Top 5 mountain biking adventures in Norway

Text: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

The vast and wild northern landscapes of Norway, with the right to roam freely on uncultivated land as the only rule, set the expectations pretty high for mountain bikers. The reality is not as dreamy, as the very democratic Norwegian vision prompts for trails for all, instead of specifically designed for and designated mountain biking, hiking or cross-country skiing tracks… resulting in no ideal trails for anyone. Still, adventurous riders can have a blast and feel like travelling back to the start of mountain biking, using today’s high-tech bikes! Norwegian mountain biking adventures, past bike parks, have to be deserved. But fear not, if you are ready to do some pushing and carrying during your ride, and if you love being fully immersed in nature while enjoying dramatic sceneries, keep on reading to find out where your extra efforts will be greatly rewarded!

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# 1 Mannfjellaksla arctic ridgeline ride [+/-550m (1,650ft), 8.8km (5.4 miles) roundtrip]

The majestic Lyngen Alps rising out of the Lyngen Fjord about two hours east of Tromsø, are a paradise for any lover of the outdoors. With its jagged year-round snowy peaks, the backdrop hardly gets more dramatic! The 8.8-kilometre long Mannfjellaksla single-track follows a ridge on the Mannfjellet Mountain, winding its way through a green Nordic pine forest, then past the tree line where blueberries and lingonberries are abundant in the summer.

I push hard on my pedals to make progress along the steep track smoothened by pine-needles. Tree roots crossing the trail require some balancing skills as well as a good cardio on this steady and long uphill. With the altitude, pine trees slowly disappear in favour of dwarf birch trees. Soon, lingonberry and blueberry plants cover the smooth green slope of the mountain in different shades of orange and red during this cold fall day. At times, step ups are way too high to stay on the pedals and the trail gets so steep that some bike pushing is needed. Huffing and puffing, I distract myself enjoying the views on the town of Storfjord in the valley and on the Hattefjellet Mountain north and the Otertinden Peak towering the powerful and winding Signaldal River. I am paying attention to the tricky sections on the way up in order to make the most of the exhilarating downhill to come. Where the trail seems to end, I take in the view one more time, turn my bike 180° and adjust my helmet: after this hardcore uphill, the rather flowy 550-meter drop over 4.3 kilometres is exciting and enjoyable! I am happy I took in the stunning landscape on the way up, as I need my focus to manoeuvre between some roots, past some rocky drops and a few swampy flats.

Travel tips:

  • This trail is best done between late June and early September.
  • Don’t expect any fancy hotels in this area! For the best comfort stay in a cosy cabin at the Strandbu camping in Skibotn.

# 2 Ismenningen to Gjefsjøen: reindeer, WWII & wilderness [+/-1,131m (3,711ft), 44km (27 miles) roundtrip]

In Mid-Norway, in the wilderness above Snåsa, reindeer roam the low mountains of the Blåfjella – Skjækerfjella / Låarte-Skæhkere National Park. This remote area is not only stunning, but also an important place for the history of the resistance in Norway during World War II. The only US-run operation on Norwegian soil was orchestrated in these mountains by Major William Colby (who will lead the CIA in the 1970’s). The very cabin from which Operation Rype was run to sabotage the withdrawal of German forces in 1945 can be reached after a demanding mountain biking outing that can be split over two days.

If on paper, the 1,131 meters of positive elevation to conquer over three mountain tops for a roundtrip of 44 kilometres seems challenging yet feasible, the reality is more difficult! In the low mountains, flats across swampy areas become even more challenging than uphill sections where we often need to carry our bikes! Luckily, we get distracted by the beauty of the landscapes and by a few lonely reindeer. On mountain tops, we thoroughly enjoy rolling sections on large rock slabs, and we have a blast on the tricky downhills, zigzagging between rocks. We eventually reach the resistance base by the Gjefsjøen summer mountain farm (where it is possible to spend the night), before taking the same way back to return to the cosy Ismenningen Fjellstuggu chalet, at the start of the trail.

Well-marked, the path is more often used by hikers than by mountain bikers and requires quite a bit of stamina to conquer. Still, it is one of the most beautiful and desolated trails we have experienced in Norway and it is well worth every effort!

Travel tips:

  • For all tips and a full story about this amazing outing, check out this article.
  • The trail to the farm is well-marked and is done best between July and early September. In winter, it can be done on skis or by snowmobile.
  • Make sure to spend a couple of nights at the remote Ismenningen Fjellstugu for a truly Norwegian experience in the wilderness.

# 3 The legendary Golden Trail in the Lyngen Alps [+/-510m (1,673ft), 11.4km (7 miles) roundtrip]

Forget about the well-engineered pump tracks with great flow in the rough Norwegian outdoors? Not quite! And we can thank the Lyngen Trail Centre for building the best mountain biking tracks of the country. This is what you get when a bunch of passionate ski guides settle in the beautiful Lyngen Alps, a Mecca for ski touring. Expanding on the natural and legendary Golden Trail, Utah-based Andrew Moeller built more mountain biking tracks, and today, Patrik Jonsson and his wife Hendrika have expanded even more for their own summer fun. The Lyngen Trail Centre has evolved in a compact and exhilarating network of green to black singletracks starting at the no-frills and homey Magic Mountain Lodge in Lyngseidet. Run by Patrik and Hendrika, who occasionally guide their guests by bike too, it is also a service centre where everything is well thought-through for the perfect mountain biking holiday.

All geared-up, we slowly go up the Jeep track used by the neighbouring farmers to reach the start of the funky singletracks. Sheep and stunning views on the Lygenfjord and snowy jagged mountain peaks in the background make up for the frustratingly muddy path! Once up, we launch ourselves on the impressively steep Banana Trail that sets the tone! It is shortly followed by the renowned Golden Trail, a roller coaster along streams and past waterfalls through the stunning Rottenvik forest that is turning yellow to red in this early September. The riding flows and gets technical. Full suspension bikes help mastering roots, berms, fun jumps and drop offs. Every trail is rather short and well connected to others, allowing for a full day of fun.

Just across the fjord from Skibotn, the location of the Magic Mountain Lodge in Lyngseidet is perfect to spend several days riding the Lyngen Alps, and break it with either a hike to the stunning Blue Ice Lake or a whiskey tasting at Aurora distillery, world’s northernmost!

Travel tips:

  • Mountain biking is best between mid-June and September.
  • The place to stay to really enjoy the trails is the Magic Mountain Lodge where you will meet other passionate bikers and get first-hand advice to make the most of your days!

# 4 Bergen from above and beyond [+/-770m (2,526ft) – 16.8km (10.5miles)]

Bergen, Norway’s second city and picturesque harbour town with its cosmopolitan vibe is surrounded by no less than seven mountains, just at the edge of town. The outdoors has hardly ever been that close!

With about 420,000 inhabitants in the surroundings, trails are well maintained. Our favourite one combines a physical climb, stupendous city views, fun gravel tracks and fast downhills through the Bergens Fjellstrekninger, one of the many nature reserves around town. A few kilometres away from town, it offers a completely off-the-beaten path experience!

This mountain biking workout starts with a long climb up Fløyen, Bergen’s most popular peak linked to the touristy Bryggen by a funicular. If queues can be long on sunny days, the winding road that zigzags with the funicular is quiet, crossing path with some locals working out or simply enjoying the outdoors. The view by the upper funicular station looks even more beautiful after climbing it up and truly deserving it! From that point on, past the funny troll forest, we barely see anyone on the gravel roads that goes even further up in the mountain through pine forests and past lakes. The vistas only get better: Bergen and its archipelago, the North Sea dotted by salmon farms…

Before the fast downhill starts, we are surrounded by sheep, and cannot spot any form of settlement, feeling completely lost in the wilderness barely a stone’s throw away from the beating heart of Bergen. The trail follows a gravel road that is not very technical and very flowy, perfect for beginners.

Other peaks around town are crisscrossed by more trails, including some more advanced ones, that are all interconnected and provide an excellent way to apprehend Bergen, away from the tourist tracks.

Travel tips:

  • There is a ton to do in Bergen! Check out this article.
  • For the most comfortable experience, stay at the Bergen Børs Hotel in the vibrant heart of town.

# 5 Skibotn Trails [+/-350m (1,150ft) – 6.2km (3.9 miles)]

Just outside the small settlement of Skibotn on the opposite side of the Lyngen Fjord from where you will find the Golden Trail, a series of tracks cover the forested slopes bordering the village. The area attracts many Norwegians for its rather stable weather with clear skies which are excellent for stargazing and admiring the northern lights in the winter. During the day, its network of trails will keep the most advanced mountain bikers entertained including some hardcore riding.

I try to keep up with my guide, Georg Sichelschmidt, director of tourism for Visit Lyngenfjord and fervent mountain biker himself, who is eager to show us his favourite trails. The singletrack winds its way up through the pine forest along the omnipresent blueberry bushes. With my cardio on high, I quit the talk and focus on making progress. Alone, further to the back, I take a glimpse at a shadow amongst the trees. It is too large to be a reindeer… I keep focusing. “A moose!” I exclaim to myself, while Scandinavian’s largest land animal already runs off, giving me motivation to accelerate my pace in the hope of catching up. It is unbelievable how such a large animal camouflages so well! I follow him for a short while, my sight locked on his large antlers, and I eventually catch up… with my mountain biking companions!

They have been waiting for me atop a viewing platform offering unobstructed vistas on the Lyngenfjord with the dramatic Lyngen Alps in the background. A few kilometres further, it is the 233-meter high Hengen waterfall that offers another perfect resting spot after yet another demanding uphill. “You can just keep biking here taking whichever trail down you want, and you will end up by the main road from where it is easy to navigate”, George explains, as he starts pedalling and disappearing in a steep and short downhill, manoeuvring between tree trunks. Despite the shortness of the trails, their technicality makes them a fantastic and fun training ground.

Travel tips:

  • Download our GPS track to not miss out on the waterfall or just roam the various tracks and let your intuition guide you!
  • These trails are best done between late June and early September.
  • Don’t expect any fancy hotels in this area! For the best comfort stay in a cosy cabin at the Strandbu camping in Skibotn.
  • For more about the Lyngen Fjord and to prepare your trip visit this website.

For more awesome mountain biking around the world!

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