Dropping into a long downhill run of old-school singletrack holds a special place in the hearts of most mountain bikers. Parks offer action-packed convenience, but nothing challenges your mettle like taking on an epic stretch of backcountry at speed.
But finding great routes often isn’t easy. And it can be even harder for visiting riders.
Here, we take the guesswork out the equation. Below you’ll find four of the longest, most blistering and beautiful downhill trails in the Blue Ridge region—with camping suggestions to boot!
Reddish Knob, Mount Solon
Some of Virginia’s most epic backcountry shredding can be found deep in the George Washington National Forest near the border of West Virginia. Nestled high in the Allegheny Mountains, Reddish Knob is 4,400 feet tall and offers one of the region’s most shred-worthy descents. Better still, a gravel forest road makes for easy shuttling.
Combine the upper Timber Ridge and Wolf Ridge trails for almost eight miles of white-knuckle fun—with 2,900 feet of vertical drop and a couple of quick, punchy climbs to keep you honest. Before the plunge, take a moment at the trailhead to soak up views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah Valley, and Alleghenies. Then drop in for a long cascade of ridgelines with loads of old-school singletrack characterized by rocky technical sections, warp-speed downhills, small jumps and drops—all among high-elevation red spruce forests and one of the last remaining stands of mature Canadian hemlocks in the Southeast.
The ride concludes with a treat: The Shenandoah Valley Bicycle Association has retooled the final three miles into a manicured, perma-grin-inducing flow trail.
Camp: Stokesville Campground occupies 140 acres along the edge of the national forest. It’s located on the banks of the North River and is home to the annual Virginia Mountain Bike Festival. Trail systems are designed to empty into the campground, so it makes for a top-notch basecamp. Amenities include optional electric hookups and hot-water bathhouses. Primitive camping starts at $15.
North Fork Mountain Trail, Judy Gap
The celebrated route starts in the Monongahela National Forest near Spruce Knob and follows the serpentine ridgeline of North Fork Mountain for about 24 miles. Riders will enjoy relentless eye candy for most of the trek—including views of 4,800-foot Spruce Knob, the Potomac River, Dolly Sods Wilderness, and iconic Seneca Rocks escarpment.
The sights and a whopping 5,000 feet of vertical descent won the trail designation as an International Mountain Bike Association Epic.
Riders can expect loads of ripping ridgeline, interrupted by occasional short climbs and a couple of tough hike-a-bikes. The trail’s southern portion is comparatively mild with lots of hardpacked dirt. It joins an old dirt fire road at about the halfway point for a blazing mile-long descent. The ride gets rocky and technical toward the north as it passes through some gorgeous rhododendron forests. It concludes with a steep and gnarly three-mile singletrack descent.
Camp + Shuttle: Yokum’s Vacationland is situated about midway between trailheads and can help with shuttles. The mom-and-pop campground sits on the North Fork South Branch of the Potomac River near the foot of Seneca Rocks. Its amenities include hot-water bathhouses, swimming areas, a well-stocked general store, and deli. Riders can pick between cabins, teepees, a motel-style lodge, or tent camping. Primitive sites start at $10 a night. yokum.com
Black Mountain Trail, Pisgah Forest
The 7.3-mile circuit is often heralded as the crown jewel of North Carolina’s legendary Pisgah National Forest riding area. An early thigh-burner and hike-a-bike delivers riders to the 4,091-foot peak of Rich Mountain and a string of descents that bring more than 2,700 feet of drop.
Upper portions of the trail are chock full of rocky, technical riding and peppered with gnarly erosion issues. The going gets progressively smoother as you go along.
Yes, there are additional climbs to summits along the way. But the payoff comes in the form of life-list-worthy downhills in the trail’s middle and lower portions—including a new 1.5-mile machine-groomed reroute that opened this past June. It’s hard-packed, lightning fast, and super flowy with numerous grade reversals and near-ubiquitous berm options. Meanwhile, the scenery is staggeringly gorgeous. Forests are characterized by big oaks, mountain streams, mossy boulders, and mature rhododendrons.
Camp: Pitch a tent just inside the national forest beside the Davidson River at its namesake campground. The place is ripe with natural beauty and also convenient: It’s located just three miles from quality eat and drink spots in the town of Brevard. Amenities include hot showers, flush toilets, and optional electric hookups. Primitive sites cost $28 a night. adventurepisgah.com/davidson-river-campground
Bear Creek + Pinhoti 2, Ellijay
Peach State mountain bikers say this run combines some of north Georgia’s finest downhill mountain biking and most beautiful backcountry scenery. The 13-mile circuit carries riders through remote areas in the Chattahoochee National Forest and offers about 2,400 feet of gravity-fueled drop. Hikers covet the trail for its abundant 3,000-plus-foot overlooks, mossy fern-filled streams, and the fact that it’s home to the second largest living tree in the state.
Start at the parking lot on Old CCC Camp Road, being sure to check out the small waterfall on Barnes Creek. Drop into a long stretch of exquisite downhill singletrack that moves through lush forests with a few bridged creek crossings. A section of tight switchbacks opens onto a quick run of ripping doubletrack, then ducks back into the woods for more flowy shredding. Hang a left onto the gravel forest service road and follow it for a couple hundred yards to the Pinhoti 2 trailhead. After that you get another 4.1 miles of prograde, machine-built backcountry fun with lots of drop and minimal climbing.
Camp + Shuttle: Mulberry Gap Adventure Basecamp is a one-stop-shop for visiting mountain bikers. Stay in primitive or RV campsites, or spring for a cabin. Amenities include hot-water bathhouses, an on-site restaurant and pub, a lounge area, and weekend entertainment. Staffers offer shuttles to and from nearby trailheads. Tent camping starts at $14 a night. mulberrygap.com
Cover photo: Georgia’s Pinhoti Trail. Photo by Brice Shirbach/courtesy of Mulberry Gap Adventure Basecamp