Feel the burn—Mountain biking in north Queensland National Parks
Want to take leg day to the next level? Sometimes you just have to say, ‘what the heck, let’s do it’. Queensland National Parks, particularly those in the north, offer some gnarly mountain bike trails—designed to test your limits and skills, and sometimes, push you to the edge…literally!
For those seeking ‘mountain biking nirvana’, you can ride through World Heritage-listed rainforest and sun-dappled open forest in the tyre tracks of champions. Or, if you number among the ‘not so mad’ riders who prefer a more casual pedal on the ‘treadly’, you can enjoy more leisurely rides through open woodlands, across rocky creek beds and along forestry tracks.
So, where to first? Whether you’re a hard-core competitor or first-timer, you’ll find trails of all levels in these purpose-built mountain bike parks.
Smithfield Mountain Bike Park
Smithfield Mountain Bike Park | © Tourism Tropical North Queensland
This popular park (in Smithfield Conservation Park) caters for all skill levels from beginners and families right up to advanced riders and competitors. It’s a stone’s throw from Cairns city and you won’t believe the spectacular views of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea from the highest points on these trails!
If you're more ‘pedal-and-latte' set than 'full-throttle adrenaline junkie', start with Flat Snake and Greenfields tracks. These two trails offer some nice flat terrain but don’t think you’ll be let off the workout hook because these trails range from 450m to 900m respectively. Rated ‘easy’ (green), they are great trails for families and novices.
Stepping it up a notch, you’ll find some interesting ‘intermediate’ (blue) trails, including Wobbegong (950m) and W.C XC Vemass (1.3km). These trails have nice grades and offer that little bit more of a challenge—you’ll certainly feel a burn in the quads on the inclines! Not to worry, you’ll be rewarded on the downhill sections with small ridges and jumps so you can get some air.
Now, if you’re a truly competitive rider, you can’t take a trip to Smithfield and not tackle a ‘difficult’ (black) trail! W.C XC Myndas (1.03km) is as rad as it can get, with drop offs, tricky rocky sections and amazing jumps and bridge sections. There’s little room for overtaking on these trails but therein lies the challenge, right? Take care here and respect the environment by staying on trail.
Atherton Forest Mountain Bike Park
Atherton Forest Mountain Bike Park | © Tourism Tropical North Queensland
If adrenaline and serenity were to hook up, then their love child would be Atherton Forest Mountain Bike Park (in Herberton Range National Park and State Forest and Baldy Mountain Forest Reserve). Here you can drop in to rocky gullies and clear water creeks, ascend forest-clad valleys and ridgelines and rehydrate whilst taking in breathtaking vistas of the surrounding landscape.
This park, in the Herberton Range near Atherton, has over 50km of stunning single trails waiting to be explored. These trails cater more for beginner and intermediate riders and there are no difficult (black) trails in this location; but some trails have black alternatives. And with many epic viewing points, who’s really counting the PBs anyway?
Novice riders can choose from a handful of ‘easy’ (green) trails. From a short 900m run up to a thigh-burning 5.4km, you’ll certainly appreciate the vista pauses for a refreshing rehydrate whilst navigating the spectacular valleys and low lying creeks.
Then with a dozen or so ‘intermediate’ (blue) trails, riders with more experience and ‘derring-do’ will find plenty to keep them occupied for a fun morning or afternoon of challenging rides, criss-crossing the slopes of the Herberton Range.
The trails here are numbered so you can mark off the ones you covered, and if you’re into wearable tech, you’ll be able to calculate distances for your workout reward.
Davies Creek Mountain Bike Park
Davies Creek Mountain Bike Park | © Mareeba Mountain Goats Club
Gently flowing single trails are the order of the day at Davies Creek Mountain Bike Park (in Davies Creek and Dinden national parks and Dinden West Forest Reserve), less than an hour from Cairns.
Navigate your way through granite outcrops, clear cool streams and forests of bloodwoods, stringybarks, she-oaks, cycads and grass trees that dot the slopes of the rain-shadowed Lamb Range.
Another perfect park for the beginner and intermediate rider, Davies Creek is great for both a casual pedal or a serious cardio workout. The trail offerings are dominated by ‘easy’ (green) trails, which range from 2.7km to 10.6km. Novice riders can explore twists and turns, navigate dips and cliff edges and negotiate rocks, trees and other obstacles as they race through the sun-dappled forest.
‘Intermediate’ (blue) trails are short and few. Ranging from 1.7km to 10.6km, the trails traverse impressive country and offer intermediate riders some nice incline to get the heart rate up. They’ll keep you on your game with quite a few quick sharp turns to negotiate, with rocky areas and jumps thrown into the mix to amp up the fun. Make sure you take a breath and soak up the expansive views from Trail 3, the highest point in the trail network.
There are no ‘difficult’ (black) trails in this park (although Trail 3 does have 6 black alternative sections) but don’t let that put you off—drop in for a sprint ride to keep the heart rate up and enjoy the scenic surrounds as you go. Be sure to load up on H2O and nutrition because it’s a long way to the shop if you want a sausage roll!
Cape Pallarenda Trails
Cape Pallarenda Trails | © Queensland Government
If you are in the Townsville area, Cape Pallarenda Trails (in Cape Pallarenda Conservation Park) are a must-do! You can enjoy challenging rides to get the adrenalin pumping or escort the kids on easy trails and, at the same time, soak up some of the unique history of the region—Cape Pallarenda was once a quarantine station in the early 1900s and a strategic defence location in World War II!
If you have the kids in tow—and this is really a great place for them to practise their skills—head for an ‘easy’ (green) trail such as Shelley Cove trail, a wide dirt track leading to the beach, with views out to Magnetic Island. Or check out Freshwater trail, a beginner-friendly, wide double track with zero technical features on flat country. This track is perfect for off-road first timers to build confidence cornering on loose dirt. Link onto the Lagoon trail to make a perfect family riding loop around Townsville Town Common's freshwater lagoon.
Now for the fun stuff! Under the Radar (UTR) trail is an ‘intermediate’ (blue) trail that crosses the slopes of Many Peaks Range, and provides breathtaking views of the islands to the north and the Coral Sea beyond. This is a rocky trail, very rideable and ‘super flowy’, but at 10km is a very long and hard ‘blue’! Guaranteed to keep the quads burning! This narrow two-way trail is also shared with bushwalkers.
Your other option for an ‘intermediate’ (blue) ride is Smedleys trail—7.3km of challenging two-way trail that links to the UTR and explores Smedley’s Hill, offering exceptional views over Halifax Bay and Magnetic Island. This is a rough track with loose rock and ruts—very ‘techy’—but an excellent ride!
So are you keen?
Get more intel and download trail maps before you set off:
- Smithfield Mountain Bike Park
- Atherton Forest Mountain Bike Park
- Davies Creek Mountain Bike Park
- Cape Pallarenda Trails
Of course, these are just a smidgen of your options! For more information about mountain biking in Queensland check out our Mountain Bike Guide to Queensland Parks and Forests.
Last updated: 25 August 2020