If you’re a serious mountain biker, you’ve either ridden in western North Carolina or you’ve already got it on your bucket list — or you damned well should have it written down by now. It’s gnarly, it’s fast, it’s steep and treacherous in a lot of places, and it’s home to some of the finest singletrack on the planet.
What if you’re a flat-lander who’s never been to WNC before and is — frankly — a little intimidated by the hype? Or what happens when you have a newbie riding partner that you want to introduce to the glory of riding in WNC? It’s very easy to underestimate the terrain and end up on something that’s way above their current skill level. Trust me, if they end up crashing hard on Trace Ridge, or slogging through endless river crossings down in South Mills River, it’s probably going to be the last time they join you on a ride.
So that’s the challenge: find a handful of trails in this fat tire wonderland that fledgling riders can conquer and enjoy, without too much risk of physical or psychological harm. Something that will push their limits a little bit, make them breathe hard once in a while, and give them a taste of adventure.
But it can’t be too heinous, too long, too steep, too exposed, or too much air. Can’t include dicey river crossings, cliff faces, boulder fields, or rattlesnake dens. That probably cuts out 90% of the rides to be found in these mountains, just sayin’. Still, there are some gentle gems tucked away out here, hiding in the shadows of their forbidding cousins. So here are eight of the easiest trails in western North Carolina (plus an honorable mention), ones that’ll give newbie folks a chance to fall in love with riding too.
Jackrabbit Recreation Area, Hayesville
If you want someone new to get hooked on mountain biking, I honestly can’t think of a better trail system to do it than Jackrabbit. This nested set of loops totals about 12 miles of singletrack, covering a small peninsula that juts out into Lake Chatuga. It’s a swoopy little playground full of dips and hops, with trails that dance through the trees and paint a smile on your face. Jackrabbit was laid out specifically with mountain bikers in mind, meaning that nearly every curve is radiused to allow you to carve through without braking. There’s nothing scary about it, just pure fat tire fun, and anyone with the skills to pedal a bicycle will be able to handle it. There’s very little elevation change, as well as a number of spots where you can roll right down to the lake’s edge for a snack break or even a dip.
The main White loop is only about four miles long, with four other short (1.5mi-3.2mi) loops peeling off one after another. That makes it perfect for tailoring the ride length as needed.
There’s an inner Yellow trail that offers up some really sweet rollercoaster action. Or if you find Jackrabbit a touch too tame — or if your newbie friend is feeling a bit too cocky — then take the shortcut over the Orange trail for a surprising challenge: nearly straight up the fall line, no switchbacks, full of really loose rock plates and snaky roots. As much as I hate to admit it, I’ve dabbed every single I’ve tried to climb it. Dropping down it is slick and sketchy, and a good spot for your friend to acquire their first scar.