From the Jamestown Colony and the Civil War to modern controversy, Virginia has always been a main stage for history-making in America. Unlike most states, it has experienced nearly every stage of good and bad American growth. Virginia could be called the land of opportunity, of our forefathers, of the oppressed fighting to be free, of oppressors, or of change, depending on where you crack open the history books.
Luckily, for those who seek two-wheeled enlightenment on blissful singletrack, the state never stopped being the land of opportunity. Even the swampiest areas of the Tidewater contain idyllic ribbons of dirt beckoning to be explored on two wheels.
Nowhere is this more true than in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests, which contain some of the most unspoiled mountain scenery east of the Rockies. Within this tremendously large reserve, rural Southern farmland and the rest of the East Coast are kept asunder by steep, almost insurmountable ridges that can run hundreds of miles southwest to northeast. A dizzying array of some of the best singletrack anywhere, most of which is open to mountain biking, wind their way up, along, and around these ridges to form a massive web of paths binding the Forest together. To make planning the perfect mountain bike vacation in Virginia’s Blue Ridge a little easier, here’s a brief guide that should get you started.
10 of the best mountain bike trails in George Washington and Jefferson National Forests
At the top off the list is one of the best descents east of the Mississippi: Reddish Knob via Timber Ridge or Wolf Ridge. In the course of about eight miles, riders drop nearly 3,000 feet in a steep, technical, and slightly loose dash from the summit. After conquering the initial dense rock gardens, a difficult choice presents itself: Do you continue down the boost-able water bars of the steep Timber Ridge, or do you test yourself on the high speed jumps, boulder drops, and rhythm of Wolf Ride?
All I can say is it was balls fun. – JCHILLTOPPERS
Where the freaking choice to rate it a 6. Bad f*** ass trail. – Vut73
This trail is the essence of mountain biking. You’ll suffer to get to the top, unless you can find a sucker to shuttle you up, but going down removes all your doubts: You will do this again. – Cotharyus
For those looking to be punished, the Dragon’s Back is a one-stop torture shop that many recommend training for. To access the trail’s expansive views and blazing descents, a hike-a-bike with 1,000 feet of climbing is needed to gain the ridge where rocks, sharp, loose, and unrelenting, provide small but measurable obstacles to every move. Grab a buddy, fill up the hydration pack, pack a lunch along with a few extra derailleur hangers, and get ready for an all-day backcountry ride in the woods!
This ride [harkens] back to the days when men were men and boys stayed at home and hid behind their mothers aprons. To be sure, this ride isn’t easy–but it is very rewarding! – Greg Heil
Located right off the Blue Ridge Parkway, Dody Ridge delivers a great chance to stretch your legs on both classic and unusual Virginia riding. While the trail will serve up some more of Virginia’s bone-jarring rocks, it will also give riders opportunities for slickrock riding and lots of air time. Just make sure to unlock your suspension before pointing your steed downward and getting rad.
You will be on the mountain ridge having a blast for almost a mile until the trail descends. 14.4 miles (according to the mileage tracker) of shear awesomeness and badassery – alexlipine
On the scale of epic rides, the Southern Traverse is the opposite of the Dragon’s Back. Instead of being brutally technical, it features around 35 miles of periodically rough singletrack and a lot of climbing. In fact, you’ll have to pedal up about 4,000 feet. Why do it then? Because you’ll be smiling ear to ear as you enjoy the pristine forest and straight, fast downhill runs that have earned this trail its Epic status.
Besides being an IMBA Epic, it could also be called a MTB Classic. Trail is as close to riding in the wilderness as you can get on a bike. – RoadWarrior
Vance’s Cove is a great introduction to Virginia’s gnar. Avoiding the task of surmounting ridges and mountains by way of steep, technical trail, this option lingers in an untouched valley while treating riders to stream crossings, a manageable amount of rocks, and even a few berms on one of its gentle descents. Vance’s Cove can also grow with a rider. As you become more comfortable with technical riding and climbing, you can venture further out of the cove.
This is one sweeeet ride, climbs, rocks, logs, streams, downhill, and a few jumps in the “Tank Trap” area. This trail has a little of everything a mountain bikers wants. – ChuckStolze
If you’re short on time and want to make a quick stop along the I-80 corridor, the North Mountain/Longdale Loop is your best bet to find the most of what Virginia has to offer. In one twelve-mile run, you’ll encounter huge boulders, amazing lookouts, fast valley runs, and technical, narrow, ridge-top riding.
My only complaint about the loop is that it was too short and I currently have insufficient juice to ride it twice in one day. It was a blast and my preference would be to run it 2x. You’ll never be bored on this ride. – Brad Donze
Sometimes an epic shuttle run isn’t enough. That’s okay! The Narrowback Trail is located directly across the road from where the Timber Ridge Trail ends. It won’t completely destroy your worn out body either. Where most trails in the Forest have at least a thousand feet of climbing, Narrowback is polite enough to treat you to a phenomenal descent which balances technical aspects and flow after only 600 feet of pedal pushing.
More climbing and rocky singletrack with a couple really pitchy climbs. Then you are ready for the most fun decent I have ever ridden, Tillman West. – faust41
A trail for the truly adventurous, the Massunutten Trail (or Massanutten Ring) provides 70 miles of technical, steep, ridge-top riding circumnavigating Fort Valley via Massanutten Mountain. Vantage points of the surrounding Shenandoah Valley confront riders as they slowly maneuver though classic Virginia rock gardens. Don’t expect to be able to knock it out in one long day either; in fact, you might want to set aside a couple days to complete this odyssey in order to take in everything this trail has to offer.
In the northern portion of the Forest lies Elizabeth Furnace, a challenging loop that utilizes part of the Massanutten Trail. Expect the whole nine yards on this trail: flowy descents, challenging obstacles, technical climbing, hike-a-biking, and creek crossings. Don’t think, however, that the variety dilutes the rocks. For those who think they have mastered Virginia’s technical singletrack, this trail, perhaps the most technical in Northern Virginia, is the place to go.
Returned to my home trail in May of 2016 after a decade of riding other parts of the USA. This is my favorite natural singletrack trail, period. Hands down. – Dylan Judy
The Sherando Lakes Recreation Area truly has a route for everyone. Those looking for smoothly flowing bliss should try the picturesque White Rock Gap Trail. If the steeps or trailside streams are a better fit, the Mill Creek Trail will be more than happy to oblige. Lastly, for advanced riders looking for a suffer-fest, look no further than Torry Ridge. As someone who has ridden it, it can only be described as a sampling platter of all of Virginia’s geologic history.
This has a love it hate it bit of everything. Ripping good downhill, technical rock gardens, Sweet singletrack, long climbs, poison ivy, etc…. – trnsprt
5 fun outdoor activities in George Washington and Jefferson National Forests
Eventually even the best riders will have to let their behinds and backs take a rest and throw their feet into action. What better place is there to do that than the Appalachian Trail? From the high alpine feel of the Mount Rogers section to the history of the Harper’s Ferry leg, there is no shortage of diverse experiences along one of the world’s most famous treks.
One of the best parts of the mountains of Virginia is that even after exhausting your body you can still enjoy a secluded day in the hills. Just hop on the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP), which starts at the southern end of Shenandoah National Park just north of the Sherando Lakes Recreation Area and extends southward toward the Smokies. You’ll never have to get off the parkway if you don’t want to; a countless number of restaurants, cabins, campgrounds, vineyards, and entertainment line “America’s favorite drive.”
Going to a National Park has been the focal point of the prototypical American family vacation for decades. Shenandoah National Park makes the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests area a great option for such a trip. Motoring along Skyline Drive soaking up views of the Piedmont, hiking some of the park’s 500 miles of trails, or camping in the trees are all ways to make your dream vacation a reality.
Because Union officials identified a Confederate presence in Shenandoah Valley as a direct threat to the capital’s security, fighting raged in the area throughout the war. Visitors can explore many parts of the story, including Stonewall Jackson’s brilliant Valley Campaign and the area’s destruction at the hands of General Sheridan, thanks to the preservation efforts of Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District.
The best way to explore Virginia’s highest mountains isn’t by bike; it actually involves a different type of steed. Two horse campgrounds, miles of multi-use trails, and even an 80-mile dedicated horse trail, the Virginia Highlands Horse Trail, all make an equestrian’s stay at Mount Rogers one of the best in the state.
5 of the best campgrounds in George Washington and Jefferson National Forests
Located in the shadow of Reddish Knob and Narrowback is the Stokesville Campground, a mountain biker’s paradise. Besides having an especially appropriate name, the campground has natural and flow trails on the property, easy access to more trails in the National Forest, and close proximity to the mountain biking guide service Shenandoah Mountain Touring. It also regularly hosts NICA races and the legendary Shenandoah Mountain 100.
Peaks of Otter, one of the most popular campgrounds along the Blue Ridge Parkway, has it all. During a stay, campers can choose to fish Abbott Lake, eat a hearty meal at the lodge, or hike one of the area’s three namesake peaks.
The Elizabeth Furnance Family Campground allows mountain bikers easy access to Massanutten Mountain’s network of trails while keeping the kids happy. When you’re out (hike-a-)biking, they’ll have access to a playground, a horseshoe pit, interpretative trails, and historic sites.
In the southernmost portion of the National Forest, Beartree Campground gives bikers an entry point into the Mount Rogers area’s huge system of trails. Its easy access to the town of Damascus makes it optimal for quality time in the “near backcountry.”
In addition to its fantastic trails and position along the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Sherando Lakes Recreation Area has a stellar family campground. Campers can go swimming, fishing, or just take it easy by the fire after a hard day of exploration.
Notable bike events in George Washington and Jefferson National Forests
One of the most infamous ultra-endurance events in the Southeast, the Shenandoah Mountain 100 will leave racers and their bikes with more battle scars than can be counted. For their struggles, riders are rewarded with an unbeatable race atmosphere, a sampling of all of the National Forest’s best riding, and a metric ton of bragging rights for finishers.
A few of the best bike shops in George Washington and Jefferson National Forests
After riding the harsh yet wonderful Dragon’s Back, there’s a pretty good chance that some part of your bike will be broken. Just the Right Gear will be happy to restock your supplies of energy gels and spare parts to get you back on track for your next ride.
Bluestone Bike & Run is a great place to stop to get acquainted with the riding opportunities in the Harrisonburg area. The shop stocks plenty of components and supplies, provide great service, and run shuttles and guided trips for the area’s most iconic trails.
Adventure Damascus will be able to fix any problems if you find your bike in disrepair near the North Carolina border. A fairly large selection of clothing and parts, a more-than-capable service team, and a great location in the Forest minimize hassle and maximize riding time.
Your turn: Are there any quintessential George Washington and Jefferson National Forests rides we missed? Don’t forget to share them in the comments below!