Bent Creek Experimental Forest is, without question, the most popular destination for Asheville mountain biking. With about 30 miles of mountain bike trail (and many more miles of gravel forest road) a mere 20 minutes from downtown Asheville, it’s a great in-town alternative for cyclists without the time to travel far. Bent Creek is also relatively beginner-friendly, unlike many of the classic trails in nearby Pisgah National Forest, with trails to suit a wide range of rider abilities.

What Makes It Great

Nestled between The North Carolina Arboretum and Pisgah National Forest, Bent Creek Experimental Forest hosts a fun and convenient network of trails on the southern flank of Asheville.

Generally, Green’s Lick is regarded as the best downhill at Bent Creek. We won’t necessarily disagree, as Green’s Lick is definitely a fun descent (especially its wide-open lower half). There is a lot more to Bent Creek than just Green’s Lick Trail, though. Advanced riders may find others they prefer, such as Ingle’s Field Gap and Wolf Branch.

Recommended routes:

The Bent Creek trail map can be slightly intimidating, with its dense snarl of at least 24 named trails intersecting dozens of forest roads. Really, how many offshoots of FSR 479 can there be? These trails are well-maintained and well-signed, however, and it’s hard to get too lost as long as you have a map. Here are some of the best loops to help maximize your time on the Bent Creek trails.

Green’s Lick Loop (intermediate, 11-15 miles, +2,000 feet of climbing): Park at Rice Pinnacle trailhead and start at the bottom of Wolf Branch (TR 666). You may also park at either Ledford or Hard Times and take the Deer Lake Lodge connector over to the same spot. Climb the Wolf Branch and Ingles Field Gap (TR 150) trails, then continue up North Boundary Rd, following signs that read, “To Green’s Lick.” The full climb gains about 1,200 feet in just under 4.5 miles. Take a left onto Green’s Lick (TR 139) and enjoy the descent.

From the bottom of Green’s Lick trail, you have options:

Option A: If you’re short on time but want more climbing and another high-speed descent (who wouldn’t?), hang a left onto Sidehill (TR 145), then climb Little Hickory Top (TR 136) back up to Five Points. From Five Points,  you can descend Ingles Field Gap and Wolf branch back down to your car. This downhill is a little steeper and a little trickier than Green’s Lick, and you’ll need to watch out for climbing riders. This ride will finish in the 11-12 mile range, depending on which trailhead you’ve started from, with nearly as much climbing as the longer option.

Option B: If you’d prefer something longer and perhaps slightly less grueling, take a right and follow 479G down through the gate, then take a left and climb up Bent Creek Gap Rd (479). From here, it’s a short climb up to the bench on Lower Sidehill (TR 137A), then a sweet downhill back to 479G. Some other guides paradoxically suggest climbing Lower Sidehill to descend the gravel, but trust us: this way is much better, and since the FS 479 gravel has vehicle traffic on it it’s not very fun to descend. If you take gravel back to your car from here, the full ride will be 14-15 miles (depending on parking area). If you want more, you can easily add on the Explorer Loop and Pine Tree Loop trails detailed in the beginner ride below.

Intro to Bent Creek (beginner/intermediate, 11 miles, +1,400 feet): Starting at the Rice Pinnacle trailhead, climb Wolf Branch (TR 666) and Ingles Field Gap (TR 150), as above, but take Little Hickory Top (TR 136) down from the Five Points Junction.  Bear right onto Sidehill (TR 145) and follow it down to Laurel Branch Rd (FS 479G). Ride down the gravel a bit, then take a right onto Lower Sidehill (TR 137A) and a quick left onto the Lower Sidehill Connector trail (145A). Take a right onto Bent Creek Gap Rd (FS 479), then a left and through the gate onto Cold Knob Rd (FS 479H). Take the first left onto the Explorer Loop trail (TR 337), then right at the fork and left onto the Pine Tree Connector (TR 336A). From this point, turn right onto the Pine Tree Loop (TR 336) and climb up to the Deerfield Loop (TR 335). Go left on Small Creek (TR 334), then right on Homestead (TR 333) and follow the gravel roads back to Hard Times, then over to Ledford parking area. At Ledford, pick up Deer Lake Lodge (TR 664) and follow back to Rice Pinnacle.

Bent Creek beginner’s ride (beginner, 7 miles, +900 feet): This loop makes a nice figure eight and is suitable for beginning mountain bikers. From the Hard Times parking area, take Homestead (TR 333) over to Small Creek (TR 334) and climb Small Creek to Deerfield Loop (TR 3335). At the end of Deerfield, go left on the Pine Tree loop (TR 336) and follow it to the 336A connector, then take a right onto the lower portion of the Explorer Loop Trail (TR 337). Follow the Explorer Loop trail until it dead-ends at Cold Knob Road (FS 479H), then take a left and climb the gravel. If you’re riding with kids or need to cut your ride short, you can skip this climb and upper parts of the Explorer Loop by going left on Alt Explorer (337A); otherwise, continue up the road until you see 337 and climb to the very top of the Explorer Loop. Follow this back down until you reach 336A again, then take a right onto the connector and a left onto the lower part of the Pine Tree loop. Ride Pine Tree back to Bent Creek Gap Rd (FS 479), then take a left and follow the gravel back to your car.

Who is Going to Love It

On the whole, Bent Creek will be enjoyed by mountain bikers with an intermediate skill level with primarily non-technical trails that don’t include much of the rocks and roots you’ll find strewn liberally throughout Pisgah. It’s a great place for newer riders to build skills and fitness before venturing onto more difficult terrain. Even if you prefer technical riding, though, the proximity of this trail system to Asheville means it’s your best bet for after-work singletrack therapy or, say, lunchtime rides on business trips.

Directions, Parking, + Regulations

This is a multi-use trail system, and none of the trails are directional. It’s also frequented by hikers and trail runners, so please remain aware of your surroundings and be prepared to yield to both climbing riders and other trail users, especially near Lake Powhatan campground.

It’s important to tread lightly here, as the primary focus of Bent Creek is forestry research and study, not recreation; continued recreational trail access is contingent upon our stewardship. Likewise, please do not ride these trails when they are soft from precipitation or freeze-thaw.

The Hard Times trailhead is the most popular and often fills up completely. Luckily, the Rice Pinnacle and Ledford Branch trailheads are very close. If you need a water bottle refill, a fountain is available at the Lake Powhatan Recreation Area campground.


Featured image provided by Jeff Bartlett

It is a well-documented phenomenon that romance flourishes in the outdoors, particularly in autumn, when chilly temperatures flood us with relief from the sweltering summer. Maybe it’s the brisk wind that pinks the cheeks and sparkles the eye that fills us with a craving for coziness and companionship, or perhaps it’s our inborn desire to find love before the frozen winter. Grab your soul mate (or your tinder date) and spend every moment that you can out of doors during this crisp, bright season. Here are five outdoor dates perfect for autumn in the Blue Ridge.

1. Fryingpan Mountain Lookout Tower

The views from atop fire lookouts inspire romance.
The views from atop fire lookouts inspire romance.
Emily Poisel

Jack Kerouac loved lookout towers. The years he spent living in a remote fire tower on Desolation Peak altered the course of his life and his writings. But you don’t have to be a beat poet to enjoy the stark elegance or the sweeping mountain views of these lofty structures. The 70-foot lookout tower on the summit of Fryingpan Mountain is open to the public, although it remains a bit of a well-kept secret. There’s a good chance you’ll have the tower, and the mountaintop, all to yourself.

The top tower is locked, but five flights of steel stairs will bring you just below the platform, for a breath-taking view that includes the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and the Shining Rock Wilderness. At such great height, be prepared for gusty winds and chilly temperatures; you may have to draw each other close. If Fryingpan isn’t your jam, we’ve got more lookout towers to explore.

Fryingpan Mountain is accessible by a quick hike up Forest Service Road 450, at milepost 409.6 on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

2. Picnic at Black Balsam Knob

Catching the last of the sun's rays on Black Balsam Knob.
Catching the last of the sun’s rays on Black Balsam Knob.
Melina Coogan

You’ve come prepared with soft cheese, a baguette, a box of chocolates, and a wool blanket to spread upon the summit of Black Balsam Knob. After double-checking the forecast and meticulously timing your approach, you and your companion are basking in the rich and flattering light that briefly illuminates the world directly before sunset. You are 6,214 feet above the sea, yet the hike on the Art Loeb Spur trail was a mere quarter mile long. In short, you have orchestrated the best picnic date in the history of picnic dates.

Do not neglect to bring a pair of binoculars and a small notebook. Then, as you watch the sun drop over Shining Rock Wilderness, Looking Glass Rock, Cold Mountain, Mount Pisgah (and even Mt. Mitchell, but only on a day of astonishing clarity) jot down a plan to climb together up every peak that you can see. Many years later, when you look back on the rich and adventurous life that you have shared, you’ll  trace it back to this moment, this one sweet and windy picnic in the Great Balsam Range. Or at least, this is the hope.

From Asheville, catch the Blue Ridge Parkway near the North Carolina Arboretum and head south for 25 miles. Just after mile marker 420 there will be a sign on your right for the Black Balsam area.

3. Group Ride with Asheville on Bikes

Put a spin on the “group hang” with a community bike ride.
Put a spin on the “group hang” with a community bike ride.
Garry Knight

Sometimes, it’s best to keep things casual. If it’s more your style to get to know someone in a laid back and social atmosphere, check out the group rides hosted by  Asheville on Bikes , a local nonprofit dedicated to bicycle advocacy and education. A community bike ride puts an athletic spin on the ever popular “group hang,” a dating trend which avoids the potential pitfalls of a one-on-one engagement.

AOB offers scheduled group rides from May to October, as well as a number of bike related events, volunteer opportunities and social mixers throughout the year. Pedal through town at a relaxed pace that just might facilitate good conversation. At the end of the ride, all that fresh air and endorphins will have instilled in you the courage to ask her out to dinner, or maybe to the top of a fire tower.

4. Trails and Wine Tasting at the Biltmore Estate

The Biltmore in autumn.
The Biltmore in autumn.
Leonard Silver

Biltmore is the largest privately owned home in the United States, lavishly adorned and preserved in the splendor of its railroad-moneyed heyday. This may sound like an unlikely attraction for the outdoor enthusiast, until one considers the 8,000 acres of forest, ornate gardens, trails, and broad meadows across which a pack of horses can occasionally be seen galloping.

Treat your companion to an unusual date of outdoor opulence, one which delights all of the senses. Hike through fragrant orchards of ripe grapes and apples, savor the autumn foliage of dogwoods, sourwoods, maples, gums, sassafras and oak. Explore the vibrant chrysanthemums and salvias inside the Walled Gardens and study the delicate orchards in a glass-roofed greenhouse.

After you’ve worked up an appetite on the trails, duck inside the Biltmore Winery at Antler Hill Village. A guided tour and complimentary wine tasting are included in the price of admission. (The price of admission is steep, so drink up!)

5. Visit an Apple Orchard

An apple orchard is an idyllic place to fall in love.
An apple orchard is an idyllic place to fall in love.
Tabitha Blue

Nothing on earth will get you into the spirit and festivities of the season more than an apple orchard. The future holds plenty of opportunity to barrel down steep creeks and stand atop rugged summits with your love interest by your side; for now, allow yourself to relax and bask in the campy pleasures of hayrides, scarecrows, and corn mazes.

Perched high in the mountains of Flat Rock, North Carolina, Sky Top Orchard offers 22 varieties of apples, pumpkins and gourds, freshly made doughnuts and gallons of cold cider. The farther you stroll from the barn, the more solitude you’ll find amongst the fruit trees. Cap it off with a pizza at the Flat Rock Village Bakery or a plate of wood-fired BBQ at the Hubba Hubba Smokehouse. After this day, you’ll wish it were harvest all year round.


Originally written by RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Melina Coogan