When it comes to mountain biking, I am a the-grass-is-greener-somewhere-else-oholic. The struggle is real. It began by gazing at double page spreads in magazines a couple decades back, then brought to breaking point with the never-ending ‘look where I am’ stream of social media image fodder. The good news is my condition is under control. The bad news is, it’s the end of February in the upper reaches of northeastern North America, and the grass that is starting to show beneath the slowly melting snow is a brown spongy mess. The only thing to do in this situation is embrace the reality that at this time, the grass really is greener somewhere else. Road trip anyone? A March break in Brevard, North Carolina, here we come.
Why Brevard? Location, location, location. Being sandwiched between Pisgah National Forest and DuPont State Recreational Forest is the reason why Brevard is firmly entrenched on the list of the best mountain biking towns in the USA. With 800 km (480 miles) or so of trails to explore, our four-day visit will barely scratch the surface. We’re okay with that as long as the scratching is done in shorts and short sleeves and a thick slathering of sun applied vitamin D.
As we drive south, winter’s grip is proving hard to shake as snowstorms swirl around us all the way to the north end of Tennessee. With the average March temperature for Brevard hovering around 15C (59F), we had warm hopes. So the 0C (32F) on day one is a bit disappointing but the forecast is looking good, the sun is shining and the trails are dry.
Ask anyone for DuPont State Recreational Forest ride advice, and a couple must do trails always rise to the top of the list with the Ridgeline taking the top spot. What’s a tourist to do? Listen to those who know of course. Jim Branch, Buck Forest Rd, White Pine, Hooker Creek, Ridgeline, the approximately 10 km (6 mile) loop is a perfect way to get our winter-weary legs accustomed to the long uphill again. Never doubt local knowledge, the flowy Ridgeline trail definitely qualifies as a must do and another go at it is a perfect carrot dangling at the end of the climb that keeps us pushing lap after lap.
All rides need a beginning and an end, in today’s case they both happen to be at the same place, the bike shop and tourist attraction, The Hub. Our group swells to nine as friends of friend’s join in, ending up almost fifty-fifty between locals and visitors.
There might be no financial cost to access the trails in Pisgah National Forest but there is a price to pay in the form of sweat equity as there always seems to be a one hour plus grind uphill before the fun begins. On today’s agenda Buckwheat Knob and Bennett Gap. Combined, we are looking at a 640m (2100 feet) elevation drop over 6.9 km (4.3 miles), but first, we have to pony up for the above mentioned sweaty price tag, which today is 11km long 590m up along Avery Creek Road.
Unlike the flow of Dupont, the trails in Pisgah are more like the flow of water, point it downhill and hold on. Turns are only inserted when absolutely necessary to avoid going off a cliff or hitting a tree. Stay focused, the roots and rocks are relentless, as are the smiles, what an awesome ride.
Two days into our visit and we are adapting nicely to local bike life. A few hours on the trail then back to the epicentre of Brevard mountain biking which happens to be where Asheville and Pisgah Highway cross. Here you will find two bike shops, The Hub and Sycamore Cycles, a brewery, a BBQ joint and usually a couple food trucks in the parking lot. But the most sought-after post ride real-estate in the area is a bar stool at the end of the mechanic’s workbench at the Hub, AKA, the Pisgah Tavern. Yes, my Canadian friends, down here bike shops serve beer.
There are about 140 km of trail in DuPont State Recreational Forest and thanks to today’s GPS assistance it’s not hard to find your way around, that said, it’s hard to beat local knowledge. We meet up with Jenna and Barrett from Red Woulf Mountain Bike Tours at the Fawn Lake access point for a morning rip on Dupont’s less travelled trails. When I say less travelled, it has nothing to do with the quality of the ride, just that at the more popular trailheads you might find yourself in the company of dozens. The ride begins with instant smiles as we drop into a downhill right off the bat, then it’s follow the leader, uphill, downhill and repeat. We skirt lakes, crawl under waterfalls and take in grand views. Jenna, Barrett, thanks, that was so good. The best thing about it, I didn’t have to pull out my phone or check a map just enjoy the ride.
Before we head back into town in search of a bar stool, there is one more Dupont must do we have to check off our list. Cedar Rock, as the name implies rock is the star of this loop as it traverses giant slabs of eastern slick rock. The ride is super fun but it’s the view from the top that leaves the long-term impression.
It sure feels like summer as sweat drips from my helmet and streaks down my glasses. We are half an hour into the climb and halfway into its length. Spring has sprung in Pisgah and it’s sunshine and short sleeves, our last day on the trails and it’s March in Brevard at its finest. Ask around, what is the best trail in Pisgah and it seems the variety of answers is equal to people asked. Rephrase the question to what is the most ridden trail, in which case Black Mountain filters to the top of the list.
The trail is broken down to the top, middle and lower sections and while the more popular plan is to the access the middle and enjoy the spoils of the downhill, we push on upwards. Presenting our plan to a local we met along the climb, his advice was “you don’t want to go there!” Yes we are aware that upper Black is more adventure than ride, as the gravel road climb ends, the hike a bike and scramble upwards begins. Our efforts are rewarded with spectacular views and then a long downhill run that goes from typical Pisgah, full on rocks and roots along the top and middle section, then finishes off with lower Black which has been sculpted into Pisgah’s version of flow, awesome.
No matter how many vacation days you have at your disposal when it comes to good times it’s never enough. March in Brevard, if you haven’t you should. Our four days just scratched the surface of the area’s riding potential but it did deliver what we were after, fantastic trails, good vibes and sunshine. A trip’s success can be judged by the first words you speak when it’s over. “Next time we should…” Yes Brevard, Dupont, Pisgah, till next time.Notes From The Road
While you can ride Transylvania County year round but you can expect a few snow days during the winter months. By March, spring is well underway with average temperatures that are short sleeve worthy. A perfect time for us northerners to head south, avoid summer crowds and get an early start to the mountain bike season.
The area is well mapped and local advise is easy acquired. Hiring a guide is sometimes the best way to make the most of your time. The crew at Red Woulf Mountain Bike Tours and The Bike Farm will make sure you have an awesome time. Another option is attending one of the mid-week rides put on by Sycamore Cycles.
For accommodations, it’s hard to beat the mountain bike friendly Pilot Cove. If camping is your thing, I can't recommend The Bike Farm highly enough. They are within minutes of Pisgah and offer ready-made sites and “glamping” tents as well. Another great spot is Davidson River Campground, located just inside Pisgah. Prices are low and they offer all the services you'd need. At Ash Grove Cabins and Camping you can choose between cabins or camping. There are also several free campsites that are available in Pisgah on a first come, first serve basis, as well as a number of private property rentals suitable for small or large groups.
Special thanks to RSD Bikes
and Brevard/Transylvania Tourism
for the assistance in making this adventure happen.