Pitch a Tent and Ride

Still not ready for a long flight and an extended stay in a hotel? Load up your bike, head into the woods, and pop a tent at one of these top pedal-ready camping destinations in the Blue Ridge.

Last year bike sales broke records and camping found renewed popularity as a safe escape. With that in mind, we’ve combined both and scoped out the perfect spots where you can ride some sweet Southern singletrack by day and sleep under the stars by night.

Ramily camping at Explore Park. Photo courtesy of Roanoke County Parks, Recreation & Tourism | Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge

Virginia

Stokesville Campground, Mt. Solon

The Shenandoah Valley Bicycle Coalition and U.S. Forest Service have spent 25-plus years and more than $500,000 transforming the North River District of the George Washington National Forest into an MTB mecca. Former pro racer and renowned trailbuilder Thomas Jenkins has spearheaded the installation of more than 40 miles of fast and fun single and doubletrack. The groundbreaking system helped nearby Harrisonburg win designation as an International Mountain Biking Association bronze-level Ride Center in the early 2010s. 

Routes carry you into the Alleghany Mountains and some of the highest MTB terrain in the state. Peaks at Reddish, Bother and Flagpole Knobs bring 4,100-plus feet of elevation, panoramic views of the Shenandoah Valley—and shred-worthy, 2-mile-long descents. 

The 140-acre private campground is located about 20 miles southeast of Harrisonburg on the North River at the base of the Shenandoah Mountain Range. The farm-like property is picturesque, heavily wooded and features 103 sites—including some RV spots and a handful of cabins. Amenities include access to trailheads, bathrooms, hot showers, a small camp store, and a big swimming hole. Primitive camping starts at $15. stokesvillecampground.com

Carvins Cove, Roanoke

In the late 1990s, Carvins Cove Natural Reserve was home to little more than a municipal reservoir and a sliver of the Appalachian Trail. An ambitious partnership between the city, New River Valley Bicycle Association, and other organizations brought major changes. Today, the 12,500-acre area boasts an 60-mile network of mountain biking trails centered around the 2,500-foot ridgeline of Brushy Mountain. The headliner is a beastly flow trail, Rock & Roll, which is currently in development. When it reaches the planned seven miles, it will be the longest of its kind in the U.S. 

Better still, the Cove sits just 10 miles from downtown Roanoke and was recently connected to the city’s award-winning Greenway system—including 10 miles of purpose-built MTB trails at Mill Mountain Park. This and other bike-friendly policies led IMBA to name Roanoke the East Coast’s third silver-level Ride Center in 2018 (there are currently just 16 in the world). 

Unfortunately, the Cove isn’t camper friendly. Instead pitch your tent across town near the Blue Ridge Parkway at Explore Park. The 1,100-acre preserve is situated along the Roanoke River and offers high-end state park type amenities ranging from bathhouses to an adventure ropes course to an onsite brewpub. And did we mention 9-plus miles of purpose-built MTB trails? Primitive sites start at $20.

Find trail maps and information at playroanoke.com

West Virginia

Blackwater Falls State Park, Davis


Tucker County and the tiny 675-person town of Davis have long been hubs of the Eastern Panhandle mountain biking scene. The area is nestled high in the Alleghany Mountains and studded with 4,000-foot peaks and ridgelines. Meanwhile, the Monongahela National Forest and two state parks comprise nearly 75 percent of county lands.  

The latter have been working with regional bike clubs and the state’s National Interscholastic Cycling Association league to overhaul trails since 2017. Blackwater Falls State Park now rests at the center of a 34-plus-mile system. Canaan Valley Resort State Park is located 20 miles away and offers another 19 miles of trails—including a pump track and six miles of new, bike-park-quality routes. The scenic Alleghany Mountain Trail passes through rare high-elevation red spruce forests, past cranberry bogs and countless trout streams, and connects the two parks. 

But the fun doesn’t stop there. The county is brimming with bike-friendly recreation areas. Little Canaan Wildlife Management Area, for instance, holds another 16 miles of trails alone. 

Blackwater Falls is our go-to basecamp for exploration. The 2,358-acre park features a 60-foot waterfall, bathhouses and awesome primitive camping along its namesake river. Sites start at $17 a night. wvstateparks.com/park/blackwater-falls-state-park

North Carolina

W. Kerr Scott Reservoir, Wilkesboro

This 1,475-acre manmade lake and its six surrounding wildlife management areas offer some of the most iconic mountain biking in the Southeast. Located 30 miles west of Boone in the Yadkin River Valley between the Blue Ridge and Brushy Mountain ranges, it’s home to more than 40 miles of purpose-built MTB trails. All were designed and installed by the Brushy Mountain Cyclists Club since 2002.  

The area makes the most of a cluster of 1,500-foot peaks and ridgelines, and features three main riding areas—Dark Mountain, Overmountain Victory Trail, and Warrior Creek. The latter is the most progressive and features a killer 12-mile loop with ripping downhill segments where, beyond the opening climb and a few uphill punches, you’ll barely have to hit the pedals. Connectors and a brief road ride make it possible to combine the three areas for a gnarly 33-mile loop. The route’s backcountry beauty and countless bermed curves (OVT’s main loop features more than 100 alone), drops, jumps, rock gardens, and wooden features landed it on the list of IMBA Epics in 2011.  

There are three camping areas around the lake, but we prefer Warrior Creek. It’s less popular among the boating and swimming crowd, and many of its 60 sites are tucked away in wooded nooks near creeks. A primitive spot with electric hookups is $20 a night. recreation.gov/camping/gateways/461 

Yogi in the Smokies, Cherokee

In terms of MTB basecamps, the town of Cherokee is hard to beat. The seat of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ 56,000-acre Qualla Boundary lays at the southern terminus of the Blue Ridge Parkway, sandwiched between Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the north and the Nantahala National Forest to the south. Simply put, the natural beauty is stunning. 

Better still, Cherokee is home to Fire Mountain Bike Park. The resort-style system is located a mile from downtown, features about 14 miles of pro-grade trails, dozens of wooden features—and won’t cost you a dime to ride. Highlights include half-mile-long, feature-packed progression trail, Skilly, and 2-mile doubletrack rollercoaster, Kessel Run. The latter brings 2,000 feet of vertical descent and is peppered with high berms, rhythm sections, dozens of tabletops, and a handful of wood features. 

After hitting the park, proceed to iconic rides at Lake Fontana. The scenic preserve is less than 25 miles away and home to the 42-mile-long Tsali Loops trail, an IMBA epic.

For camping, we like Yogi in the Smokies. This 150-site gem is located 10 miles north of downtown Cherokee on the outskirts of its namesake National Park. Pitch a tent on the banks of the Raven Fork of the Oconaluftee River or rent a cabin. Amenities include a pool, camp store, and hot-water bathhouses. Primitive sites from $33. jellystonecherokee.com

Epic trails await at Windrock Park. Photo by Jack Rice/courtesy of Piper Communications

Tennessee

Windrock Park, Oliver Springs

Co-owned and designed by pro racer and former national champion, Neko Mulally, Windrock was purpose-built for enthusiasts by enthusiasts. The 550-acre park is the outgrowth of a private, 73,000-acre MX, ATV, and jeep destination in the rural Cumberland Mountains. It gained recognition after launching in 2017 with nine trails that ranged from advanced to extreme in difficulty. 

Mulally and company have since added a second riding area with two machine-built beginner routes and a trio of fast and flowy rides for intermediates. But most visitors come for the challenge of taking on some of the gnarliest downhill burners around. An open-back truck shuttles riders to trailheads at the summit of 3,200-foot Toddy Mountain throughout the day. The machine-built, 16-trail network is peppered with loads of features, brings nearly 20 miles of riding, and vertical drops of 2,150 feet. Trail crews are constantly making improvements and additions, so expect something new each year. 

While tent camping is available onsite, it’s essentially festival-style in an open field. If you’re looking for woodsy privacy and quiet, Rock Hollow Campground is located a mere six miles away. Primitive sites start at $25. rockhollowcampground.com

Georgia

Mulberry Gap Adventure Basecamp, Ellijay 

The best mountain biking in Georgia is found 80 miles north of Atlanta in the southern Cohutta Mountains near the 2,500-person town of Ellijay. There, the North Georgia Mountain Bike Association has made northern portions of the 335-mile-long Pinhoti National Recreation Trail the backbone for a network of incredible rides. 

Numerous loops deliver riders deep into the Chattahoochee National Forest, passing through rhododendron thickets and hemlock forests to 3,500-plus-foot ridgelines with long, fantastic descents. The crown jewel is an epic 43-mile circuit that links eight MTB trails via a series of short connectors. It begins on the edge of the 36,977-acre Cohutta Wilderness, passes through Fort Mountain State Park, and ends near the town of Chatsworth. Expect tons of modern flow interspersed with occasional technical sections, creek crossings, and climbs to the next downhill thriller.  

Mulberry Gap Adventure Basecamp is located 13 miles northwest of Ellijay and offers camping, cabins, bathhouses, and shuttle service for area trailheads. Chef Ginni Taylor dishes out family-style breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and craft brews in a large lounge and dining area called The Barn. The vibe is like an Appalachian Trail hostel made a baby with a Vermont ski resort. Primitive camping from $19 a night. mulberrygap.com 

Cover photo: A mountain biker rides through the enchanted forest section of Carvins Cove. Photo by Jared Ladia | Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge

Mileage totals in the Carvins Cove section of this article have been updated from the original version, due to stats provided by Roanoke Parks and Recreation

Places to Go, Things to See: