Mountain Biking in Western North Carolina
Mountain biking in Western North Carolina is a rider’s dream. As a mountain bike mecca, there are hundreds of miles of trails across a variety of terrain. Here in the Asheville area, we’re fortunate to have close access to Pisgah National Forest, Dupont State Forest, and Bent Creek Experimental Forest. We’re even within a close drive to trails at Tsali in Nantahala National Forest, Dark Mountain and Warrior Creek on the Kerr Scott Reservoir, or Paris Mountain in South Carolina. Trail terrain can be rocky, rooty, sandy, or muddy, and with levels available for beginners up to advanced, there is something for every rider. As the weather turns more cool and crisp with the changing seasons, the conditions become prime for some long Fall weather riding!
However, with all these trails to choose from, picking a route from the massive variety-pack of trail systems in this area can sometimes be a bit intimidating. I grew up near Hendersonville in the small town of Tuxedo. From a young age, my dad would take me riding in Dupont and Paris Mountain, and when I went to summer camp I enjoyed bike trips to Pisgah and Tsali. My passion for riding turned into a passion for racing, and I joined the Appalachian State Cycling Team in 2014. Though I have experience in road racing, all styles of mountain bike racing, gravel grinders, and even some cyclocross, my passion has always been with cross country style mountain biking. After graduating from App State, I returned to this area to continue to ride and train on what I consider to be some of the best concentrations of trails anywhere. I’ve pieced together some of my favorites routes in the Brevard/Hendersonville area for you to enjoy just a small portion of what this place has to offer.
As a side note, don’t forget to ride prepared: be sure to pack enough water and food to last you through the ride, and it’s always a good idea to have a map (a good rule of thumb for me is at least a bottle of water and a snack for every hour I plan to be on the bike). I also always carry a “flat kit” on rides in my saddle bag or just stuffed in my jersey pockets. This is usually just as simple as an extra tube, a tire lever or two, and a CO2 cartridge or mini pump to inflate a new tube in case of any flat tires. Though these route suggestions can get you started, they are hardly scratching the surface. I’d recommend going to your local bike shop for more trail suggestions, group ride info, and route advice. Enjoy!
Dupont Forest Beginner Loop
Highlights: skills area and Wintergreen Falls swimming option
Ride Profile: 7.5 miles, 758’ of elevation gain
This route begins at the Guion Farm parking lot where there is a great “kids loop” to work on skills before you hit the trails. It includes balance beams, a seesaw, log rides, and wooden bridges as well as an easy trail loop surrounding the area. It’s not just for kids! From there, you can ride the 7.5 mile loop around Dupont’s single track and gravel road mix, perfect for those just starting out or those who may not want a technical and challenging ride. Towards the end, I like taking the Wintergreen Falls trail off of Tarklin Branch for a quick out-and-back to cool off at the Wintergreen Falls swimming hole. Dupont is my favorite place for flowy, rolling, singletrack. It’s a smooth entry to trails for the beginner mountain biker, and it’s a fun place to string together a full day of trails for experienced riders as well.
Bent Creek Sorba Beginner’s Loop
Highlights: a taste of everything, but still tame enough for introductory riding
Ride Profile: 6 miles, 650’ of elevation gain
This route is recommended by the Pisgah Area SORBA (southern off road bicycle association), and is a great route for the beginning rider with plenty of singletrack, creek crossings, berms, and fun rock sections to practice. It starts at the Hard Times trailhead off of Wesley Branch Road in Bent Creek. The route starts off by heading down the Homestead Connector descent, turns left onto Homestead, and then goes around a loop of Deerfield, Pinetree, and Explorer. After finishing back onto the Pinetree loop, you’ll come out onto a paved road that will take you back around to the parking area.
Dupont Forest Beginner/Intermediate Ride
Highlights: tour of waterfalls, ends with a Ridgeline descent, option to shorten route
Ride Profile: 13 miles, 1557’ of elevation gain
This route starts at the Lake Imaging Parking Lot in Dupont and combines some of my favorite trails. The route passes several waterfalls (Hooker Falls, Triple Falls, High Falls, and Grassy Creek Falls) that you either ride by or can quickly walk to nearby. There are some gravel roads, but the route is full of fun and flowy singletrack. There is an option to shorten the route by cutting out the Isaac Heath/Jim Branch/Hilltop loop, and one of the best parts about DuPont is how easy it is to change routes and mix up the trails you choose based on how you feel throughout the ride. You can also opt out of Hickory Mountain Loop (though that is one of my favorite descents so it is well worth the climb). The route finishes with a fast and fun descent down Ridgeline, one of the most popular trails in the forest.
Pisgah Lower Black Mountain Loop
Highlights: gravel climbs that lead up to a technical and fun descent down lower Black Mountain
Ride Profile: Intermediate, ~9.5 miles and 1300’ of elevation gain
This is a fun Pisgah sampler that climbs gravel double track and descends a fun and technical section of the lower Black Mountain trail. Beginning at the Pisgah Ranger Station on 276, you turn right out of the parking lot and continue down paved 276 for a brief time (less than a mile). At the sign for the Pisgah Horse Stables, turn right onto the gravel forest service road 477 (Avery Creek Rd.) About a mile and a half in, you will veer right and go behind the horse stables, beginning the gravel climb up Clawhammer (5058). Take the first right and continue to climb up Maxwell Cove. This merges with the intersection of Turkey Creek and Lower Black Mountain, and you will turn right for the final technical climb section of the ride. After the peak, you’ll be rewarded with two miles of rocky, exciting downhill back to the Ranger Station. The end of Black Mountain opens up into the intersection of Thrift Cove and Stames Branch, and you’ll turn right down Stames Branch to descend back to 276. When you T into 276 again, look to your right and you’ll see the Ranger Station again, just down the road. Want to ride the Black Mountain descent again? When you come out of the trailhead at that final intersection, just turn left to climb up Thrift Cove instead of right to return to 276, and you’ll be back at the start of Lower Black Mountain in a couple miles.
Kitsuma Loop in Black Mountain Pisgah Area
Highlights: technical switchback climb that rewards with an awesome descent
Ride Profile : Intermediate, 9.7 miles, 1,824’ of elevation
For those of you closer to Asheville than Brevard, the Kitsuma and Point Lookout loop is one of the most popular routes in the Black Mountain Area of Pisgah. It begins with a singletrack climb, but the long descent is well worth the effort. The parking for the trailhead is right along I40/old hwy 70, but immediately leads you into a switchbacking climb up the mountain (with a great view at the peak to catch your breath). You’ll then follow the Kitsuma trail along the ridge and down a fun and technical descent into a picnic area. To return to the parking area, take a left onto old hwy 70 and climb back up the road (it turns into Point Lookout Trail and then back into hwy 70 by the top). Take the first left back onto Royal Gorge Road to return to the parking area.
Pisgah Gravel/Singletrack with Cove Creek and a Butter Gap Loop
Highlights : Cove Creek trail descent and the option to extend with a Butter Gap loop
Ride Profile : Intermediate/Difficult, 31 miles, 3000’
This is a longer ride, with a sample of gravel climbs, technical singletrack descents, flowing trails, and a small amount of pavement. Just like the Lower Black Mountain Loop above, after beginning at the Pisgah Ranger Station on 276, you turn right out of the parking lot and continue down paved 276 for a brief time (less than a mile). At the sign for the Pisgah Horse Stables, turn right onto the gravel forest service road 477 (Avery Creek Rd.). This time instead of turning right at the stables, you’ll continue straight and begin the climb up Avery Creek Rd. You have to settle into this one for about 5 miles, but the steady gravel never gets too steep, and the Cove Creek descent is well worth it later. Avery Creek crests and descends into 276, and you’ll turn left down 276 for less than a mile before veering right onto gravel again on 475B. After about a mile and a half, you’ll make a sharp right and then left to stay on 475B. The next turn will be a sharp right onto Cove Creek Rd, which continues into Cove Creek Connector, and finally Cove Creek Trail. This goes right by the Cove Creek Group Campground, and opens up onto the gravel road (Lower Cove Creek Road). As you fly down the descent, keep an eye out for the bridge on the left – this way you can cross the creek without getting wet. When you T into the trailhead/parking lot outside the Cove Creek campground, you’ll turn right and start the gravel climb up 475. If you feel like cutting it short here and knocking off 10 miles, you can turn left and head towards Davidson River trail (skip down to see the directions from there). Otherwise, 475 will climb for about 3 miles, and come to an intersection where you can take a sharp left (over 90 degrees) to continue on the gravel on Cathey’s Creek. Turn left and climb up Low Gap and continue toward Butter Gap, where you’ll be rewarded with a fun singletrack downhill. After the nearly 2 mile descent, turn left up Long Branch, and then take a right down Searcy Creek back to 475. After this loop, you’ll make a right back down 475 and pass the Cove Creek Campground trailhead again. Right after the road turns to pavement, there will be a Davidson River Trail on your right. This trail runs parallel to the road, but conveniently allows you to bypass the huge elevation gain by going around the climb on the road above. The trail will put you back on the road, and you’ll turn right and head down the paved road, past the fish hatchery, for about two miles until the intersection with 276. From here, it’s just an easy 3 or 4 miles of rolling paved road back to the Ranger Station, which acts as a great cool-down on the way back to the car.
Annie Pharr is a Pro Mountain Biker who grew up riding in WNC. To learn more about Annie check out her blog: Annie Rides Bikes