I was introduced to the mountain bike trails in Manitoba’s Birds Hill Park by a fellow mountain biker I met on a Winnipeg bike forum. He’s an avid biker who seemed to know his way around the park very well and had been mountain biking for many years more than myself. Yet even he didn’t know about some of the excellent single track trails I found there this year! More on that later, first I’ll tell you about the bike trails he did show me.
Birds Hill has an area in the North full of walking, hiking, and horse back riding trails. This is where perhaps the most interesting of the mountain bike trails are hiding. Read on and you'll know where to find all the great single track mountain bike trails in Birds Hill Park. Be sure you check out the Birds Hill Park Map so that you can get a good feel for the area you'll be biking in.
If you can find your way to Griffiths Hill then you are doing good. You’ll know if you’ve made it because there’s a viewing tower there (see map legend). From there you don’t have to go very far to discover some very interesting trails that cycle up and down a ridge created by glaciers. Bike your way behind the tower on the “Esker" trail and look for entrances down the ridge on your left hand side. Yeah, THAT’S what I’m talking’ about! Short and cool little single track trails that twist through the trees. They’re fun to descend and challenging to climb. I think there’s three or four of them along the Esker trail behind the tower which descend down to the “Chickadee" trail (again, consult you legend). Now, come back to the tower and take your bike along the Bluestem trail heading in an Eastern direction. You should be on top of a ridge again and be able to very quickly (within 20 feet) find entrances to descend the ridge. Very fun mountain biking.
Now, back to this trail I discovered this year. It’s very well known, but I think it’s fairly new. It’s called the “Bur Oak" trail. Look at your map again. Look in the South-West corner of the map for a number seven in a circle. That’s the Bur Oak trail. It’s actually a paved walking trail, but on the outside of the paved walking trail a wicked single-track mountain bike trail has been cut. It’s used for races on some Wednesday nights in the summer. Olympia cycle puts it on I believe. You can pull your car right into a spacious parking area complete with picnic tables, covered picnic area, fire pits, and washrooms. The trail is fast and twisty hard packed single track that varies from flat to up and down. From the parking lot look for the trail entrance just next to the covered picnic area. This section can be ridden very fast but has it’s share of twists and turns, so remember the golden rule of single track mountain biking: look ahead. Look way ahead, around the next corner. Your peripheral vision will take care of your immediate needs, and looking ahead will allow your brain to register what’s coming and remove any surprises. It’s like the Bush regime doctrine of pre-emption, only with less death.
After you ride for about 10-20 minutes (depending on your speed) you will arrive at a three-way crossroads. Stay left and you complete the trail circle with about the same amount of riding left…but you don’t want to do that if you have the energy for a little more! Head down the trail in the middle and you treat yourself to some windy root-filled descending. You will emerge from the trail on the left, so you have the option of taking that one now as well and then emerging in the middle. Make sense? The trail on the left appears to head along a sand-ridge, which it does for a short time. Quickly you will see a trail entrance on your left-hand side which has a straight descent followed by an entrance to your left. The reason I say take the trail in the middle is because you get to descend the twisty stuff instead of climbing it, which is better for my old legs.
Birds Hill Park is famous for the Winnipeg Folk Festival which comes rain or sun every July. I think the Winnipeg Folk Festival was voted best festival in North America recently. I usually go camp in the festival camping, which is a little wild and loud but very safe and full of amazing people, sites, and sounds. There's other camping with more services for people who want more quiet or privacy. Where I camp there is a hill called Popes Hill that festival campers play bongo and dance and hang out on ‘till the wee hours of the morning. John Paul 2 visited Popes Hill back in 84 (don't quote me, that's according to Mark). The hill is sizable and fun to ride up and down. Nothing crazy, fairly smooth but it's good practice. Look for it North of East Gate Drive. On the map look to the East end of the park for an L shape which is the road around the festival (a. k. a. group) camping area. Go down that L shaped road and you'll see trail-heads that lead into the camping area. You will find lot's of neat camping spots with BBQ's for some wieners, and if you walk West across the camp area you'll soon see The Hill which is a great place to visit on a bike or by foot.
The final trail system in Birds Hill Park I’ll tell you about is not really on the map. Across the street from the White tailed deer trail is a restaurant. Turn onto the road that the restaurant leads off of and keep going for 50-100 yards. Look for a trail leading off on your right side. I’ve only been through there a couple times, so can’t say much about it other than it’s fun and challenging. There is a gravel pit in there, but you can mostly avoid the sand and gravel while biking around it. You’re likely to see some quads and dirt bikes, but they like to hang out in the pit more than the single track trail. That’s been my limited experience anyway. Make sure your mountain bike is dialed in before you head out, naturally. Take a spare tube and pump. All these trails are doable by the beginner, but don’t make the beginner mistake of not being properly equipped. Most importantly, take lots of water with you. You cannot do these mountain bike trails with only one bottle of water - you need two or a camelback. Mountain Equipment Co-op has excellent deals on camelbacks. It’s their own brand (not the camelback brand name) but they’re less than half the price of the bike shops and they’re perfectly fine. Then you can get rid of that useless under-the-seat bag which keeps breaking and put your tube and tools in your backpack!
Mike Sterling is a mountain biking enthusiast and a regular contributor to http://www.best-mountain-bikes.com , an online resource center for finding high quality mountain bikes, reviews on bikes, parts and accessories, trail information and related topics.