Appalachia’s Ten Best Bike Trails

Not so long ago, when the region’s first “rails to trails” projects began, state park rangers were often confronted by angry landowners who feared their property would become worthless. Today, bike trails have become a hallmark of progressive communities like Knoxville, TN, Asheville and Boone NC, and the New River Valley of Virginia. They greatly enhance property values and attract clean economic development. We asked bike expert Dan Casey of Roanoke to help us sort through the many biking options in the region. Here is his report:

Easy Riding:

* The Virginia Creeper – This rails-to-trails project stretches about 35 miles from White Top Mountain on the North Carolina line to Abingdon, Va. Though popular (and fairly crowded on weekends) it’s a perfect family outing that’s also great for novices of all ages. The packed cinder path leads you through rhododendron glades and across rushing streams past gorgeous Virginia countryside. Ride the entire trail, or the half of it that’s downhill (from White Top to Damascus, Va.). Shuttle services are available, and highly recommended. For more info, go to

* The Greenbrier Trail (Caldwell to Cass, WV) – This virtually flat rails-to-trails gravel trail follows the rushing Greenbrier River from Caldwell, WV (adjacent to White Sulphur Springs) north all the way up to Cass. It’s open year round, it passes through Watoga State Park, and there’s at least one bed and breakfast along the way. You’ll get a mostly unspoiled glimpse of the Allegheny Mountains and the green river that twists and turns between. This trail is highly recommended for families, the weekend adventurer or the serious day cyclist.

* Railroad Grade Road, Fleetwood to Todd, N.C. – Strictly speaking, this 10-mile stretch of pavement along the New River near Boone, N.C., is not a mountain biking trail. Instead, it’s an impossibly narrow yet dead flat road that hugs the New River for 10 miles between Fleetwood and Todd, N.C. No matter. Cyclists rave about its beauty, and fear for the day when the state widens the road, which, conventional wisdom holds, would ruin it for bicycling. Hop on your two-wheeled steed and decide for yourself. You won’t regret the ride, unless you leave your camera home.

Moderate to Challenging:

* Haw Ridge Park (Oak Ridge, Tenn.) – The 780-acre Haw Ridge Park rises over the Clinch River/Melton Hill Reservoir adjacent to Oak Ridge, Tenn. Its 25+ miles of moderate to technical trails provide plenty of excitement for the weekend warrior or serious mountain biking enthusiast. Elevation ranges from 795 feet to 1,140 feet and the trails range from rolling former jeep roads (motorized vehicles now are banned) to the most gnarly single-track. The easiest trails hug the lakeside, and trails are color coded (green/easy, blue/intermediate, black/most difficult).

* Douthat State Park – This Great Depression WPA project just north of Clifton Forge, Va. is known throughout the east as the “Disneyland of mountain biking.” Spread through its 4,500 acres are dozens of challenging trails that add up to 40-some miles. Only two trails are closed to cyclists. All the trails are marked and detailed maps are available in the park’s office. Highly recommended: climb Stony Man to Tuscarora Overlook (lunch break) and return via Blue Suck Falls trail. But be very careful on the latter. If you prefer to take it easy, stick to main (paved) road through the park.

* Carvins Cove (Roanoke, Va.) – This 11,000-acre watershed just north of Roanoke offers trails for all categories of riders. The backbone of the trail system is Easy Street, a 7-mile-long up-and-down dirt road that skirts the eastern edge of Carvins Cove Reservoir. The lower single-track trails, such as The Enchanted Forest, lead novice bikers through towering old-growth pine groves. The upper trails, reachable via the switchbacking 1,000-Foot-Climb Road, will challenge the most experienced mountain bikers. For this group, I recommend ClownHead and The Gauntlet.

* Pinnacle Creek Trail System (Pineville, WV) – This 105-mile trail system is about an hour’s drive from Beckley and is part of the 9-county Hatfield-McCoy Regional Recreation Authority in southern West Virginia. The trails are graded by difficulty (green/easy; blue/intermediate; black/hard – 44 percent are rated easy) and also are open to motorbikes and ATVs. This particular system is known for its stunning scenic views. Permits cost $19 per day per person or $37 for three days.

Crazy Hard:

* Dragon’s Back (Catawba, Va.) – If you’re an expert pining for extremes, this trail system in Virginia’s Craig County is the bomb. The switchbacks on its shale-strewn climbs are impossibly steep and tight, and the ridge trail along North Mountain’s undulating spine is rocky as can be. At one time it was part of the since-rerouted Appalachian Trail. A majority of mountain bikers will consider it no fun, but real gearheads will rave.

* Black Mountain (Pisgah National Forest, Brevard, N.C.) – If you like long climbs, exciting jumps, insane switchbacks, thrilling waterfalls, incredible mountain views and hair-raising descents, the 12-1/2- mile long Black Mountain Trial is for you. Rated “hardcore to most difficult” by North Carolina mountain bikers, this trail system rises about 2,000 vertical feet over 7 miles (to roughly 4,300 feet above sea level) before plunging you back down in a little more than 5 miles. Unless you’re an expert, be prepared to do some bole pushing up some insanely steep climbs. On the descents, be careful of horses!

* Lone Mountain Trail (Oliver Springs, Tenn.) – The chance to ride through an old growth hemlock forest and catch great views of the Tennessee Valley are what make this 14-mile ride worth its 1,870 feet of cumulative vertical climbing. Located in the 3,600-acre Lone Mountain State Forest about 10 miles from Oliver Springs, this loop takes you up, down and up again before plunging you back to your car. Stop for a picnic and views at the handy tables at Coyote Point (2,100 feet). If you want to make it to Lone Mountain’s peak (2,530 feet) , you’ll have to ditch your bike trailside and hike for another 1.9 miles.

Wedding on a Bike Trail

In a private ceremony June 5, Virginia Congressman Rick Boucher married Amy Hauslohner on the Virginia Creeper bicycle trail.

Following the ceremony, the couple returned by bicycle to Abingdon along their favorite route. The Bouchers decided to have a private informal marriage in one of their favorite settings.

Rep. Boucher has been a supporter of bike trails and other recreational projects as important to economic development in Appalachia.
The Bouchers were married by Judge James P. Jones.


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