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Top 10 Bike Trails in North Carolina

Map of Top 10 Locations to Bike in North Carolina

North Carolina has it all, from coastal routes to premier mountain biking and urban cycling! If you’re searching for an exciting biking route in the Tar Heel State, here are some of the best trails to explore on two wheels.

1. Tsali Trails – Bryson City, NC

Motorcyclists on Bryson City, NC Road near Tsali Trails

The Tsali Trails are epic mountain biking trails in Nantahala National Forest, featuring more than 40 miles of hilly routes. North Carolina is home to lots of great mountain biking areas, but if you’re an off-road cyclist looking for a thrill, this is one area you won’t want to miss out on.

You can take a few different loops at the Tsali Trails, depending on how long you want to ride and what type of ride you want. Just note that all the trails are rated moderately difficult! If you want incredible views toward the Great Smoky Mountain National Park while you ride, try the Left Loop (11.9 miles). If you prefer a hilly ride with plenty of challenging obstacles, try your hand at the Right Loop (13.9 miles). The Mouse Branch Trail (8.7 miles) and the Thompson Loop (7.3 miles) are also great, so you really can’t go wrong here!

The address for the Tsali Trails trailhead is 8105 Tsali Rd, Whittier, NC 28789. For an explanation on how to get there from the Asheville, Knoxville, and Bryson City areas, check out the USDA Forest Service website.

Tips: This area is also great for camping! If you can, plan to sleep under the stars and spend a few days exploring the trails.

2. American Tobacco Trail – Durham, NC

Cyclist on Tobacco Trail in Durham, NC

The American Tobacco Trail spans 22 miles from Durham, heading south into the rural countryside. It follows an old railroad line that used to carry tobacco leaves from farmers to the American Tobacco Company, located in Durham. Although tobacco leaf has since lost its title as the cash crop king in North Carolina, the trail’s route is still popular with cyclists, runners, walkers, and equestrians.

You can start the ride at the trailhead in downtown Durham, but you’ll quickly make your way out into the vast rural North Carolina scenery, with beautiful pines and an array of wildlife. The trail’s south portion features a stone dust surface and the north end is paved. It also connects to the East Coast Greenway, an expanding network that stretches from Maine to Florida.

If you plan to start your ride from the northern trailhead in downtown Durham, you can park beneath the East-West Expressway on Morehead Avenue or find trail parking at Solite Park off Fayetteville Street. You can also park at Southpoint Crossing Shopping Center.

Tips: There are multiple road crossings along this trail, and the cars do not stop for bikers. So stay alert and watch carefully as you proceed through these crossings.

3. Neuse River Trail – Raleigh, NC

Neusiok Trail along the Neuse River in Raleigh, NC

The Neuse River Trail is one of North Carolina’s longest paved pathways and one of its most popular for biking! It follows the twists and bends of the Neuse River for about 30 miles from Falls Lake Dam Recreation Area to the Wake and Johnston county line.

Along the way, you’ll bike over several river crossings, across boardwalks through wetlands, and past breathtaking rural views and local wildlife. The Neuse River Trail also connects with the Walnut Creek Trail, south of I-87, which you can use to bike in Raleigh if you want. This trail is also a part of the popular East Coast Greenway. If you haven’t had enough of the river once you reach the southernmost end of the Neuse River Trail, you can continue biking along the Clayton River Walk for four more glorious miles of river views.

You can park in several areas along the trail, including the parking lots at:

  • 2928 Horseshoe Farm Road (2928 Horseshoe Farm Road)
  • Buffaloe Road Athletic Park (5812 Buffaloe Road)
  • Anderson Point Park (20 Anderson Point Drive)

Tips: The Neuse River Trail has lots of curves and slopes throughout, and it’s also heavily trafficked, so you’ll want to watch closely for other cyclists as you round corners.

4. Linn Cove Viaduct – Newland, NC

Linn Cove Viaduct in the Autumn

The 7-mile ride across the Linn Cove Viaduct offers cyclists the chance to enjoy the breathtaking scenery and landscape surrounding the Blue Ridge Parkway. Affectionately coined “America’s Favorite Drive,” the entire parkway runs 469 miles and links Shenandoah National Park to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The concrete viaduct is a shorter section of the parkway that snakes around mountainsides, seemingly floating above Linn Cove.

The ride across the S-shaped Linn Cove Viaduct is a gradual ascent that offers distant views of Grandfather Mountain and an up-close look at the stunning natural area and habitat. End your ride at Lost Cove Cliffs before heading back for an equally beautiful yet easier descent down the viaduct. There are plenty of lookouts along the way, too, so you can stop and take pictures or soak in the view while you rest for a bit. 

To get directions to the Linn Cove Viaduct or for details on where to park, visit the National Park Service website

Tips: If you’re traveling to the area to bike, the Linn Cove Viaduct does not have any eating or sleeping options. However, you can park at nearby Linville Falls.

5. Big Avery Loop – Asheville, NC

Pisgah National Forests Waterfall

Looking for a heart-pumping workout? Try biking the Big Avery Loop in Pisgah National Forest. This grueling 12.9-mile mountain biking trail is not for beginners, but it offers a thrilling adrenaline rush and a chance to put your skills to the test.

A couple of the most exciting features along this route include Satan’s Staircase (a series of rock steps) and a precarious stretch through a rhododendron tunnel. Located in the Pisgah Ranger District, where waterfalls, gorgeous views, and miles of trails stretch endlessly, the Big Avery Loop is an exciting and challenging ride for off-road cyclists.

Tips: The Big Avery Loop has plenty of challenging descents, climbs, and other features, so don’t head here unless you’re very confident in your biking skills. Otherwise, try a more moderate mountain biking route first.

6. Gary Shell Cross-City Trail – Wilmington, NC

A sunset over the pond at E.L Wade Park in Wilmington, NC

If you’re searching for an urban trail to ride, the Gary Shell Cross-City Trail is one of the best. This 15-mile bike route connects Wade Park, near the Wilmington University of North Carolina campus, with many different recreational areas in the city, giving cyclists plenty of exciting ways to explore the coastal city and enjoy the views.

The Gary Shell Cross-City Trail is a popular off-road, paved route. Starting in Wade Park, you’ll enjoy the scenic sights and wildlife of the 17-acre park and wetlands. From there, it connects to the University of North Carolina campus and passes through Halyburton Park, McCrary Park, and Empie Park to the Heide-Trask Drawbridge at the Intracoastal Waterway. It’s well-marked so you can easily navigate your way along the trail through the city.

Trail parking is easy to find, with easily-accessible spots available at the parks along the route, including Empie Park, Halyburton Park, and Wade Park.

Tips: Since this trail is in the middle of Wilmington, there are plenty of coffee shops, restaurants, and other local shops to stop into while you ride. 

7. Charlotte Rail Trail – Charlotte, NC

Skyline of Charlotte, North Carolina

The Charlotte Rail Trail is a heavily-trafficked trail that winds through the heart of Charlotte, the largest city in North Carolina. It parallels the city’s LYNX Blue Line (which used to be a historic trolley route) and features stations along the way. 

While biking this trail, you’ll pass several exciting Charlotte attractions, including the Charlotte Convention Center, the sports arena (home of the Charlotte Hornets), and several other recreational areas, local shops, breweries, and restaurants. On the south end of the trail, cyclists can check out the Charlotte Trolley Barn, the museum at Atherton Mill, and the South End Gallery Crawl, held the first Friday of each month. Trailside art galleries open their doors during the crawl and invite visitors inside for a peek. There is also a lot of public art along the trail, making it a charming ride. 

You can park at any of the eight Blue Line light rail stations for easy access to the trail. Parking lots line the route throughout the city.

Tips: If you’re cycling in one direction but don’t want to bike back, you can take your bike on the local train that parallels the trail (the LYNX Blue Line) and relax and enjoy the scenic ride back through downtown Charlotte.

8. Kerr Scott – Wilkesboro, NC

Mountain Biker on Kerr Scott Trail in Wilkeshboro, NC

The Kerr Scott trail system is an IMBA Epic and a growing national destination for mountain biking. The trails lie between the Brushy Mountains and the Blue Ridge in the Yadkin Valley. The Brushy Mountain Cyclists Club builds and maintains all the trails at Kerr Scott, and cyclists highly recommend this area if you’re searching for a fun and thrilling adventure on two wheels. 

This mountain biking area consists of three main trail systems: Dark Mountain, Overmountain Victory Trail, and Warrior Creek. Shorter trails connect all of the main ones, but by biking the 33-mile Epic route, you’ll experience the best parts of all three! The Kerr Scott trail system is primarily singletrack, but it’s best known for its fast, curvy flow and is often referred to as a “rollercoaster” of a ride. It’s full of 100 to 200-foot climbs and descents, making for a fun and variable ride.

The Epic route at Kerr Scott begins on the Fish Dam Creek Trail below the dam, easily accessible from the Visitor Center.

Tips: The Epic’s finale at Warrior Creek is quite unruly, so some cyclists say it takes time to adjust to riding the long flat, paved ride back to the Kerr Scott dam when you’re done. So be prepared for that!

9. Dupont State Recreational Forest – Cedar Mountain, NC

Waterfall at Dupont State Recreational Forest

The Dupont State Recreational Forest is a premier mountain biking area with 80 miles of fun and unique singletrack and double-track trails just waiting to be explored. Here, you’ll discover something not commonly found in the southern Appalachians: Slickrock!

This place is a mountain biking paradise with lots of flowy descents, technical sections, and gorgeous views of vast waterfalls and thick, lush forests. The MTB trails at Dupont State Recreational Forest are also well-known for their Slickrock (found on the Big Rock, Burnt Mountain, and Cedar Rock trails), similar to the famous Slickrock Trail near Moab, Utah. It’s very easy to get lost here, so make sure you bring a map or directions!

To plan your visit to the Dupont State Recreational Forest, check out the detailed maps and directions provided by the Friends of Dupont Forest.

Tips: Dupont State Recreational Forest trails can become very difficult and muddy after it rains, so be cautious and come prepared with a bike repair kit. If you’ve never been to this area, it’s also a good idea to check out the general rules and guidelines and familiarize yourself with the Trail Courtesy Triangle.

10. Hatteras Island, NC

Lighthouse at Hatteras Island, NC

North Carolina is home to more than 300 miles of pristine coastline, so of course, we had to include a gorgeous coastal ride in this list. There aren’t many options for cycling Hatteras Island, but one of the better biking routes runs about 25 miles along N.C. Highway 12 offers a scenic and gorgeous coastal ride.

Although N.C. Highway 12 is the only major road on Hatteras Island, traffic is light here, and cyclists can enjoy unobstructed views of the ocean and the Pamlico Sound, the largest lagoon along the North American East Coast. At the end of this road biking route, you’ll find the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the tallest brick light tower in the U.S., built more than 130 years ago. If you want to add to your workout, you can climb to the top of this historic lighthouse and check out the stunning views from the top.

You can get to Hatteras Island by car or boat, but most people get there via car from the north on N.C. Highway 12.

Tips: Due to ongoing restoration efforts, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse will likely not be available to climb until May of 2022.

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References:

  1. https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/nfsnc/recarea/?recid=48922 
  2. https://www.traillink.com/trail/american-tobacco-trail/ 
  3. https://www.traillink.com/trail/neuse-river-trail/  
  4. https://www.blueridgeparkway.org/about-the-parkway/ 
  5. https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/nfsnc/recarea/?recid=48114
  6. https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/nfsnc/recreation/recarea/?recid=48116&actid=24
  7. https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/nfsnc/recreation/recarea/?recid=48380&actid=24 
  8. https://www.wilmingtonnc.gov/departments/parks-recreation/gary-shell-cross-city-trail
  9. https://www.traillink.com/trail/gary-shell-cross-city-trail/ 
  10. http://www.charlotterailtrail.org
  11. https://www.traillink.com/trail/charlotte-rail-trail/
  12. https://www.mtbproject.com/trail/770094/kerr-scott-imba-epic 
  13. https://trailism.com/kerr-scott-north-carolina-imba-epic/
  14. https://www.singletracks.com/bike-trails/dupont-state-forest/  
  15. https://www.mtbikewnc.com/trailheads/dupont-state-forest/ 
  16. https://www.outerbanks.com/biking.html 

Photo Sources:

U.S. Department of Agriculture J. Knowlton/Public Affairs Specialist, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Ildar Sagdejev (Specious), CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Patrick Mueller, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Goins, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
LithiumFlash, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
EoRdE6, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Daritto7117, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Seth Taylor, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
DrStew82, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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