There’s a mountain in Paarl. It’s not a high mountain, but it’s high enough to be bigger than a hill. It’s also a lot longer and wider than it seems from a distance. How do I know this? Well I rode the mountain bike trails up it, across it and down it. I knew the trails would be good, but I didn’t think they’d be among the best I have ever ridden…

By Sean Badenhorst

Stellenbosch is world famous for its trails. Well, mostly Jonkershoek and G-Spot and, if you want to expand over the pass, then include Banhoek and Hellsend. And rightfully so. But while Stellenbosch has been basking in the limelight, Paarl has gradually been developing its own network of mountain bike trails and boy, what a place to ride!

Darren Herbst, an energetic, prolific trailbuilder from Joburg, relocated to Paarl a few years ago. Joburg’s loss turned out to be Paarl’s gain as Darren quickly realised that Paarl was prime mountain bike trail territory. He just had to build and the mountain bikers would come. And they’re coming, but not in big numbers yet because articles like this haven’t given Paarl’s mountain bike trails the recognition they deserve.

Paarl Adventure Trails is a world-class trails network that caters for almost every level of mountain biker across the disciplines – XCO, Enduro, Marathon and even DH. There are four main trailheads from which you can access a trails network of more than 200km, almost entirely on the Paarl mountain.

On the south end of the mountain are three trailheads: Laborie Wine Estate, Spice Route and Specialized Paarl Experience Centre. On the north end of the mountain is Rhebokskloof. Each offers its own type of riding based on its location, gradient, vegetation and land access. Each one offers its own character too, based on what’s at the trailhead. But having ridden from them all now, it’s evident that the trails are all built with the same commitment and offer a similar level of flow.

That each trailhead is at the base of the mountain means that you climb away from the trailhead and you descend back to it. And really, that’s still best configuration for a mountain bike ride. But the climbing doesn’t kill you. We rode all the trails on Specialized Levo SL eBikes, but at times switched off the pedal assist just to get a feel for the trails in ‘acoustic mode’.

Darren and his trail-building and maintenance team, now managed by the very capable Duan Stander, build the climbing singletrack to make the ascents as enjoyable as possible. Yes, they take a bit longer, but that’s only a problem if you don’t plan your ride time properly. We ascended many, many steep climbs on the Paarl Adventure Trails network during our three days there and never once felt defeated or frustrated. It does of course help that the views in every direction are just stunning. We really developed a significant appreciation for the beauty of the area while riding the Paarl Adventure Trails.

But of course trails parks are best measured by their descents. And the descending singletrack on the Paarl trails is simply superb. Intuitive, interesting and flowy is the best way to describe many, many kilometres of memorable descents, all of which eventually bring you back to a high quality trailhead to reflect on your ride.

There’s a more detailed review of the Paarl Adventure Trails network based on each trailhead via these links:

Laborie Wine Estate

Spice Route

Specialized Paarl Experience Centre


On one of our rides we rode to the top of the Paarl Rock. It’s a well-known landmark – actually, before our time there, it was the only thing we really associated with Paarl. Okay, that and the Taal Monument, which also features on the Paarl trails. But we discovered so much more during our stay in Paarl. The town has some of the best eating and drinking we have experienced.

Each trailhead has a coffee shop or restaurant that offers high quality pre-or-post ride fare. But Spice Route is essentially a festival for the discerning lover of food, drink, ice-cream and chocolate! Don’t believe me, check this out!  I have included more detail on each in the reviews on the Top MTB Trails site. One other place worth mentioning is the Italian-German restaurant Pappa Grappa at Wilderer Estate. Incredible food and superb vibe.

Darren Herbst (left) and Duan Stander are the men that passionately build and maintain the Paarl Adventure Trails network.

You would probably need around five or six days to ride all the trails in the Paarl Adventure Trails network. We didn’t have that much time unfortunately and had to head back to our base in Joburg. But the good thing is that we cannot wait to get back to ride the sections we didn’t ride and, perhaps more significantly, re-ride those sections we did.

If you live in the Boland or greater Cape Town area and haven’t yet ridden the Paarl Trails, you’re missing out man! If you live further way, do yourself a favour and book a mountain biking trip to Paarl. You won’t be disappointed.

There are more detailed reviews on the Paarl Adventure Trails via these links on the Top MTB Trails website. Laborie Wine EstateSpice RouteSpecialized Paarl Experience CentreRhebokskloof