Pisgah National Forest: Everything You Need to Know About Mountain Biking and Visiting

Everything mountain bikers need to know about visiting and riding in Pisgah National Forest.
Pisgah National Forest Mountain Biking
Photo taken from the top of Looking Glass Rock by Greg Heil

The Pisgah National Forest is renowned as the premiere mountain bike destination in the Southeastern United States, and is truly one of the best places to mountain bike the world over. Comprising over 500,000 acres of land, the Pisgah National Forest is a massive swath of wild forest with hundreds of miles of trails and an endless array of activities to enjoy–both on and off the bike.

Pisgah National Forest
The Entrance to Pisgah National Forest. Photo: Jeff Barber

The Pisgah National Forest is subdivided into three different ranger districts: Pisgah, Grandfather, and Appalachian. While the Pisgah Ranger District is the most well-known for mountain biking, you can find trails in all three districts. And even if districts like, say, the Appalachian District aren’t the best for riding, that shouldn’t keep you from exploring the entire forest–even off the bike you’ll find the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi (Mount Mitchell), gorgeous waterfalls, formidable rock cliffs, and one of the best sections of the renowned Appalachian Trail.

Read on to learn about the best things the Pisgah National Forest has to offer.

Top 10 Mountain Bike Trails in the Pisgah National Forest

Of course, mountain biking is the number one reason why you’ll be traveling to the Pisgah. Here are 10 of the best mountain bike trails in the Pisgah National Forest:

1. Bent Creek

Green's Lick descent. Photo: kamoteus
Green’s Lick descent. Photo: kamoteus

While many don’t consider Bent Creek “Pisgah Proper,” this massively-popular trail system is indeed located within the boundaries of the Pisgah National Forest. Thanks to its wide variety of trails across the 30-mile network, including highly-acclaimed descents like Green’s Lick, Bent Creek draws hundreds of riders every weekend from nearby Asheville.

2. Kitsuma

Photo: kamoteus

Located in the Grandfather Ranger District of the Pisgah National Forest, Kitsuma is a longtime favorite that’s generally ridden as a 10-mile loop. For more mileage, combine it with other nearby, lesser-known trails.

3. Black Mountain / Thrift Cove

Rider: Leah Barber. Photo: Jeff Barber
Rider: Leah Barber. Photo: Jeff Barber

Black Mountain is considered by many to be the classic Pisgah ride, mainly due to its easy access on the edge of the national forest, just a couple miles down the highway from The Hub bike shop. Almost always ridden with Thrift Cove as well, this route ranges in distance from about 12 miles up to 20 or 30, depending on how much of a Black Mountain beatdown you’re feeling like!

4. Avery Creek

Photo: Jeff Barber

While Avery Creek is itself about 3 miles long, it’s generally combined into a quality loop of roughly 12 miles (or more). Despite its short length, Avery is a local’s favorite. Wes Dickson, owner of Sycamore Cycles, said:

“One of my favorite rides is the Avery Creek trail. I love climbing up Buckhorn gap trail to Clawhammer road. If you don’t want to get your feet wet… you might want to just head straight up Clawhammer road and bypass the Buckhorn trail. Once you are at the top of Clawhammer road turn left onto Black Mountain trail and ride to Black/Club Gap/Buckwheat/Avery intersection. At this junction turn left onto Avery Creek trail. Towards the bottom of Avery Creek you will want to get onto Buckhorn Gap trail to Avery creek road (477).”

5. Bennett Gap

View of Looking Glass Rock from the Bennett Gap Trail. Photo: Greg Heil
View of Looking Glass Rock from the Bennett Gap Trail. Photo: Greg Heil

Bennett Gap is located near Avery Creek and Black Mountain, so the ambitious rider could combine these trails into one massive loop. The average rider, on the other hand, will probably want tackle each of these trails separately. Pro downhill racer and North Carolina transplant Neko Mulally is a fan of Bennett Gap:

“[Bennett Gap] is one of the fastest, roughest trails in the National Forest and has some really cool rock features. I really like how easy it is to access, just a 30-minute casual pedal up the gravel road. This year it has been changed from a seasonal trail to a year-round bicycle access trail. It’s definitely a must ride for me!”

6. Laurel Mountain / Pilot Rock

Photo: Aaron Chamberlain
Rider: Ron Bolds. Photo: Aaron Chamberlain

The Laurel Mountain/Pilot Rock loop is a classic that actually offers some incredible views of the surrounding forest, on top of the gnarly, challenging singletrack beneath your knobbies. If you add in Pilot Cove, you’re looking at a challenging 16-mile Pisgah day.

7. Squirrel Gap

Photo: GoldenGoose
Photo: GoldenGoose

Squirrel Gap itself is, like most trails in the Pisgah, only a few miles long, but it’s generally combined with Turkey Gap, Mullinax, Buckhorn Gap, and others to make a long, challenging ride!

8. Farlow Gap

Photo: komateus

Renowned as one of the most technical descents in all of the Pisgah National Forest, Farlow Gap is not to be taken lightly! Located in the Fish Hatchery area, Singletracks reviewers give this trail a double black diamond rating.

9. Daniel Ridge

Rider: Leah Barber. Photo: Jeff Barber
Rider: Leah Barber. Photo: Jeff Barber

The Daniel Ridge trail anchors the Fish Hatchery area, and gets an intermediate-level rating from Singletracks members–a rarity in the Pisgah. Expect to see some great waterfalls on this ride!

10. Fletcher Creek

photo: Capndave

Located not far out of Asheville, Fletcher Creek is another intermediate-level ride in the Pisgah, offering 9 or more miles of riding, depending on how you loop it.

For even more mountain bike trails in the Pisgah National Forest, check out this map.

10 Best Off-the-Bike Activities in the Pisgah National Forest

When it’s time for a rest day you’ll still have plenty to keep you occupied in the Pisgah!

1. Appalachian Trail: Max Patch Mountain

Photo: LaFolie, Tripleblaze.com
Photo: LaFolie, Tripleblaze.com

The Appalachian Trail runs along the North Carolina/Tennessee border for many miles, dipping in and out of the Pisgah National Forest. While you can’t really go wrong by hiking any section of the AT in the Pisgah, the Max Patch portion is “considered by some to be the ‘crown jewel of the Appalachian Trail,'” according to Hike WNC. Max Patch is located in the Appalachian Ranger District, so if you want to visit this part of the forest, here’s your opportunity!

2. Linville Gorge, Grand Canyon of the East

Known as the “Grand Canyon of the East,” the Linville Gorge Wilderness is located in the Grandfather Ranger District of the Pisgah. Linville Gorge is renowned for hiking, but also as one of the top places for rock climbing in North Carolina. You’ll also find the 150-foot-tall Linville Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls in the Pisgah National Forest.

3. Mount Mitchell

Alright, technically you could see Mount Mitchell on your mountain bike as well (see below), but either way, you’ve gotta check it out. Mount Mitchell is the highest mountain in the Appalachians, rising to an elevation of 6,684 feet above sea level!

4. Looking Glass Falls

While Looking Glass Falls may not be the tallest waterfall in the forest, it’s hands-down one of the most scenic!

5. Sliding Rock

Located just up the road from Looking Glass Falls, Sliding Rock is a small waterfall/cascade that tourists enjoy using as a natural waterslide.

6. Breweries

Photo: SierraNevada.com
Photo: SierraNevada.com

The beer scene in Western North Carolina is extremely well developed, and just keeps getting better! Here some of the breweries that you can check out in the Pisgah region (in alphabetical order):


7. Fly Fishing

If you’re into fly fishing on your rest days, Davidson River just outside of Brevard is the spot to hit, according to Blue Ridge Outdoors. Alternatively, just find any small mountain stream and start casting–there are hundreds of them!

8. The Biltmore Estate

Photo: Biltmore.com
Photo: Biltmore.com

“Built by George Washington Vanderbilt the II between 1889 and 1895 and is the largest privately owned house in the United States, at 178,926 square feet,” according to Wikipedia. These days, the Biltmore is a massively-popular tourist destination for tours, fine dining, beer, lodging, and as a bonus: there are mountain bike trails on the property!

9. Cradle of Forestry

The Cradle of Forestry “is the birthplace of science-based forest management.” Basically, the entire forestry movement was born from this location in the Pisgah National Forest. “Some 87,000 aces of the Vanderbilt’s ‘Pisgah Forest’ tract became the nucleus of the Pisgah National Forest, established in 1916,” according to CradleOfForestry.com.

10. Blue Ridge Parkway

Pisgah from the Blue Ridge Parkway (photo: Aaron Chamberlain)
Pisgah from the Blue Ridge Parkway (photo: Aaron Chamberlain)

Fancy a drive, or better yet, a road bike ride? The Blue Ridge Parkway is a scenic paved road that runs for 469 miles through the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and Virginia, offering epic views all along the way.

5 Best Campgrounds in the Pisgah National Forest

Want to embrace the forest’s peace and quiet in the most intimate way possible? Plan to camp when you visit. Here are 5 of the highest-rated campgrounds in the Pisgah National Forest, according to Tripleblaze.com:

1. Carolina Hemlocks

Photo: Ramblin' Man Dan, Tripleblaze
Photo: Ramblin’ Man Dan, Tripleblaze

Carolina Hemlocks is located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, near Mount Mitchell.

2. Mount Pisgah

Photo: LightFoot, Tripleblaze
Photo: LightFoot, Tripleblaze

Also located along the Blue Ridge Parkway, Mount Pisgah Campground sits at a pretty high elevation for the East Coast: just under 5,000 feet.

3. Lake Powhatan

View of Lake Powhatan. Photo: Greg Heil
View of Lake Powhatan. Photo: Greg Heil

Lake Powhatan campground is surrounded by the Bent Creek Trail System, so if you’re interested in riding the #1 trail on our list, consider staying here! This is a popular campground, and it can fill quickly.

4. Black Mountain

Located in the Grandfather Ranger District, the Black Mountain campground lies just below Mount Mitchell.

5. Davidson River

Planning to do some fly fishing, as mentioned above? Then stay at Davidson River! You’ll also be within easy riding distance to a number of area trailheads including Black Mountain.

For those who prefer a more refined camping experience, Stay Sublime offers vintage Airstream rentals in and around Pisgah. They can deliver an Airstream to your campground, or you can choose to tow it yourself. Check out their page to see all the options available.

5 Most Notable Events in the Pisgah National Forest

A race or a festival can make a great excuse for a trip, and the Pisgah has a wide offering of excellent events.

1. Pisgah Stage Race

Thomas Turner close on the heels of Jeremiah Bishop. Photo courtesy Icon Media Asheville
Thomas Turner close on the heels of Jeremiah Bishop. Photo courtesy Icon Media Asheville

“Over five stages, racers will cover 140 miles of legendary Pisgah singletrack and gain more than 20,000 feet of elevation. Of course, there will be some fire road to connect the trails, but the organizers claim that 75% of the route is singletrack!” said Aaron Chamberlain. It is easily one of the finest stage races in the United States.

2. Off Road Assault on Mount Mitchell

photo: Icon Media Asheville
photo: Icon Media Asheville

Race to the top of the Appalachians’ highest mountain (see above)! While the registration usually sells out rapidly, ORAMM is not for the faint of heart.

3. Pisgah Mountain Bike Adventure Race – PMBAR

PMBAR is a mountain bike adventure race of the first order. Here’s how the website describes it:

“Teams of two riders will race to reach 4 of 5 checkpoints, in any order, and return to the start/finish in the least amount of time. Checkpoint locations will remain secret until start-time and there is no suggested route. Routes will vary between 50-80 miles, will include 9,000-15,000 feet of climbing, and should take 7-14 hours to complete.”

4. Pisgah Mountain Bike Festival

Beer hand up on the REEB Ranch pumptrack.
Beer hand up on the REEB Ranch pumptrack.

The Pisgah Mountain Bike Festival is held at Oskar Blues’ REEB Ranch, which is home to a legit pumptrack and massive jump line.

5. Pisgah Enduro

While you can sign up for either the one-day or two-day event, why would you only want to do one day of racing in the Pisgah when you can do two?!

The Top 5 Bike Shops Near the Pisgah National Forest

Did the Pisgah chew your bike up and spit it out all over the ground? These five bike shops will get you rolling again:

The Hub and Pisgah Tavern

Photo: Aaron Chamberlain
Photo: Aaron Chamberlain

This 6,000 square foot bike shop offers everything imaginable, from enough MTB gear to completely outfit the n00b, to rentals, repair, camping and climbing gear, and perhaps most importantly: a craft beer bar.

Sycamore Cycles

Photo: Aaron Chamberlain
Photo: Aaron Chamberlain

Sycamore Cycles is the original Brevard bike shop, and their high quality service and sales still honors that storied legacy.

Epic Cycles

Photo: Epic Cycles
Photo: Epic Cycles

Located in the town of Black Mountain, Epic Cycles is the closest–and one of the best–places for service if you’re riding the Grandfather Ranger District

Liberty Bicycles

Photo: Liberty Bicycles
Photo: Liberty Bicycles

Liberty Bicycles, located in Asheville, has been in business since 1980 (!). You can’t go wrong with their sales and service.

Magic Cycles

If you’re on the northern end of the forest, be sure to check out Magic Cycles in Boone, who have been in business since 1993.

Your Turn: Have any Pisgah tips that we didn’t mention? Share them in the comments below!


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