Don’t worry, you are not alone if you are asking yourself this question. This was a concern of mine when I first moved to Pennsylvania. It was the first place I had to actually plan rides completely on my own. Not only did I have to locate the trail systems, and find a place to park, but I also had to navigate my way around them. Before I started riding at new places by myself, this all seemed incredibly stressful to me, and it kind of terrified me to do. It really doesn’t have to be scary if you are prepared! Here are my tips for lone exploration of new trail systems.
Plan Plan Plan. Get yourself a nice big cup of coffee, some good music, and a comfy place to sit – you may be here for a while if the trail system is tricky. Once I am situated- I like to get out a hard copy map of the trail system, and pull up the trails on either Mountain Bike Project or Trail Forks (most bases are covered on one site or the other). Being familiar with a paper map will be extremely helpful if you get turned around in the trail system when you are out riding. You can also draw out your route on the map if it is too intricate to easily remember. I usually just write my route in the margins instead of drawing directly on the map in case I want to use it again for a different ride. Carrying a map on the trail is easy, light, and practical, especially if your navigation device (phone or GPS etc.) fails. Its always a good idea to have a backup anyway.
The next step I would take is to download the MTB project or trail forks app to your smart phone if you have one. This will be very helpful when you’re finally out riding because your location shows up once you are within the parameters of the trail system. You will be able to double check to make sure you are actually on your determined route. This is especially helpful if the trails are not well marked, or if you don’t have cell phone service, because the apps don’t really require service to find your location.
Some other advice I have is to ask locals. This is very worth your while if you have no idea which trail systems around you fit your riding style. It also pays off to go to your local bike shop if there is one. Those folks will know where the best places to send you are for the type of riding you are looking for (Downhill, XC, etc.) and they could potentially know some people who might be interested in riding along with you!!
Some last advice I have – If you are really really nervous (like I was), plan out a very simple ride to build confidence. You could ride a trail system close to home, try a simple 2 mile loop, or ride all trails that are a level well in your comfort zone. There is no shame in doing this. Riding should be fun after all, not stressful because you feel pressured to plan the most epic ride. Once you are comfortable planning smaller rides, you can build the complexity from there.
Finally……REPEAT REPEAT REPEAT! It will get easier the more times you go through the process. AND – always make sure to tell someone your plan if you are going out alone. This is a precaution I always take just in case I do get into some trouble. It is nice to know someone will have your back.
Hope that helps and happy trails,