Ride The Best Trails That South Africa Has To Offer This Winter

by | May 21, 2024 | Sports, Bike, Featured, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Rest of South Africa, Western Cape, Where To Ride

These are some of South Africa’s best winter mountain biking locations to keep the flow going through the colder months of the year.

Winter rides can often be dark and icy cold as you try to squeeze in your usual hour before heading to work. They aren’t that fun and one can miss the warm and sunny days that abounded a few months ago. What winter does have going for it though is the dryness found throughout the Eastern parts of South Africa. Less rain means fast rolling dry trails and less vegetation growth over the trails!

With this in mind, we’re going to highlight some of the best winter riding locations throughout South Africa for you to tee up a long weekend away with some good mates and enjoying riding in the sunny but cool temperatures and remember why you love it so much!

South Africa has seen a steady increase in the number of designated mountain bike trails and trail parks over the last few years meaning that we now have more to choose from than ever before when deciding where to take our bikes for an adventure or just an easy Sunday trail ride! Find some info below on what you can expect from each spot and a couple of good accommodation recommendations from the area.

Ride Mpumalanga | MTO Trails White River

Number of Unique Trails: 40+
Total Distance of All Trails:
70+ km

If you’re familiar with the MTO Trails in Jonkershoek and Plettenberg Bay you’ll know to expect some great riding in the Lowveld as well! The MTO Trails network that spans the forest West of White river (20 minutes outside Nelspruit) is jam packed with grin inducing flow trails that drop and wind their way through a mix of plantation forest and indigenous bush.

Beyond the trails you have plenty of forest roads to explore and up the mileage (though there are enough trails in the forest to keep you busy for a week or so) and the nature of the landscape means you’ll easily get in a a lot of elevation (and descent) on your rides, taking in gorgeous views of the Lowveld as you go. Trail and marathon bikes with fast rolling tires will be right at home here.

Ride The Best Trails That South Africa Has To Offer This Winter
Views like this abound on the MTO Lowveld Trails and what goes up must come down (some incredible flow trails!) (c) MTO Lowveld

The trails here range in difficulty with plenty of beginner and intermediate level trails and a few that will test your bike handling a bit more. They are built incredibly well, making them very intuitive to ride and read as you go. Most of the riding is ‘flow trail’ style with a handful of rock gardens scattered about. There are a couple of fun trails close to the Trails head near Uplands School (nearest to town) that are suitable for younger kids (with an accompanying adult) to explore and experience some fun on as well (Byron’s Bush Tunnel, Angazi, Airfield, and Komatiland Bush Tunnel)!

Ride The Best Trails That South Africa Has To Offer This Winter
Feel the flow on the Lowveld! Bush tunnels are a big theme here and you’re going to love them! (c) MTO Lowveld

The neighbouring Sabie trails are also worth a visit, as are the Trailworx trails that start from Friend’s Cafe in Nelspruit.

Must-Do Trails: Byron’s Bush Tunnel for ultimate flow. Komatiland Bush Tunnel for something a little more technical and long. Kukka Pines is a long winding descent through plantation forest that allows you to carry good speed. Paradise Pass takes you on a beautiful carving ridge-line trail that plunges into indigenous forest, could easily become your favourite!

Where to Stay: MTO have transformed their beautiful stone farmhouse situated in the heart of the Trail Centre, into a self-catering home for approximately 10 guests. Over 100 years old, the original stone architecture and beautiful views provide the ultimate getaway destination. You will also find plenty of other accommodation options in the town of in White River, from where you can pedal right onto the trails.

Permits: R60 pp/d

Ride Mpumalanga | Tranquilitas at Waterval Boven

Number of Unique Trails: 14+
Total Distance of All Trails: 80 km

A mountain biking haven that is growing in popularity each year, Tranquilitas has (among other marathon style trails) a set of 4+ km downhill flow trails that transport you through indigenous forests and grasslands down to the shuttle pickup spot for the next lap. These trails cater for all skill levels and can be enjoyed on trail or marathon bikes.

You’ll also find a variety of other, well-marked trails, with gentle contouring climbs and flowing descents across the 80 km of single-track at an altitude of 1600m to 2000m above sea level. The trails here have options of easy or technical terrain and distances vary to accommodate all fitness levels. 

The trailhead is situated at the Tranquilitas campsite and all routes through the forest and mountains offer glimpses of the historical sites, landmarks and beautiful scenery. Due to the altitude, riding is possible year round but conditions can change dramatically. In winter the stable weather means the trails dry out and become faster rolling, and a little loose in places. The mornings and evening can be chilly but riding from a couple hours after sunrise will be a treat!

Must-Do Trails: The Tranquilitas Long-drop is phenomenal. You can be dropped off at the very top to ride a 12 km downhill into the gorge with an 800m elevation drop. Cap it off with a beer and a burger at Rockydrift and a shuttle back to the trail centre!

These Are Best Trails To Ride In South Africa
Glenn Harrison’s trails are absolute masterpieces.

Where to Stay: Tranquilita offers a variety of affordable accommodation options. Camping on the lawns with shady trees or making use of the Perma-tents with their own kitchenette. Alternatively, you can rent a chalet or check out the ‘Max-tents’ that offer a superb view over the valley in exquisite luxury. Larger groups and families can make use of the farmhouse that sleeps up to 12 people.

Permits: Day permit R60, week permit R160

Ride Limpopo | Summerplace Game Reserve

Number of Unique Trails: 40+
Total Distance of All Trails: 100+ km

Summerplace Game Reserve is undoubtedly a destination riding experience. The 3 hour drive north from Johannesburg will take you into the Waterberg’s rolling hills where some unique cycling (and game viewing) experiences lie in wait.

“Summerplace Game Reserve is where Cycling meets Nature. That is both in the case of getting to ride alongside the likes of Roan antelope and giraffe, as well as the way that our trails interact with the terrain in a natural way the flows with the relief of the land. 

We’ve built our trails progressively so that they can be ridden by riders of all skill levels (I.e. all drop offs can be rolled) but you will naturally become a better rider while doing them!” – David Baber, owner and trail builder at Summerplace

The hand-built trails here are a mixture of easy going marathon riding and some more enduro-style gravity fed experiences. Dave Baber is constantly at work with a team of 8 builders to create new additions to the networks and ensure all trails run in tip top condition for visitors to the reserve. Having recently just hosted the inaugural Waterbury Traverse stage race, the trail network is growing in popularity and high regard. Trails runners are welcome too!

Must-Do Trails: Super Scoop for flow, Red Mountain for rocks!

These Are Best Trails To Ride In South Africa
The rocks out here are serious business but the trails are so well built that you’ll leave riding more confidently than when you arrived!

Where to Stay: There is a host of luxury accommodation options around the farm that offer privacy and the ability to ride straight out onto the trails from your doorstep. If you’re down for the rustic vibe, camping options are also available.

Permits: Included in accommodation.

Ride KZN | Karkloof Country Club

Number of Unique Trails: 200+
Total Distance of All Trails: 250+ km

Just about everyone has heard of the Karkloof’s trails but not all have experienced them. The sheer volume of high quality trails designed for mountain biking in the region make it one of the best destinations you could pick for a riding holiday. As a bonus you’ll find some of the best gravel road riding SA has to offer here as well as stunning trail running routes to explore.

These Are Best Trails To Ride In South Africa
The Karkloof’s trails are expertly built and offer something for every preference and skill level!

“Karkloof Trails are unique just because there is so much on offer. There are countless trails weaving through the Karkloof of all difficulty grades, terrain types, and of course trail styles, there is something for everyone. The area is also home to the stunning Karkloof Falls and many more gems too.” – Keira Duncan, Karkloof’s trail manager

Situated just north of Pietermaritzburg, the Karkloof makes for a great weekend destination for Joburgers heading South and with 250+ km of trail, you won’t be getting bored there anytime soon! The routes are well marked to guide you through the best offerings of the area. If you haven’t explored the Karkloof, you don’t know what you’re missing out on!

Must-Do Trails: Miya’s Meander and Prodigal Son

Where to Stay: Rockwood Karkloof Lodges located right on the trail network for easy access to the best flow in SA from your doorstep.

Permits: Yes, R80 per day or R1485 per year.

Ride Eastern Cape | MTO Garden Route

Number of Unique Trails: 10+
Total Distance of All Trails: 60+ km

The MTO trails of Jonkershoek are renowned but you may not have heard of their White River trails in Mpumalanga or indeed their Garden Route network, which is their newest edition of MTB and running trails.

Ride The Best Trails That South Africa Has To Offer This Winter
Float like a butterfly (c) MTO

The trails lie just to the west of the Plettenberg Bay town and can be accessed via Cairnbrogie MTB Trails. On this network you’ll find a heap of blissful flow trails that sweep down the slopes of the MTO forest with beautifully arcing corners. All of the trails are suitable for a marathon bike with smooth flow being the name of the game. Let off the brakes and trust the corners!

“We are truly blessed with some awesome trails here in the Garden route, especially around Plett and Knysna. We have built over 60 km of mind-blowing single-track which weaves its way through the fynbos, indigenous forests, and our own pine plantations. These trails were crafted by locals with trail riders in mind. There is a great variety for everyone, and most trails are nice and flowy and easy for all skill levels.” Douw Van Der Merwe, Eco Tourism Manager at MTO

These Are Best Trails To Ride In South Africa
Trust the corners! (c) MTO

While in the Garden route area, it is worth checking out the Witfontein trails on the George side and the 3 Rivers Trails on the PE side of Plettenberg Bay. This region is booming with new trail parks, putting itself on the mountain biking map of South Africa in a big way!

Must-Do Trails:  Try the Bayview Cliffhanger for its beautiful cliff-edge drama, then the variety fiesta of Santa Cruza RocknRolla, and the pure speed rush of Old Coot!

Where To Stay: Plettenberg Bay has a range of great Air BnB options that will put you close to the trails.

Permits: Yes, R50 per day or R650 per year.

Ride the Free State | Clarens

Number of Unique Trails: 7
Total Distance of All Trails: 20km + loads of gravel roads

Clarens is a lovely town set in the foothills of the Maluti mountains just North of Lesotho. The large sandstone rock formations that surround the town are truly breathtaking and make for an incredibly scenic riding destination. Don’t expect 100s of km of trail like you’ll find in the Karkloof but rather a small selection of handcut trails that will take you on a tour through this amazing landscape, along with some stunning cruises on the tar and gravel roads that surround this little town.

Ride The Best Trails That South Africa Has To Offer This Winter
These rock formations are classic Clarens scenes!

Some of the go-to trails in the area are the Toeka Loop which is a 45km gravel ride through some of the most scenic farms just outside of Clarens. The loop consists of undulating gravel roads with a total ascent of 450m. The Fouriesberg Road is worth visiting for the views alone! This 75km ‘there and back’ route will offer up mesmerising views of the Maluti Mountains as it takes you to Fouriesberg and back again. Most trails start and end in the heart of the village which is perfect for sipping a cold beer at Clarens Brewery afterwards!

Must-Do Trails and Routes: The Sky Contour – don’t let the distance mislead you with a total of 17km. The first 5km are straight up with a bit of ‘hike your bike’ in places. Once at the top, its flowing single track will take you through the Clarens Village Conservancy winding your way down over slabs of sandstone back to the village centre. Another option is the Mega Maluti Loop, a 95km route that takes you through the Golden Gate National Park, then back to the village of Clarens on scenic gravel roads.

Where to Stay: Clarens is packed with great BnBs. You can check out The Stoke House, Meander Stay, and Forrest Lane for starters!

Permits: Clarens Village Conservancy permit, R30

Through this list you may have either discovered a gem nearby your planned holiday destination or added a few items to your riding bucket list! If the options here aren’t quite what you’re looking for, you can find more resources on Where To Ride in RSA here.

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