Rough Creek Watershed, Canton
A 830-acre preserve with a 10-mile mountain bike trail. The trail system consists of three loops, kind of like a figure-8 with an additional horseshoe-shaped protrusion.
The main trail system only has 350 feet of elevation gain. The downside, however, is the haul from the parking area to the trail system. A mile-long climb of about 700 feet of elevation has to be overcome before reaching the first loop.
Directions: From Waynesville, head east on I-40 toward Asheville. Get off at Exit 33 and make a right at the end of the exit ramp. Make a right again onto Beaverdam Road. (It will take you back under the Interstate.) Turn left onto Rice Cove Road. Turn right on Rough Water Plant Road. When the road forks, go left onto a narrow paved road that leads to the old water processing plant.
Lewis Soles Memorial Trail, Franklin
Adjacent to the Little Tennessee Greenway, there is a total of 2.6 miles of single-track with three loops: the Upper Loop, the Lower Loop and a River Loop. The Upper and Lower loops are just under one mile each. The River loop is six-tenths of a mile. The loops can be strung together in a figure-8 fashion. Access it by riding the Greenway to the trail system or from the Macon County Public Library.
Jackrabbit Recreation Area, Hayesville
A 15-mile single-track trail system is on a peninsula jutting into Lake Chatuge, located at Jackrabbit Recreation Area in Clay County near Hayesville. About two-thirds of the trail system is a perimeter trail bordering the lake, generally flat and easy for beginners. The remaining miles are the inner connectors, with some climbing and more advanced stretches. There is a lakeshore recreation with a swimming area and beach up the road from the mountain bike trail head for a cool dip after riding.
Directions: From Franklin, take U.S. Highway 64 west for about 23 miles. Before you get to Hayesville, turn left on N.C. 175 S. Cross over Lake Chatuge and turn right at Jackrabbit Mountain Campground sign. Parking area is on left just past Philadelphia Baptist Church.
Nantahala Outdoor Center, Bryson City
The Nantahala Outdoor Center in the Nantahala Gorge has its own trail, which allows riders to try their hand at some technical maneuvering. The 4.5-mile Flint Ridge Trail system was designed specifically for mountain bikers. It features technical riding as well as some rolling single-track.
Directions: From Bryson City, go south on U.S. 74 for 12 miles and the NOC campus will be on the right. The highway will narrow to two lanes after about 8 miles.
Fontana Village, Robbinsville
There are a ton of trails in the village, each of them labeled and fairly well blazed. Mix and match from numerous options to make your own loop.
You can get a good bit of climbing and long descents, plus technical rock gardens, stream crossings and log crossings on the 20-mile trail system that is among the best in the region.
Directions: From Bryson City, take U.S. 74 south eight miles past Bryson City. Turn right on N.C. 28. Go about 25 miles.
Tsali Recreation Area, near Bryson City
The famed mountain bike trail system on the shore of Fontana Lake is fast and usually well-packed. There are a few steep hills and technical sections but for the most part Tsali is manageable for even novice riders. If you run into some locals or some riders who look like they’ve ridden there often, ask them about the loop that leads to the awesome view of Fontana Lake. It’s worth the climb.
Directions: From Bryson City, take U.S. 74 south for eight miles. When the highway narrows to two lanes, turn left on NC 28. Go about three miles to the top of the hill and a sign for the Tsali Recreation Area is on the right.
Oconaluftee River Trail, Cherokee
This flat, wide 1.5-mile trail meanders along the river. It’s excellent riding surface and gentle terrain make it great for beginners, kids and even families pulling wee ones in a trailer. A series of well-done bulletin boards share Cherokee history, culture and mythology along the way, along with benches overlooking the river. Advanced riders should check it out as well, as one of only a couple of trails in the Great Smoky Mountains that allow mountain bikes.
The reward is even sweeter than most rides: the trail emerges from the national park just a stone’s throw from ice cream, fudge and souvenir shops.
Directions: From Cherokee, head north on U.S. 441 and park in the Cherokee Transit lot on the left just before you leave the reservation. Cross the road to reach the trail head. Or begin from the visitor center just inside the park entrance.
Bike shops in the area
Bike shops are a great place to go to for advice on where to ride. Many also sell maps and lead group rides.
Bryson City Bicycles
Bryson City. Sales, service, repairs and rentals. 828.488.1988. www.brysoncitybicycles.com.
Fontana Village Adventure Center
Robbinsville. Sales, service, rentals and repairs. 800.849.2258. www.fontanavillage.com.
Motion Makers Bicycle Shop
Sylva. Sales, service and repair. 828.586.6925. www.motionmakersbikes.com.
Nantahala Outdoor Center
Nantahala Gorge. Sales, service and rentals, guided trips, mountain biking courses. 828.488.2175 or 800.232.7238. www.noc.com.
Waynesville. Sales, service and repairs. 828.276.6080. www.rollsritebicycles.com.
Smoky Mountain Bicycles
Sales, service, and rentals. Located beside the Little Tennessee River greenway for quick access to riding out the back door. 828.369.2881. www.smokymtnbikes.com.