Highland Lakes Hills Still Challenging for Mountain Bikers
When mountain biking in the Highland Lakes, the first thing you have to move past is the word “mountain." There are no mountains in the Hill Country, especially resembling the Rockies or the Appalachians. Yet, the Highland Lakes is becoming a mountain biking mecca.
“I would describe this area as more technical,” said Charlie Riou, president of the Austin Ridge Riders, a mountain biking organization. “There are some really challenging trails in the Hill Country, but you can also find some good beginner ones.”
Riou and the Austin Ridge Riders are advocates of the sport, often working with the Lower Colorado River Authority and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to create more riding opportunities in parks. In the past several years, the Austin Ridge Riders and the LCRA have expanded mountain biking trails in several of the river authority’s parks.
“The last two years, we’ve partnered with the Austin Ridge Riders to make our trails multi-use,” said Kari Kuwamura, LCRA senior park program coordinator. She’s also an avid mountain biker and an International Mountain Biking Association-certified guide. “We’ve gone in and graded all the trails as green, blue, and black.”
The grading differentiates difficulty levels: green is the easiest; black is the most technical and challenging.
Both Riou and Kuwamura pointed out that the Highland Lakes area boasts a large variety of trails for all levels.
The LCRA system includes Muleshoe Bend Recreation Area with approximately 10 miles of trails for mountain biking. The park has trails for beginners as well as more advanced riders.
“You can take the entire beginner’s loop at Muleshoe,” Kuwamura said. “Also at Muleshoe, if you’re on a trail and come to a rock garden or dropoff you don’t think you can do, we have it built so you can get around it without getting off your bike.”
Muleshoe Bend Recreation Area’s trails probably were among the first true mountain biking trails built in the Highland Lakes. They helped open the door to more riding opportunities in the area.
Just west of Muleshoe Bend is the LCRA’s Grelle Recreation Area. While smaller in acreage compared to Mulesehoe, Grelle has more challenging riding trails.
“Grelle is definitely more technical with its drop ffs and rock gardens,” Kuwamura said.
And where there were “ride-arounds” at Muleshoe, at Grelle, if you come to a section you don’t think you can manage, you have to get off and carry or walk your bike.
Across Lake Travis is Shaffer Bend Recreation Area. Where Grelle and Muleshoe have single-track trails, Shaffer Bend has ranch trails. While not as technical as the others, Riou said Shaffer Bend is a nice place for families who want to just go for a bike ride.
The LCRA is the only park system with mountain bike trails. Just outside of Johnson City, mountain bikers can escape to Juniper Ridge Trail at Pedernales Falls State Park.
“It’s a challenging one,” said Stephen Garmon, the Pedernales Falls State Park interpretive ranger. “I don’t think it’s for a beginner, but a lot of riders come out for it.”
The 10-mile trail weaves its way through the park, offering peeks at places you can’t see from the park road.
Mountain bikers can also try Madrone Trail and Wolf Mountain Trail, among several others, at Pedernales Falls.
These trails, just like at LCRA parks, are multi-use, so mountain bikers might encounter hikers and horseback riders.
Outside of the park systems, mountain bikers can ride the trails at two private facilities: Reveille Peak Ranch near Burnet and Spider Mountain Bike Park on the shores of Lake Buchanan.
When Vol Montgomery opened Reveille Peak Ranch for mountain biking, he caught the attention of riders from across the country.
The facility features about 62 miles of trails, including 15 miles of “hand-cut single track.” Riders can also enjoy a 25-mile, non-intersecting loop.
The ranch has trails for every level, including a Super D, pump track, flow track, and gravity trail.
Because of Reveille Peak's granite and gneiss composition, the trails drain quickly, so riders can get on them even right after a rain. The ranch is usually only open Fridays-Sundays, but during holidays and Spring Break, they sometimes extend operations.
It also hosts a number of other activities, so check the Reveille Peak Ranch Facebook page for updates and possible closures.
Spider Mountain Bike Park opened in February on the shores of Lake Buchanan. This is Texas's first lift-served bike park, so you can enjoy a ride to the top of Spider Mountain before hitting the trails back down.
The park includes trails like Itsy Bitsy, Stinger, Sticky Icky, Vipers Den, Venom, and Charlotte’s Web. But don’t let the names scare you off: Spider Mountain has something for riders of all levels.
The Itsy Bitsy is great for beginners and younger riders. Spider Mountain also offers equipment rentals on a first-come, first-served basis.
Like Reveille Peak Ranch, Spider Mountain is mainly open Fridays-Sundays but does offer extended operations on some holidays and during Spring Break. It will also host special mountain biking events, including demo rides.
While mountain biking is a fun way to enjoy the outdoors, there is a cost associated with getting started. Mountain bikes can come with a pretty heavy price tag, especially the higher-quality ones.
Kuwamura said people shouldn’t let that keep them from trying mountain biking.
Renting a mountain bike is a less expensive way to start. You can also buy used or older models. Bike manufacturers often discount the previous year’s models to move them off the racks to make room for the latest. Once you have a bike, it's time to learn the basics of the sport.
REI out of Austin hosts regular introductory to mountain biking workshops at Muleshoe Bend Recreation Area throughout the year. (Check lcra.org/parks under events for dates.) The fee includes a bike rental.
Kuwamura holds mountain biking basics programs at Muleshoe as well. There’s one scheduled for March 14 from 9-11 a.m. She’ll have some youth bikes available, but adults must bring their own.
If you don’t see an intro class on the LCRA schedule, email Kuwamura at email@example.com to see if you can schedule one. She’s always open to offering more.
“Yeah, keep me busy,” she said. “I love sharing the parks and the outdoors with people.”
Kuwamura also said don’t let your age hamper you from riding. There are riders of all ages on the trail. What she finds great about mountain biking is the supportive nature of the riders.
“It’s just a community of people who want to ride and help others ride,” she said.
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