There was a time not so long ago when running into a couple of mountain bikers from Vancouver along a trail in Brevard’s DuPont State Recreational Forest would have seemed quite beyond the ordinary. These days, running into cyclists from all around the world is hardly even unusual. Though a longtime favorite spot for mountain biking and road cycling, Brevard and Transylvania spent decades as a best kept secret among those already in the know. The cat, however, is out of the bag. This once-sleepy small town in the western North Carolina mountains is now on the national radar, and plays host to millions of visitors each year, eager to make the most of its reputation as a mecca for adventure.
Mountain biking is a serious draw to the area, and it’s easy to understand why. There are easily 200 miles of singletrack within a 20 or 30 mile radius of Brevard. Even the most ambitious rider would be hard-pressed to cover it all over one weekend, so they come back for a second or a third. And the problem is that once you ride something good, you want to ride it again, so each ride expands your borders.
There are two main trail systems in Transylvania county — Pisgah National Forest and DuPont State Recreational Forest — and the two systems are quite different.
Known for its big climbs, epic descents, rocks and roots, Pisgah offers some seriously great trails that are also seriously difficult. Though there are a few easier trails within the forest, the vast majority should be considered advanced, so don’t go out there if it is your first time riding a mountain bike. DuPont, on the other hand, provides shorter climbs, rolling downhills, and a more flowing trail system. While it has plenty of rocks and roots to test your suspension and rattle your fillings, beginner level trails are abundant in DuPont. Each trail system has plenty of access points and both are multi-use, so it should go without saying that respect among trail users goes a long way.
Pisgah National Forest
Pisgah National Forest is primarily accessed via Highway 276 in the town of Pisgah Forest, where riders generally choose two areas to ride: the “front range” or the Fish Hatchery. Accessed via the Black Mountain trailhead adjacent to the Pisgah National Forest Visitors Center or the Horse Stables parking area off of Avery Creek Road, the front range offers a variety of popular trails, including Avery Creek, Black Mountain, and Bennett Gap. Of those, the most popular trail is Black Mountain, chiefly Lower Black. All sections of Black Mountain are accessed via a long climb to the top. The big views from the top of Lower Black (Hickory Knob) is a real payoff. It’s also a great scenic spot for a snack and a drink. Due to the popularity of Black Mountain and the tremendous rainfall in the area, the trail has suffered significant erosion in recent years, and it’s currently being rehabilitated. Be sure to go get your Strava chasing on now!
The downhill next door to Black Mountain, Avery Creek, recently had parts of the trail rebuilt, and includes a bit of everything from rock gardens to big gaps to rollercoaster sections. There’s no easy access to this as you’re starting from the top of a mountain, but the fun coming down is worth the effort. If big gaps aren’t for you, don’t fret. There are ride-arounds, so you can still challenge yourself getting to the top and test your arm and grip strength on the way down.
Bennett Gap is a notch up the gnarly scale from Avery Creek. Not as “buff” as the rebuilt Avery, Bennett is a bit more “honed by nature.” Given its popularity, several sections of Bennett are almost a guaranteed hike-a-bike due to erosion and technicality; think steep hillsides, big rocks, and big roots. While some of the most technically astute and strongest riders may be able to navigate this, it’s advisable to take the better part of valor, avoid the rescue/hospital bills, and just get off and walk (this advice goes for both ups and downs). Be on the lookout for the gaps in the trees near the top where you can see across the valley. On a clear day, you’ll get quite a view, rich with the signature blue of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Once you’ve finished sightseeing, you’ll move on to the most technical downhill section of the trail including a set of rocky stairs with a not-so-conveniently-placed left-hand turn, and then the big rock drop Bennett is known for. Word of advice: don’t go into this blind! Once you survive the drop, there’s a few stair-step roots down to the final rooty and more flowy section of the trail
Fish Hatchery trailhead
You can access the Fish Hatchery Section of trails via 276 to Fish Hatchery Road (FS475). From the Fish Hatchery proper, you’ll find another treasure trove of trails. Those looking for the biggest of the big will want to hone in on Farlow Gap. The ride to the top is a doozy, especially if you’re lugging the appropriate bike. The downhill requires full attention. After navigating a long rock garden with rock drops in the middle, you’ll find multiple stream crossings and very demanding ups and downs. Farlow is akin to Big Foot for the locals. The remoteness of this trail though, allows for some serious self-reflection along the way, and you will be treated to some of the best views that Pisgah has to offer.
If Farlow feels too big for you, never fear. Butter Gap, Daniel Ridge and Cove Creek may be exactly what you’re looking for. Butter is traditionally ridden from south to north, accessed via Cathey’s Creek Road. It is exactly as the name suggests: buttery. There are many wet spots along this trail, so be sure to have a change of clothes in the car and a bike wash waiting. Daniel Ridge, on the other hand, is relatively dry by Pisgah standards. With a rocky side and a more rolling side, the trail offers a fine ride in either direction with plenty of challenge on the up and down. When connected to a loop from Daniel Ridge or up FS475B/FS225, Cove Creek often feels like a downhill when coming in, until you race it, and you realize it has a lot of false flat uphill. That said, Cove Creek is one of the tamest trails in Pisgah. There are certainly a couple sections of higher technicality, but they don’t sneak up on you and are easily walkable.
When it comes to gear, Pisgah is not a place to try out your cross-country or race bike. While certainly doable on a cross-country bike, Pisgah’s trails are much more enjoyable on a trail bike with at least 120 to 130mm of travel both front and rear. That kind of bike will allow you to pedal where you want, keep you out of trouble on the downhills, and get you back to the car happy and healthy.
DuPont State Forest
So if Pisgah is so good, why go anywhere else? Well, the answer lies in DuPont. While it doesn’t offer Pisgah’s massive climbs and downhills, DuPont’s fun, flowing trails don’t always have you wondering if you’ll make it out alive. To access Dupont for biking, there are five primary parking areas: Cornmill Shoals, Fawn Lake, Guion Farm, Lake Imaging, and High Falls. Dupont is big, but not so big that you can’t access all corners in one big loop from any parking lot, but each trailhead certainly allows better access to that immediate area.
From Cornmill Shoals, the real highlight trail is Big Rock. It takes you up to some big granite outcroppings with amazing views of the surrounding area. The ride up or down has become pretty eroded over the last couple years, so it’s more technical, but nothing that will sneak up on you. The worst case scenario is that you have a nice hike with your bike.
Fawn Lake parking area provides access to a really nice network of trails. The view in that section is, for sure, Fawn Lake, which is easily accessed via Fawn Lake Road. In terms of trails, Mine Mountain and Reasonover are both awesome. They are probably two of the best trails in DuPont in terms of pedaling demands, due to their longer climbs. What goes up, however, must come down. So you’ll be handsomely rewarded with nice, flowing downhills. Fawn Lake also provides the easiest access to the airstrip in the middle of DuPont that has an amazing view at the end of the runway. And if you’re willing to climb back out, you can pretty easily roll down to picturesque Lake Julia and Bridal Veil Falls from the airstrip. Those can also be accessed from the High Falls parking area.
The final three, Lake Imaging, High Falls, and Guion Farm, all access roughly the same section of DuPont from different sides. The highlight trail in that corner is undoubtedly Ridgeline. Anyone who has ever been to or heard about DuPont, knows about Ridgeline. While it isn’t stated as such, unless you’re riding at off-times Ridgeline is probably best considered as a single-direction trail downhill from Hickory Mountain. It’s fun, it’s flowy, it has some berms, and it’s probably the best downhill in the area for a beginner cyclist. It can be as fast as you like it, there are no big drops, and it’s a great place to practice your skills.
In terms of bike needs for DuPont, a hardtail mountain bike with around 100mm of travel in the front is a good start, and a full suspension bike is even better. That’s not to say a bigger trail bike isn’t fun in DuPont, but it’s also not necessary and potentially less fun to be lugging around the trails.
Biking alone draws countless visitors to Brevard every year, but as a destination, it’s more than the sum of its trails. At its heart, you’ll find a very cool town with amazing culture and warm, welcoming people spearheading a movement to take better care of their natural resources. The local “Leave It Better” campaign highlights the principles of Leave No Trace, as well as respecting fellow users and the environment around you by encouraging people to take it one step further and pick up not just your own trash but the trash beside it as well. Additionally, a tremendous amount of local rainfall makes trail maintenance an endless (and often thankless) task. DuPont has the ability to close singletrack during/after big rains, but Pisgah does not, so please make responsible choices when visiting to keep the trails in good shape for others. If your trip ends up during a rainy spell, check out nearby bike parks such as Ride Kanuga or The Riveter, or ride some of the fantastic gravel roads that wander through the same areas of Pisgah and DuPont.
An adventure awaits in Brevard no matter where you start your ride, so get into gear and hit the trail!