Winter can be an incredible time of year for exploring natural trails, especially if you get crisp cold days with blue skies and incredible views. We've picked out a selection that ride well in the winter for you to explore.
When days are short and the weather is bad, it’s tempting to stay local, stick to trail centres, or even stay inside. But there are plenty of natural mountain bike routes that are ideal for winter riding, and on a crisp, fresh wintry day there’s nothing like fresh air, a dose of vitamin D, views for miles and a thrilling descent.
We’ve selected the best rides that hold up in wintry conditions, with plenty of well-draining trails or decent natural shelter to keep the elements at bay if the weather doesn’t stay friendly.
To keep yourself warm, don’t forget to layer up with a base layer and good jacket, and if you suffer from cold feet then maybe you should consider a pair of winter riding boots to ensure you retain feeling in your toes!
1. Jacob’s Ladder and The Roych, Peak District
Distance: 24.6km/15.3 miles
GPS download: View and download Jacob’s Ladder route
Start in Edale (Landranger 110/SK124853) and head SW on the road before turning S. After that a steep track branches off the road and up Chapel Gate, a techie climb that brings you up onto Rushup Edge over what’s left of the old road. A fun descent takes you NW down through the Roych and out the other side. Turn R at the x-roads on Mount Famine and you’ll drop into Coldwell Clough.
Then it’s a R turn for a brutal climb up to Edale Cross. Then drop your saddle, check your tyre pressures and descend down Jacob’s Ladder back into Edale.
Just remember to ride through the puddles rather than round them to limit erosion. Climbing Jacob’s Ladder is a classic challenge too, and this route works well in reverse.
2. Hodge Close, Lake District
Distance: 22.0km/13.7 miles
GPS download: View and download Hodge Close route
For all its wheel-swallowing peat bogs, the Lake District also boasts a wealth of riding on less permeable terrain. Furness Fells is home to our favourite winter Lake District ride. Although surrounded by giant peaks, this route sticks to the more stunted fells out of the harshest weather and, combined with the fact that it packs a decent distance into a compact area, makes this Lakes route four-season friendly.
3. Burrator Reservoir, Dartmoor
Distance: 24.1km/15.0 miles
GPS download: View and download Burrator Reservoir route
You can start this ride in Princetown if it’s easier, but we reckon it’s best to pass through England’s highest town half way round the ride in winter, so you can refuel or take shelter if need by.
The trails are rocky, fast and perfect for rainy days because the drainage is first class.
4. Calderdale, Pennines
Distance: 23.4km (14.5 miles)
GPS download: View and download Calderdale route
Open an OS map of Calderdale and it’s hard not to see red. This steeply flanked dale in the Pennines is literally riddled with trails, many of them stony or paved with gritstone flags, making the area a premium off-season venue.
5. Stockdale Lane, Yorkshire Dales
Distance: 18.1km/11.2 miles
GPS download: View and download Stockdale Lane route
This ride in the South Dales is easy to get to, which can be half the battle on a winter’s day when the weather is bad. It starts in the village of Settle and gets you out onto the fells quickly, with a cracking descent on the bridleway to finish.
6. West Highland Way, Fort William
Distance: 55.1km/34.2 miles
GPS download: View and download West Highland Way route
The West Highland Way delivers some sumptuous singletrack all the way to Kinlochleven, on undulating terrain that we’ve always found to be great fun. This trail gets lots of traffic and so it holds up fairly well to bad weather.
This route does go against the usual flow of the WHW so our advice is to avoid the weekend if at all possible to avoid the walkers.
7. Sarn Helen, Snowdonia
Distance: 21.3km/13.2 miles
GPS download: View and download Sarn Helen route
Sarn Helen has great all weather surfaces, and together with the epic and tumultuous descent and the fact you get to ride a proper mountain, it’s a real winter winner. Sure it’ll be wet and puddle filled, but the speeds are high and you won’t get bogged down, plus the views are incredible.
8. Swinley Forest, Bracknell
Distance: As long as you like!
GPS download: View our Swinley Forest guide
Swinley Forest is popular with London riders, and for good reason – it’s just about the closest spot to the capital where you can find proper mountain biking. And proper riding there most certainly is, the elevation isn’t high, but the trails here are flowy, rewarding and spicy if you want to tackle the new jump line.
Perhaps most important of all for winter though, the Swinley trails ride just as well when wet as when dry. Better even, as they don’t turn to dust under your tyres. Yes it can get splashy thanks to the low lying land but a good pair of waterproof socks should do the trick. This is our go-to winter riding spot.
9. Glenmore Lodge, Cairngorms
Distance: 34.9km (21.7 miles)
GPS download: View and download Glenmore Lodge route
The magnificent Cairngorm National Park is one of the UK’s last remaining wilderness mountain environments and, on a crisp winter’s morning, among the sugar-coated peaks and majestic Scots pine, there are few better places to be.
Although prone to bad weather, the underlying granite makes the countless paths and tracks a genuine off-season proposition. With much of the area covered in forest, there’s plenty of sheltered riding to be enjoyed, and the profusion of singletrack radiating from the Forest Visitor Centre at Glenmore means you never have to venture too far from a steaming plate of neeps and tatties.
10. Painscastle, Powys
Distance: 20km (12.5 miles)
Shouldering the border with England, Powys is blessed with an extensive network of trails traversing wonderful heather-clad moor. While they may sound barren, the exposure means there’s a consistent wind to blow-dry the trails. For advice on the best rides in the area we turned to Jeremy Atkinson, developer of the route-riddled www.roughrides.co.uk website and organiser of the annual Rough Ride event. Jeremy pointed us toward the Llanbedr Hill area and a route out of Painscastle. Obviously, with no tree cover, you’ll need to plan carefully around the weather before taking on this route. Although the riding will be essentially mud-free, there’s little shelter from the elements once you’re up on the moor.
11. Quantocks, Somerset
Distance: 27.2km (16.9 miles)
GPS download: View and download Quantocks route
In essence the Quantocks are a long ridgeline radiating countless steep, wooded combes, all of which are blessed with the kind of trails that dreams are made from.
The spine is traversed by a well-surfaced track, allowing ready access to the various combes, and most of the best descents end up at a pub – plus you’re never far from the car should there be a need to head home early.
Although the trails frequently criss-cross small streams, most of them sit atop a stony base, and the whole area drains very quickly, so mud shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
12. Stanage Edge, Peak District
Distance: 32km (20 miles)
GPS download: View and download Stanage Edge route
A short route and a bit over-embellished with tarmac to rank among the greats during the summer months, this spectacular Dark Peak loop comes into its own when the nights close in. We spoke to Jon Barton, author of the excellent Dark Peak Mountain Biking guide by Vertebrate Publishing, and he was quick to single out this route as a particular winter fave.