The sign at the top of Rocky Knob warns: “Caution: Major Drops and Features Ahead! This Trail is Remote. Ride Within Your Ability.” It’s big, yellow, impossible to miss, and totally ineffective. The warning sign is at the very peak of Rocky Knob at the beginning of Ol’ Hoss Trail, which contains more than a mile of berms, drops, wooden features and jumps.
If you’re reading this sign, you’ve humped your bike up several miles of singletrack, testing your lungs and legs up steep climbs and your handling skills over chunky boulder gardens. There are roughly 100 switchbacks during the climb (I counted), most of which are so steep and so tight you’ll need a spotter to clear them all. If you biked through all of that, you’re not going to turn around, no matter what that sign says. If you’re like me, you pedal forward, past the sign, riding beyond your abilities, and you have the time of your life in a sketchy, dear-God-what-was-I-thinking sort of way. Ol’ Hoss is fast and furious with optional pedaling, and it’s not even the best trail at Boone’s new Rocky Knob Mountain Bike Park, which has eight miles of singletrack and imaginative skills areas that are unlike anything else in North Carolina. Rocky Knob Bike Park is the cherry on the top of a fury of bike trail development around Boone, which now boasts three new and unique bike parks. Almost overnight, North Carolina’s High Country has gone from having a conspicuous lack of bike-friendly singletrack to becoming a legitimate mountain biking destination.
“People would show up to Boone expecting great mountain biking, and we’d have to send them down to Wilkesboro,” says Shaw Brown, owner of Boone Bikes and board member of the Boone Area Cyclists. “That’s not the case anymore.”
Rocky Knob Bike Park celebrated its grand opening in May, followed quickly by the grand opening of lift-served downhill terrain at Beech Mountain in June. And the expansion of Emerald Outback, a cross-country system on the backside of Beech, is set to almost double that system’s mileage. That’s almost 30 miles of singletrack within 30 minutes of one of the coolest college towns in North Carolina.
“It’s kind of random that it all came together at the same time,” says Ryan Costin, operations manager at Beech Mountain Resort. “These are three distinct venues that will help Boone and the High Country develop the brand as a place to ride.”
And the trails are good. Beech’s downhill terrain hosted the Gravity National Championships the past two years. The Emerald Outback system sits at 5,400 feet, offering bikers a slice of high alpine riding like nothing else in the South. And Rocky Knob has a bomber blend of cross country and free ride technical terrain.
“This park is a game changer for the South,” Brown says. “The terrain is so unique, and the quality of trails can’t be overstated.”
Here’s a look at the South’s newest fat tire hub.
Beech Mountain Downhill
Currently, there are three downhill trails to choose from (beginner, intermediate, and advanced), but the resort will unveil new trails as the summer progresses, building the entire system out to eight to 10 trails. There are some man-made features, but expect lots of dirt and rock through open, mossy woods and trails with multiple line options. The resort invested in bike-specific lifts, and Magic Cycles has opened a full-operation bike shop with rentals on the mountain. Look for the Monster Energy Race Series throughout summer and fall. A single lift ride is $10; all day lift rides are $30.
The Town of Beech Mountain has built cross-country trails on the back side of Beech Mountain, with 10 miles of single and doubletrack sitting at over a mile high in elevation. Hare Turns is the highlight, with a mile of berms, rock gardens, and creek crossings. Also make time for the quarter mile Overlook Loop, which offers long range views of the High Country. Ditch the bike for a quick side hike at the Elk River Overlook sign for views of Grandfather Mountain, Hanging Rock, and Linville Gorge. The Emerald Outback connects with the lift-served downhill terrain on the front side of Beech, so you can kill two birds with one stone. More trails are in the works, including a connector trail to the West Bowl, where a beginner loop is already on the ground. emeraldoutback.com
Rocky Knob Bike Park
The crown jewel of the High Country’s fresh terrain, Rocky Knob offers eight miles of intestine-like singletrack that climbs the face of a mountain on the outskirts of downtown Boone. To say the tread is rocky is an understatement. Expect quarter-mile rock garden climbs followed by short stints of flowy downhill. Repeat until you’re at the top of the mountain. The system also has three skills parks mixed into the trails—a skinny park, a dirt jump park, and the intimidatingly cool Stone Binge, a collection of wooden bridges and boulder drops for a bit of Whistler right here in North Carolina. Next up for Rocky Knob is a pump track at the parking lot.
Before and After
Boone Bikes has gear and local knowledge, just outside of downtown Boone on US 321. boonebike.com
Appalachian Mountain Brewery opened its doors in early 2013 and has already won over locals. Show up on weekends when food trucks are parked outside and the bay doors are flung open. Try the Kilt Lifter Scottish ale.