Mountain Biking in Western North Carolina, USA

Western North Carolina isn’t the first place that comes to mind when planning a MTB trip to the USA, but sometimes taking the road less travelled brings its rewards. 

Sometimes you just have to take a run-up and hope for the best. My recent jaunt to Brevard in the US launched me across a cul­tural divide and into the depths of new territory.

As far as jumps into the unknown go, this one was a biggie. The run-up involved two and a half days travel from my home in Central Australia to Charlotte Airport in North Carolina, plus a couple of hours drive to get to Brevard. By the time I ar­rived at my friend Marion Boatwright’s house, it was about one in the morning. I’d been awake for the best part of the week­end and my body clock felt like it had been shaken into next week. I fell into bed like a swimmer coming off the rope-swing and plunging into the water below.

The next morning I began my crash-course on the American South. Lesson one was a good ‘Southern breakfast’; coffee, grits, proper Southern pork sausage and eggs. Bleary-eyed from jetlag, I wandered out onto the verandah, mug in hand, while Marion bustled about in the kitchen. I squinted at the leaves beyond the verandah railing and the forested flanks of the ranges further across the valley. I was looking at trees I’d only ever seen on television.

Marion grew up in these parts, so he was able to tell me a fair bit about Brevard as we chowed down on our sausage, eggs ‘n’ grits. Despite the name, ‘grits’ are not some kind of fried goodie; it’s a kind of porridge made of cornmeal that you have to be born ’n’ bred to have the palate for.

Fording the South Mills River - it can be icy cold in spring.

Brevard’s a tiny town of about 8,000 people, in Transylvania County, in western North Carolina. Being in the South and on the wrong side of the Mississippi, it doesn’t really rate as a go-to American MTB destination for most. However, someone went and told Greg Heil from about it and he rated it amongst his Top 10 North American MTB spots. After that riders are starting to trickle in to this sleepy little town. 

It had to happen—the ranges I was admiring from Marion’s veranda form the southern tip of a 2,400km long mountain chain called the Appalachian Mountains, which rumples up the eastern side of America all the way to Newfoundland in Canada. The Appalachians give the western side of North Carolina a staggered line-up of ridgelines and valleys that you can stare at for days and days. Adding to the area’s chocolate-box appeal, the flanks of these mountains are lined with stands of oak, pine, hickory and maple (depending upon which way the hillsides face), along with beautiful streams that stall and fall their way down the slopes. This is Cold Moun­tain country, it’s starred as the home forests in the Hunger Games films, and its practi­cally custom-made for mountain biking.

I’d pencilled in a cultural excursion for that first day, to give my body clock time to reset. First stop – the bike shops, and there are two in Brevard. The first had craft beer on tap, the second had a crew so friendly and full of casual Southern charm I felt like a local as soon as I walked in the door.

Art Odell at Sycamore Cycles leaned against the counter and rattled off a leisurely selection of his favourite trails and link-ups. The lads in the workshop behind him added their favourites, lightly seasoned with a bit of shop banter for Art. 

Then they invited me along to their weekly mountain bike shop ride, to make sure I got the full quota of recommended Pisgah and DuPont trail fun—done!

Chatting to folks, I was getting a sense of Brevard’s distinctive Southern style, and it’s no surprise that mountain biking fits in so seamlessly with the local scene. The Appalachians Mountains have really shaped the history and culture of western North Carolina. They formed an all but insurmountable obstacle to early colonists and those folks who did settle remained fairly isolated up until in the mid-twentieth century, when the roads were put in. Before then, the living was hard and the people developed a culture that worked around and even celebrated those hardships. Yep, Brevard’s locals are descended from bare­foot, fiddle-playin’ hillbillies, and proud of it—heck, they even call themselves ‘moun­tain folk’ (pronounced: moun[t]’n).

In Brevard anything ‘mountain’ is tops; the shops are packed with mountain crafts (wood carving, leather- and metalwork and glass-blowing) and the locals play and dance to traditional mountain music, live in lov­ingly maintained mountain log homes and season their food with the flavours of tra­ditional mountain living – smoked hickory, maple-candied bacon, pimento cheese. Yep, mountain biking fits in real well here.


I finally got to scrunch some of Bre­vard’s red Southern dirt under my tyres the following day. My friend Ryan Sigsbey and I hit the DuPont trails with Sycamore Cycles owner Wes Dickson. We met at the trailhead car park and fell into formation behind Wes, who led us into a maze-like network of fire trails and bike trails that snaked through the trees. The trails are a lyrical testimony to the early settlers’ ex­periences of the land; Cart Trail, Big Rock Trail, Laurel Ridge Trail, and Oak Tree, Pine Tree and Scarlett Oak trails, Lake View Loop, Triple Falls Trail, Cedar Rock Trail.

Negotiating a 'root baskety' trail at Turkeypen in the Pisgah.

The ride began with a steady uphill slog that delivered us to the top of a descent that Wes, not given to exaggeration, described as ‘pretty good’. A born ‘n’ bred local, Wes knows these tracks better than most folks know the lines and curves of their own hands. As we climbed on, he pointed out trails and filled us in on DuPont’s history.

Before being sold to the government and being declared a State Forest, DuPont was owned by the company DuPont, which has a long history of making things us mountain bikers could not do without, including x-ray film and velcro. Now, DuPont-the-forest is a favourite plaything of hikers, dog-walkers, horse riders and bike riders. The place is humming, but the 40-odd square kilometres of forest and its trails (estimated at 160km) are enough to keep the place from feeling crowded. All the loops and link-ups allow for anything from an hour-long nip-around to a full day of play on the bike.

Descending on the technical Burnt Mountain Track.

The climb was steady and the tracks here are wider than Aussie singletrack because they are shared-use and mostly dual-direction. But the geography just gives and gives; the trails are always heading up or down a hillside or ridgeline, and they’re peppered with rocks and tree roots. Our climb was punctuated with rockgardens and sections of stepped rock slabs that were punchy, but wide enough for the three of us to find lines to suit our tastes. I was soon huffing and hacking – I’m going to blame the jetlag for that too – but the step-ups and pinches were rewarding.
The sweeping but rocky DuPont-style track had a whole new feel on the way down. I never knew what I’d find round the next corner. There were sections of seeming­ly naturally occurring rock cobbling, there were cheeky drops we could roll down or launch as the notion took us, sticky slab-steps, twisty corners, rock islands and lengthy rocky chutes. We yipped and ya­hooed our way down, sometimes stopping to do a chute a couple a times over.

Next, Wes led us up a brutal climb to a rock slab for sunset. We ground our way up a fire road, and then a steep, loose, winding trail to the final stretch; a rock slab lined with brilliant-green grasses and patches of moss. Above tree-line, this last stretch looked as about as gnarly as the English countryside, but it was deceptively steep. You’d think a rock slab would make the climbing a little easier; no such luck. I hunkered down, pushing hard on the pedals hoping to catch Wes—the race was on!

Our ‘sprint’ was a slow lung-buster to the top, where we dropped the bikes and collapsed in a heap, laughing and trying to breathe. ‘I don’t know,’ Wes huffed, ‘I think ya mighta had me there!’ Those laid-back Southern manners!
We then cruised past wind-stunted trees on the rock plateau to take in views in the pre-sunset light. I know, I know – sunsets are a daily occurrence, but the liquid-gold light we got up there was a whole new kind of wonderful, and the surrounding ranges glowed.
Riding the suspension bridges at Turkeypen requires a degree of skill.


Ryan and I met up with Wes and our friend Eric Crews early the next morning. This time we were headed out to an area called Turkeypen Gap. Although Turkeypen is a little further out of town than DuPont and it was still fairly early, the car park at ‘Turkey’ was pretty busy – would the trails be too? I needn’t have worried; Turkey Pen is part of Pisgah National Forest, which covers over two thousand square kilometres of forestland—that’s bigger than Adelaide!

Turkeypen was significantly steeper than DuPont. It was damper, too, with less light getting through the trees and the South Mills River shadowing the trail. Turns out the lower part of Turkeypen is all about river crossings, with fords and swing-bridg­es leading across the tributaries that feed into the South Mills. The swing-bridges pre-date the mountain bike scene by who knows how many generations, and many had high steps leading on and off. Eric and Wes, both knowing the track, hopped up the steps and rode across at their usual pace, using the step-down to launch back onto the track. I started out more cautious­ly until I got familiar with the steps. Riding across was fun. The swing-bridges swayed gently as I pedalled across; the only real danger was the views of the river below.

Further on, I encountered another classic feature of the Turkeypen; a river ford. We rode across the shallower ones, but there was one that was way too wide to ride across. Eric, Ryan and Wes shouldered their bikes and waded into the water. I picked up my bike and followed them into the river. The water was icy-cold—it was spring, and these ranges had been covered in snow a few weeks ago. The ice water rose higher and higher up our legs. I wished I was taller…

Further along, the trail swooped down a valley and then climbed back up the hill on the other side. ‘Yeah,’ said Wes, ‘It gets a bit root-baskety through here.’ Root-baskety? We pulled over for a recce. It was steep, with a technical off-camber push up through the tree roots and rocks. I saw two lines; one going high and straight through the tree roots, the other staying low to bypass most of the roots before powering up the steepest section and over a rooty lip. Both ways were hard. I wondered if it would be easier as a descent on the return journey—it wasn’t. The root-basket was so steep it dropped from sight after that troublesome lip. I managed the descent and mentally filed the climb for another day. By the time the four of us returned home, we were grimy, scraped up and happy.

Pisgah’s tracks are shared-use too, but they felt narrower and rougher. Something about them drew me in. Ryan also showed me some of the tracks near Sycamore Cycles; I liked them so much I returned as often as I could, dragging Ryan and Wes out whenever they were free or heading out on solo missions.

Then the guys from the shop took me out on a shop ride; ‘La Tour de Steepest Tracks a la Pisgah’. Every time, I discovered something new; cobbled staircase climbs, picnic spots by the creek, a box turtle, cob­bled creek crossings, sustained steep climbs that fed onto railing descents so long that I had to pull over to laugh, and roots, roots and more roots.

Everything is bigger in western North Carolina; hills mean heart-wrenching climbs, and descents that go on and on. My biggest struggle was getting enough fuel on board to ride as much as I wanted to. Being in the South, I got to try all kinds of delica­cies; pickled ochre, Boston butt (barbecued pulled pork), cornbread laced with jalap­enos, and litre-sized glasses of margarita.

The Jordan Street Cafe's burgers were next level. I tried the ‘Led Zeppelin’ (a mus­tard barbeque pork burger with pimento cheese, pickles, bacon and sweet barbeque sauce); the Buffalo (stuffed with BLT, a Southern cheese called monterey jack, and buffalo sauce) and the New Orleans (andouille sausage, Tobasco, blue cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion and Dijon mayo).

Though the riding at Pisgah and DuPont works up an appetite, I struggled to hit the halfway mark on those burgers. But now that I’ve taken the plunge, I’ll be better prepared for next time I visit. Can’t wait!

General Information


From Dallas, fly to Charlotte Airport (200km from Brevard) or Asheville Airport (30km from Brevard). Flying to Asheville costs a little more but it’s smaller, closer and easier. You will need a car to get to most of the trailheads, though parts of Pisgah are within riding distance of town.


The riding is good from spring through to autumn (April to October). Winter brings snow to the region and makes the trails pretty unpleasant.


The ‘Western North Carolina Trail Guide’ range has trail maps for both Pisgah and DuPont. You’ll need South Pisgah Ranger District, including Bent Creek and DuPont State Recreational Forest. These maps are available at the bike shops.


Sycamore Cycles: Friendly and close to those Pisgah trailheads, this store has a cafe on site. It’s located on the Hendersonville Hwy –

The Hub: A bike shop with beer on tap; could well be heaven. Located on the Pisgah Hwy –


Jordan Street Café: Great locally brewed beers and ciders, and true-blue Southern burgers.

Pescado’s Burritos (North Broad Street): The fish burrito is solid midday bike fuel.

Crank Coffee in Sycamore Cycles (Hendersonville Hwy): Good coffee and all kinds of pre-ride fuel.

Also keep your eyes peeled for Threshold Provisions snack bars; ‘handcrafted’ in Asheville, they’re gluten, dairy and soy-free, and they still taste good!


The craft beer and cider scene in Western North Carolina is huge, and summertime is festival time! For info go to:

Oskar Blues Brewery (Mountain Industrial Drive, In addition to making great beer, these guys also do weekly social rides and sponsor all kinds of bike-related activity in the area. Stop by for pre or post-ride hydration, or chuck a couple of tinnies in your backpack for out on the trail. It’s also the home of the Reeb bike brand

Brevard Brewing Company (East Main Street, An entirely local brewery.

Cedar Rock offers some great views of the region.

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