Biking and hiking Spider Mountain Bike Park
On the shores of Lake Buchanan, just northwest of Burnet, lies Spider Mountain Bike Park. A repurposed ski lift carries mountain bikers and hikers over 350 feet to the summit, where they can descend the intricate trail systems carved into the limestone. First and foremost, these trails are designed for the extreme sport of mountain biking, but if you time it right, it can be a vigorous hiking destination as well.
The privately run park is utilitarian and built to allow for as many rides on the lift as possible. It's as easy as parking, buying a wristband, and hopping on the lift. You can also rent the necessary gear if you're riding down and didn’t bring your own. I was surprised at the lack of wait times, even with the park being packed with visitors.
On the weekend, when the lift is in operation and the mountain is crawling with bikes, only one trail is available to hikers. It’s a winding fire road that zigs and zags down the mountain, spitting you out at the nearby Thunderbird Lodge.
The fire road trail is a quick sub-hour hike going downhill, but it is a steep thigh-burner if you hike up from the lodge. Lift riders dangle their feet overhead and the constant whiz and skids of bikers on nearby trails follow you down the road.
If you are intent on seeing the rest of the mountain on foot, the biking trails are open for hiking on weekdays. Contact Thunderbird Lodge for a hiking pass of $5 when the lift is not in operation. Keep an eye on the park’s future if you're a devoted hiker; it plans to add more exclusive hiking trails.The bread and butter of the park is its mountain biking, and I couldn't pass up an opportunity to tear down the trails on wheels. I am an absolute novice when it comes to mountain biking, so this was an education.
Being gearless, I had to rent my bike and helmet. A bike mechanic helped me find a properly sized steed and made sure the shocks were tuned to my weight.
The lift operators gave me a quick lesson on how to pick up my bike for the ride up, and then I was on my way. I shared my lift seat with Spider Mountain employee Ian Gozdalski.
"(The park is) very laidback, beginner-friendly, and accommodating to higher-skilled riders,” Gozdalski said. “We have everything from green trails to double-black.”
Mountain biking trails use the same rating system as ski slopes, from the easiest to the most challenging: green, blue, black, and double-black. My challenge of the day was the affectionately named "Itsy Bitsy,” the easiest trail in the park.
My first ride down was shockingly difficult. I was unaccustomed to the hard turns and rapid pace of the descent, but I was filled with the strong desire to figure it out and not be thwarted by a trail called Itsy Bitsy.
After a handful of runs, it became obvious that this is an incredibly fulfilling pastime. The balance of skill, danger, speed, and knowledge all add up to a sport that has earned the description "extreme.”
Spider Mountain is the only mountain biking park in Texas with an operating chairlift, and if you live here, you should take advantage of it. Hiking and biking aside, the view of Lake Buchanan from the summit is worth the trip.
THINGS TO KNOW
FOOD: Gravity Tacos is the only option at Spider Mountain. If you plan to spend the day at the park, grab some delicious tacos to go or pack a lunch.
PASSES: A day pass on the lift is $59 for adults, $55 for youths, and $55 for seniors. If you just want to ride the lift and hike down, a one-way ticket costs $20 for adults and $15 for youths and seniors.
RENTALS: If you decide to take the plunge and rent equipment, a standard bike is $99 for the day and a helmet is $15. For the best possible rental deals, make sure you get in touch ahead of time.
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