From the craggy peaks of Snowdonia to the lush green hills of the Brecon Beacons, Wales may not have soaring mountains, but its undulating landscape does have it all when it comes to mountain biking. As such, there are between 500km to 600km of purpose-built spectacular single-tracks all across Wales, complete with all-weather trail centres, freeride hotspots, bike parks, and wild natural tracks. It’s definitely a hotspot for MTB riders.
While many of these awesome trails are certified gnarly, there are plenty of gentler trails for beginners – there are over 11 green and blue trail centre routes across Wales (and more in the pipeline) where you can hone your skills – these Mountain Biking Centres are purpose-built and dedicated to MTB, offering everything from visitor services to rentals and lessons.
There are plenty of Mountain Bike Centres all over Wales, with some of the most exciting collections of trails located in Snowdonia in the north, and around Brecon Beacons – accessible via either Cardiff or Swansea – in the south.
AFAN FOREST PARK, SOUTH WALES
One of the most popular MTB centres lies in Afan Forest Park in Neath Valley near Swansea, which has over 130kms of trails across 64sq. km. of woodland clinging to the side of a steep, narrow valley. This easily accessible park has 6 superb trails ranging from 7km to over 40km along flowing singletracks threading through the forest, as well as wide open trails with amazing views. Together with a Bike Park, it offers some of the longest all-weather singletracks in Wales.
Your ride can vary from the 46km-long Skyline Trail, which features a 2km climb and hundreds of metres of highs and lows, to the Y Wal trail which is a swooping 24km (mainly) singletrack loop with epic views and breathtaking descents, to a couple of rookie trails in the heart of this forest park.
There’s also the specially-built, multi-purpose track of the red-graded White’s Level Trail (15.2km), the most technical of all the trails at Afan which starts with a challenging singletrack climb that flows into a trail roller coaster with rock drops, step sections, berms and cliff traverses.
You can combine it with the Y Wal and W2 trails to make it into a 44km epic ride that mixes stunning views and some of the most demanding descents and singletrack sections in the UK.
The parks also have easy trails ranging from flat yellow trails to novice green- and blue-graded trails that are ideal for families or novice riders. The park’s Afan Valley Bike Shed offers MTB tuition for anyone needing lessons, as well as bike rentals and repairs.
The best part is once you’ve paid for parking, you’re pretty much free to go about as you please. In addition to a bike centre, there is also an Alpine-style retreat called Afan Lodge Hotel just a stone’s throw from the park entrance.
BIKEPARK WALES, SOUTH WALES
The latest addition to Wales’ mountain biking scene is BikePark Wales, located under 50kms from the centre of Cardiff. Built in the heart of the South Wales Valleys, it offers challenging MTB trails for intermediate to pro-level riders, with over 28 descending trails organised in a similar manner to a ski resort etched across this 1,200 acre site. It’s the most comprehensive array of singletrack routes in the UK, and is not just for downhillers – it’s great for trail bikes, with its sweeping blues and rocky red trails mostly under 5km long.
If you’re into jumps and are seriously skilled, you should tackle Enter the Dragon which features a series of MX-sized jumps, some of which are not rollable, that lead you to two-step downs that send you hurtling at warp speed into the woods. More giant leaps and massive berms complete this trail.
If you’re into speed, the Vicious Valley is a very tight, very fast red-graded trail that has been surfaced to roll fast and be rideable in all weathers. For novice riders, there’s also the option to take it easy along the green-graded, scenic Link to the Taff trail that takes you all the way into Cardiff.
The best part about this park is that there are several points along the trails where blue, red and black meet up, so you can swap according to your level of confidence. For example, you can ride the signature ‘Dai Hard’ black-graded trail (a flowy singletrack littered with roots and rock that bursts into the open and hits a series of drops and a whopper of a road gap) from the top and then easily switch onto ‘Rim Dinger’, a red-graded trail that’s 1.2km of rock gardens linked by berms, jumps, rock ladders and step downs which may have claimed more punctures than any other trail in Wales.
To access the downhill trails, you can ride up to the top of the mountain by road or via the uphill trail known as the Beast of Burden (4.6km) which is a singletrack XC climb to the peak of Myndd Gethin (491m), taking riders20-40 minutes to climb. Alternatively, there is an uplift day pass, which is a minibus service that transports you and your bike up to the top, giving an average rider 8-15 runs in a day.
BikePark Wales has a cafe, and provides rentals, repairs, and coaching courses designed to improve your skills on the trails.
BRECON BEACONS, SOUTH WALES
Another popular mountain biking hotspot, the Brecon Beacons features an area littered with pre-planned routes that make it easy to explore the natural trail network within this outstandingly wild and beautiful region.
Here, you can ride open forests, climb steep hills, weave down some exhilarating descents, or find the most challenging drops. From bone-shaking moorland or gentle spins through this countryside, you can find them at one of the 5 major mountain bike centres within the Beacons. These include Brecon, Sennybridge and Talybont-on-Usk which are great for novice riders, as well as Crickhowell and Talgarth which have mountain bike trails geared for expert riders.
Uniquely, you can purchase a Mountain Bike Pack which contains 14 single track mountain bike route cards.
ANTUR STINIOG, NORTH WALES
The slate mines of Snowdonia are famous for roofing houses the world over, and the Llechwedd quarry in Blaenau Ffestiniog makes a dramatic backdrop to an MTB experience here. This former slate mining town has 7 trails – 3 black, 3 red, 1 blue – that are ideal for intermediate to expert riders.
The Y Du (double-black) trail is a premier downhill run which is super fast and flowy, featuring steep rock sections with big jumps, and carved turns that zip you down an open hillside.
The red-graded Scrubadub is all about jumps, where you have the option to merge with the Wild Cart trail, a super steep fun roll with its beautifully crafted corners, berms, and jumps.
The only blue-graded track, the Jympar – a new addition – is smooth and less steep, and aimed at the novice downhill rider, with sweeping turns, flowy singletrack, and enough features to also entertain a higher level rider.
What makes Antur Stiniog different is that all trails are only accessible by a van uplift service (it’s regarded as the best in the UK) that takes you up above Blaenau Ffestiniog, right opposite the famous quarry.
It’s recommended to book a full-day ticket (£32.50 on weekends) in advance which allows you up to 20 runs a day, or you can book a single uplift (£5.00, subject to availability).
The Mountain Bike Centre offers coaching from the experts responsible for formulating these thrilling trails, as well as bike rental and a cafe.
The hotels and guest houses of Blaenau are all geared to the needs of mountain bikers, chief among them a safe place to store their beloved (and often very expensive bikes).
THE CLWYDS, NORTH WALES
Bike North Wales has a number of mountain biking areas in the northern region of Wales, with trails to suit all abilities from family jaunts to epic rides over 80km. The Ride North Wales website also provides trail profiles and pioneering 3D flythroughs to allow you to make sure the trail you choose meets all your expectations.
One of the most popular areas to ride in this region is the Clwydian which has the most trails. The Clwydian Range forms part of the Clwydian Range and Dee Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and the best way to see the stunning scenery is from a bike.
The 11 trails here range from yellow-graded seafront rides to the red-graded Loop de Loop, which comprises 5 loops that link together to let you explore the northern end of the Clwydian Range.
The 4 Village Tour takes you past four of the most picturesque villages within the area: Graianrhyd, Eryrys, Maeshafn and Nercwys. Along the way you can stop at one of the country pubs or locally run village shops. The 20-30km route incorporates some great singletrack descents, green lanes and forest trails.
Mynydd Hiraethog translates as “The Mountain of Great Longing”, perfect for those cyclists who love a taste of the wilderness. It is a landscape of lakes, forest and rolling heather moors providing a varied and rugged mountain biking experience.
COED Y BRENIN, NORTH WALES
Situated in the heart of the stunning Snowdonia National Park, Coed-y-Brenin was the first forest in the UK to be developed for mountain biking and to this day retains its reputation as a premier MTB destination. It is home to an ever-increasing network of fantastic handbuilt all-weather singletracks ranging from easy green routes suitable for everyone to rocky technical trails for expert riders.
The black-graded Tarw Du trail (20.2km) was not only the original trail built here, but it was also the first purpose-built MTB trail in the UK. It’s a classic trail that’s rocky, twisty, technical, fast and will really test your skills and fitness. Another classic black trail is the MBR (18.4km), where you’ll be riding over bedrock, negotiating rocky climbs and descents, and flying down steps, dropping into sections designed to get your heart pumping, especially at The Cavity and False Teeth.
The Dragon’s Back is a classic, technical cross-country MTB trail with a challenging climb up to the top of Moel Hafod Owen, for amazing views over the park and the mountains of Snowdonia. Then it drops you on long, fast downhills on a section called the Adam’s Family – a series of descents with names like Morticia, Lurch, and Uncle Fester.
For easier rides, there’s the blue-graded MinorTaur (8km) which is built in 3 loops that get progressively longer, so you can choose your distance. There are stone steps, tabletops and swoopy berms that make it one of the most popular trails here. Easier still is the green-graded Yr Afon (10.8km) with open forest roads and contoured hillsides, and scenic views of waterfalls on the Gain and Mawddach rivers, as well as the old Gwynfynydd Gold mine, the last source of Welsh gold.
For those unfamiliar with tackling MTB trails, check out Y Ffowndri, which is a bike park that is a great practice ground for beginners through to experienced riders. Split into 4 areas – Training, Singletrack, Freeride, Drop-off – it lets you experiences varied levels of trails available out in the forest.
What makes riding here spectacular is its scenery; surrounding the park is the breathtaking landscape in the heart of Snowdonia National Park, with views across glaciated valleys, wild untamed rivers, and an expanse of forest.
ACCESSING THE TRAILS
Established mountain biking trails can be found all over Wales, and the easiest way to get started is to check Mountain Bike Wales (www.mbwales.com) to find a trail of your choice. Some mountain biking centres charge for entry and/or uplifts, although you can also find natural trails woven across the landscape that are free to use. As Wales takes cycling seriously, each major region has its own cycling base or centre which provides information on local trails and facilities.