My Top Five: The Best Mountain Bike Trails in Western North Carolina

Trying to pick the 5 “best” mountain bike trails in Western North Carolina (WNC) is kind of like trying to pick the 5 best $5,000 mountain bikes. They’re all amazing, but they’re all just a little bit different. So while I’m picking these trails because I think they’re really great and may in fact be the best, I’m also choosing these specific trails in an effort to portray the incredible diversity of the mountain biking opportunities available in WNC.

5. Sugar Mountain

Sugar Mountain

Photo Credit: Goo. Rider: Unknown.

If you are coming from the south in an effort to find lift-serviced downhill mountain biking, Sugar Mountain is the first spot that you’ll find. While the resort doesn’t offer an expansive trail network or a jump park, it does have one full top-to-bottom trail packed with more rocks, roots, drops, steeps, and more rocks than you can shake a broken derailleur at! During my first visit to Sugar Mountain, I rode the trails non-stop for the entire 5 or 6 hours that the lift ran. While the trails may be few, the ones they do have are seriously fun! If you live north of North Carolina, though, there are probably some much better options available within a reasonable distance. But for those of us in the South, Sugar Mountain is a great asset.

4. Bent Creek

Bent Creek

Photo Credit: ositoking.

I have not yet ridden this trail, but based on all the information I’ve gleaned from guidebooks, the listing here on Singletracks, and friends of mine that live in Asheville just a stone’s throw from the trailhead, Bent Creek is worth a trip! Based on my conversations with locals, the trails are apparently much, much tamer than the trails in Pisgah proper, and are even less technical than those found in Dupont. However, that doesn’t detract from the beauty of this trail system as a whole. There are climbs and descents to be found all over the place, and by all accounts the trails are well-built and narrow.

Bent Creek is designed as a tightly wound “trail system” with concentric loops, making it easy to do anything from a short 5-mile ride to a pieced-together all-day epic. Either way, you’re rarely far from the trailhead. For some people, this could be a welcome relief from the epic-quality singletrack in the rest of Pisgah National Forest that seems to take you deep into the heart of nowhere, completely removed from the constraints of civilization… and the safety of it. Riding a trail system such as Bent Creek requires much less overall commitment. Add in the benefits of a lake and campground and you have a classic mountain biking destination fit for you and the buddies, or you and the family.

3. Tsali

Tsali Singletrack

Photo Credit: Goo.

View of Fontana Lake

Photo Credit: Goo.

According to mtbikewnc.com, “The popular Tsali Recreation Area has long been a top destination for mountain biking in Western North Carolina, and even the entire eastern US. Containing nearly 40 miles of trails in a system with four excellent loops, it has been rated as one of the top 10 places to ride in the USA.” Historically, Tsali has been one of the great mountain bike destinations of the Southeast. I have spoken with several Georgia locals who can remember back to a time when mountain biking in the state was sparse, and that if a rider wanted to find true singletrack they would have to make the pilgrimage up to Tsali. Thankfully that is no longer the case, but Tsali continues to be a classic destination for mountain bikers from all over the Southeast, and from all over the nation.

Tsali’s popularity is due to the incredible undulating flow of its smooth trails, and the breathtaking views that it provides of Fontana Lake from several different vantage points. In many ways, Tsali is the antithesis to almost all of the other trails in Western North Carolina. Pisgah, Dupont, and many other areas are renowned for the technical challenge found within their forested borders. Tsali’s trails are renowned for exactly the opposite!

2. Black Mountain

Black Mountain

Photo Credit: Goo.

As Timm Muth, the author of the North Carolina Falcon guide book, says, “Simply put, this is one of the top three descents in (Pisgah National Forest). It should be on the “A” list for any rider who requires an enormous dose of heartbreak, challenge, and adrenaline.” I know Timm personally, and he has done every single ride in his guide book, so I’ll take his word for it!

Black Mountain is full of quintessential Pisgah singletrack: incredibly steep climbs filled with drops, roots, and rocks like you’d never believe, followed by descents that are just as steep and just as gnarly. Black Mountain is no exception to this rule, and it is an intense 10-mile ride! Starting at ground zero, the trail climbs up and over Hickory Knob, back down the other side a bit, and then rockets straight into the sky to the top of Black Mountain. At the top, turn around, drop your saddle, and bomb back down! Highlights include tons of drops, crazy gnar, jumps, and 8-foot tall berms.

If you’ve been looking at this list closely, you’ve noticed that Black Mountain is the only trail listed that resides in the Pisgah National Forest (barring the Bent Creek trail system). There are literally hundreds of miles of trail in Pisgah, and if you took almost any one of them and placed it in one of the nearby states, it would make a top 5 list such as this with ease. As you can imagine, picking out the “best trail” is difficult at best and arbitrary at worst; in any case I think Black Mountain does a good job of standing as a representative of the entire forest!

1. Dupont State Forest

Dupont State Forest

Photo Credit: Goo.

Putting “Dupont State Forest” in first place is a little bit of a cheap shot, as there are over 80 miles of trails available in the forest. The various trails contain steep slickrock, flowy singletrack in the trees, scenic waterfalls, jumps, rocky technical sections, steep climbs, rhododendron tunnels, and more. I have not explored every single one of the trails yet, but so far the trail combination that includes the most slickrock is easily my favorite. In fact, it may be one of the best trails I’ve ever ridden… ever. This East Coast slickrock experience is not to be missed!

Have you ridden in WNC? What’s your favorite trail?

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