The Mario Kart series is one that's absolutely rich with colorful, imaginative, and enjoyable tracks. Many are just rife with detail, environmental hazards, and other unique elements. From the thrilling battle arenas to elaborate, sprawling racetracks, there are a plethora of insanely fun courses to choose from amongst the several games that comprise this epic kart racing franchise. Many have even withstood the test of time and increased competition by reappearing in future renditions of Mario Kart, making a name for themselves as Retro Cup classics.
With this list, we'll engage in the difficult task of picking just 10 of the best, most memorable courses amongst the dozens that have filled out the Mario Kart lineup over the decades.
10 Ghost Valley (SNES)
Some of the most thrilling moments in Super Mario World were had in those eerie, atmospheric ghost houses that made up the mid-point of most worlds in that game. These unique, spooky stages have brought over to Super Mario Kart, proving to be similarly memorable, as well as tricky.
The first Ghost Valley nails it in terms of its balance of simplicity and toughness, with its rectangular layout punctuated by a couple of intense jumps and an enticing shortcut that can truly make or break you. You also have those hazardous disappearing walls on the sides to watch out for, elements that can really add some thrills in those high-traffic moments.
9 Tick-Tock Clock (Mario Kart DS)
It really says something when one of the standout maps on the most recent version of MK is actually a transplant from an old Mario Kart DS track. One of the elements that make this handheld game so memorable - aside from its debut of online functionality - is its abundance of crazy and creative courses.
This is most exemplified by Tick-Tock Clock, a track that's brimming with Super Mario 64 nostalgia, transporting fans back to the mechanical madness that comprised that level many years earlier. As you'd imagine from a stage that takes place inside a large, elaborate clock, there's no shortage of sharp turns, along with rotating, swinging, and twisting objects to keep you on edge.
8 Sunshine Airport (Mario Kart 8)
There are plenty of courses that really showcase the graphical prowess of Mario Kart 8, and this gorgeous map, Sunshine Airport, shines through as the pinnacle. The track's vibrant outdoor environment is almost hypnotic, and its unique airport theme makes for a really fun and interesting aesthetic throughout.
The massive roaring planes, vast backdrops, and liberal use of boosts give it a truly epic feel that only the Wii U and Switch can provide when compared to other Nintendo hardware.
7 Bowser's Castle (N64)
A common, but nonetheless entertaining series of stages that make up the Mario Kart games are tracks themed after Bowser's castle. Out of all of these typically awesome stages, the most exciting and well-crafted rendition has to be the N64 track.
The stage portrays a rich atmosphere with its dark castle environment and ominous soundtrack which keeps you drawn in. This insane romp keeps you on your toes at just about all times, with its jarring stairs, bridges that give way to dangerous lava pits, and scurrying Thwomps that can stop you dead in your tracks. There are just so many crazy factors that can alter the entire dynamic of the race.
6 DK Mountain (Mario Kart Double Dash)
While the GameCube and Wii renditions of Mario Kart didn't always have the most detailed or interesting stages, DK Mountain is certainly a standout that still proves fun today. You know you're in for a fun ride as soon as you blast your way through that massive barrel and glide your way towards that angry volcano.
From crazy sharp turns to rickety bridges and tumbling boulders, there are plenty of environmental hazards to maneuver through, keeping things exciting throughout.
5 Waluigi Pinball (Mario Kart DS)
Waluigi tends to be somewhat neglected as a character, which is a shame considering his amusing, goofy nature. Still, he does at least get to boast one of the best stages in the handheld iterations of Mario Kart. Making its debut for Mario Kart DS and getting spruced up for its sequel, Waluigi Pinball is both a visual marvel and an example of solid level design.
Not only are the colorful Vegas-esque themes fun to admire, but there's a plethora of elements to keep you on your toes when navigating this stage. From the trippy boosts to the gigantic bouncing pinball, there's plenty of thrills to be had when traversing this massive pinball machine.
4 Block Fort (N64)
Deservedly taking its place as the only Battle Mode stage on our list, Block Fort is designed in such a way to invoke some of the most thrilling, heart-pounding battle face-offs in Mario Kart history. The map contains 4 color-coded "zones," each with multiple levels, ramps, and bridges that can be navigated in order to gain a positional advantage.
At the bottom sits a sort of death pit, which typically gobbles up a myriad of player-induced hazards like bouncing green shells and fake item boxes. Playing 4-player battles here will have you and your friends on the edge of your seats as you scramble to bust out stars, red shells, and ghosts amongst this clutter of ramps and platforms.
3 Donut Plains (SNES)
This is one of those all-time iconic, reoccurring maps in Mario Kart games - and there's a reason for it. The original Donut Plains simply radiates charm and fun, even in its most simple form on the original Mario Kart for SNES.
This map manages to be both simple and deceptively tricky with its liberal use of sharp turns, its smattering of water, and the subtle shortcut that beckons drivers to go off-road for a bit. This track really sets the stage and shows what Mario Kart is all about with its cheery themes and plethora of elements like coins and items sprinkled about.
2 Wario Stadium (N64)
For whatever reason, the Star Cup GPs featured in most MK games tend to have some of the most fun and imaginative stages. This is certainly the case with MK64, whose 4 Star Cup tracks are all excellent in the own way. Though it's tough to beat this unique Wario-themed track, rife with all sorts of sharp turns and disorienting ramps and bumps.
Perhaps one of the most enduring aspects of this track, however, is its popular shortcut, which is located just at the start of the level. With the right speed, timing, and momentum, cheeky drivers can make a sharp left turn and leap right over the wall, jumping ahead several seconds - and angering their friends in the process. These elements combined make Wario Stadium a typically thrilling, competitive showdown in multiplayer.
1 Rainbow Road (Mario Kart 7)
It's tough to pick one particular iteration of this classic epic track which closes out Special Cup for each Mario Kart game. You've got that colorful retro charm of the SNES version, and the roller coaster-like drops of the N64 rendition.
Still, as a whole, it's hard not to deny the awesome nature of this track that concludes Mario Kart 7 on the 3DS. Almost everything about this is superb, from the classic soundtrack, to the awe-inspiring planetary aesthetic, to the many exciting twists, turns, and ramps. This track marks the highlight of an already memorable version of Mario Kart.