North Carolina is a great place to enjoy your vacation, go sightseeing, or on an adventure. The state comprises three major regions — the Mountain parts located in the West, the Atlantic coastal plain in the east, and the central Piedmont area.
The western part of North Carolina forms a section of the Appalachian Mountain range. The Blue Ridge Mountains, the Great Smoky Mountains, and the Black Mountains (which peak at 6,684 feet) are all located within the state. These make for good reading for mountain bikers of all skill levels as there are tons of trails to explore.
North Carolina certainly ranks among the top states for mountain biking in the USA. Whichever part of the state you choose to ride, a consistent feature of North Carolina’s mountain biking trails is the downhill slope you’ll encounter. Trails that would leave you gasping for air? Check. Unexpected corners? Check. Advanced drops that require all the skills you have garnered? Check. Furthermore, beginners have tracks, which are challenging enough to test them and comfortable enough to keep them wanting more.
So here are the best ten mountain biking trails in North Carolina.
1. DuPont State Forest
Undoubtedly one of the biggest parks in the state, measuring almost 11,000 acres, this location would leave the mountain biker spoilt for choice. With lots of trails here, it is almost impossible to exhaust every trail here within a week. From miles and miles of single-tracks that would leave you licking your lips to technical trails that are sure to leave you drained at the end of every day, DuPont has got it all.
DuPont has two slick rock trails that prove that you don’t have to go to Colorado or Moab for the best tracks. The only difference here is that instead of sandstone, you will be riding on granite.
A major attraction to DuPont is the Big Rock trail. The single-track takes you up a strenuous climb that goes through sparse vegetation and dry land. The good news is that, for a reward, you get a downhill that is as exciting and exhilarating as any downhill can be.
A big favorite of many mountain bikers in this park is the Ridgeline trail. With lots of berms along this downhill trail, you can get that ‘top of the world’ feel on your bike. It’s only a matter of preference; you can choose to keep your wheels on the ground or catch air with the humps and jumps this park offers.
2. Pisgah National Forest
Originally earmarked as a timber extraction site, Pisgah National Forest boasts of a 500,000 expanse of land that extends to the northern and southern parts of Asheville.
Pisgah is home to some of the steepest downhill trails you can find anywhere. The old logging paths have been converted into trails, making this a favorite of backcountry trail lovers. Some descents are so demanding and will require that you hop off your bike and push up these stubborn hills, but in the end, it is worth every drop of sweat.
One trail you should definitely try is the Laurel Mountain / Pilot Rock loop. An example of what backcountry trails should be like, this route meanders a tough uphill climb on a very narrow strip, almost hugging the mountainside. It climaxes with a mostly rocky downhill that seems to go on and on for miles and ends in a final lap that is smooth, glorious downhill. Talk about a perfect workout? Pisgah is where you should be.
3. Fire Mountain
One of the most frequented loops in the state is the Fire Mountain Loop. Of course, there are no fires except the ones burning in your lungs — this trail ticks all the boxes for professionals and strong beginners. The five-mile-long trail consists of gentle single tracks filled with berms that are grin-inducing for the beginner. It would prove a walk in the park for advanced riders who wish to sail with the wind while improving their skill.
The Fire Mountain trail system is situated in the heart of the Cherokee area and is maintained by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The trail winds around the mountainside, although the three major trails can be found at the mountain top.
All three trails are equally thrilling at the top of the mountain, with several sharp turns and table-top jumps.
If you are ever faced with the option of riding just one trail on Fire Mountain, you should choose the Kessel Run. There is loads of fun to be had on this trail. Technical with a very slim chance of bumping into other riders, this trail runs right from the peak of the Fire Mountain downhill.
Fire Mountain has enough berms and jumps to keep you alert. Beginners and intermediate riders alike would love this location for the many opportunities it provides to sharpen their skills.
This fantastic trail system is well-designed with horses in mind. It quickly catches the eye of mountain bikers who are taking huge portions for themselves.
Tsali was among the first few mountain biking trail systems in the United States of America. The rich history of this area attracts lots of adventure seekers every weekend, and it doesn’t let down on expectations.
About an hour and a half drive from Asheville, there is a little over 40 miles of single-track around the Lake Fontana area. Like all the other trails in this list, the Tsali recreation area has several downhill trails that will thrill all riders.
The Left Loop is the most heavily trafficked trail, add it to the Right Loop, and you have 25 miles of exciting single-track. The trails are scenic and flowy, with uphills that are not too difficult. Perfect for beginners, the trail does not have too many technical spots and is best ridden anti-clockwise.
The Tsali trail system is split into two sections. One-half of the trail system is assigned to mountain bikers each day, while the other half is given to horse riders.
While this means you can’t access as much of the trail as you’d love, you also get to avoid annoying horses.
5. Zacks Fork Mountain Trails
Situated in the middle of Lenoir, North Carolina, the Zacks Fork Mountain Trail, which was established in 2014, is a three-mile-long single-track loop designed for fun-loving bikers. The loop is a favorite for newbies, intermediate, and pro riders.
Short and sweet is perhaps the best way to describe this pleasant downhill trail. The flowy trail comes with tons of jumps and curves and culminates into a sharp change in elevation right at the end of the trail.
The trail is mainly suitable for beginners looking for a challenge to build confidence. And every weekend, it attracts lots of bikers, in and out of the state.
6. Beech Mountain Trails
Set on the highest city in the Eastern part of America, peaking around 5,500 feet, the Beech Mountain Trails stands head and shoulders above every trail on this list in the elevation department.
Pinnacle Ridge Road Loop and St. Andrews Road Loop are some of the famous Mountain biking trails here.
The trails offer rides that cannot be forgotten in a hurry. Any biker looking for a casual ride will appreciate the picturesque loops created to replicate a perfect summer day. Pro riders will find their perfect match in the challenging terrains that dare them to climb as much as 1,400 feet in just three and a half miles.
To highlight its appeal to bikers, Lance Armstrong once completed all the 51 miles of trails that Beech Mountain had in stock.
Beech Mountain is also home to several events like the yearly Beest Weekend Cycling Time Trial that comes up every May. From 1993 up till 1996, the trails here played host to the now extinct Tour Du Pont, the US miniature version of the prestigious Tour de France.
7. Sugar Mountain Trails
Although it is more popular for the great ski slopes, Sugar Mountain features almost everything outdoor enthusiasts need. Walkers, hikers, runners, and mountain bikers all frequent the aptly named Sugar Mountain.
The landscape around Sugar Mountain is one to behold for one’s self. Not very far from Grandfather Mountain, there are eleven trails with different difficulty stages for bikers of all skill sets.
This location has a series of trails that wander around the Sugar Mountain village. Bikers can also hone their downhill skills at the top of Sugar Mountain.
Every May, there’s a showdown organized by the National Off-Road Bicycle Association for both professional and beginner bikers to showcase skills.
8. Lake James State Park
Lake James Park is an outdoor recreation hub that plays host to lots of activities like boating, fishing, and swimming in Lake James. Out of the 25 miles of trails that this park has, mountain bikers can access 15 miles. The trails include the Holly Discovery Trail, which caters to young kids’ needs, and the Overmountain Victory Trail satisfies the biker seeking adventures.
The gentle loops of the Lake James Park system would suit flow enthusiasts to a tee with slight inclines and unending flowing downhill. The mountain bike trails are not heavily trafficked, providing the solitude many riders yearn for.
At the Lake James Trails, the experience is solely in the rider’s control; he can decide to traverse long and challenging trails or short and relatively easy trails.
The trails are well kept and with about 770 feet of uphill climbing. Bikers who are just venturing out should do well to check out the Tindo Loops. The farther you go, the harder the trails become. The West Wimba Loop is next up with the opportunity to gather speed, and if you choose to go on, the East Wimba Loop has enough tight corners and tough climbs to work your glutes. Other loops provide tougher challenges. An excellent way to end the day is a swim in Lake James if that’s your thing.
9. Hanging Rock State Park
Created sometime around the 1930s, Hanging Rock State Park provides an excellent outdoor experience. With over 70 campgrounds and picnic areas, the park has more than 8 miles of trails dedicated to mountain biking.
The Kingsnake Trail is one of the best at this State Park. Beginners will love this mostly flat and curvy trail that passes through an abandoned campground. With a gravel surface, the trail is short and largely predictable, giving newbies a chance to build confidence. The Hognose trail would also interest beginners with gravel, dirt, and rock, making the trail a bit challenging than the Kingsnake Trail.
The route on the uphill climb heading to Danbury can be a bit challenging and satisfying at the same time. Beautiful scenery, abrupt curves, and very little traffic make this a big favorite for loners.
At the end of the route, you get a wonderful view of Hanging Rock, a mass of giant boulders that appear to be suspended off the mountainsides.
10. Green’s Lick/Ingles Field Gap Loop
Located in Bent Creek, this 13.6-mile loop is a haven for intermediate and advanced riders. Daunting enough to put off the beginner, this trail challenges even the very best to their limits.
Green’s Lick/Ingles Field Gap Loop has seven great miles of downhills and is divided into two laps. The four miles on the first lap involves an energy-sapping rocky uphill climb that is sure to test your perseverance and glutes with well over 1000 feet of uphill pedaling. The reward is a speedy two-mile downhill ride that is all about dexterity. There are almost no technical sections but look out for jumps that would keep you on your toes (or pedals).
The second lap is a brief and strenuous journey that goes to the Little Hickory Top Trail, ending almost the same way as the first, with a descent that brings you to the Ingles Field Gap. Though not as exhilarating as the first downhill, this is still an excellent way to call it a day.
North Carolina’s many mountain trails are a joy to ride, with most of the best in the mountainous Western region. You can find almost every type of trail here, from very steep mountain climbs to riding alongside beautiful streams or the descents that every rider enjoys. Whatever makes you happy can be found here. Whenever you visit the area, make sure to see these trails for yourself and go with a mountain bike.