, it’s possible to ride all the trails in the park in one day. Make sure you stock up on supplies in town as the trailhead is minimal; or even better, pop into town again, post-ride, to sample more of the culinary delights.