Skippers Canyon is one of New Zealand’s top downhill mountain bike tracks and should be on the list of any mountain biker heading for the adventure capital Queenstown.

New Zealand’s equivalent of America’s Grand Canyon, Skippers Canyon is home to the second largest gold bearing river in the world, the Shotover River. Gold was first discovered back in 1862 and over 10,000 gold diggers made the canyon their home until the early 1900’s.

Access in and out of the canyon was by horse or mule via the old Pack Trail, which today offers a thrilling 7km mountain bike descent from the top of the canyon to the valley floor.

Unlike many highly technical downhill mountain bike trails, Skippers Canyon can be attempted by most competent, intermediate level riders. Full-face helmets and body armour are not required!

Queenstown, New Zealand

Skippers canyon lies a few kilometres out of Queenstown, New Zealand’s adventure capital. Skippers Saddle, a rocky outcrop, marks the beginning of the single-track trail and offers the rider spectacular views of the Richardson Mountains to the west and the Harris Mountains to the East.

The canyon itself is flanked by rolling green hills topped with jagged tors and offers amazing views down the valley to the snow capped mountains beyond. Unsurprisingly, parts of the Lord of the Rings trilogy were filmed here.

Skippers Canyon Mountain Bike Ride

The trail from Skippers Saddle descends steeply at first via a series of mild switchbacks, which can intimidate more nervous riders. The first river crossing near a gold miner’s hut, which was inhabited until 1970 soon has riders grinning from ear to ear, however, as all nerves vanish and the trail starts to flow.

Rocky in parts but always fast moving, the single-track Pack Trail continues ever downward, offering more switchbacks and occasional short but sharp uphill sections before blasting out at the bottom through the widest of several creeks.

Inexperienced riders can opt to descend Skippers via the single lane 4WD road which provides the uplift route for riders not wanting to climb out of the canyon. The road offers equally spectacular scenery and thrills without fear plus allows more experienced riders to ride Skippers several times using the uplift services of a local guide.

Best Way to Ride Skippers Canyon

Whilst the canyon is easy to find and route finding is pretty straightforward, a guided tour is advisable for two reasons:

Riders can enjoy several descents through the canyon as guides drive riders back to the top.
The single-track road leading into and out of the canyon is difficult to negotiate, especially if two vehicles meet halfway so it is preferable to have an experienced local behind the wheel!