Plans had been made for a while to pack my bike, plenty of spares, and my camping gear to do an East Coast Road trip all the way down to Mt Stromlo in Canberra and back. I’d drop in on mountain bike trail networks in between and ride, drive and repeat for 2 or so weeks. In the early months of 2021 though, it just didn’t seem feasible to cross so far into the boundaries of another state. Turbulent government restrictions may have meant logistical challenges along the way. So, I planned to venture far north in my own state of Queensland to the wonders in and around the Atherton Forest Mountain Bike Park. I came to realise that I was meant to head in this direction all along – what a place!
Atherton sits atop the Tablelands Region in North Queensland. It is most local to the city of Cairns which is 80km to the north-east. For a Brisbanite like myself, there would be a 1700km drive to get to the town. Atherton is a social multicultural town and serves as an economic hub for the surrounding agricultural industry in the Tablelands. With over 50kms of mountain bike trails right at the west boundary of town, Tablelands locals and those willing to make the trip have plenty of opportunity to get their bikes dirty! Amongst those 50kms of trails are some wrist testing descents, scenic climbs, and traversing trails that meander through seas of greenery. The whole park is maintained by volunteers from the local club, and the trails serve as host to occasional Cross Country and Enduro format events. I was there solo in the final days of March to see how many of these trails I could cover on my YT Izzo.
The Tablelands that Atherton is home to is no stranger to rain in the tropical region of Queensland. I was gifted with some decent rain on the first day to make for some grippy conditions. The trails themselves are cut into very hardpack dirt represented by plenty of traffic and the humid conditions – rain to pack the soil and then the sun to dry it all up again. The trail network is integrated into an outcrop of the Mt Baldy range where the trails themselves are laced into the contour of the hillside. The park makes for some spectacular views on the climbing trails as you look east out of the range over Atherton being hugged by the clouds. I covered almost all of the trails in the park for my booked time there. Each one had something to enjoy, but here are my favourite three trail experiences in the MTB park of Atherton:
Stairway to Heaven
The Stairway to Heaven is the most spectacular climbing trail I have ever ridden. 11kms from the “Roundabout” trail intersection on the park’s north takes you up the main ridge in a series of endless switchbacks. One after the other, the switchbacks take you up 540 metres of ascending to the top of the Mt Baldy range. The climb is long, but the grade is incredibly well planned to sap your energy oh so slowly. You will still have plenty in your legs for a descent into Drop Zone two-thirds of the way up, or Ricochet or Yahoo Wahoo at the very top. Along the way are stone benches to have a seat and take in the fresh air whilst the town of Atherton awaits your return below.
Top Deck to Yahoo Wahoo
Top Deck is another climbing trail that starts in the central west valley of the park. 3km from its start takes you up 230 vertical metres of climbing. If you got sick of switchbacks from the Stairway to Heaven, stay away from Top Deck as they are this trail’s second event too! The first event is the ever-growing view to the east as you make your way up the hillside. The dirt is hard and easy to keep speed on. It makes the climb to the top a treat whether you’re looking at the trail, or the scenery beyond. Top Deck reaches the top of the range like the Stairway, and you can loop straight into a joker of a trail – Yahoo Wahoo. The Yahoo is the parallel descent to the Top Deck Climbing trail. It pierces through the rainforest in the first third of its 3km with slippery berms and jumps – definitely the Wahoo! The remainder of the descent is a fast bench cut singletrack feeding you into a collection of broad corners to the middle of the valley where you can head back to the car, or have another go up Top Deck! Bring your braking fingers for this one as every corner is a new challenge.
Like a bullet from a gun, Ricochet shoots you straight downhill off the top of the range at the west edge of the Atherton MTB park. It is a blue square trail and a 9 minute test of grip strength right down to the base car park. Berms the height of house walls and tabletop jumps that could clear cars bounce you down the range at exciting speeds. Ricochet has some awesome high trail speed to offer, as long as you have the grit to hold on! Although it is the furthest to get to from the car park, it is the quickest to put a smile on your dial. I’d recommend planning to ride Ricochet at least twice in your time at Atherton!
Atherton Forest MTB Park refilled my “stoke” meter for months to come. Not once did I think back on planning to go south as my first preference for my MTB road trip. The town of Atherton has everything to offer during a stay in terms of eats, accommodation, and further activities once your legs are burnt for the day. Drop into Lake Eacham 20mins away for a post-ride swim in an ancient crater full of fresh water! The trails themselves are incredibly well built and inspire easy speed across the park’s terrain. I’ll be back at Atherton should I find myself anywhere near the region again. My only tip for anyone making the trek there for the first time: take a hydration pack with you! Once you get going, you won’t want to go back to the car for supplies so pack them all up with you. The USWE or CamelBak range from Pushys both have Atherton-perfect packs so you can spend more time taking in the trails, vistas and laughs. Stay in the town of Atherton and set out for hours on the trails and you’ll only want to make that dirty bike even dirtier – as soon as your legs will allow it!
More photos below!
Eva the YT Izzo – ever reliable and the perfect companion for 3 days of trail adventures
A sea of green along the weaves of Trail 4 in the main valley of the park
Looking out over Top Deck toward a cloud-covered Atherton below
Hardpack bench cuts to take you up, up and away on the Stairway to Heaven!
Categories: Riding Tips