Mario Kart is celebrating its 30-year anniversary today, August 27, 2022. Below, we take a fond look back at the best tracks where we’ve burned rubber over the years.
Mario Kart is one of Nintendo’s most popular franchises, now having appeared on every major platform since its inception on the Super NES. And that means there are a lot of tracks across the entire franchise, many of which have been revisited in later games with remastered versions. There’s some truly stellar track design throughout the series history, and we’re here to celebrate the best of the best. Here are the 20 best Mario Kart tracks across the entire series.
1. Baby Park (GameCube)
I want to get hit by a hundred items while going in a circle seven times and I’m not kidding.
Baby Park is one of the simplest concepts in all of Mario Kart, but there’s such elegance in that simplicity that it’s one of our absolute favorites. Items fly fast and furious and ricochet throughout, and the simple track shape means that an absolute perfectly-timed drift could mean the difference between victory and defeat. This is Mario Kart at both its most chaotic and its most skill-testing, creating a blend unlike anything else in the series.
2. Bowser’s Castle (N64)
Like Rainbow Road, one Bowser’s Castle had to take the top spot, and the N64 version is the absolute best. This track design has some fitting traps like Thwomps and fire-breathing Bowser statues, while also expressing that the King of the Koopas enjoys the plush life with a red carpet and paintings of himself. The spires that end the track create a distinct break from the more regular thoroughfares within the castle itself, for an almost unprecedented level of variety in a single track. For absolutely nailing its classic Mario concept, this is one of the best tracks around.
3. Rainbow Road (Switch)
That’s right, the latest Rainbow Road reigns supreme. More than simply a multicolored track set in space, this one really thought through the mechanics of a fictitious space station that seemingly exists specifically for go-kart races. The multi-layered track design has branching points, and the anti-gravity concept at the heart of MK8 is pushed to its absolute limit here with vertigo-inducing twists. Plus the track is just undeniably gorgeous, with its rainbow effect looking like LED lights across the entire race track.
It’s not flashy, but Toad’s Turnpike is the quintessential example of a simple concept done right. A bustling highway busy with cars, buses, and trucks makes for a particularly hazardous racetrack, especially as you’re choosing when to drift and build up your boost. Pull-off lanes are reserved for item boxes, both creating a choice of whether to pull off or keep more speed going straight. And the trucks are perfectly calibrated to create a tight squeeze at least once in a typical race. It’s just excellent, subtle track design.
Daisy doesn’t get much love in Mario lore, but this track sure does. Daisy’s luxury cruise ship lets you race down bifurcated paths rife with shortcuts, go below deck through a ballroom, and then come right back up through the stairs. The concept lends itself to a relatively small-sized track but it makes great use of the space.
6. Airship Fortress (DS)
Some of the best Mario Kart tracks take a familiar Mario mainstay and turn it into a track, and this is one of the prime examples. Airship Fortress riffs on the flying vessels that have been a signature of Bowser’s army since Mario Bros. 3, and sure enough it makes for a neat, inventive track. From the Bullet Bills that charge towards you right off the starting line to the rickety wood of the airship itself adorned with rows of flames straight out of the NES days, it perfectly captures the feeling of racing through an airship stage.
7. Tick Tock Clock (DS)
Did Mario and his pals shrink or is this just a really big clock? Either way, it’s a creative idea done well. The track design gets a lot of mileage out of moving parts like gears, and the whole thing is painted in gold and bronze tones to really sell the feeling that you’re go-karting around an old grandfather clock. Hazards like a swinging pendulum and a working clock face that could block your access to boost pads makes it one of the absolute best.
8. Wario Stadium (DS)
It’s a nice homage for Mario Kart to include some tracks inspired by ExciteBike and rallycross events, and it’s only fitting that the proprietor of such a location would be none other than Wario. Mario’s doppelganger has big monster truck energy and this track expresses that idea to a tee with big ramps and mud and fire hazards.
9. Moo Moo Farm (N64)
It’s hard to put a finger on why Moo Moo Farm is so memorable. Maybe because it’s such an early track in MK64 that we’ve run through it 500 times, maybe because that banjo riff is a legit bop, but the name kept coming up over and over among the GameSpot staff. This track is relatively straightforward compared to some, but it strikes just the right balance with clever obstacles like Monty Moles, loads of tiny hills, and a well-placed underpass where you can set up traps right before the finish line.
10: Coconut Mall (Wii)
An underappreciated gem, the Coconut Mall is another slice-of-life track that does a lot with a simple concept. While a mall may not seem like an especially powerful setting for a race track, the design does wonders by incorporating elements like escalator boosts, wide thoroughfares broken up by decorative elements, and a trip outside to the parking lot.
11. DK Mountain (GameCube)
Behold, the reason Mario Kart: Double Dash included an odometer at the bottom corner. You don’t actually need to know that your kart is averaging around 40 miles per hour for most of a race, but when you get launched out of a barrel cannon it’s nice to know you’re hitting 200 MPH. That gimmick helps make DK Mountain especially memorable, but the entire track is a delight. The hilly expanse, high banked curves, and treacherous rockslide all make it a race to remember.
12. Rainbow Road (N64)
There’s a lot of competition for Rainbow Roads given that the concept is reimagined for every installment of Mario Kart, but the N64 variation is one of the very best. This track ended your journey through the game with a grueling endurance race, one of the longest in the entire game. The turns were well calibrated to offer a good end-game challenge for drifting without any guardrails, and the vision of rainbow-colored fireworks painting the sky was a sight to behold.
13. Waluigi Pinball (DS)
We didn’t know that Waluigi was a pinball aficionado either–at least not until we drove through his pinball-board course in Mario Kart DS. This colorful track has narrow, curved paths that resemble lanes inside a pinball machine. It also has a really cool tunnel that pushes your kart to ridiculous speeds before launching you like a pinball. The best section of the track is a wide open area filled with round bumpers that you absolutely do not want to run into. When you exit the bumper-laden section, there are a pair of flippers that attempt to smack you off course (of course).
14. Electrodome (Switch)
Do you like disco balls, groovy tunes, and corkscrew turns? We do, and that’s why Electrodome from Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has found its way on this list. This stylish track has a pretty cool layout, with its signature section breaking into two paths that corkscrew to basically run on top of each other. You can see other racers above you, but thankfully you’re using the anti-gravity wheels to not fall into each other. In the final stretch to the finish line, kart racers drive over short steps that play different musical notes before vaulting over a gap toward the checkered flag. Electrodome’s twist-and-turn design has numerous big curves that make it an excellent course for snaking, too.
15. Maple Treeway (Wii)
Ah, autumn. The crisp air, the cool breeze, the blue shell screwing you over. Lots of Mario Kart tracks have taken place in lush green forests but Maple Treeway went instead with the bright brown and orange hues of fall. It committed to the concept with leaf piles that served as visual obstacles as well, making for one of the most unique Mario Kart tracks to date.
16. Music Park (3DS)
On the other end of the spectrum, Music Park is a fantastical location that doesn’t even pretend to be analogous to the real world. You’ll race across piano and xylophone keys with the music corresponding, navigate around bouncing musical notes, and bound across drumheads. It’s a wildly creative track that really makes use of the concept.
17. Sunshine Airport (Switch)
Sometimes Mario Kart tracks just take place in random areas that make us think the world of Mario has advanced infrastructure. Take Sunshine Airport, a track that envisions shutting down all Mushroom Kingdom air travel so that you and your friends can do go-karting. The runway makes a nice wide-open track while the parked airliners serve as both obstacles and track pieces. Massive windows inside the airport make the whole thing look nicely lit, and there are tons of little details like the baggage claim area to give it just that tiny bit of added character.
18. Koopa Troopa Beach (N64)
This classic from Mario Kart 64 is a quintessential off-road track, a wide open beach where the boundaries are more defined by the shoreline than hard track markers. The flexibility of having so much space to explore meant there was plenty of room for creative maneuvering around opponents, and a few tricky shortcuts rewarded the daring and punished the unlucky.
19. Mario Circuit 1 (SNES)
The OG. There’s nothing flashy about this very basic Super NES track. It’s just a handful of turns delivered with the choppy beauty of Mode 7 on a green field. But it was the first track of the first Mario Kart, and that gives it a certain degree of significance. It’s the one that introduced the world to Mario Kart as a concept, and all the pieces we still recognize as fundamental to the series were there.
20. Banshee Boardwalk (N64)
Lots of Mario Kart tracks have been based on the classic Ghost House stages, but none of them did it quite so well as Banshee Boardwalk. The N64 Ghost House stage is full of sharp corners and rickety plans that create odd gaps, making the whole thing feel chaotic and dangerous. Boos fly around the stage to give it some ambiance, but they mostly leave you alone. Maybe they’re just as afraid of go-karts as they are of eye contact.