A Beginner’s Guide To Mountain Biking In Upstate New York

You’ve mastered the bike path. (Well, you probably did that when you were five, but now you’re actually ready to do something about it.) It’s time to move onto bigger, better, rockier, rootier things: singletracks, a.k.a. mountain biking trails. But where to begin?

“One tip for beginners would be to ride with another mountain biker who is experienced,” says Caleb Batchelder, Sales Manager at Blue Sky Bicycles in Downtown Saratoga Springs. “They’ll be able to teach you important skills when you’re just starting out and help get you familiar with local trails and your bike.”

With much of its landscape covered in forest, Upstate New York is the perfect place to get into mountain biking. Sure, you won’t have the wide-open views or steep, unobstructed descents you find out west, but if you’re searching for a new challenge to tackle (and don’t mind getting a few scrapes and bruises along the way) look no further than the Capital Region. “This region is great for mountain biking because of its variety of trail systems all within a relatively short travel radius, says Batchelder. “There are trail systems of all levels, from beginner to expert, up and down the Northway.”

Here are three such trail systems good for beginner mountain bikers in and around Saratoga Springs.

Luther Forest
Deer sightings are a common occurrence in the Luther Forest trails. (Natalie Moore)


Trail System: Luther Forest
Where To Suit Up: Collamer House Bike and Ski

What To Expect: I lived in Malta when I first started mountain biking, so for that first year I rode solely at Luther Forest. It’s still one of my favorite spots. Located just off Exit 12 of the Northway on Hermes Road, it’s a fairly small trail system, and it’s hard to get too lost (not that I haven’t managed to). Most trails range from super easy to easy, but there are a few steeper climbs that venture into the intermediate realm. You enter the trail system at the top of a large bowl, and can descend and ascend depending on how extensive of a workout you want.

Pro Tip: End your ride on what my family calls “the easy trail” (your first left if you take the southeast trailhead from the parking lot). You’ll feel a lot better about your riding abilities.

Saratoga Springs

Trail System: Kalabus Perry
Where To Suit Up: Blue Sky Bicycles

What To Expect: The Kalabus Perry (KP) trails are as easy, if not easier than Luther Forest’s, but navigating them is a little more difficult, so take a map. There are both singletracks (trails the width of your bike) and double tracks (trails wide enough for a four-wheeled vehicle), as well as horseback-riding trails. The horse trails have been around for many years, but only recently was KP turned into a mountain biking destination. To get there, take Rt. 29 east to Homestead Road and then take a left on Gailor Lane.

Pro Tip: Avoid riding through the sand on the horse trails. And horse poop.

Mountain Biking
“A hardtail mountain bike with front suspension is an excellent choice for beginners,” says Caleb Batchelder of Blue Sky Bicycles. “It teaches the rider how to find the right line choice and master basic skills, and they’re budget friendly for starting out.”


Trail System: Gurney Lane
Where To Suit Up: The Inside Edge Ski & Bike Shop

What To Expect: Gurney Lane in Queensbury has grown significantly the last few years, and is one of few places in the area with machine-groomed trails, making the riding faster and smoother. That doesn’t mean you won’t be able to find technical riding: Check out Rock Buster, a trail marked as a black diamond (like ski trails) at the north end of the trail system. Gurney’s trails are well marked with trail length and difficulty, and Queensbury Park & Recreation’s website has a detailed printable map you can bring along, just to be safe. The trails are right off Exit 20 in the Gurney Lane Recreation Area, which has a town pool, playground and picnic areas.

Pro Tip: The climb from the parking lot to the trailhead is the most difficult. Don’t give up!

Bonus: Once you master Luther’s, KP and Gurney, head to Saratoga Mountain Bike Association’s Daniels Road trails—they’ll kick your butt (see video above). These trails are much more technical, have much steeper climbs and will cause you to fall off your bike much more than the beginner trails, but once you make it up one of the gnarly climbs successfully, it’ll all be worth it.

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