Here, in ascending order of epic-ness, are the ten best multi-day day mountain bike extravaganzas in North America. Sure, there are other great rides, but the ones below are both time-tested and well-defined — they have clear routes, maps, etc.
Running for 184 miles from Georgetown to just shy of Pittsburgh, this is a mostly flat and smooth dirt path up the Potomac River Valley. Historically interesting and scenic, it’s the perfect dirt tour for beginners. There’s great camping all along the trail.
At 225 miles, the Katy Trail is America’s longest rail-trail. Mellow mountain biking through rural Missouri along the Missouri River. A host of B&B’s and wineries along the route mean you can ride the entire Katy with a bike and credit card, and sample lots of heartland vino along the way. Some good mountain bike trails spur off the Katy as well.
360 miles of rivers, lakes, and mountains in remote British Columbia, the Kettle Valley Railway is probably the most epic rail-trail on earth. Forest fires burned a series of spectacular wooden trestles in 2003, but they have since been replaced. Not technically challenging, but remote and long.
There are a few options here for hut-to-hut rides. The San Juan Hut System has two routes—one links Telluride to Moab, the other Durango to Moab. The jeep-road riding is not overly technical, but it is remote and often at altitudes over 10,000 feet. The huts are about 35 miles apart and are fully stocked with bedding and food. Lots of high alpine singletrack can be found near many of the huts as well. The 10th Mountain Hut System features a series of huts in the mountains near Aspen and Leadville. Lots of routes are possible.
Another hut system — Colorado Backcountry Biker — is based out of Fruita.
142 miles of rollicking singletrack and jeep roads that link Grand Junction to Moab. If you ride it, you can finish on the world-class Porcupine Rim Trail into Moab. Most of the trail is on BLM lands.
The White Rim Trail is a 100-mile jeep road that links backcountry campsites through Canyonlands National Park near Moab, Utah. The Kodachrome scenery and easy routefinding make this one popular, so reserve your campsites early. The riding isn’t overly technical, but there are some tough climbs. Car support is possible.
Built with mountain biking in mind, this super-scenic, 97-mile singletrack will forever change your perception of North Dakota. Lots of badlands and fast, fun, moderately technical sections. Possibly the best four- or five-day ride in the country.
471 miles of drunkenly scenic, high-mountain singletrack, but the Colorado Trail is tough (and sometimes impossible) to ride with panniers or trailers.
Though most of the 790-mile Arizona Trail is open to bikes (Wilderness Areas and the Grand Canyon excluded), it has many obscenely technical stretches that are best left to hikers. Still, it's a outstanding route and a monster challenge. Andrea Lankford has written a great guidebook to mountain biking the trail, which highlights the best routes for mountain biking.
The big, bad granddaddy of epic mountain bike routes. 2,700 miles of primarily jeep roads (with a dash of pavement and singletrack), the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route criss-crosses the Continental Divide countless times. Set aside at least two months for this behemoth; most people take 70 days.
Photo by Aaron Teasdale