The Uwharrie National Forest doesn’t get a lot of attention. It’s often overshadowed by the other national forest systems in North Carolina, and unless you’re an ATV enthusiast, you’ve probably never thought to visit the 50,000-acre forest. And yet the Uwharrie is rapidly becoming a mecca for trail running, due largely to its rugged footpaths that offer quick elevation changes over unexpectedly technical terrain. Locals have caught the trail running bug, putting on a couple of stellar races that attract national attention, and finally, out of towners are discovering the joys of the Uwharrie. Meanwhile, sleepy Troy, N.C. sits inside the forest’s borders, offering visitors and locals alike the perfect perch to explore the Uwharrie’s gems.
TOP ADVENTURES: <em>Run the Uwharrie Trail</em>
The Uwharrie Trail is a 20-mile point-to-point National Recreation Trail that takes runners and hikers on a highlight tour of the forest. The elevation changes frequently across these rocky and worn hills that used to peak above 20,000 feet, offering runners the constant ebb and flow found in steeper peaks. The Uwharrie Trail serves as the heart of the burgeoning trail running community, with trailheads located only a few minutes from downtown Troy. The footpath is an after-work training route and weekend playground for Piedmont locals. (See below for info on the Uwharrie Mountain Trail Run).
Ride the Wood Run Trails
The Wood Run Mountain Bike Trail System consists of two large singletrack loops held together by Wood Run Road, a forest road that cuts through the heart of the Uwharrie National Forest. Pisgah National Forest woos most mountain bikers in the Tarheel state, but the Wood Run trails hold their own against any singletrack in the region. Ride Keyauwee Trail for a super twisty eight-mile pedal with tight downhills and short, steep climbs over ridiculously rocky terrain. Ride it counter clockwise to maximize the singletrack downhills.
The Badin Lake Recreation Area has 40+ miles of multi-use trails, most of which suffer from the pitfalls of heavy equestrian use, but Badin Lake Hiking Trail is a 5.6-mile foot-travel only trail that hugs the shoreline of Badin Lake. The trail has very little elevation change, but the surprisingly rugged terrain will keep you dancing across creeks, over logs, and through menacing rock gardens.
Backpack the Birkhead
The Birkhead Mountains Wilderness covers 5,000 acres in the northern tip of Uwharrie, serving as a microcosm of American history. One of the first known Native American tribes inhabited the area 12,000 years ago. When the Europeans first set foot on the land, the Catawba Indians called the Birkheads home. After a feverish gold rush ripped through the area, the Birkhead family established a plantation on the land. The ruins from their farm can now be seen from the trails crisscrossing the Wilderness. Don’t let the name fool you—you won’t be summiting any great peaks. Instead, expect a quiet hike surrounded by worn hills, old growth forest, and clear trout streams.
BY THE NUMBERS
Number of singletrack miles that
have been meticulously reconstructed in the Badin Lake Recreation Area, specifically designed for the mountain bike portion of the Xterra Uwharrie Off Road Triathlon.
The amount of money it costs to pan for gold within the Uwharrie National Forest. The area once supported a gold rush and part-time prospectors still explore the forest’s creek beds for gold.
The number of OHV trails that are still open to ATV and off road vehicles inside the Uwharrie. The amount of trails rivals the amount of legal trails available to mountain bikers.
Troy doesn’t support a vibrant nightlife, but if you’re looking for a good burger, check out Goodfellas (910-576-1550) on Main Street. The burgers and potato chips are homemade and they play old TV shows and “Three Stooges” movies on the tiny black and white TV in the back. For dinner, check out Zinos Italian (580-718-0100) on the edge of town. For digs, check out Blair House Bed and Breakfast (blairhousebb.com) or camp at Wood Run Camp, which has composting toilets and puts you right in the middle of Uwharrie’s action.
EVENTS YOU CAN’T MISS
Uwharrie Mountain Trail Run
Run the whole national recreation trail, or just a piece of it at the Uwharrie Mountain Run, arguably the best winter trail run in central North Carolina. Choose from eight, 20, or 40-mile options and be prepared for creek crossings and plenty of rocks. The race is 100 percent off road and rugged as hell. February 7, 2009. www.raceuwharrie.com.
Xterra invades the Badin Lake Recreation Area with their patented off road triathlon series. Swim .6 miles in Badin Lake, run Badin Lake Hiking Trail, and mountain bike the newly minted Xterra trail. Only in its second year, the Xterra Uwharrie is already gaining a reputation for its technical and scenic course. May 4, 2008. www.middleringcycles.com.
Ramble Half Marathon and 8K
The Half Marathon puts runners on a massive figure eight loop through the Wood Run trail system within the Uwharrie. Mountain bikers and trail runners alike love these trials for their yo-yo-ing elevation and rocky tread. May 17, 2008. www.trailevents.com.