As a mountain bike enthusiast nearing the end of your high school education at the age of 17 or 18, you are confronted with a significant dilemma: “Which of the colleges with mountain bike teams is the best?” You may be currently a senior in high school, reading this piece and finding yourself in this exact situation. You might be contemplating an even more complex question…
As an individual in the final year of high school, aged 17 or 18, you are now confronted with one of the most challenging decisions you have ever faced: “Which higher education institution should I attend?” You may be a current high school senior reading this piece and finding yourself in this particular predicament. You may be contemplating an even more significant question: “Should I pursue a college education?”
When you turn 18, like many, you may find yourself at a crossroads. You could be an academically gifted student with excellent high school grades, but you might still question the traditional path of further education. Instead, you might yearn to escape your hometown and head for the mountains, immersing yourself in a world full of skiing and mountain biking.
Imagine starting your education at a tiny, picturesque institution tucked away in the Montana mountains. This choice could be life-changing, affecting future decisions and shaping your life trajectory. Picture yourself now, sitting in your cozy home office, overlooking a stunning 14,000-foot summit, writing articles for a leading mountain biking website worldwide.
Remember, deciding on college and location doesn’t have to be a black and white choice. You don’t have to pick between living near exceptional mountain biking terrains or pursuing higher education. With careful planning, you can have both.
To help you decide, imagine having a curated guide, the kind you wish you had in your senior year of high school. This guide includes top U.S. colleges and universities that not only offer bachelor’s degree programs but also access to fantastic singletrack trails. This way, you can both earn your degree and improve your off-road cycling skills.
While curating this list, several factors were taken into account: the availability of on-campus or nearby singletrack trails for students without cars, high-quality singletrack trails in the area for students with transportation, the quality of collegiate racing teams, academic excellence (as these are four-year institutions offering diverse bachelor’s degree programs), and other relevant factors.
Best colleges with mountain bike teams
In this list, we have not only provided an overview of the trail accessibility in each location but also highlight the most robust degree programs offered by each institution. Therefore, if you have aspirations of pursuing a degree in engineering, marketing, nursing, or any other field, select the school that aligns most closely with your academic interests!
Presented below are the top universities and colleges with mountain bike teams in the United States where you can embark on a comprehensive four-year educational journey:
- Lower Hulls Gulch (and connected trails): 1.7 miles
- Kestrel, Sidewinder (and connected trails): 2.8 miles
Boise State University, situated on the outskirts of the city, lies within a mere two-mile cycling distance from the foothills. These foothills host the renowned Ridge to Rivers trail system, an expansive network comprising approximately 200 miles of captivating singletrack routes, as stated by Roger Phillips, our correspondent based in Idaho. This area offers an extended riding season that spans nearly year-round, subject to snow levels. With Boise’s elevation resting at 2,800 feet, you can embark on a challenging climb covering approximately 16 miles to reach Bogus Basin, the local ski area, at an elevation of 7,300 feet.
Apart from being an exceptional riding destination in its own right, Boise offers the added advantage of being conveniently situated a little over 2 hours away from the captivating destination of McCall and less than 3 hours away from Sun Valley.
Boise State University is renowned for its undergraduate engineering program, an internationally-accredited business school, the largest undergraduate nursing program in Idaho, as well as an esteemed creative writing program. The university takes pride in offering the nation’s exclusive master’s degree in raptor biology and unique programs in Basque Studies. (Source)
Closest Singletrack: Lunch Loops / Tabeguache Trail System, 3.9 miles
Among the featured institutions, Colorado Mesa University (CMU) stands out with unparalleled access to year-round mountain biking opportunities. This is attributed to the remarkable low-desert terrain encompassing the greater Grand Valley, which includes locations such as Grand Junction, Fruita, and Loma.
Moreover, the renowned mountain biking mecca of Moab is conveniently located just an hour and a half away.
If you aspire to establish yourself as a distinguished collegiate mountain bike racer, Colorado Mesa University (CMU) presents an ideal environment for achieving that goal. In 2016, CMU achieved an impressive fourth-place ranking in USA Cycling’s (USAC) Collegiate Division I, encompassing all cycling disciplines. The other top-ranked collegiate racing teams on this list hail from notably smaller institutions. Thus, if having a more expansive social network is significant to you, CMU’s student population of 11,000 may be more appealing compared to schools like Fort Lewis and Lees-McRae. CMU offers cycling scholarships on a case-by-case basis to assist with tuition expenses.
CMU provides a diverse array of academic pursuits ranging from business to art and various disciplines in between, catering to a wide range of interests and aspirations.
- Chapman Hill / Fort Lewis College Loop: 0 miles
- Telegraph Trail System, including Raider’s Ridge: 0 miles
Here is another of the colleges with mountain bike teams. Durango, Colorado, offers an unparalleled level of mountain bike history and culture that is unmatched by any other college town. With its rich heritage as the birthplace of some of the oldest mountain bike races, esteemed world champions like Ned Overend, and accomplished Olympians like Todd Wells, Durango’s mountain biking legacy is firmly established.
The town is also home to mountain bike shops that have been in operation since before the inception of the sport itself. Moreover, boasting over 500 miles of exceptional singletrack trails, Durango provides an indisputably compelling case for its mountain biking allure.
Durango is surrounded by singletrack trails, and it boasts extensive stretches of singletrack that reach deep into the mountains north of the town. The sheer number of these trails is so vast that it would be nearly impossible to ride them all in a lifetime, let alone during a four-year college tenure. However, even if you don’t plan on bringing a car to college, accessing these trails is incredibly convenient. The Chapman Hill/Fort Lewis College Loop, which starts right from the college campus, provides ridiculously easy access to trails. The Telegraph Trail System features trails like Raider’s Ridge, which has previously hosted enduro races.
Regarding collegiate mountain bike racing, Fort Lewis consistently maintains its position as the top contender year after year. Despite having a relatively small student population of approximately 4,000 (3,856 as of 2011), Fort Lewis continuously dominates USAC mountain bike racing, ranking at the pinnacle in Division I in 2016. In terms of overall performance in various cycling disciplines, Fort Lewis secured the second-place position in 2016. If your ambition is to pursue a college education while benefiting from a cycling scholarship, Fort Lewis offers an excellent opportunity, with an impressive $30,000 per year allocated to their Cycling Scholarship Fund.
Fort Lewis’s Liberal Arts programs have gained significant recognition, and its engineering track is also highly esteemed. Fort Lewis provides unique options, including adventure education, communication design, sports administration, writing, and several others. (Source)
Nearest Singletrack: Lees-McRae College, 0mi
Having a student body of just over 1,000 (as of 2015), Lees-McRae College (LMC) holds the distinction of having the smallest student population among the institutions on our list. Despite its small size, LMC has made a significant impact on the mountain biking community over the years. Notably, LMC has consistently ranked as one of the top USAC Division I mountain biking schools, securing the #4 position in the 2016 MTB rankings and an overall #8 ranking. Moreover, Lees-McRae College has nurtured talented individuals who have made notable contributions to the industry, such as Phil Kmetz from the popular “Skills with Phil” YouTube channel. Feel free to explore some of his impressive work here:
To facilitate the training of their athletes, LMC offers on-campus singletrack, along with a compact track and a dual slalom course. For downhill (DH) training, athletes can visit Beech Mountain, located a mere five miles away, which has hosted the Gravity National Championships on multiple occasions.
LMC also provides support for cyclists by offering an average athletic scholarship of approximately $6,000 per year to assist with tuition expenses. (Source)
LMC, despite its small size, provides a range of both conventional majors like Biology, English, and Psychology, and pre-professional majors such as Nursing, Business, and Education. LMC also offers unique and rare programs including Wildlife Rehabilitation, Cycling, Creative Marketing, and Performing Arts Studies. (Source)
- Arizona Trail: 0 miles by car, with a gravel bike path of approximately 1.6+/- miles for accessing the singletrack.
- Buffalo Park (including connected trails and the opposite direction of the Arizona Trail): 1.8 miles.
We have extensively praised the Arizona Trail on Singletracks as one of the best colleges with mountain bike teams due to its exceptional riding experience and the diverse climate zones it traverses. This remarkable singletrack trail, stretching across the entire state, ranks among the top trails globally. It is worth noting that the AZT route conveniently runs adjacent to Northern Arizona University’s (NAU) campus while passing through Flagstaff, making it an enticing prospect for riders. This information alone should provide sufficient incentive for you to consider submitting your application.
Despite its location in Arizona, Flagstaff sits at an elevation of 6,900 feet, which means it can experience substantial snowfall during winter. In case the singletrack trails become buried under snow, you can simply get in your car and travel 30 miles south to Sedona. Situated at an elevation of approximately 4,300 feet, Sedona offers rideable conditions throughout the year and boasts some of the world’s finest mountain biking trails. This is precisely why we have ranked Sedona among the top 10 mountain bike destinations in the United States.
In the fall of 2010, the top undergraduate degrees by enrollment were elementary education, biology, hotel and restaurant management, nursing, criminology, and criminal justice. While these programs may be the most popular, with an enrollment of 29,000 students, NAU offers a wide range of degree options, including specialized tracks in Forestry and Natural Sciences that could be particularly enticing for mountain bikers. You can explore their complete academic catalog here.
Closest Singletrack: UCSC Trails, located at a distance of 0 miles.
The University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), stands out as the sole college with mountain bike teams on this list affiliated with NCAA Division III. Therefore, if you intend to engage in mountain biking at this location, be prepared to fully embrace the courageous spirit of the mountain bike pioneers and deviate from conventional athletic norms in all aspects. However, those who are willing to defy cultural norms will reap the ultimate rewards: the on-campus trails at UCSC rank among the finest nationwide, if not globally.
While several colleges in this compilation provide short trails within their campuses or have direct access to extensive trail systems, the UCSC campus stands out as an expansive and sprawling complex that encompasses a significant amount of land. Consequently, the closest and most exceptional trails in Santa Cruz are situated on UCSC property. It is highly likely, and even feasible, to commute from your dorm to your classroom using a singletrack trail. Although the legal status of some on-campus trails may be questionable, conflicts rarely arise due to the mainstream acceptance of mountain biking. The presence of renowned bike brands such as Santa Cruz Bicycles, Ibis Cycles, Bell Helmets, and others in Santa Cruz is evidence of mountain biking’s widespread popularity in this coastal college town. UCSC boasts a well-established cycling team known as the Banana Slugs.
UCSC secures the #79 spot in the academic ranking of all universities in the United States as per this list. Among the selected colleges and universities, it holds the second-highest academic position, trailing only Virginia Tech. Opting for UCSC ensures a balanced pursuit of academic excellence and recreational activities. With a diverse range of programs, including 65 undergraduate degrees and 41 graduate degrees, UCSC caters to various interests. The most sought-after majors encompass Art, Business Management, Economics, Molecular and Cell Biology, and Psychology. UCSC stands out for its distinctive offerings, such as specialized programs in Feminist Studies, American Studies, Environmental Studies, Visual Studies, Digital Arts, and New Media, as well as the exceptional History of Consciousness Department.
The nearest singletrack option is the Pattee Canyon Trails, conveniently located within 0 to 1 mile, depending on the chosen access point to the network.
Starting directly from the town of Missoula, the Pattee Canyon trail system expands into an extensive network of interconnected singletrack trails that traverse the mountains above the campus. This trail system is also recognized as University Mountain or Mount Sentinel and has served as a training ground for renowned Olympian Sam Schultz, who hails from Missoula. For those seeking more elevated and exceptional alpine singletrack experiences at the colleges with mountain bike teams, it is possible to ascend to higher altitudes, provided there is no snowfall, and access the superb trails at the Montana Snowbowl ski resort.
Missoula boasts a notable history in competitive mountain biking. The city has hosted prestigious events such as the NORBA Nationals and is set to host both the 2017 and 2018 Collegiate MTB National Championships, as reported by Jenny Herbold, our writer. The privilege of hosting these races is attributed, in part, to the presence of an International Cycling Union-sanctioned, World Cup-style course that has attracted Olympic hopefuls to compete just minutes away from the University of Montana, according to Justin Grigg from Missoula. When winter arrives, there are ample opportunities for fat biking.
Alongside its diverse academic offerings spanning 11 distinct colleges and schools, the University of Montana features two departments that may particularly interest mountain bikers: the College of Forestry and Conservation and the School of Journalism.
Nearest Singletrack: Foothills Trails, 10mi
Situated at a distance of 10 miles from campus, the Foothills Trails necessitate the longest commute to access the “nearest singletrack” among our top 10 options. Nevertheless, Albuquerque (ABQ) earns significant recognition as an ideal educational destination due to the abundant presence of singletrack trails in the wider vicinity, including Tijeras to the east and Santa Fe to the north. ABQ’s location in the New Mexico desert ensures year-round riding opportunities, complemented by classic alpine routes such as the 10k Trail, which lies higher up in the mountains and occasionally becomes snow-covered during the winter months.
Given the extensive network of singletrack trails available, ABQ has rightfully secured a position as one of the top 10 mountain bike cities in North America. Offering a wide range of academic options, the institution boasts an impressive selection of over 215 degree and certificate programs. These include 94 baccalaureates, 71 masters, and 37 doctoral degrees.
- The Bonneville Shoreline Trail, located 0 miles away, is the nearest singletrack.
The Bobsled Trail, approximately 2.5 miles away, can also be accessed by connecting from the Bonneville Shoreline Trail via singletrack. Salt Lake City has long been hailed as a premier destination for mountain biking and skiing, offering unparalleled access to the mountains among major cities in the United States. Riders who have experienced the trails in Salt Lake City tend to concur with this sentiment, leading to its inclusion alongside Albuquerque in the list of the top 10 mountain biking cities in the nation.
During my research on educational institutions, the University of Utah received numerous recommendations. It was only when I delved into the trail accessibility from the university campus that I realized the truly exceptional location of the University of Utah.
Directly accessible from the campus is the Bonneville Shoreline Trail (BST), stretching over 100 miles along the base of the mountains near Salt Lake City. From the BST, riders can connect to an extensive network of trails that extend into the mountains, with the renowned Bobsled descent serving as a prominent feature.
Park City, a mere 40-minute drive up the canyon, provides additional trail options, while the vast expanse of the Utah desert, including Moab, can be found just 3-4 hours to the south. The list of available trails could continue indefinitely.
The University of Utah boasts an extensive selection of over 80 undergraduate majors, and a significant number of its academic programs, ranging from computer science and psychology to physics and dance, have earned placements within the top 100 rankings by U.S. News & World Report. Additional information can be found here. As an added benefit, according to Nick Hepler, a member of Singletracks, the university offers affordability and permits out-of-state students to pay in-state tuition rates after completing one year of study.
Closest Singletrack: Pandapas Pond / Poverty Creek, located 2.7 miles away.
Although the main trailhead for Pandapas Pond may initially appear distant from Virginia Tech (VT) on the map, a closer examination of the detailed trail map reveals a pathway known as the “Gateway Trail.” This trail traverses the mountain ridge from the Blacksburg side, providing direct access to Pandapas Pond. Spanning a mere 2.7 miles, this singletrack trail is a convenient ride from the campus. While Pandapas Pond represents the sole trail system directly accessible from the campus, boasting an extensive network of over 34 miles of trails, it serves as an invaluable resource located just steps away from your doorstep.
The trail access truly becomes enticing when you expand your scope to encompass the surrounding mountains and outstanding trail systems like Carvin’s Cove near Roanoke.
While Virginia Tech (VT) may not reign supreme among schools in collegiate cycling, they consistently field a commendable team, and it’s a common sight to spot VT jerseys on the local trails. In 2016, they secured a respectable 13th place overall in Division I, although their road team outperformed their mountain bike team.
Virginia Tech holds the highest academic ranking on our list, standing at #74 in the nation. With an enrollment of approximately 31,000 students (as of 2015), it is also one of the largest institutions featured here. Thanks to its size and esteemed status, students have the option to choose from a wide array of 70 undergraduate degrees, while also considering Virginia Tech as a secondary or tertiary institution with its offering of 160 master’s and doctoral programs. The esteemed Engineering school and the college devoted to Natural Resources and Environment are particularly attractive to mountain biking enthusiasts.
Other top colleges with mountain bike teams
The vast array of universities scattered throughout the country ensures an abundance of options for high-quality educational institutions that also cater to top-notch mountain biking. While the aforementioned 10 colleges and universities undoubtedly rank among the best, here’s a brief list of noteworthy runners-up that are certainly worth exploring.
1. Adams State University, Alamosa, Colorado
- Blanca Wetlands, located 13.5 miles away
- Bishop’s Rock, located 26.2 miles away
2. Appalachian State University, Boone, North Carolina
- Closest Singletrack: Rocky Knob Park, situated 3.4 miles away
3. Barnett Bicycle Institute, Colorado Springs, Colorado
- Closest Singletrack: Red Rock Canyon Open Space via Red Rock Rim Trail, a mere 0.5 miles away
4. Brevard College, North Carolina
- Bracken Preserve, situated 1.8 miles away
- Black Mountain, located 4.5 miles away
5. Colorado School of Mines, Golden
- South Table Mountain, a mere 0.7 miles away
- Chimney Gulch, situated 1.6 miles away
6. Michigan Technical University, Houghton, Michigan
Closest Singletrack: Michigan Tech Trails, conveniently accessible right from the campus.
7. Southern Utah University, located in Cedar City
- Red Canyon, situated 1.5 miles away
- The C Trail, located 2.4 miles away
8. United Bicycle Institute, based in Ashland, Oregon
Closest Singletrack: Grizzly Peak Trail and the connected trail system, conveniently located 2.3 miles away
9. University of Arizona, situated in Tucson
Closest Singletrack: Tucson Mountain Park, approximately 6.7 miles away
10. University of Colorado, Boulder
- Valmont Bike Park, situated 3.1 miles away
- Betasso Preserve (accessible via a connector trail from Boulder Canyon), located 4.5 miles away
11. University of North Carolina at Asheville
- Richmond Hill Park, situated 2.8 miles away
- Bent Creek, approximately 11.7 miles away
12. University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
Closest Singletrack: Stringer’s Ridge, conveniently located 2.3 miles away
13. University of Vermont, based in Burlington
Closest Singletrack: Sunny Hollow / Camp Johnson, situated 3 miles away
14. Western State Colorado University, located in Gunnison
Closest Singletrack: Signal Peak Trail System, conveniently accessible right from the campus.