Places That Rock – Mountain Biking at Mount Remarkable

Words and photos: Mike Blewitt

Melrose is located approximately 2.5 hours north of Adelaide, South Australia. It is at the entrance to the Flinders Ranges and the oldest town in the area. About 20 years ago, Melrose had about 20km of trails that were lovingly cut by hand. This has grown over time, and the trails and the town have gathered famous fans. It is an easy place to drive in, park and ride. You won't get back into your car until it's time to go home.

The Melrose Fat Tire Festival (held in June) still fills the town with mountain bikers and their families who book the venue year after year. In recent years, Melrose needs to be driven further to attract more commuters and commuters who have never visited before. Enter the Mount Remarkable Epic Trail project as part of the Remarkable Southern Flinders Building Better Regions Fund, a $10 million investment partnership between the Commonwealth and State Governments. The project was supported by the Foundation for National Parks and Wildlife, along with other project partners including Nukunu Wapma Thura Corporation and local councils. On opening weekend I had the opportunity to go down and ride with trail builder Garry Patterson of Trailscapes.


Bathrooms: Melrose and Willowie

Drinking Water: In Melrose

Parking lot: In the city

Routes Signed: Yes, the trailhead is in front of The North Star pub

Mobile Reception: Yes, in front of the mountain

Residence: Not on track, Melrose and Willowies

BBQ Accessories: No

Residence: Yes

Head in front of the North Star Pub

Mount Remarkable

Mount Remarkable dominates the skyline if you live in Melrose–at 961m high you'll probably see it well before you get to the city, especially from Adelaide. It is of great cultural importance to the traditional owners, and the trail system was developed with the support of the Nukunu people.

The new Mount Remarkable Epic Trail is actually two trails, making a short and long loop depending on what you want. Both lead from the railway line directly into town, to the campsite and towards the monument above town.

The North Face climb goes up a hill, and has a few steep faces to tackle. Trailscapes has worked to keep the average gradient close to 4%, so you often cut between switchbacks. After the first part of the climb you can see the trail cutting ahead around the spurs of the mountain. It's a unique sight, and one you'll often see in the high mountains, but rarely on Australian trails. All the while, the meadows are a vast expanse below you, as you climb higher and higher.

Scree slopes remain on the runway, and one has parts of a plane wreckage from a crash in about 1980. The trail criss-crosses the slopes and at one point you can look up to see more benches—or down to see them. where you come from.

Near the top you hit the Bale Out trail head, a 6.5km blue descent down the slopes of Willowie. It's a steady blue gradient, climbs fast if you want it to, and has some fun features for hooking out on the main line. This takes you to the Green and Green rated Willowie Trail network, where you can pedal around five kilometers back to town via the railway line.

For those facing the whole epic, things are just beginning. The climb continues along a gentle gradient, passing through some dense cover before beginning the descent. What starts out as shallow benches with small drops and small steps turns into a fast lane with small amounts and a few more line options. Over time you slide between berms piled up in red dirt, before walking into an old pasture on long grass benches. This is great breathing, and you can hear it a million miles from anywhere. The trail leads to a gorge where the line has been trodden for over a century. It crosses a dry stream, the life giving water source of Nukunu, before heading out towards a 9km single handed cut.

At this point the trail is really lively, with a few ups and downs, including a steep climb on a trail held by pine trees and rocks. Eventually you make your way back to Melrose, completing the Copper Throw down the city's trail network.

At times the route is difficult, the opening climb may see you going uphill for the better part of an hour. But the views are some of the best that an Australian mountain bike trail brings, much like the exposure you might find on a backcountry ride in New Zealand's Southern Alps, or in the mountain chains of Europe. Features machined trails and stacked berms add to the fun, and brown dirt flow sections will give you a break. This is one of the most complete mountain bike trails I've ridden in Australia, and I expect it will please any rider.

If you want to get out of the park and into the mountains, this is the route for you. I enjoyed riding it as a trail bike and would feel comfortable riding it on 120mm cross country full suspension given my experience on that type of bike. But it can also make a brilliant eMTB loop, with the help of the pedal to keep the power down on the screen and provides more support in the rear sections. You can rent one from Over The Edge in Melrose–call ahead and make a reservation if this is your plan.

Getting There

Drive north from Adelaide, expect about 2.5 to 3 hours through Balaklava, Laura and Wirrabara. You can fly to Adelaide from major Australian airports

The Nature of Technology

The route is rated green/black. Overall it only requires a moderate level of technical ability as it mixes machined route, bench cutting routes and other steep sections. There are no mandatory gapped features, and as a purpose-built trail you can expect to be able to ride everything at fair trail speeds. Bale Out downloads are fast and have several features built into it for those who want to add more technology.

You will need it

Pack for 6 hours of cycling. There are no water or food stops on the route, and depending on the time of year and time of day you ride you can end up being very exposed to heat, wind, sun or cold conditions. Take at least 2.5L of water, half a day's worth of snacks, a few tubes, a pump, a multitool and a basic first aid kit.


The whole loop is about 36.5km with 1500m of ascent and descent, but the finish will be amended in late summer 23/24 to finish at the start, instead of through city roads, so it will be closer to 40km. The Bale Out loop to Willowie and back by rail is around 28km.

Location Information

Ride early if it's going to be a warm day. The opening climb is early in the sun and is a wonderful way to start the day. Expect a little bit of everything on the way, but rock is part of that. Leave your light tires at home.

When to go

Avoid peak summer. Conditions were good in late October but generally March through mid-November will be the most pleasant conditions.

I'm in the Place

Make the most of the ride! The streets of the city and the Willowie network are worth a look. There are about 3 days of riding you can do while visiting Melrose. You should also spend time sampling beer and gin on tap at Jacka Brothers Brewery, and spend time sampling some of the amazing food options at Over The Edge. Melrose is the gateway to the Flinders Ranges, offering plenty of camping opportunities. It is also on The Mawson Trail, making it an ideal stop for cyclists.

Local Bike Shop

Over the Edge on the main road you will have everything you need. With a full-service cafe on one side, you can find food, coffee, and even some local produce. The shop has a full workshop, clothing and accessories, and bike rentals. An eMTB can be an excellent bike for the Mount Remarkable Epic Trail, but book in advance to save losses.

General Events

The Melrose Fat Tire Festival is the longest mountain bike festival in June. It attracts a wide range of riders and the city is packed! Go to the Bike Melrose website for more details.

Technology 3/5
Qualification level 3/5
Cross country 3/5
A clue 4/5
All mountain 3/5
On the way down 1/5
Jump 1/5

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