Don’t let that bike you bought last year start collecting dust. With fall on the horizon, temperatures will be dropping, and that means it’s time to shred some singletrack. The Blue Ridge holds a bounty of epic trails—routes full of steep switchbacks, gnarly rock gardens, and stomach-dropping descents. With help from local experts, we’ve scoped out eight Southern trails you should be riding now.
Splash Dam South Trail
Singletrack in West Virginia is its own kind of heaven, especially this four-mile trail near Davis. Located in the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Splash Dam South is a fairly technical dip into the state’s remote backcountry. “It’s rocky, rooty, technical, and a whole lot of fun,” says Matt Marcus with Blackwater Bikes, a local bike shop named after the same river Splash Dam South parallels.
Designed with bikes in mind, the trail is a dream during the cooler, soggier months.
“It holds up pretty well,” says Marcus, who got his hands dirty during the construction process. “But you have to be a good rider to actually clean the whole thing. There’s not a lot of up and down, but you definitely feel all four miles of it.”
South Loop Trail
Knoxville might be the only place where you can shred black diamonds in the heart of a metro area. According to Matt Ridenour with Harper’s Bike Shop, Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness area is a 1,000-acre mountain biking mecca nestled in the city. “It feels like a jungle,” he says, “but you’re just 10 minutes away from downtown.”
Riders can choose from 50 miles of natural surface trails, piecemealing together unique experiences that bypass old marble quarries, failed housing developments from the 1982 World’s Fair, and a wildlife management area. Ridenour is partial to the South Loop, a 12.5-mile stretch that incorporates rock gardens, loamy singletrack, paved greenways, and gravel doubletrack. Burnett Ridge Trail is one of the many stretches of singletrack riders can tackle during the ride and one of Ridenour’s favorites.
“The long climb is rewarded with a high-speed descent with nicely built corners and smooth terrain,” he says.
Best of DuPont Loop
Very few of us can eat only one potato chip—Lay’s was right about that. Similarly, very few mountain bikers can ride just one trail in DuPont State Recreational Forest in Brevard, North Carolina. For starters, since most trails in this 12,500-acre wonderland are fairly short, you have to cobble together routes. But the singletrack here is also so irresistibly flowy, you can’t help but keep riding.
Fortunately, this loop keeps you in the saddle for hours by offering a buffet-style sampling of DuPont. Over the course of 18 miles, riders will navigate hairy rock gardens on Jim Branch Trail, fly down Mine Mountain at 30 miles per hour, and experience the notorious flow of Ridgeline Trail—something that is exciting for advanced riders but not too challenging for beginners, says Sara Landry, executive director of Friends of DuPont Forest. Just keep in mind that trails in DuPont are multi-use, so riders must yield to horses and hikers.
Kessel Run Trail
For a sovereign nation in western North Carolina, mountain biking is king. “We are the first and only federally recognized tribe to build bike-optimized singletrack,” says Jeremy Hyatt, secretary for operations for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and spokesperson for Fire Mountain Trails.
Located on the Qualla Boundary, this 10.5-mile trail system serves up some serious stoke with docile paths like Tinker’s Dream and pucker-worthy treks like Kessel Run. The latter is a one-way, downhill trail starting at the very top of Fire Mountain that can be accessed by slogging up Spearfinger, a two-mile trail named after a shape-shifting witch.
Unlike its uphill counterpart, Kessel Run is spooky in all the right ways, offering tons of berms, rollers, jumps, rock gardens, and endless flow. And if you just can’t bring yourself to leave Fire Mountain quite yet, the two-mile descent can be lengthened by tagging on Lazy Elk and Kate’s Wave.
Horry County Bike and Run Park
Referred to as “The Hulk” by locals, the Horry County Bike and Run Park in Myrtle Beach challenges the notion that to mountain bike you need, well, mountains. Flanked by the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, this decidedly seaside gem is sure to make you sweat, even if you hail from the High Country. That is because, just like the green-twinged Marvel character, The Hulk is prone to explosive episodes. One minute, you are winding through shaded loblolly pines daydreaming about carbon fiber frames, and the next you are ascending a punchy climb, traversing a technical drop, or navigating an ever-evolving lineup of jumps, tabletops, and berms.
“Since we’re here on the coast, people don’t associate us with mountain biking,” says Mike Miller, general manager of Beach Bike Shop. “But those short climbs will get to you if you’re not ready for them. They’re near-vertical—you have to pedal your ass off.”
The Connector With Special Sauce
At a fast-food joint, the special sauce is typically some mayo-based concoction brimming with calories. But when it comes to mountain biking, the Central Savannah River Area chapter of the Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association (SORBA-CSRA) serves up a sauce brimming with long, hard miles. This particular out-and-back connects Modoc, Turkey Creek, and Wine Creek for 54 miles of backcountry riding.
“These are really special, old school trails with some tech, flow, and gorgeous views of the mossy creeks they follow,” says Ed Farnell, a member of the SORBA-CSRA. “They put smiles on faces from all around.”
Christmas Party Ride
Most Georgians know about the Forks Area Trail System, a 37-mile smorgasbord of flowy singletrack that can be accessed from one parking lot right over the state line in South Carolina. But when you ride with Farnell, you take the singletrack less traveled.
Farnell prefers a route known as the Christmas Party Ride. This ride connects Keg Creek Trail with Rock Dam Trail inside Mistletoe State Park for a 25-mile, lung-burning loop. “Keg is eight miles of relatively flat, rooty trail and includes some neat features such as skinnies, rock drops, and challenging creek crossings. It hugs Clarks Hill Lake the entire way, making for some great views,” says Farnell. In comparison, Rock Dam Trail requires grit. Think: granite slabs, off-camber root sections, and 100 feet of climbing per mile.
Bear Creek Trail
When it comes to mountain biking, Gilmer County, Georgia, is like the Whistler of the south, just with more BBQ. “We are best-known for riding in the Cohutta Wilderness,” says TJ McArthur, a mechanic with Cartecay Bike Shop in Ellijay. His personal favorite is Bear Creek Trail, a six-mile loop that climbs roughly 1,000 feet through a lush, verdant valley to the Gennett Poplar, the second-largest living tree in Georgia.
Because this trip feels like a waltz through a fairy forest, it gets busy. If you plan on shredding on a Saturday, come early or go late. But if you are still itching to session some skinnies post-ride, Cartecay Bike Shop is in the midst of building a backyard bike park with a small pump track, two jump lines, and a technical skills area. Just grab some BBQ when all is said and done.
Cover photo: Mountain biking in Georgia. Photo courtesy of Ed Farnell