Super Mario Kart didn’t invent racing games, but the changes it made to the usual genre formula (like adding Nintendo’s most popular characters, weapons that could be used to slow down opponents, and the multiplayer battle mode) made it feel like a revolution. There’s a reason why so many other developers have tried their hands at making kart games over the years.
Still, none have come close to dethroning Mario Kart as the king of kart racers. Even after eight mainline entries, the series is still going strong with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on the Switch, which is currently in the midst of receiving four dozen new tracks. While there are obviously numerous factors that have contributed to Mario Kart‘s incredible success over the years, the quality of the games themselves should be considered the franchise’s greatest asset. That quality is often most apparent in the design of Mario Kart‘s wonderful, wacky, and often perfectly-tuned tracks.
In honor of the series’ 30th anniversary, here is our look at the 15 Best Mario Kart tracks ever.
15. Ghost Valley 1 (Super Mario Kart)
As influential as Super Mario Kart was, it can be a struggle to go back to its Mode 7 graphics after so many excellent 3D Mario Kart games. There are a lot of iconic tracks from the first game in the series, like Mario Circuit 1, Donut Plains 1, and, of course, the first iteration of Rainbow Road, but Ghost Valley 1’s originality helps it stand out from the pack.
It’s likely the first track you’ll encounter that allows you to easily fall into the abyss below. With its spooky music and stream of dancing boos overhead, it’s also the course that makes it clear that Mario Kart is going to be more than just a Sunday drive through the Mushroom Kingdom.
14. Baby Park (Mario Kart Double Dash)
Depending on who you ask, Mario Kart Double Dash is either the best in the series thanks to its unique two-racer-to-a-kart gameplay, or a franchise detour best left in the rearview mirror. Regardless of where you stand, it produced one of the very best Mario Kart tracks in Baby Park: a deceptively simple and small course that offers so much more than what a first glance might reveal.
While most standard Mario Kart tracks last three laps, Baby Park demands seven laps from drivers. As the items start flying, things get more and more hectic. Despite the name, winning consistently on Baby Park is very much a test of pure skill.
13. Neo Bowser City (Mario Kart 7)
City driving generally sucks, but Mario Kart finds ways to make even that chore feel fun. Granted, just getting rid of all the traffic would be enough to do that, but even then, most real city roads wish they were as well designed as Neo Bowser City with its sharp turns, big ramps, and numerous dips and hills.
A lot of thought clearly went into just the track design itself, but what really elevates Neo Bowser City is the visual of the constantly pounding rain lit up by endless neon lights. This is basically Mario Kart meets Blade Runner, and it looks incredible in 3D mode on the Nintendo 3DS.
12. Toad’s Turnpike (Mario Kart 64)
Mario Kart has always been praised for not taking itself too seriously, so Toad’s Turnpike’s attempt at crafting something slightly more realistic certainly makes it stand out all the more in the series. This is the track that dares to ask, “What if Mario Kart was more of an arcade racer like Need for Speed?”
The track itself has a simple eight-shaped loop layout that tasks racers with avoiding the many cars, trucks, and buses that populate the highway. With the rush hour sunset overhead and an upbeat, modern soundtrack that only gets faster as the race goes on, Toad’s Turnpike creates a very specific mood that is unlike any other track in the series.
11. Moo Moo Meadows (Mario Kart Wii)
Moving from the city to the country, Moo Moo Meadows initially appears to be one of the simplest courses in Mario Kart history. However, this is another example of how looks can be deceiving in this franchise. This track’s wide dirt road offers plenty of opportunities to play catch up or simply hit other racers with surprise items. At the same time, you can easily find yourself in the back of the pack if you run into a cow or hit the wrong bump.
As is series tradition, Moo Moo Meadows was remade for Mario Kart 8. While that version enjoyed a huge graphical facelift, it just doesn’t beat how chaotic and fun it was to experience the original course when more players used the Wii-mote to steer.
10. Coconut Mall (Mario Kart Wii)
Malls may be dying in the real world, but for whatever reason, they make for great video game levels. Just look at Dead Rising or Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. Coconut Mall fully embraces its aesthetic with tons of escalators, huge ramps, and even a crowd of Miis cheering everyone on. This is easily the best track from the often divisive Mario Kart Wii.
What really puts this track over-the-top, though, and earns it a spot on this incredibly competitive list is its catchy, upbeat soundtrack, which even managed to make the rounds as a Rickroll-style Tiktok meme in 2020.
9. Wario Colosseum (Mario Kart Double Dash)
While Baby Park simplified things to the extreme in Double Dash, Wario Colosseum went the exact opposite route by offering one of the longest, and most complex, courses in the series. It’s so long, in fact, that it’s only two laps instead of three but still serves as one of the longest races in franchise history.
From start to finish, Wario Colosseum is pure chaos. Highlighted by its massive loops for huge drifting boosts and giant ramps encircled by balls of flame, this course is as devious as its namesake. It takes a lot of skill to take the podium here.
8. Airship Fortress (Mario Kart DS)
It’s hard to believe, but it wasn’t until the fifth entry in the Mario Kart series that the iconic airship from the Super Mario series was finally turned into a track. Thankfully, that concept turned out to be everything we could have ever hoped for.
This race actually starts on a straight path filled with incoming Bullet Bills. From there, you’re in for a windy trip both below and above deck. As you work your way through the ship itself, you’ll be tasked with avoiding classic obstacles like Monty Moles and flaming pillars. It’s the perfect Mario Kart adaptation of an iconic platforming level.
7. Big Blue (Mario Kart 8)
For whatever reason, Nintendo has refused to release another entry in the beloved futuristic racer series F-Zero for almost two decades now. Of course, when it was announced that one of Mario Kart 8’s biggest new features would be anti-gravity racing, it was hard not to notice the similarities to Nintendo’s other, often ignored, racing franchise.
Big Blue in Mario Kart 8 is a reimagined version of the popular F-Zero track finally rendered in full HD. The entire race takes place in anti-gravity, so you’ll have to alter your strategies accordingly. Part of the appeal here is the Smash Bros.-esque mash-up of watching Mario, Link and Isabelle battle it out on an F-Zero track, but even if you put nostalgia aside, the numerous twists, turns, and loops make this a standout course.
6. Koopa Troopa Beach (Mario Kart 64)
Super Mario Kart is a classic, but Mario Kart 64 is where the series really found its stride. For those of us who played it back in the day, Koopa Troopa Beach was the first real introduction to racing in full 3D. Obstacles could be almost anything, including coconut trees and crabs.
But the move to the third dimension also wasn’t just about punishment. Super Mario Kart 64’s technological prowess opened up new ways to get ahead, like ramps and hidden shortcuts. It’s just a great, open track to race around, and still stands out as one of the best-looking levels on the N64.
5. Mount Wario (Mario Kart 8)
There’s a certain well-worn theme to many Mario Kart tracks. Take a Mario-themed location, make a track littered with items, and have everyone race around it three times. Nintendo usually sticks with that theme because…well, it works. But when they do deviate from that formula, the results are often truly spectacular. There are few better examples of that departure from the norm than Mout Wario.
Instead of the usual laps, Mount Wario offers an epic three-part race down the side of a snow-covered mountain. There are tons of boosts, opportunities to fall off the track (or knock off other racers), and even some very cool location changes (like a trip through a cave). While most of these tracks embody traditional Mario Kart at its best, Mount Wario is a fine example of how great this franchise still is when it’s doing something a little different.
4. Tick Tock Clock (Mario Kart DS)
The decision to base most of Mario Kart DS‘ on classic Super Mario levels was honestly pretty brilliant. Tick Tock Clock still holds up as one of the more challenging (well, some might say annoying) levels in any Super Mario title, and the Mario Kart DS version doesn’t pull any punches either.
To come in first during a Tick Tock race, you’ll have to master the timing of moving pendulums, gears, and clock hands, or learn to enjoy a long drop off the track. Courses like this are the reason why Mario Kart DS remains a fan favorite even if the graphics look pretty rough now and Nintendo (sadly) turned off the servers years ago.
3. Wario Stadium (Mario Kart 64)
Mario Kart 64 is a personal favorite for a lot of fans, with Wario Stadium being one of the biggest reasons why so many players keep returning to what should be an outdated entry in this franchise.
Wario Stadium offers a large, winding track with tons of opportunities for boosting and overtaking. There’s also a difficult (but very effective) shortcut to take that can drastically lower your lap times. Honestly, it’s also pretty awesome to see the Mario crew in a stadium with strong Excitebike vibes. Curiously, Wario Stadium is the only track from Mario Kart 64 to never be remade in a later game. Hopefully, we’ll finally see it in one of the upcoming cups of the Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Booster Course Pass.
2. Bowser’s Castle (Mario Kart 8)
Bowser’s Castle courses are a staple of the Mario Kart series, but the track has never looked better (or been more fun to race on) than in Mario Kart 8.
First off, this track takes full advantage of all Mario Kart 8’s gameplay additions, courtesy of some excellent glider and anti-gravity sections. It’s also got some of the best obstacles of any track, with lasers, boulders, and swinging chains plucked straight from past Mario games ready to knock you off course.
But the centerpiece is a giant stone Bowser who goes back and forth, punching either side of the split track. He moves slowly, but he can be surprisingly difficult to avoid. Bowser’s Castle is a visual feast from start to finish, with a just plain fun layout that makes it an obvious fan favorite.
1. Rainbow Road (Mario Kart 7)
Of course, some iteration of Rainbow Road had to top the list. The Rainbow Road courses have been a Mario Kart staple since the series’ SNES debut. The version from Mario Kart 64 is a particular favorite (though maybe too easy), and Mario Kart 8’s take on Rainbow Road is undeniably visually stunning. However, the absolute best version of the track hails from Mario Kart 7 on the Nintendo 3DS.
Instead of featuring laps, this Rainbow Road is divided into three sections (much like Mount Wario). Some sections are filled with rather classic multi-colored hills and turns inspired by previous versions, but the whole track soon goes in a very different direction by incorporating huge turns, ramps, and pits that can lead to easy falls off the course. It even goes off the Rainbow Road for a spin around the nearby planets and moons, all set to a soaring soundtrack that calls back to the classic Mario Kart 64 Rainbow Road theme. It’s a truly breathtaking course that embodies the very best track design in the series.