Mount Stromlo in Canberra, Australia Offers World-Class Mountain Biking, from DH to XC
Mount Stromlo is not necessarily a name that’s familiar to everyone in the mountain bike world. Mention the 2009 Canberra World Champs however, and the story changes. The older riders amongst us will remember this place as something special.
On my first trip to Stromlo, I thought nothing much of the name. Not being from Australia, it wasn’t really on my radar. When we arrived and I took a look at the trail map and saw “World Cup DH” I realized where we were. This was the place. This is where Peaty (Steve Peat) finally won World Champs.
Located just on the outskirts of Canberra, on what is admittedly not a particularly large hill, Mount Stromlo is a fairly unassuming bike park. As I’m sure many will remember from the 2009 World Champs, the terrain isn’t notably steep, nor are the downhill tracks long. However there is a lot here, and it is well built and fun. This place gets pretty busy. It is certainly the busiest trail destination in Canberra and one of the more popular destinations I’ve visited in Australia. The quality of trails, amenities, and ease of access means that Stromlo punches well above its weight.
Mount Stromlo has an observatory at the top, which means there is a road for shuttling!
Stromlo used to have one of the oldest mountain bike trail networks in the country. In 2003 a massive bushfire decimated the mountain, the observatory that sits at the top of it, and more than 500 homes, killing four people. In 2007 the park reopened with a newly-built observatory and a revamped center for recreation in the forest park, including over 40km of mountain bike trails. Fortunately for downhill riders, the tarmac road to the observatory means it’s perfect for shuttled DH runs!
Stromlo has a massive amount of trails for its size, suitable for most levels of ability. Starting at the car park, there is a small information area where the trails begin. There are six mapped loops, starting from green trails up to blue and black. All green trails are singletrack but aren’t technical, just flowy and fun. You can also stitch together your favorite bits and pieces of singletrack. There are a lot of trails but the area is relatively small with only 200m elevation between the top and bottom, so it’s easy to make up a fun ride as long or as short as you want it to be.
The trails here are typical for Australia. Big boulders litter the ground and trails. The dirt gets super dusty, especially when it’s dry, which is most of the time. Canberra is very hot and dry in the summer and most people tend to ride here in the early morning or late afternoon during summer. It does get cold in winter, but it’s still pretty dry, which means perfect riding weather!
The main climb is an easy singletrack spin to the top.
There is one main climb to the top of the mountain. It’s about 180m of vertical gain and is fairly flat singletrack that flows well. It is the type of ascent that almost doesn’t feel like a climb in places because the trail builders have made it quite interesting. Along the way, you will pass a couple of skills areas with ladder bridges of increasing difficulty, seesaws, drops, and jumps. These obstacles are good to play around on and to break the climb up a little.
From the very top, there are a ton of options down. You can either drop down the opposite side of the mountain or down the side you just climbed. There is also the option of riding the black diamond DH tracks that end at the car park.
Sweeping corners interspersed with rock gardens describes a lot of the trails here.
On the side opposite the visitor center and car park, there are a bunch of really fun trails. Starting with Western Wedgetail, a fun green trail with berms and jumps, you can then drop into a pair of blue trails called Pork Barrel and Slick Rock. Pork Barrel is my favorite, with some rocky sections, fun rollers, some jumps, and high-speed sections. There is a steeper, more technical red descent, with rock gardens and drops to keep riders on their toes. The trails all converge at an intersection, and from there riders have a couple more blue trails and a black to the very bottom. Double Dissolution is a great blue trail with tons of flow and some fun gap jumps that can also be rolled.
Rocks, rocks and more rocks here at Stromlo!
To get back to the top, the only options are steep or steeper. Casuarina climb is a steep fire road, and the other option is a singletrack, red-graded climb. Fortunately, this trail is pretty short and worth climbing for the other descents. Riders that are feeling tired can take a series of green trails starting with Crim Track that skirt around the base of the hill to make an easy ride back to the start. These tracks are fun in their own right and end with a super fast, flowing final descent called Old Duffy.
Descents on the side of the hill facing the city are altogether a bit more mellow, with the exception of the downhill runs. The main run that most people ride and enjoy is Skyline into Luge. It’s fairly flat, which means that it’s quite long. I find it a little too flat to carry real speed in a lot of places, making it somewhat anticlimactic. Luge is a little more gravity-oriented with lots of built-up berms, and it seems to be a crowd pleaser. I personally find the berms a little too tight, as though they’ve tried to pack too many in. There are other options on the way down from this side, such as Little Seymour, with more gradient to carry speed.
There are lots of fast trails here where you can carry big speed.
The downhill tracks are your other option on this side of the hill. They’re not super gnarly as downhill tracks go, and the features at the very top of them give a good indication of the rest of the trail.
Vapour is a fairly new black trail with high-speed flow that has a ton of big jumps. Rideable on a capable enduro bike, this trail is big fun if you have the skills to hit the jumps. There are also smaller lines and rollable options on all of the features.
World Cup track is a double black diamond that runs from the very top and has a big gnarly rock garden that some people might remember from watching the World Champs back in 2009. Only the very top section is actually called World Cup. From here on down, the track is littered with gap jumps, drops, and smaller rock features. To your average rider it’s fairly challenging, particularly on a trail bike, and definitely worth a look when you’re riding Stromlo.
The other downhill tracks that run parallel are fairly similar in feel, with big boulders, though these tracks are slightly less challenging. They feature smaller drops and jumps and join up with the jumps playground descent about halfway down. Here, riders will find a bunch of different lines from small to really big. At the bottom, you can either ride the 4X track or the end of the World Cup track, which is flatter with a few gap jumps. Again, this trail is pretty recognizable from World Cup footage.
The top of Luge has lots of corners and jumps where you really have to find your flow.
For downhill-oriented riders, Dynamic Motivation runs a shuttle service at Stromlo most weekends and public holidays. They have two pass options: $50 for a full day, or $200 for 25 lifts, redeemable any time the shuttles are running.
In addition to the XC and DH trails, Stromlo has a bunch of other stuff. As mentioned earlier, the World Cup champs left some really cool trails behind. There is a world class 4x track, a trials area, a bunch of big BMX dirt jumps, and a newly built pump track beside the car park that’s pretty fun to play on or to teach kids how to pump. There is also a closed road-cycling circuit which is frequently raced on, for those who are so inclined.
Stromlo has been going from strength to strength in recent years. The most notable addition is the Handlebar cafe, open Wednesday-Friday in the evenings, and 7:30 am – 9 pm on the weekends. They serve great coffee, food, beer, and wine. It is an awesome place to start or end your ride. They also have a small bike shop with clothing, spare parts, and other gear.
The car park is large enough for a few hundred cars, and it does get pretty full on weekend mornings. There are nice clean toilets, and they even have free showers and taps to fill your water bottles. Stromlo is really becoming a hotspot for visitors.
The new pump track is great for practicing skills.
Canberra is the capital city of Australia, which means there are numerous choices of accommodation, including hotels, motels, and Airbnb. If you are on a budget, the Cotter Campground is a short, 5-minute drive down the road and is fairly cheap with good facilities.
Stromlo has events happening all year, from endurance XC races (some say they started here), to gravity, enduro, and downhill. In June of 2019, round 2 of the Fox Superflow enduro series will take place here, so look out for that. There are also regular evening rides from the Handlebar cafe, and a ladies’ weekend in May.
The Handlebar is a welcome addition, serving great food and drinks all day on the weekends and select evenings.
Canberra is a great area if you’re a mountain biker. Around Canberra itself, there are a host of trails, including and not limited to Majura Pines, Isaac’s Ridge, Bruce Ridge, Tuggeranong, and Sparrow Hill. Personally, I enjoyed Isaac’s Ridge and Majura Pines a lot. Though they’re not hugely expansive, you can ride them both in one day, which makes a good weekend of riding when combined with Stromlo.
Further south there are a few lift/shuttle accessed bike parks, including Thredbo, Mt. Buller, Falls Creek, and Mt. Beauty. With some amazing alpine riding on offer, these are well worth a look and would be great for a longer trip.
Staying high is the name of the game here, as the corners get pretty dusty.
Stromlo is 15 minutes east out of Canberra, just off Tuggeranong Parkway. To get here, set your navigation for Stromlo Forest Park. It’s pretty easy to be taken far out of town or up to the observatory if you don’t watch where you’re going. The park is signposted, so just follow the signs.
Canberra itself is about 3 hours south of Sydney, and roughly 7 hours north of Melbourne by car. A lot of people make weekend trips here from Sydney, but from Melbourne, it might be worth making a longer trip.