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July 10, 2024, 2:22 p.m.

Lower Heartbreak Ridge Trail

heartbreak trail article

heartbreak trail article

Old Fort is quickly becoming known as one of the best mountain biking destinations in the country. In fact, Outside Magazine named Old Fort as one of the “23 Places to Visit in 2024” because of the trail system. Surrounded on three sides by Pisgah National Forest and located near Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi River, the terrain is perfect for epic adventures.

While there has been a network of trails in McDowell County for decades, the rising interest in outdoor adventure sports has created a desire for more destinations to explore, as well as a need to maintain the much-loved trails that are seeing an increase in use.

The new Lower Heartbreak Ridge trail is the perfect example of how community involvement and visionary planning are shaping Old Fort into a thoughtfully-created adventure destination.

Lower Heartbreak Ridge Trail is the newest trail in McDowell County, opening in May 2024. The 3-mile mountain biking and hiking trail connects Old Fort’s town limits to the Pisgah National Forest. It is a key part of the plan to create a nearly all singletrack trail that will connect Mount Mitchell to Old Fort, linking the western end of Jarrett Creek Road to Mill Creek Road in town.

*Photo Credit: Hey Old Friend on Instagram.

Known for its stunning long-range views from Mount Mitchell to Marion while biking the ridgeline, this intermediate trail has some more difficult technical features that will challenge any rider.

The full Heartbreak (which includes the Lower Heartbreak Ridge) is the longest downhill mountain bike trail on the east coast with 12.4 miles from top to bottom and a descent of nearly 4,300 vertical feet.

mountain views

The iconic, nationally-known trail is well known in the mountain biking community and is crucial to bringing people to town.

Located along the shoulder of Mount Mitchell, most trails in the area are known for their challenging terrain and steep ascents and descents, depending on which way you travel. Which is why Mountain Top Shuttles has been helping dozens of people a week in their mountain bike rides. Most people don’t want to ride up 4,000 feet just to turn around and descend. That is how Jeremy Poore and his wife, a long-time resident of Old Fort, came up with the concept of Mountain Top Shuttles.

*Photo Credit: Hey Old Friend on Instagram.

Poore meets bikers in downtown Old Fort and drives them to the top of popular trails. From there, bikers enjoy the iconic descents that the area is known for, arriving back in town with the opportunity to enjoy a beer at one of two local breweries or a meal before leaving the area.


The pickup location is by design, to encourage visitors to explore Old Fort and support the local economy both before and after their trail ride. In fact, several businesses have opened in the area as the trails become more popular, including a bike shop, bike suspension service, a winery, and a kayak store.

Waterways in Old Fort

Lower Heartbreak Ridge Trail is just one part of the 42-mile trail expansion planned in the Old Fort area, but it was the critical link that jumpstarted the planning to add new trails.

mtb trail

Geosculpt Trails and Black Diamond Trail Designs were integral in constructing the trail during the winter, along with help from Mountain Top Shuttles.

Developing trails for visitors takes a village, though, and it is only through the support of community partners, including Camp Grier’s G5 Trail Collective, the Catawba Vale Collaborative, the U.S. Forest Service, North Carolina State Recreation and Trails Program grant and the McDowell County Tourism and Development Authority that the dream is being realized.

It is not just about moving Earth to create a trail for outdoor adventures. The paths need to be thoughtfully designed for both maximum enjoyment with both views and technical features, as well as minimizing environmental impact. Those trails then need to be maintained every year afterwards through a combination of trail maintenance workers, local volunteers and voluntourism through mountain biking events and festivals.

Trail School

The McDowell County Trail School is an integral part of maintaining and creating trails in the area. One of only a few trail schools in the U.S., the educational program is creating a new generation of workers and volunteers who will be given the responsibility of making sure trails are able to be used and to develop new trails to accommodate the rapidly increasing interest in mountain biking and hiking.

trail school

While McDowell Tech has had a trail school curriculum for years, a new initiative has opened a satellite location in the center of Old Fort. With both classroom space and an equipment garage, students gain both knowledge in industry guidelines, construction trades and entrepreneurship, as well as hands-on work in the national forest and on private trails.

Trail School

As the McDowell Tech Trail School expands into its second location, an even bigger milestone lies ahead. In conjunction with Camp Grier is the concept of Grier Village, creating a continuing education destination training site where people will come to Old Fort to learn new skills, work on trails, live in student housing and enjoy the outdoor adventures in the area. If they decide to pursue a career in trail maintenance, there will be mentors to help guide their job search afterwards.

The concept is already working, as students are coming in from across the United States, from as far away as Illinois and Florida.

While trails are a catalyst in bringing visitors to the area, those that come to enjoy the great outdoors can help keep the trails open and expanding by volunteering to help with trail maintenance. With every expansion of the trail system, more and more people will be needed to watch over and maintain the trails, a process that has traditionally been an all-volunteer effort by the community but is quickly growing beyond the scope of local efforts. Voluntourism is the perfect way to enjoy this unique wilderness and make sure the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy it, too.

*Photo Credit: Hey Old Friend on Instagram. Visit their AirBnB here: