Tucked away in Northfield, New Hampshire, is a mountain biker’s oasis. Boasting 15 miles of trails in just 600 vertical feet, Highland Mountain Bike Park is a premier mountain biking destination in the Northeast. Its well-groomed trails, designated practice areas, and varying difficulty levels make Highland a great destination for beginner riders, intermediate riders, complete crushers, and anyone in between. goEast had the chance to speak with James Willette, the park’s marketing director, to learn more about what’s available at the park for beginner riders.

Beginning Riders at Highland Bike Park
Credit: Highland Mountain Bike Park

Highland Mountain Bike Park History

Riders have been hitting the slopes of Highland Mountain Bike Park since 2003. Before Highland, there wasn’t anything like it in the Northeast. Unlike other downhill parks that include skiing or ziplining in the offseason, Highland is 100% bike-oriented. It was built by mountain bikers, for mountain bikers.

Gearing Up for a Day at the Bike Park

1. Day Pass

Before you can even think about getting on a chair lift to take you to the top of the slope, you need a day pass. A single-day pass to Highland will cost you $68 on the weekend and $54 during the week. The park appreciates folks who want to give back to the mountain biking community in New England, however—if you’re a New England Mountain Biking Association (NEMBA) member, you get a pretty sweet discount on your day pass.

2. Helmet

Now that you’ve got your day pass, you want to think about equipment. If you’re new to the sport, it’s important to dress comfortably so you can move around on your bike. Willette reminds people to wear comfortable, supportive shoes and clothing that covers their skin in case of a fall. Make sure you also have a well-fitted helmet. Many riders recommend a full-face helmet at downhill parks for more protection at higher speeds.

3. Pads

If you want to feel more comfortable, you may also consider investing in or renting knee and elbow pads. A good scrape after a fall can really put a damper on your day of riding.

4. Bike

If you own a mountain bike that’s suitable for downhill, you don’t need to do anything other than bring it with you. If you’re going to Highland with a friend or trying the sport for the first time, you can rent a full suspension setup at the park. A day rental includes a full-face helmet (if needed) and knee and elbow pads. A friendly park employee will help suit you up and get you on the mountain in no time.

5. Lesson

Highland has a program called Find Your Ride that’s designed to get you familiar with both the mountain and downhill mountain biking. Instructors will show you how to set up your bike, how to position your body while riding, and some best safety practices. Even if you think you have downhill mountain biking dialed in, there’s always something new to learn.

Young Rider at Highland Mountain Bike Park
Credit: Highland Mountain Bike Park

What Else to Know About Highland Mountain Bike Park

Trail Ratings

Highland was built with progression in mind, says Willette, and although the first thing you see when you drive up the hill to the park is the Slopestyle course, there’s something on the mountain that everyone can try.

The trail rating system at Highland is similar to that of a ski area, if you’re familiar with downhill skiing:

  • Green circle: easy
  • Blue square: more difficult
  • Black diamond: most difficult
  • Double black diamond: extremely difficult

Also like at a ski mountain, the trails can include an orange oval if they have man-made features. Trails with an orange oval include technical terrain that has been constructed, modified, or enhanced such as jumps, drops, and bridges. The features are also rated by difficulty and feature a green circle, blue square, black diamond, or double black diamond inside the orange oval. Green trails are considered the easiest because they’re the smoothest and most built up.

The Freedom Trail is the easiest way down at Highland. The 1.8-mile trail provides plenty of opportunity for pumping and flowing, and lots of room to brake if you’re getting uncomfortable. It’s also a good intro into downhill berms as it zig-zags down the mountain. If you’d like more of a challenge after you get a bit more comfortable, check out another green trail like Meadow’s End or Cat Scratch Fever (not to be confused with the popular blue trail, Cat’s Paw).

Trail Courtesy

Downhill mountain biking shares numerous other similarities with its distant downhill cousin, skiing. One important one is trail courtesy—you should never follow someone too closely and always stay in control. The person in front has the right of way, and if someone is riding close to you, there are plenty of places to pull off on trails to let people pass. As the rider in front, this generally isn’t your responsibility, but something to keep in mind if you’re feeling uncomfortable.


Once you’ve returned your rental gear and bandaged up any nicks and scrapes, you can pat yourself on the back and relax. If you’re hungry after a long day, you can check out Highland’s pub, grab a brew at the bar, and sit back to watch other bikers tear down the trails. You can also grab some merch at the Highland Flagship Store, and re-up any gear you may need at the Bike Shop.

Kids Shredding Highland Mountain Bike Park
Credit: Highland Mountain Bike Park

Why Highland?

Highland is a great place to ride that has something for everyone. If you’re inspired to try mountain biking at other downhill parks after your trip, you can check out some other parks in New England like Loon Mountain, Thunder Mountain, or Killington.