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10 of the best forest cycle trails

As summer turns to autumn, we need to make sure we don't lose out on fresh air and exercise. Cycling is the answer and we take you off-road for the best forest bike trails in the UK.

When the Team GB cycling team won a dozen medals at the Rio 2016 Olympics it sparked a new surge of interest in one of our most accessible pastimes. Whether you are a biking fanatic, a fair-weather two-wheeler or someone who hasn't cycled since they were in short trousers, our beautiful forests offer a vast network of cycling trails that will keep you active and invigorated throughout the months ahead. 

Biking in the forest

Forestry Commission England, the organisation that looks after our forests, is a great place to start your forest cycling. They have been welcoming cyclists for over 40 years as a key part of their promise to keep our forests open to all for recreation. 

The cycling is natural, wild and extensive, with over 1,100km of graded cycle trails through glorious woodlands and forests. Everybody is welcome and, to help you choose your trail, they have graded hundreds of routes across the country. We have selected our top 10 to get you started (including 2 in Scotland). All are near to a Forest Holidays location so you have somewhere to relax after your exertions.

4 English forests for family and leisure cycling

1. Dalby Forest, North Yorkshire - Try the Ellerburn Family Cycle Route, a gentle 2.5 mile ride which is ideal if you have young children, and accessible for wheelchair users too. Stay at Cropton or Keldy.

2. Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire – The Family Cycle Trail is a 9.5 mile waymarked circular route following the old railway lines. The surfaced road through the forest makes it accessible for all ages and abilities. Stay at Forest of Dean.

3. Thetford Forest, Norfolk – The 5 mile long Shepherd Trail is a green trail, which means that it is suitable for families and beginners. Thetford Forest has all levels of cycle trails so is a great location if different members of your party have different abilities. Stay at Thorpe Forest.

4. Alice Holt Forest, Hampshire – The Family Cycle Trail is a 3 mile woodland trail with a picnic meadow perfectly situated for a midway rest. Stay at Blackwood Forest.

4 English forests for mountain biking

5. Cardinham Woods, Cornwall – The Bodmin Beast Trail is not quite as scary as it sounds but this 7.5 mile blue-graded single track trail does aim to set the standard for single track trails in Cornwall. Stay at Deerpark.

6. Sherwood Pines, Nottinghamshire – The Kitchener Trail is a red trail, with a number of challenges. An 8 mile single track route it is a great introduction to off-road cycling for the experienced cyclist. Stay at Sherwood Forest.

7. Dalby Forest, North Yorkshire – Back to Dalby Forest and are you ready for a black trail? The World Cup Cycle Trail, at 3 miles, is short but challenging.

8. Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire – The Downhill Trails at Cannop Cycle Centre are seriously hair-raising. These extreme trails, for expert off-road bikers, will give you an adrenaline rush of the highest order.

Cycling in Scotland

9. Argyll Forest Park – The Cat Craig Loop climbs though the young woodland and rewards you with spectacular views of Arrochar and Loch Long. Stay at Ardgartan Argyll.

10. Queen Elizabeth Forest Park – the family friendly Eight Mile Cycle Loop at Loch Ard takes in forest and loch, immersing you in natural Scotland. Stay at Strathyre.

Take a biking holiday

Hidden deep in the forest, our cabins are perfect for the post-cycling cool down. Soothe your aching limbs in the hot tub, share your cycling stories round the cosy log burner and sink into a soft bed with only the rustle of the wind in the trees to lull you to sleep.

Make it a long weekend or opt for a 4 night midweek break, when the trails will be quieter. Bike hire is available at all our locations, with the exception of Sherwood Forest, where bikes can be hired at the Sherwood Pines Visitor Centre.  

Cycling to health and happiness

Did you know? According to We are Cycling UK, a regular cyclist in mid-adulthood has the fitness levels of someone 10 years younger and a life expectancy that is two years longer than their non-cycling peers. Add to that, the opportunity to bond with family and friends over a shared pleasure and an escape to nature, far from the pressures of daily life and forest cycling is the perfect hobby. Here’s to your health and happiness on two wheels.