NC Triangle (Locals Only)

I recently gave a presentation for the outdoor club at school about mountain biking trails in the triangle and I thought I would share it here in the form of an article. You can also download the Powerpoint file here if you’re interested, but I gotta warn you that alot of the information is specifically tailored to Duke students.

The Research Triangle of North Carolina is comprised of three cities: Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. Each city has plenty of convenient trails and if you’ve lived in the area for a while you’ve probably ridden them all. Unlike other articles I’ve written in the past, I won’t advocate traveling very far to check out these trails. Nope, this article is for those of us who love to mountain bike but find ourselves stuck here in the sweaty flatlands during the week.

The easiest way to explain Triangle-area trails is to group them into skill-level categories: beginner and intermediate/advanced. At first I thought I should make a distinction between intermediate and advanced trails but then I realized the only factor that separates trails here is simply the amount of rocks and roots. So don’t worry: you won’t accidentally run into any sick climbs, miles-long downhills, or ridiculous rock formations in the Triangle. You may find a teeter-totter or an air bridge sprinkled here or there but there’s always a way around those ;).

Most local biking authorities agree that Lake Crabtree is the best place for beginners to hone their skills. I recently went out with a group that included children under 10, some of whom had never ridden a bike off road, and the kids had no trouble at all on these singletrack trails. There are several loops at Crabtree and it’s easy to find your way around. Plus, you’ll never be too far away from your car since the trail system is fairly compact. Another beginner trail to consider is Hog Run (aka Harris Lake) near Apex, NC. There are a couple of loops out here and they’re designated as beginner, intermediate, and advanced. These trails are a bit narrower than those at Lake Crabtree but anyone with a fair amount of balance should have no trouble at all. Southern Village in Chapel Hill also has a few miles of easy trail and if you live close by this is a great ride.

If the very thought of trail riding scares you, you might be more comfortable trying out the gravel roads at Duke Forest. And if the thought of riding on a gravel road scares you (!) can always start out on the American Tobacco Trail, a paved greenway that winds its way from downtown Durham south to Jordan lake.

Once you’ve graduated from the beginner spots, it’s time to put that $2,000+ rig to good use. One of the most popular trails in the area is called the Chapel Hill High School trail wedged between the school and the municipal airport. A lot of this land is supposedly owned by UNC and there’s always talk of development but in the meantime, these trails are open for business 7 days a week, 24 hours a day (unlike other area trails that close down when there’s a single fluffy cloud in the sky). Some of the longest trails are out at Falls Lake north of Raleigh and east of Durham. New Light trails are managed as hunting grounds and are open only on Sundays during hunting season. There are a number of loops out here connected by fire roads and the trails are usually in pretty good condition. Beaver Dam is a newer trail that was developed in cooperation with the state parks service. These trails are plagued with rules like many other local trails and you even have to pay $5 per car on weekends and during the summer.

Speaking of rules, though, you definitely need to call ahead to Little River before you try to ride there. These trails are the newest in the area and were built in cooperation with several cycling groups and county land management divisions and apparently MANY compromises were made to make these trails possible. For example, some friends showed up to ride the (dry) trails but were told they couldn’t go out because “it looked like it might rain later.” Another time I drove out after work (in late May) to get in a quick ride and was told the park would be closing at 6 (it was 5:45). Expanded summer hours keep the park open until 8pm I’m told but I’m hesitant to make the after-work drive out there anymore.

There are other trails in the area that I didn’t mention simply because there are too many! Trails like Umstead State Park, Outdoor Rec Center, Rocky Road (haven’t ridden this one yet but I will), and Lake Evans are all around, not to mention private trails that are opened by referral only. If you live in the Triangle and haven’t ridden all the trails I’ve mentioned, get out there and try a new trail this weekend or introduce a friend to biking on one of the beginner trails above. And most of all, be thankful for the miles of trail we have in the Triangle: other areas aren’t so lucky!

* One of the best resources for Triangle mountain biking is TriangleMTB.com. They do a great job of keeping local riders informed and even have a message board set up to talk about current trail conditions. Thanks guys for organizing and advocating mountain biking in the Triangle!

Look here for a listing of all the mountain bike trails in the Triangle area.

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