Galena, Illinois

I’m going to be blunt. I’m spoiled. Over the past few years, I’ve been able to work remotely, and this newfound freedom has allowed me to regularly venture out of my home in the Sonoran Desert to mountain bike. At first, the trips were just outside my backyard — a week in Sedona or a few days at Angel Fire. Then my buddies and I started thinking bigger. We explored slick rocks in Moab, rowdy descents in Colorado, and the infamous “North Shore” in Vancouver. 

At the end of each trip, we would always find ourselves at a brewery, talking about all the stoke we just had, and without fail, start planning out the next adventure. At the end of our last trip, we knew we wanted something different but weren’t sure what that looked like. A few weeks later, I woke up to an unexpected text message from my buddy Nick: 

“Want to rip some trails in St. Joseph, Missouri, next month? A new MTB Park is opening up.”


I had never even traveled to the Midwest before, much less mountain biked there. But I’ve also never had a bad biking trip. I responded with a bike emoji and got ready to see what the state had to offer.

St. Jo has tons of hotels to choose from, but Nick said he had family we could stay with. With the logistics of lodging and airfare settled, we started looking for trails to explore. 

As someone who travels to ride, I’ve learned that utilizing apps like Trailforks and MTB Project is great for telling you what trails are possible to ride in the area. However, they usually fall short of telling you what trails you should ride in the area. For that, it’s best left to hear from people who have actually ridden the trails. They can help you find trails that suit your style. Flow? Chunk? Scenic views? Backcountry? These are all things you learn from riders, not a squiggly line on your phone screen.

After reading some articles, perusing the vast interweb forums, and watching a few hours of GoPro footage on YouTube, we marked some promising trails and packed up our gear.

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But First — We Wait

But First — We Wait

Nick and I rolled into town a little after lunchtime on a Thursday, excited to explore the new trail system at River Bluff Trails Park. Located just north of town, nestled between the interstate and stunning views of the Missouri River, River Bluff Trails Park has about 45 miles of trails for all skill levels, ranging from purpose-built, manicured jump lines to old-school, hand-cut XC trails. 

As I was putting on my kneepads and getting ready to start my Strava, I heard a heavy sigh, some choice words, and then my buddy Nick said, “Dude. I forgot my helmet back at the house. We have to go back to get it.”

“Seriously?! That’s across town.”

As a rule of thumb, I generally don’t like to ride trails solo unless someone knows my exact route. But I also didn’t come to Missouri to just sit in a car. The solution? Food.

Five minutes away from the trails is First Ward House, a really cool saloon and restaurant with a great outdoor deck. I was bummed not to be riding, but the smoked wings and the cold beer were infinitely better than the Clif Bar I was originally going to have for lunch. 

Ready to Rip

Ready to Rip

I met Nick back at River Bluff Trails Park an hour later. Confirming he didn’t forget anything else, we embarked on our original plan to explore the area. 

After a quick little jaunt, we immediately launched into a trail called B-Line — a super-solid jump line packed with various size tables, hip jumps, and berms. 

My mantra is always “look before you leap.” I’m glad I did, as this trail was deceptively steep and fast, with several line options to test your skills. However, being purpose-built, everything was rollable, and there were no do-or-die features or anything unexpected. B-Line is a trail you could easily enjoy on a hardtail or on a slacked-out enduro rig. 

After a few runs to learn the trail, Nick and I could string the entire run together. Once we got to the bottom and caught our breath, we were shocked at how fun the run was. The dirt throughout the River Bluff area is fairly sandy and holds moisture incredibly well — so basically, hero dirt. 

The next lap down, we ran through Coin Slot. This short but steep and gnarly trail gets its name from a unique feature. A section of the trail descends between two huge limestone rocks that are just barely wide enough to fit your bars between. 

Rinse, Repeat, and Wreck

Rinse, Repeat, and Wreck

There is one thing I always ask local riders when I see them on the trail — where is a good place to grab tasty brews and some food? Angry Swede Brewing Company came up more than once, with promises of fun Viking vibes, a downstairs (weekend) speakeasy, and even a al pastor taco stand outside. Nick and I hung out on the patio and enjoyed some top-notch IPAs with tacos while planning out the next day’s ride. 

(Pro tip: If you have time, try Marco Polo, their full menu partnership just down the street!) 

We got an earlier start the following day, wanting to check out more of the XC-style trails in the River Bluffs Trails Park area. We were told these trails had tons of flow and even more hero dirt. They did not disappoint. I would definitely suggest riding the main river trail system, especially if you’re not from the area. The terrain, soil, and views are completely unique to other places I’ve been. 

Once we wrapped up day two, we headed to a place called River Bluff Brewing, a perfect pairing for the ride we had just completed. It’s a renovated 1850s brewery with live music, and our server gave us recommendations on things to do and see while in the area. Pro tip? Get the River Cream Ale and thank me later.

The plan for day three was to lap some of the more gravity-oriented trails. Unfortunately, that ended early with a trip over the bars on a rowdy but fun trail called Ski School. Nick says I was riding over my head. I’d prefer to say that my ambition outpaced my talent. 

Relax and Hit the Breaks

Relax and Hit the Breaks

With a sore (but thankfully not broken) wrist, our riding was cut short. Luckily, it was a weekend, and we were eager to explore more of St. Joseph and experience the local flavor.

Going off recommendations received from last night’s server, we checked out a place called The Tiger’s Den. Part bookstore and part cocktail bar, this place had a relaxing vibe and one of the best whiskey cocktails I’ve had the pleasure of drinking. My wrist magically seemed to get better with every sip.

If you are a millennial or a fan of the 90s, you will need to visit Club Geek. This is a retro video game bar where we spent way too much time playing Mario Kart. I may not have been able to beat Nick down B-Line, but I crushed him on Rainbow Road.

The last stop of the day was 503 Winery. We were drawn in by the live music while checking out downtown. It was a laid-back and fun place to unwind. I sipped a sweet red (The Pony Express), while Nick opted to try some honest-to-goodness moonshine. The only bitter thing was that we knew we had to catch a flight home the following day — it was hard to leave when there were so many trails to try.

Midwest Gem with Big-Name Vibes

Midwest Gem with Big-Name Vibes

Before my trip out to St. Joseph, I never would have guessed some of my favorite trails ever would be nestled in Northwest Missouri. I always assumed that people who live in places like Whistler or Crested Butte are spoiled when it comes to mountain biking. And you know what? They are. But the riders of St. Joseph might be a little spoiled too.