Pump Up Your Mountain Bike Skills

– by Matthew Leverknight

If you love the thrill and challenge of mountain biking, you know that when bikers discuss the best places to test their skills, the mountain ridges that surround Happy Valley are often mentioned. This area has become a premier East Coast destination for mountain bikers of all skill levels, who are drawn to the hundreds of miles of trails (290 miles in Rothrock State Forest alone) it has to offer. The abundance of trails to choose from can be overwhelming when planning your trip, but fortunately this area is also home to dedicated enthusiasts who dedicate their time to mapping out the best rides to choose from.

Rothrock bikers ecs20201023 DSC 1563 EDITED

But before hitting the challenging singletrack trails over our ridges and through our (happy) valleys, don’t forget to take advantage of local skills parks to fine-tune your riding before heading out on your next grand adventure. The area is home to several mountain biking parks, with more on the way.

Rothrock State Forest

The centerpiece of Happy Valley’s mountain biking opportunities, Rothrock is loaded with trails to choose from. As a part of Pennsylvania’s large state forest system, Rothrock is free to the public to enjoy for many recreation activities, including hiking and mountain biking. Because it is a working forest and a mixed use area, always do your research before you go and make sure to wear safety orange during PA’s hunting seasons, especially during the peak deer hunting seasons between October and December.

One of the top access points for this area is the Galbraith Gap Parking Area just outside Boalsburg. From here, you can access multiple trails that can be mixed and matched to form almost unlimited loops for biking adventures, including the Rothrock Trailmix, classified as an IMBA Epic adventure. This is a challenging 36-mile loop loaded with a fantastic variety of ridge top views, technical riding sections, flow sections and solid climbs (over 4,000 total feet of ascent).

Another top destination is the Cooper’s Gap area, which also boasts an epic-style 30 mile loop with slightly less rugged terrain than the Trailmix. This area can be accessed from a trailhead along Chestnut Spring Rd/Coopers Gap Rd (gravel road) in Huntingdon County.

If that’s more than you want to tackle, no worries! The trails that make up the Trailmix and Cooper’s Gap loop can be enjoyed on their own for a shorter or more targeted ride. For help planning your Rothrock adventure, all the trails within Rothrock can be found on your favorite mountain biking trail map website or app to get you started on planning for your next adventure.

Harvest Fields

Why Visit a skill park

When you don’t have time for a long trail ride, or need to practice your technical riding skills to get ready for the most challenging trails around Happy Valley, the area also offers skill parks and pump tracks to use to develop your abilities in a controlled environment. Skill parks are carefully designed to include a variety of surfaces, such as dirt, gravel, and stone, and terrain such as rollers, drops, step-ups, switchbacks, log hops, and more.

While standard skill parks are built to train for a mix of terrain and surfaces, pump tracks are focused on developing a specific technical skill: “pumping”. Pumping your bike involves generating momentum using up and down body motion instead of pedaling. Becoming skilled at pumping your bike allows you to improve your ability to brake, turn, and jump your bike with greater confidence and helps maintain momentum, conserving energy. Because of this focus, pump tracks typically are a small circuit made up of rollers, banked turns and other features that can be ridden without using your pedals at all. Skilled pump track riders can even ride using bikes that the chains have been removed from!

Hamer Bike Park

Opened in the spring of 2023, this skills trail is part of the larger Harvest Fields outdoor recreation complex in Boalsburg, just a short drive from Galbraith Gap. Built and maintained under the oversight of the dedicated members of the Nittany Mountain Biking Association, this bike park is part of a growing selection of mountain biking opportunities located at Harvest Fields, which also includes longer bike trails and mountain biking training, with more to come. This venue was specifically designed to be a gateway for riders of all ages and abilities to grow their biking skills and prepare them for the technical challenges of Rothrock State Forest’s most thrilling rides.

Philipsburg Pump Track

Located adjacent to the Slabtown Skate and Bike Park in Philipsburg, this compact pump track tucked between baseball fields has been providing a practice opportunity for local bikers since 2015, and was one of the first asphalt paved pump tracks in Pennsylvania. It’s a great place to get an introduction to pumping, and is usable when extended rain has made dirt-surfaced tracks temporarily inaccessible.

Looking Ahead: Bernel Road - Pump Track

A future addition to the area’s biking opportunities is in the works at Bernel Road Park, just 5 minutes from the State College Regional Airport. This park is owned by Patton Township and maintained by Centre Region Parks & Recreation. Currently, the facility boasts a picnic area with tables and charcoal grills, a playground, walking path, and tennis/pickleball courts. This year, they’ve been working on adding a second stage to this multi-use park, which will include a new dirt surfaced pump track, along with exercise equipment. We look forward to reporting when the pump track at this park has been completed and is open for use. Follow Centre Region Parks & Recreation for updates on this new facility.

The Happy Valley Adventure Bureau publishes up-to-date event information at HappyValley.com/events