The best Mario Kart tracks

With 170 tracks across the series' history, we choose the best

multiple writers
28th February 2022
Image: Nintendo
At the latest Nintendo Direct, it was announced that 48 original tracks will be returning to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe via paid DLC through 2022-2023. In celebration of the ultimate track collection, we're making our case for the best of the best in Mario Kart history!

There isn't (mush)room for competition

Mushroom Gorge

What is Mario without his shrooms? 

A problematic question if ever there were one but one that must be answered. Without his mushrooms, Mario would be what we all expect Chris Pratt’s performance to be: a shallow (red) shell of our favourite Italian. Mushrooms are what keep this heavy-footed plumber jumping day after day and castle after castle. What could be better than those sweet and powerful mushrooms?

An ENTIRE course filled with giant mushrooms, that’s what. 

bouncing from one mushroom to the next is an exhilarating experience that you will get hooked on immediately

Noticeably absent from Mario Kart 8, Mushroom Gorge is always ignored in favour of inferior courses like Coconut Mall but its time in the spotlight (a dark, damp spotlight) has finally come. It never gets boring thanks to multiple opportunities for more advanced players to take some daring shortcuts as well as the course is split into two distinctively different biomes with open hills and gloomy caves. 

The magnum opus of the Mushroom Gorge is its namesake, the giant mushrooms. Traversing across the course, bouncing from one mushroom to the next is an exhilarating experience that you will get hooked on immediately, filling you with hallucinogenic euphoria every time you race here.

But the real reason Mushroom Gorge is the best course is that it is one extra 'e' away from being Mushroom George, which I think is pretty cool. 

- George Bell

Going coco-NUTS for this next track

Coconut Mall

Everyone knows Coconut Mall is the best track, right? It shouldn't even be up for debate. If you're new to Mario Kart or you have been hoodwinked into believing another track is the best, then listen up!

Before we even begin with the track itself, the music needs addressing. The Coconut Mall track music is the most iconic of any Mario Kart track. Can you recall the jig-like music of Moo Moo Meadows? What about the unsettling melodies that haunts your ears during Bowser's Castle? Coconut Mall is the only track here with memorable, meme-worthy and enjoyable music. Rainbow Road could arguably be cited as also having memorable music, but we're talking about the best track here, not the most traumatic.

Once you get inside Coconut Mall, there are options abound

The track itself is glorious in its unpredictability and many routes to pick from. From the outset, you need to carefully watch the escalators to make sure they don't change and slow you down! Once you get inside Coconut Mall, there are options abound. Go down the escalator? Stay on the main floor? Or quickly dash through a shop? When leaving the mall, do you opt for a ground floor exit or fly high from the roof?

There is jeopardy near the end of each lap with the Miis trying to park their cars. One false press of a button and you could slam right into their car and lose your 1st place position to Toad, the smug little you-know-what. Clearly, Coconut Mall keeps you on your toes and no lap is the same. How is Coconut Mall not the best Mario Kart track?

- Emily Kelso

This next one may-pull you in

Maple Treeway

I’ve been an avid Mario Kart fan for as long as I can remember. Over that time, I’ve played plenty of tracks hundreds of times. But, sometimes, there are certain tracks that stick out. For me, that’s Maple Treeway from Mario Kart Wii. Everything about this track is just wholesome and good.

the only annoying thing about it are those two giant yellow caterpillars

From the cannon that shoots you across the forest, to the little piles of orange leaves scattered around the track that blow into the screen when you drive over them, Maple Treeway is a joy to play. Plus, it’s so unique! What other track sees you drive across tree branches and even inside a tree trunk at one point? That’s right, Maple Treeway!

I suppose the only annoying thing about it are those two giant yellow caterpillars that block your entrance to the (far less annoying) windy bridge for tricks upon tricks before crossing the line. The soundtrack is, in my opinion, one of the best in the entire game.

The track overall is so full of energy and life compared to some other tracks from the Wii version (yes, I’m talking about you Daisy Circuit). Other honourable mentions from the Wii have to go to Mushroom Gorge and the (far more popular) Coconut Mall, but I’ll stick with my pumpkin spiced, sweet syruped autumn dream that is Maple Treeway every time.

- Kayleigh Fraser

Have a B(r)owser's Castle

Bowser's Castle (DS/Wii)

Bowser’s Castle, among all its Satanic hellfire, is the most skill-based and thrilling ride in all of Mario Kart. Thwomps, as regularly dispersed as they are in Mario Kart tracks, seem to be designed for this map. Their rage and abrasiveness encapsulate the spirit of Bowser’s Castle to a tee. Its abundance of turns makes balance an excitable challenge.

With the lava looming underneath the entire track, a deep plunge, whether by driving off or being pushed in, makes for a long recovery time. Every fall is critical.

Image: GamerJGB (YouTube)/Nintendo

Aside from the technicality of Bowser’s Castle, its visuals and architecture, from Bowser’s shrines to the perforated metal floors and the unthreatening Podoboos, are immaculate. Bowser’s defined position within the Mario Bros. universe aids a deeper understanding of and greater potential for an extension in his character.

The map is so archetypically Bowser that anyone familiar with any other Mario Bros games will connect immediately and appreciate the track’s overall aesthetic. To top it all off, the ghoulish synths in the soundtrack meld perfectly with the map, adding to the spooky mood the track emanates. And thus, I declare Bowser’s Castle the best Mario Kart track, for its strong lead on all fronts – aesthetic, playfulness, music, heat.

- Garvit Hora

Gonna put you in a Waluigi Spin-ball

Waluigi Pinball

A relic from Nintendo DS past, a monument to the greatest video game character ever designed, an enormous death trap disguised as an arcade amusement… Waluigi Pinball.

Techno synth bops fill the air as you and your competitors are launched alongside ginormous pinballs onto a rollercoaster track plummeting you to the board below. Your fragile mortality becomes increasingly harder to ignore as the screams of your friends begin ringing out as the pinballs begin their mindless massacre.

The pinballs target you with a cut-throat precision, from all directions the balls bounce around you forcing you to adapt on the fly

No one is safe around these metallic monstrosities, and the situation only worsens as you enter the pièce de resistance, the pinball board itself. The narrow gulley's that led you down release you onto a wide open plain, dotted around are some easy to dodge pop bouncers and two innocent looking paddles, easy peasy right?

Well you’d be wrong, as the pinballs follow you into the board chaos erupts. The pinballs target you with a cut-throat precision, from all directions the balls bounce around you forcing you to adapt on the fly. The swerving path may direct you down a safe side channel but those unfortunate enough to be stuck in the centre path will be subject to devastating side swipe from those unpredictable paddles as they knock the pinballs back up the board. As you struggle for survival on this death ride you can look up to see the visage of an ambivalent god. Waluigi looks down at his creation and it is good.

- Michael Duckworth

Time flies when you're having fun

Tick-Tock Clock

Tick-Tock Clock is a track that brings me more nostalgia than any other Mario Kart race. I was delighted when they brought it back for Mario Kart 8 as it has allowed the classic track to be experienced with all the upgrades and fine-tuning Nintendo has given the game over the years.

Perhaps I am a little biased – Mario Kart DS was the first Nintendo game I ever played and would it entertain me for hours at a time. Whilst many of the courses have faded into the abyss of my brain, I still remember every detail of Tick-Tock Clock like it was yesterday. 

Every section requires attention as seeing the direction of movement of each gear can make or break your run

The race is based on the course from Super Mario 64 and is set inside a giant grandfather clock. There is never a dull part of this course: there are constantly new mechanisms approaching, through cogs, clock hands, and a giant pendulum. There is an art to this track that I find is under-appreciated.

Every section requires attention as seeing the direction of movement of each gear can make or break your run. I always felt a pleasing smugness going over the final bridge, fenced in by two cogs moving in opposite directions, and hopping on one cog to speed over the finish line. Replaying it on my old Nintendo DS still brings me such joy! 

- Hannah Ross

Don't have a cow!

Moo Moo Meadows

Am I good at Mario Kart? No. Do I want to get better at it? Not really. Is there an insatiable course for players of all levels? Yes. Its name is Moo Moo Meadows and it is phenomenal.  

A simple rural course, Moo Moo Meadows takes it players round in simple circle, following a dirt-ridden road boarded by green verges. All the while, jolly cows graze and meander along the track. The cows themselves are enough to shoot the course to the best-of-all-time list. They’re living the dream: eating, drowsily walking, and (as far as I know) damn near indestructible. The cows will literally halt you in your track through their sheer presence.

Image: GamerJGB (YouTube)/Nintendo

Off-setting the peaceful demeanour of the cows, is the track’s up-beat Irish jive. Maybe this is just me feeling nostalgic for life back in Northern Ireland, but the tonal juxtaposition between the slow-life and the erratic music perfectly captures the energy of life on the island.

It may not be as vibrant as Maple Treeway or as frustratingly treacherous as Rainbow Road, but Moo Moo Meadows has stolen my heart with its laidback course, with a setting that is as comfortable as it is high-energy.

- Peter Lennon

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