Tap into the secret inventory of mountain bike sweet spots in the N.C. mountains of Jackson County.
Whether it’s thrills or tranquility you crave, our mountain bike trails have you covered. Technical single-track and downhill bombing runs. Casual forest trails with stunning views and waterfalls. Climbs that run the gamut from gnarly to novice. And a meandering riverside greenway that fits the bill for the littlest of pedalers.
Jackson County does road biking, too. Test your limits with epic climbs, bestowed with ominous names like “Ring of Hades” or “Spurs of Death” by local riders. Head up to the high-elevation cruising altitude of the Blue Ridge Parkway or ramble along country roads and river valleys.
Unwind with an after-ride toast on the Jackson County Ale Trail. Don’t worry, the craft breweries won’t mind that mud on your pant cuffs. As an outdoors town, our motto is “Play On” and we name our beers after trails.
With spring leafing up the mountains, it’s the perfect time to strap on the bike rack, pump up your tires and kick off the riding season with getaway to Jackson County, N.C.
Here’s a quick guide to the local cycling scene to help you hit the ground pedaling.
Gear up for the Great Balsam Bike Relay
Adventuresome cyclists can experience the perfect marriage of both in the Great Balsam Bike Relay, a bodacious 12-16 hour journey coming August 11. Teams of four will take on the top trails and road routes of Jackson County and traverse some of the best cycling country Southern Appalachia has to offer. The catch: riders won’t know the route until the night before the race.
“You’ll get the maps with four mountain biking sections and four road biking sections and you have to decide by the next morning ‘OK, what’s our team strategy to tackle this? Who’s going to ride what?’” says Nate Kreuter, organizer of the Great Balsam Bike Relay.
As a Jackson County mountain biker, Kreuter’s goal behind the race was to showcase his home riding turf.
“We are undiscovered to outsiders, and that’s a mixed blessing,” says Kreuter. “But who wants to fight a crowd when there a million other beautiful places you can go.”
The event is capped at 100 teams, so round up a team and register early.
Link up with local riders
Connect with the Nantahala chapter of the Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association for group trail rides on Thursday evenings, along with weekend outings and races. Group road rides roll out of Motion Makers Bicycle Shop in downtown Sylva every Tuesday and Wednesday.
Stop in to Motion Makers for local intel on road routes and mountain bike trails, or for bike repairs, gear and accessories during your visit.
Two-for-the-road: best mountain bike bets in Jackson County
- Panthertown Valley, a diamond in the rough.
Laced with slick rock creeks and cascading waterfalls, the Panthertown Valley Recreation Area in Cashiers, N.C., has 21 miles of mountain bike trails, with a mix of single-track and wider paths for side-by-side riding. Known as the “Yosemite of the East,” the bowl-shaped valley studded with granite domes is a mountain biking Mecca. The trail network in the 6,300-acre recreation area is so extensive, a map is a must to navigate the maze of loops.
Trailhead: From Cashiers, take U.S. 64 east to Cedar Creek Road. Go 2.2 miles on Cedar Creek, bear right on Breedlove Road and go 3.3 miles until the pavement turns to gravel and you’ll come to the Salt Rock parking area.
- WCU bike trail, sweet single-track.
This purpose-built mountain bike trail serves up 6.8 miles of forested single-track on the campus of Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, N.C. The trail network has two loops and two spurs, suitable for beginners honing their technical skills but challenging enough to please the most skilled riders among us.
Trailhead: There are two parking areas for the trail system. Turn into the main entrance of WCU off N.C. 107, go left at the round-about and look for the softball field. Head to the far side of the field, park by the picnic area and take the tunnel under N.C. 107 to jump on the trail. Or, take Little Savannah Road off N.C. 107, go one mile to the Health and Human Sciences Building on the right, and park in the commuter lot.
All in the family
The paved Tuckasegee River Greenway is the perfect ride for families with little ones in tow. The flat, paved greenway parallels the Tuckasegee River for a two-mile round-trip ride along the cool, shady river banks.
Trailhead: The trail has two entrances. From Sylva, head south on N.C. 107 and turn onto Old Cullowhee Road. Just after Rolling Green Drive, look for a parking area on the right with a bridge over the river leading to the greenway. From Cullowhee, go to the end of Monteith Gap Road.
Test your mettle with the Tour de Cashiers
This popular annual road biking event based out of Cashiers, N.C., will roll around once more on September 15. With routes of varying lengths, the Tour de Cashiers Mountain Cycling Experience will push the limits of your hill-climbing stamina while traversing scenic mountain byways.