There is no order to these places. They are just trails I personally get a kick out of. And I should also point out that I haven’t been riding for very long – only just more than a year as of this writing. So please take these recommendations with a pinch of trail dust.
There may seemingly be a few noticeable omissions when you compare this list to others, but those have been left off intentionally as I did not enjoy riding them for whatever reason. (Usually, these reasons include difficult access for people not driving 4x4s, problematic trails and signage, and the necessity for walker slaloming.) Things may have changed for these contenders in the meantime, and I will update this list as I go back. If you have any you strongly feel should be added, please suggest them in the comments below.
The trails I recommend below are mostly for novices and intermediate riders. I prioritized places that offer a variety of experiences, challenges, and landscapes – and places that feel safe and secure. I’m sure a few of the black-trail, carbon-clipless crowd will scoff at some of these – but they will probably not need a list like this anyway.
What you have to appreciate most about Northern Farm is the assortment of people (and bicycles) you see out on the trails. Big and small, old and young, novice riders and trail blasters – Northern Farm has something for everyone. There are a great variety of landscapes to pedal through – from open farmlands to verdant river sections. It is one of the most popular destinations around but very often, even on the busiest weekends, you see very few people on the trails.
The pink and green trails mostly follow farm roads and jeep tracks and are appropriate for families – or those just finding their pedals. From there distances and challenges go up from blue to red to purple – with some short black technical sections thrown in for radical riders.
Once you know the place you can even start to customise your own routes using the marked two-way tracks and roads (but please don’t go the wrong way around the single-track sections – and do stay left when you see someone coming head-on).
Trails are well-marked and nicely maintained. Parking is secure and the whole place feels safe. Grab a brekkie roll and a coffee from Luther while you wait for your bike to be washed.
Unlike all the other trails reviewed below, Northern Farm operates only on the weekends and over public holidays and pre-booking is required. They also have some interesting special events throughout the year – like the Halloween evening ride and the Jackal Dash, so check out their site for updates: https://northernfarm.org.za/
Modderfontein Reserve (Taroko Trails)
Modders can and does, predictably, get a bit muddy in the rainy season – but even then, if you can get through the mud, it is such an agreeable ride. Like Northern Farm, it does have a great variety of challenges and landscapes – from winding river trails to rock domes to forested switchbacks, and even the eerie, semi-abandoned AECI village you can ride through.
There can be quite a bit of elevation gain in some places, so you are more than likely going to need that granny gear. There are also some sections which are deceptively tricky: slow down, look ahead, and use your judgement.
It is strange just how spookily quiet it is in some parts of the Reserve – just a hop and a skip from Sandton central, and with the Gautrain skimming by every few minutes.
Different routes are clearly marked, and trails are decently maintained. Don’t be put off by the number of cars in the parking lot if you do visit over the weekend – most of these people are walkers and hikers – or are browsing the market – and you hardly see any other riders once you get a bit more deeply into the bike trails.
There is a huge parking area (mostly devoid of shade, unfortunately), as well as an excellent bike wash facility at the Trail Wolf bike shop. Add good coffee, and a pleasant clubhouse, and you have a winning day out.
Rosemary Hill is a beautiful as the name suggests. Trails are diverse with some very interesting features thrown in just to keep you focused (including chicken-runs for the more cautious). The first loop is very family friendly, and the second loop is a bit more challenging. I absolutely adore the weirdness of things like the ‘safe graveyard’ – not to mention the wooden reservoir loop (sadly, the container obstacle seems to have been removed). But I also appreciate the serenity of the bushveld and farms and free roaming horses you see as you pedal through.
Rosemary Hill has a good restaurant and secure parking so do grab a little something after your ride.
A small note of caution: there is a small stretch of dirt road before you get to Rosemary Hill – most cars can negotiate it fairly easily, but do take care.
Also, RH doesn’t seem to have a bike wash facility – something I think would be relatively easy to implement.
Van Gaalen Trails (at the Van Gaalen Kaasmakerij)
Nestled up against the Magaliesberg in the Skeerpoort Valley, Van Gaalen’s is more than a little different. There are internal trails mostly around the river and up to the Greek church (these are the green and blue routes respectively). And these are beautiful even if they are sometimes more challenging both on your suspension and your skill levels than they seem at first.
But the place really starts to become exceptional once you start riding around on some of the dirt roads and trails in the neighbouring farms. Signposting is a little tricky at times outside of Van Gaalen’s, so consider doing a bit of planning before you go – and take the regular supplies and equipment for just in case. Do note that when they mark an external trail as ‘advanced’ or ‘technical’ they really do mean what they say.
To round things out: Secure parking, a decent restaurant and, of course, cheese on sale. Don’t forget to say hello to the friendly landowners you may pass on the way.
Hennops River Trails
If you’re lucky, you’ll be greeted by the resident doggos when you arrive. And from there things just get better – if that is at all possible. Hennops does have a beginner loop, but it really shines for the more intermediate riders. There are some really challenging climbs and some, shall we say ‘snaky’ descents. Most trails branch off the main dirt road though, so you can shortcut these if they sound a bit rough to you.
I haven’t seen much myself, but apparently there are some wild animals to look out for – including zebra, warthogs, kudu, jackal, 4x4s, and hikers.
Please note: At the time of writing Hennops has had to reroute some trails owning to the floods caused by the prolonged rains in the early part of 2022. Please consult their website for updates.
Hazeldean Valley Trails
What I do like most about Hazeldean is the genius mix-and-match trail system. There are three areas: Bushveld, Farmland, and River – each with their own series of choices for distance and difficulty – and all leading back to the Cowhouse. This makes it easy to repeat, extend, or curtail your ride depending on how you’re feeling. Or to mix and match as you see fit.
Hazeldean has great facilities and secure parking – and a reasonable bike wash.
Note: There is a small but very navigable dirt road to get all the way to the Cowhouse car park from Ridge Road.
Giraffe, zebra, a ‘ghost house’ to pedal through, forest and river sections, and a ‘waterfall’ – what’s not to like? I have always had a great time whenever I have been to Cradle Moon. And for a really extended ride, you can even use this place as a base to do the Cradle loop. https://www.trailforks.com/region/cradle-of-humankind-mtb-loop-41450/
Don’t forget to keep your parking and cycling passes as you will need them at the security station to get out.
Lion and Safari Park Trails
Such a spectacular ride – just a hop and a skip from Lanseria airport. The red trail is VERY tricky, so do take care – perhaps try the yellow first. Abundant wildlife, beautiful scenery, and wonderful facilities.
Venture south of Johannesburg for a good and at times challenging ride.
I debated long and hard about whether or not to include Steyn City’s trails. I am lucky to be able to ride these trails, but they are generally not open to the public – except when competitions and races are held. When they are, I strongly recommend registering just so that you can ride these awesome trails – which I think are amongst the best there are.
Please research these independently before committing to travelling out to any of them. These are not my favourites but I know that many mountain bikers love them.
- Big Red Barn: http://www.thebigredbarn.co.za/big-red-barn-trails/
- Buffelsdrift Trail Park: https://buffelsdriftmtb.co.za/
- Kings Kloof: https://www.kingskloofvenue.co.za/mtb
- Thaba Trails: https://www.thabatrails.com/
- B’sorah: http://www.bsorah.com/magaliesberg-activities/