Knysna’s World-Famous Trail Park Exposed
The Garden Route Trail Park near Sedgefield in the Knysna District is arguably more famous in North America than it is here in South Africa. No, seriously. Ever heard of the guys from Pure Darkness? And what about the Loop of Doom? Well, the crew spent three months building it, riding it and shooting it here in SA.
And it’s a truly frightening thing to behold – not to mention the largest of its kind in the world. Standing 12m tall, it dwarfs everything around it, and looks like something out of the devil’s own playground. But that’s just the Loop – those crazy enough to even attempt making a full revolution have to ride down a ramp that rises nearly 25 metres into the sky. Crazy. But so is Canadian MTB free rider Matt Macduff, who sustained horrific injuries after a failed attempt that landed him in hospital with 13 fractures and internal bleeding…
“I have newfound respect for the guys who ride this type of thing. It’s insane. The sheer size of the Loop… just being in its presence sends shivers down my spine. Anyone who even thinks about attempting the Loop, let alone actually attempting it, has to have a few screws loose.” – Neill Ungerer, Lapierre ambassador
We’ll leave it to the pros. Yep, none of us plan on riding it anytime soon – at least, not today (or ever, come to think of it) – but Neill seems to have other thoughts. He appears to have been seduced by the eeriness and macabre aura exuded by the structure. Snap out of it, Neill! We’re here to enjoy the Garden Route Trail Park, not the local medical facilities.
Because the Trail Park has a lot more to it than the Loop of Doom, and has built a reputation over the past few years for its world-class trails and unique setting. No wonder then that it attracts international visitors in their droves. While the trails here are more on the challenging side of the spectrum, everything is still rideable – even for the novice rider. And regular visits here will do nothing but up-skill both first-time and accomplished riders.
Some of you will remember Neill from our Jonkershoek chapter. As a local, he cut his teeth riding here and spent many hours honing his skills and helping with trail maintenance. In fact, apart from trail builder and farm owner Rob Dormehl, we don’t think there’s anybody better to guide us through the labyrinth of trails. It’s a truly magical place, soaked in beauty and mystique. For those living in Sedgefield and the surrounding areas, it would be considered sacrilege to get here on anything but a bicycle – after all, it’s only a 17km ride, maybe a little more if you stitch in various sections of the infamous 7 Passes route.
“I started riding mountain bikes about six years ago, and the Garden Route Trail Park was one of the first places I used to ride. Back then it only had around three trails, which looped down and back up – red, yellow and blue. We even raced one of the local XCO races here a few years ago. It has a very special place in my heart.” – Neill Ungerer, Lapierre ambassador
The trail network is constantly growing, and improvements are carried out to the existing network all the time. What started as three basic routes has since grown into seven distinct trails that can be cobbled together for a longer and more exhilarating ride. If you ride everything here, you’ll accumulate around 35km with 700m of vertical ascent, which isn’t bad by any standards.
Mountain Mania, Jungle Fever, Crazy Creek and Forest Frenzy are four of the popular routes, while Lunacy Lane’s jump line will sate even the most ardent of gravity riders. One thing’s for sure – the diversity of riding and trails on offer will undoubtedly make you a better and more complete rider. From pump tracks, jump lines and drop-offs to pristine berms and root-festooned forest tracks, the Park covers pretty much all types of terrain.
What you ride is up to you, but a full workout is guaranteed – of both the mental and the physical kind. But its not so much the awesome trails as it is the beautiful vistas and awkward animal encounters that will keep you smiling uncontrollably… Did I say animals? Yep, but don’t expect the Big Five. Instead, you’re more likely to have a showdown with the Trail Café’s Great Dane. Or maybe even a bovine or simian – the Manic Monkeys and Mad Cows trails were named for a reason… Parts of the trail network have also featured extensively in local one-day and stage races, such as the Garden Route Trail Series and the GR200/300.
“There’s a level of flow to the trails here at the Garden Route Trail Park that borders on quasi-religious. Riding through the indigenous forests of the Outeniqua region is a privilege that should never be taken for granted. The trails are utterly brilliant, and have clearly been sculpted by a master builder who understands that fun and speed trumps distance every time – there truly is something for everyone. That said, be sure to carry your climbing legs, as the gradients are sharp, punchy and steep as hell. Just the way I like them.” – Aaron Borrill, Bicycling online and gear editor.
Those looking to light up the trails in pursuit of KOM glory will be happy to know all the trails are clearly marked, down to Strava segments – no guesswork here. But caution is advised, owing to the popularity of the park – trail traffic is a certainty. And remember: the faster and harder you ride, the more technical the trails become. The sections through the Forest Frenzy are probably the most treacherous in terms of obstacles. It’s here that the sensation of speed is at its most potent, and the possibility of colliding with errant branches, roots and slippery debris could very well land you in that medical facility we touched on earlier. Most of the time however, grip and hero dirt are in abundance.
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The GRTP is a bucket list-riding destination bar none. And located as it is slap-bang between George and Knysna means planning a family vacation around your training schedule should be a relatively simple exercise. It’s a win-win situation for everyone, especially if your better half and kids ride too. – Aaron Borrill
NEED TO KNOW
START: The Trail Cafe. The trails can be ridden from dawn to dusk, seven days a week. Remember to pay your trail fee! R100 per visit. R490 gets you an annual membership.
BEST TIME TO RIDE: The evening and morning light is amazing. The forests will keep you cool, with hero dirt for days.
WATCH OUT FOR: Jumps, drop-offs and slippery roots. And don’t attempt the Loop of Doom!
RATING: Intermediate to advanced.
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