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Pilot Rock, Pisgah National Forest. Photo: Derek Diluzio

The Southeastern USA is a hotbed for mountain biking. With lush, tree-covered mountains, rolling hills, and a temperate climate that baits riders to pedal 12 months out of the year, trails are a natural part of the landscape. In many places, ancient singletrack dating back to the continent’s earliest inhabitants blends with modern trail building techniques based on the desires of modern mountain bikers.

The mountain biking disciplines being practiced in the Southeast only continues to grow more diverse. Downhill mountain bike parks are springing up in unsuspecting locations, without even the consideration of a snow sports component. Bikepacking routes are being pioneered across the region, with long-distance trails that rival the best in the West.

Here, we’ve rounded up some of the best mountain bike trails in the Southeast, grouped by trail type: all-around trail systems, lift-served bike parks, epic backcountry routes, big city trails, and best destinations.

5 of the Best All-Around Trail Systems in the Southeast

Dupont State Forest, Brevard, North Carolina

Photo: Linda Shin

With over 80 miles of diverse singletrack available in Dupont State Forest, this network is truly an all-encompassing trail system. The various trails contain steep slickrock, flowy singletrack in the trees, scenic waterfalls, jumps, rocky technical sections, steep climbs, and rhododendron tunnels. While the Ridgeline flow trail is incredibly popular, the slickrock balds in the center of the forest are some of the most iconic trails on the East Coast.

Carvin’s Cove, Roanoke, Virginia

Rider: Greg Heil. Photo: Dan Lucas.

Rider: Greg Heil. Photo: Dan Lucas.

Carvin’s Cove is considered by many to be the premiere trail system in Roanoke, if not all of Virginia. With singletrack ranging from flat to steep and from gnarly to flowy, almost every rider comes away from these trails with a grin on their face. Personally, I recommend the long, fast descents off the top of the mountain.

Coldwater Mountain Anniston, Alabama

Photo: Aaron Chamberlain

Still a work in progress, the trail system at Coldwater Mountain is ever-expanding, and it already offers some of the greatest trail diversity in the Southeast. With everything from mellow cross-country trails to backcountry-style singletrack, flow/jump trails, and a black diamond downhill track, this expansive system has something to please everyone. While this network is currently home to 35 miles of singletrack, eventually the goal is to pack some 60+ miles of trail onto the mountain, turning Coldwater into a destination in its own right.

Santos, Ocala, Florida

Photo: Kristen Bonkoski

Home to an annual spring break Fat Tire Festival, Santos not only pulls in mountain bikers from across the state of Florida, it also attracts riders from all across the United States who are looking to escape the winter cold with delectable, dry singletrack. Santos is home to over 80 miles of trail, and there are even some extremely technical features in the Vortex area to challenge the best riders, including wooden bridges and rollers, dirt jumps, and massive drops.

See Also
By Kristen Bonkoski
 

Five Points, Trenton, Georgia

Rider: dozzerboy. Photo: GoldenGoose

Rider: dozzerboy. Photo: GoldenGoose

Five Points is, by all objective measures, one of the best trail networks in the state of Georgia. The network boasts plenty of mileage (over 20); entertaining, well-built singletrack filled with challenges and flow a-plenty; and scenic rolling hills that combine to make an act that’s almost impossible to follow. Key trails to hit include Tailings and Hogsback, which “are expert due to the narrowness and angle of the track” according to Singletracks reviewer nvrenf.

4 Best Lift-Serviced Bike Parks in the Southeast

Baily Mountain Bike Park, Marshall, North Carolina

Located just outside of Asheville, North Carolina, Bailey Mountain Bike Park is making a name for itself with steep, technical downhill runs. While this is technically a lift-served bike park, the “lift” is actually a shuttle truck that hauls riders to the top of the hill. Bailey is only open on the weekends and on key weekdays around holidays, and its popularity appears to be growing rapidly.

Beech Mountain Resort, Banner Elk, North Carolina

Photo: Beech Mountain Resort

One of the oldest lift-served bike parks in the Southeast, Beech Mountain has played host to numerous downhill races over the years, including the National Championship. Currently, Beech offers five downhill trails of varying difficulty.

Massanutten Bike Park, Harrisonburg, Virginia

Massanutten Resort is home to a legit downhill park, as well as two-way mountain bike trails spread across the mountain. Located near Harrisonburg, Virginia, the Massanutten Bike Park adds an incredible dimension to this region, which led us to rank Harrisonburg one of the top mountain bike destinations in the Southeast.

Windrock Bike Park, Oliver Springs, Tennessee

Owned and run by pro downhiller Neko Mulalley, Windrock Bike Park recently played host to the Pro GRT downhill race and some of the biggest names in downhill racing. Renowned for being ultra-steep, Neko doesn’t just build buff bike park trails–he and his crew work hard to put the “rock” in “Windrock.” Windrock is located just outside of Knoxville, TN, one of our top 10 most affordable mountain bike towns.

3 Most Epic Backcountry Routes in the Southeast

Pinhoti Trail, Ellijay, Georgia

Photo: Jeff Barber

The Pinhoti Trail is a 140-mile route that begins near Ellijay and Blue Ridge and runs all the way to the Alabama border. While some portions of this route are on paved roads, at least 100 miles of the Pinhoti in Georgia consists of high-quality singletrack, offering some of the very best backcountry trail riding in the state. Outstanding segments include the sections near Dalton that are used for the Snake Creek Gap race, and the P1, P2, and P3 segments near Ellijay, which connect to Bear Creek.

Sheltowee Trace, Livingston, Kentucky

Running roughly 300 miles one-way, the Sheltowee Trace trail is not only Kentucky’s longest mountain bike trail, it could very well be the longest mountain bike trail in the Southeastern United States. This trail “spans the Daniel Boone National Forest as a multi-use trail for most of its length,” according to Singletracks member Ascentionist. “Some sections are closed to mountain biking and many sections allow horses and ATVs as well.”

Southern Highlands Traverse

photo: bikepacking.com

The new Southern Highlands Traverse bikepacking route runs for 1,270 miles from Front Royal, Virginia to Flagg Mountain in Alabama, climbing 141,000 vertical feet along the way. The route is broken up into four different stages. “The first stage is known as the Virginia Mountain Bike Trail (VMBT) and runs 473 miles from Front Royal south to Damascus,” according to Jeff Barber. “Stage 2 is known as Trans Western North Carolina, running 314 miles from Damascus, VA to the Georgia / South Carolina border near Mountain Rest, SC. […] The third stage is known as the Trans North Georgia, or TNGA. This 357-mile route is well known for the annual unofficial bikepacking race of the same name. […] The final stage–the Alabama Skyway–mellows to 123 miles with (just) 11,000 feet of climbing.”

5 Best Big City Trails in the Southeast

Blankets Creek, Woodstock, Georgia

Rider: Leah Barber. Photo: Jeff Barber

Blankets Creek is one of the best-known trails in Georgia, owing much of its popularity to its proximity to the Atlanta metro area. But don’t be scared by the hordes of Atlantans on two wheels: with diverse cross country trail loops and even a downhill jump trail, Blankets Creek offers great riding for all types of mountain bikers, and the one-way alternating traffic helps spread riders out.

James River Park, Richmond, Virginia

The James River Park System in Richmond, Virginia is a true urban mountain biking gem. Located in and around the James River in downtown Richmond, skyscrapers are visible through the trees while pedaling wooded riverside singletrack. Yes, I said in the James River: Belle Isle, located in the center of the river, is home to some great singletrack, as well as a legit bike park complete with skill-building features and dirt jumps. Other singletrack trails along the banks include Northbank and Buttermilk, with connections to even more singletrack in other town parks.

Oak Mountain, Birmingham, Alabama

Photo: Michael Paul

This 21-mile trail system is conveniently located close to the population center of Birmingham. While it’s best known for its fast, flowy trails, there’s plenty of chunky, technical singletrack–as evidenced by Michael’s photo above. While this well-developed trail system has been a perennial favorite for years, a new 2.4-mile multi-use trail, known as the North Lakes Connector Trail, was just built here last year.

The Ridgeland Trails, Jackson, Mississippi

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#RidgelandTrails #MTB #sicky

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Ranked #2 out of all trails in the state of Mississippi by Singletracks reviewers, the Ridgeland Trails house six miles of feature-filled singletrack, complete with wooden berms and bridges. While Mississippi might not have much elevation to work with, the builders at Ridgeland have made the most of it.

Urban Wilderness, Knoxville, Tennessee

The Urban Wilderness trail system, located in-town Knoxville, contains up to 50 miles of interconnected singletrack trails. One of the must-ride trails is known as the Devil’s Racetrack, a technical, professionally-built downhill trail filled with massive features. This project was the winner of a $100,000 Bell Built Grant in 2015.

 

5 Best Mountain Bike Destinations in the Southeast

Brevard, North Carolina

Rider: Neko Mulally. Photo: John Schultz. Photo courtesy of Scott Sports.

Brevard is home to hundreds of miles of the most technical backcountry singletrack anywhere, gorgeous Appalachian Mountain views, and tons of mountain biking infrastructure including bike shops, rentals, guiding, races, and more.

Must-ride trails include Dupont State Forest (mentioned above), Laurel Mountain, and Black Mountain. But the thing is, all of these trails deep in the heart of Pisgah National Forest, which are generally referred to as self-contained rides, are really incredibly interconnected, creating a trail system of massive breadth with a mind-blowing array of ride combinations.

Chattanooga, Tennessee

Raccoon Mountain is the marquee ride in the Chattanooga area, boasting 24 miles of trail with some very technical descents. Ride around the manmade reservoir on top of the mountain, or bomb down a long, flowy descent to the base–or do both! While Raccoon Mountain is the #1 trail system everyone talks about, Five Points just outside of town is fun, Enterprise South offers great beginner trails, and Stringer’s Ridge offers sweet singletrack that can be ridden from downtown. Chattanooga is home to over 100 miles of singletrack within 25 miles of downtown, and even more is on the way.

See Also
By Jeff Barber
 

Ellijay, Georgia

Photo: Timothy James Photo

Gilmer County, where Ellijay is located, is the self-proclaimed mountain biking capital of Georgia… and their claim is legit! Most of the best riding is found on or near the Pinhoti Trail (mentioned above), and be sure to add in the iconic Bear Creek Trail for some epic ride combinations. The Aska Trail System is also wildly popular among visitors.

Looking for a place to stay? Look no further than Mulberry Gap Mountain Bike Getaway. Choose from a cabin or camping, and an optional meal plan. If you want to save the legs, grab a shuttle to the top, and finish the day with some skills practice using the on-property trails.

Harrisonburg, Virginia

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Sooooooo STOKED to have the #SDSTour season right around the corner. Three days of riding dreamy remote backcountry singletrack from the @stokesvillelodge through the #gwnf to #douthatstatepark and back all while eating great food with amazing support. For 2017 we have the @racepacemtb trip booked, The @familybikeshop / @trailwerkscyclery / @cbnystrom Crew reaching capacity and our first ever all ladies trip about to be finalized with Trish Koerber and the Rad Asheville Gals. Kidd Manville @kiddma4 surfing Fore Mountain Trail at the end of day two. Photo @chrisscottistan #tbt #stokesville #stokesvillelodge #stokesvillebikecamp #stokesvillecampground #imbaridecenter #virginiatrail #shenandoahmountaintouring @countyofbath @alleghanyhighlandsva @alleghenycounty #augustacountyva #bicyclelifestyle #backcountry #bicycletour #biketour #virginia

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Harrisonburg, Virginia has won acclaim in recent years as a Bronze-level IMBA ride center. Located in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley, Harrisonburg has a wealth of characteristically-gnarly East Coast singletrack, with a few sections of beginner-friendly trail thrown in here and there. The city features excellent in-town singletrack, with several certified IMBA Epics just outside of town. The racing scene is alive and well in Harrisonburg, with local races of various distances all the way up to the Shenandoah 100, part of the NUE series.

Key trails include the Southern Traverse, Reddish Knob, and Wolf Ridge. Massanutten, mentioned above, is also located close by, and the Southern Highlands Traverse bikepacking route also runs through this area.

Roanoke, Virginia

With the Blue Ridge Mountains rising up sharply to the west of town, not only is there some 200 miles of bike-legal singletrack near Roanoke, but those miles offer true mountain biking. “North Mountain Trail is a must-do for any serious mountain biker,” says Dan Lucas, Lead MTB Guide and Shop Manager for Roanoke Mountain Adventures. “It’s got a little bit of everything you would want in a backcountry trail: lung-busting climbs, skin-peeling descents, chunky tech rock gardens that will test the best trials riders, and classic East Coast rooty fun.”

While North Mountain (aka Dragon’s Back) is one of the best backcountry rides in the area, Mill Mountain is one of the most accessible, with some 8 miles of singletrack located right in the town of Roanoke. But the largest and most popular trail system in the area is Carvin’s Cove (mentioned above), located just outside of town, but still on city land. Carvin’s contains some 30 miles of singletrack ranging from flat, beginner-friendly trails to steep, black diamond plunges.

Your Turn: Have you ridden in the Southeastern USA? If so, what are you favorite trails?

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# Comments

  • mongwolf

    Great write up Greg. Somehow I have missed the Southern Highlands Traverse. That sounds amazing. And then reading Jeff’s article about it I learn there that the Eastern Divide Route is being developed. 5000 miles of riding. Very very cool.

  • John Fisch

    “… and a temperate climate that baits riders to pedal 12 months out of the year”

    ?????

    The southeast is infamous for heat and humidity and I won’t set foot or knobby there for at least 8 months out of the year! Just say the word “Alabama” and I start to sweat.

    After such a claim, what else can I not trust here?

    That said, thank for such a complete and diverse overview of the region. I do look forward to adding many of those trails to my resume.

    One add I would give is just a little north of your Virginia entries. The trails at Elizabeth Furnace and Kennedy Peak in Virginia are excellent. Kennedy is an outstanding intermediate loop which is still undiscovered and you’re likely to have it all to yourself, even on a weekend. The furnace is a rocky challenge course, sometimes demanding trials level skills.

    • williedillon

      The only time of the year I don’t really ride here is in the winter, but that’s no longer really the case as I bought winter cycling gear. The heat doesn’t bother me much, though.

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