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Feb. 26, 2024, 4:10 p.m.

Mountain Biking and Cycling Adventures in McDowell County


Mountain Biking and Cycling Adventures in McDowell County

by Kimberly Button

With more than 70,000 acres of Pisgah National Forest, McDowell County is quickly becoming known as one of the best mountain biking hot spots thanks to its growing trail network being developed in collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service and community partners.

If you want to escape deep into the woods for an adrenaline-filled ride that will test your endurance while still rewarding you with breathtaking views, the Old Fort area has an abundance of trails with challenging elevation drops among the varied terrain surrounding Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi River.

The G5 Trail Collective, a non-profit initiative powered by Camp Grier, is the driving force behind the new addition of 42 miles of trails coming to the area around Old Fort. The multi-purpose destinations for hiking, biking and equestrian use will be combined with the existing system, resulting in 70 miles of trails to enjoy in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Want to be among the first to enjoy the new trails in the next big destination for mountain biking? Make plans to explore these routes or enter one of the area’s bike competitions.

Mountain Biking and Cycling Trails

Lower Heartbreak Ridge Trail

The newest trail in McDowell County is the 3-mile Lower Heartbreak Ridge mountain biking and hiking trail. Opening in Spring 2024, it connects Old Fort’s town limits to the Pisgah National Forest. Following a ridgeline of pine forests, bikers will enjoy sweeping views on the trail that is an integral link to the almost entirely singletrack trail that will soon be the connection from Mount Mitchell to Old Fort.

Kitsuma Peak Trail

The Kitsuma Peak Trail is infamous in the mountain biking community for its challenging climb full of switchbacks that will test your endurance. The first descent will fool you into thinking you can rest easy before you reach another steep and short ascent. The reward at the end of the quad-busting climb is scenic views of Mount Mitchell before starting a thrilling, grin-inducing 3-mile descent.

Considered a must-do ride among McDowell County’s mountain biking trails, this difficult 10-mile route is suitable for advanced riders.

Bernard Mountain Trail

This 3-mile, narrow singletrack trail opened in June 2023. Descending nearly 1,000 feet from the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains, it follows the rocky ridge parallel to Kitsuma, offering a different experience than the more-challenging Kitsuma Peak Trail. Natural rock has been exposed along the pathways to create an exciting ride in either direction from the trail heads located on either end.

On this intermediate-level trail just a mile outside of Old Fort town limits you will be deep in the woods with steep terrain that offers stunning views along the route. If you are begging for more action, you can extend the ride on Point Lookout Trail.

Heartbreak Ridge

A legendary trail known for its endless downhill plunge, you will descend more than 2,000 feet in just 4 miles. The high-speed ride follows a ridge that begins on the Blue Ridge Escarpment.

Access to the top of the trail isn’t easy, as you will need to start on a lower loop. Curtis Creek Road is among the most popular options.

Camp Grier Trail Access

This summer camp opens its property to the public between Labor Day and Memorial Day for everyone to enjoy the trails. Camp Grier is also a popular destination for overnight lodging for adventure enthusiasts, as well as the starting and ending point of many races.

Mountain bikers can use the Rostan Trail to connect with Jarrett Creek Road, a gravel Forest Service Road that is closed to car traffic. Jarrett Creek is a slow and steady climb with views of the valleys before reaching the point where you can make a loop by continuing on Star Gap and then taking Mill Creek to Kitsuma Trail and then back to Camp Grier.

Point Lookout Trail

Portions of the Fonta Flora State Trail, which will eventually connect Downtown Asheville to Downtown Morganton in North Carolina, are already open and available for enjoyment.

Point Lookout Trail is one of those sections. The 3.6 mile section of paved trail through Pisgah National Forest in Old Fort is open to hikers and bikers with a more than 900 foot climb in elevation and long range views at the trail’s namesake, Point Lookout, as well as views of several railroad tunnels.

Depending on which end of the trail you park and begin your adventure the entire path will be either uphill or downhill so choose wisely!

Gateway Trail System

Ideal for beginners and intermediate bikers, the six miles of trails are scenic and open to hiking, biking and some equestrian use. The first four miles are easy and accessible to all, with the last two miles considered intermediate level.

This scenic network of beginner-friendly trails is the first section of an eventual 42-mile trail system and is easily accessed from a new 100-car parking area.

Mountain bikers will especially enjoy Gateway, Jarrett’s Run and Betty’s Run trails.

Bike Shops

Whether you want to upgrade your bike, shop for a new ride or need maintenance, Old Fort’s bike businesses are ready to help you.

Old Fort Bike Shop Owned and operated by a 30-year bicycle industry veteran, the Old Fort Bike Shop location is conveniently located adjacent to the area trail system. Bikers can get expert repairs and maintenance or browse some of the new bikes available.

Traction Supply Company Add more grip to your bike with this professional suspension service located in Old Fort.

Mountain Top Shuttles Need an assist? Schedule a pick up from Mountain Top Shuttles after your cycling adventure.

Bike Races

Pisgah Productions offers a variety of bike races along McDowell County’s trails under a special use permit with the U.S. Forest Service. Racing includes dirt/off-road and road/gravel routes, including:

Gateway Express Youth MTB A fun competition for youth from the 6th grade through Varsity levels, the course is centered at the Gateway Trails in Old Fort and ranges from 4.3 miles to 12 miles depending on age.

Old Fort Fifty Starting and finishing at Camp Grier, this 30 mile endurance race features both a 5,000-foot ascent and descent along a route of Old Fort’s most infamous mountain biking trails, including Kitsuma, Bernard Mountain, Copper Ridge, Point Lookout, and Star Gap trails.

Pisgah Enduro A challenging singletrack race starting on Heartbreak Ridge Trail and Kitsuma Trail with more than a 4,300-foot drop in elevation.

Camp Grier Accommodations

When not in use as a summer camp, Camp Grier is the perfect base camp for adventure seekers.

The 655-acre summer camp for kids, adults and families is surrounded by National Forest. During the off season, the public is welcomed to stay overnight at the facilities.

Accommodations include cabins, bunk lodges with shared rooms, as well as tent camping, small RV/van camping and primitive camping for equestrians traveling with their horse. Additional lodging and student housing will be added during an upcoming expansion.

An equestrian center, with fall and winter horse rides, is open to guests when camp is not in session. The facility also has a farm, bee hives and livestock that supply local foods, as well as a greenhouse that provides produce for area restaurants.