“Awesome singletrack traverses a verdant forest with some north shore elements and panoramic views.”
— Lost Justpastnowhere
Red Trail is the longest loop at the Rostrevor Trail Center. The Rostrevor Forest is situated at the far western side of the Mourne Mountains in Northern Ireland. Similar to other trail centers in the UK, there are several well-marked routes offering trails for riders of different experience levels. Red signifies a "difficult" trail. The trailhead features multiple services such as a bike hire, bike wash, and even a cafe.
The Red Trail features some gravel road climb skirting the western edge of the Mourne Mountains, lots of singletrack sections, an awesome view of the Carlingford Lough (a fjord separating Ireland from Northern Ireland), some north shore segments, and a creek crossing where you can expect to get a little wet.
From the car park, look for the arch signifying the start of the trails. The route starts with a 1.5-mile long, 700-ft climb on gravel forest road through a thick forest to get you warmed up. At 1 1/4 mile, you'll turn sharply back to the right and uphill onto a forest road and then a few hundred feet later, a narrow singletrack veers to the right. The singletrack continues through the verdant forest with an accoutrement of root and rock obstacles. The singletrack runs gently downhill for a while before rejoining another forest road for a short distance.
At about 2.4 miles, the route follows a singletrack which branches off the the left. This begins an approximately 800-foot climb to the high point of the ride at 5.6 miles just below the Silvermartin Peak which dominates the local landscape at 1761 feet. Keep in mind the sea is only about one mile away, so that will give you an idea of the elevation differences in the area.
Along the way, you'll have a plenty of convenient excuses to stop and take pictures if you need a break from the climbing. At 3.6 miles overall, there's a break in the forest cover and a huge rock affords a panoramic view of Carlingford Lough. A second opportunity occurs at "Kodak point" at the four-mile mark. (Kodak was a big maker of film in the pre-digital camera era for those who might be too young to remember).
At Kodak point, you'll turn sharply inland and it's a bit of a difficult slog on the narrow singletrack up to the high point. Also along this segment, you'll leave the forest and might expect some sun. From the high point, you've got three miles of fast descending to look forward to on a narrow, slightly twisting singletrack with a couple of tighter switchbacks thrown in to keep you honest. The trail passes through a couple of short sections of recently planted pine trees in this area.
Between 7.5 and 9 miles, the trail passes again into the lush verdant forest. There are significant sections of north shore boardwalks (typically 2-3 feet wide) in this segment to protect the forest floor. After that, you pass into another clear cut area for a half mile before returning to the forest with its occasional north shore trail elements. Where the forest cover breaks, you'll got impressive views back into the Northern Ireland countryside.
At 11.2 miles, the trail passes through the Yellow Water River. (It was kind of brown-ish when I was there). By this point, you've worked your way several miles inland to the north of the trailhead. When you turn back towards the south at 12 miles, you've got a pretty step descent down to another crossing of the Yellow Water River (this time with a bridge).
From here, the route descends gently back to the car park. There is a forest road all the way if you are spent, but the Red Trail follows a number of well-marked singletrack segments that parallel the road. The first singletrack section veers to the left from the forest road at about 14.2 miles. This rejoins the road for a short distance and another singletrack veers left at about 14.8 miles. When this segment reaches the road, the singletrack picks up on the other side of the road and this segment takes you most of the way back to the car park.
If you're looking for more, climb back up and the expert Black Trail branches off at the 6.7-mile mark.