▶ OUTDOOR ADVENTURES
in the High Country
A TOP DESTINATION FOR CYCLISTS ON & OFF THE ROAD
The High Country is a serene place to hop onto a bike and ride off into the distance, and with its winding roads along the countryside and plethora of mountain bike trails in nature, the High Country has diverse options for biking enthusiasts.
But it hasn’t always been this way. Just in the past few years, the High Country has solidified itself as one of the top destinations in the Southeast for mountain biking with the new 185-acre Rocky Knob Mountain Bike Park and a web of trails at Sugar Mountain and Beech Mountain. No longer do residents have to travel to Wilkesboro to enjoy biking trails.
Rocky Knob Mountain Bike Park
Rocky Knob Mountain Bike Park features 6 to 8 miles of trails that are rated from “mild” to “wild spicy” in terms of difficulty. The trails are in the middle of a forest with towering trees above and feature wooden-plank bridges and stone steps to navigate. Accompanying the bike trails, are an adventure playground, pump track, picnic area, shelters and skills park.
• Rocky Branch Loop, 1.6 miles, moderate
• Middle Earth Trail, 1 mile, advanced
• Boat Rock Loop, 3.6 miles, advanced
• Ol’ Hoss Trail, .75 miles, expert
Biking Atop Sugar Mountain
Sugar Mountain has rebuilt and expanded its bike park for this summer. The bike park is set to open on June 30 th and remain open through early September. As part of their expansion to the bike park, Sugar Mountain has added several more features. These include rollers, pumps, and jumps, which are all scattered throughout the park. Finding the location of these features around the park will be part of the fun for bikers this year. In addition to these changes, Sugar Mountain has widened its trails and worked to make its expert trails even more challenging for bikers. Not an expert? Sugar Mountain haschoices from the summit to the base for you! Miles of biking trails intertwine throughout Sugar Mountain that are accessible from many different points.
Sugar Mountain is the place to go this summer for bikers looking to enjoy challenging obstacles or experience new trails.
Emerald Outback Trails,
Bike the Beech
Beech Mountain Resort also has scenic lift rides and outstanding bike trails, too, and the Town of Beech Mountain has created a gorgeous eight-mile network of mountain biking trails called the Emerald Outback, which is phase one of the Beech Mountain Adventure Trail Park. The Emerald Outback, which has a wealth of unique terrain, obstacles and gravel and logging bailouts, is open to the public seven days a week.
Cyclists note that the best mountain biking area is the Westerly Hills section, which has undeveloped roads with one downhill through the woods. Wild Iris Loop is a good, easy trail with some gentle grades. A favorite of local bikers is also the West Bowl Loop, starting at the Beech Mountain Parkway trailhead. Exercise caution on this trail because it is occasionally used by motorized vehicles. For an eight-mile loop, try the Buckeye Gap Loop Trail.
See the map below of the Emerald Outback Trail network.
Using Beech Mountain
Ski Lifts for Mtn. Biking
Over the course of the summer, Beech Mountain will be replacing its ski lifts. Instead, shuttles will be available to transport bikers to the summit. The scenic views can still be enjoyed as bikers ride down the trails. The quad-chair lift used to access breathtaking views stretching for miles should return next year. The season begins on June 2 and will run through September 3. If you mountain bike, you can rent a bike from Magic Cycles’ outpost on the resort and hook it to the huckwagon that will be attached to shuttles. Then ride to the top and enjoy the downhill excursion from there. f you aren't a mountain biker, lessons are available daily along with two trails for beginners. Or you can ride to the top and enjoy a beer at the mountaintop bar 5506, which has a large viewing deck spanning 2,800 square feet. Beer tastings, family events and activities such as yoga will take place atop the Beech as well. Tickets can be purchased at the bar.
Summer Hours (June 6 to Oct. 19):
Friday – noon to 5pm
Saturday – 10am to 5pm
Sunday – 10am to 5pm
Lift Ticket Prices
• All day $30
• Single ride $10
• Season pass $200
While mountain biking is sort of “new” in and around Boone, the steep roads of the High Country and the many scenic miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway have always been a favorite of bikers.
The High Country is also the place where Lance Armstrong, the now fallen-from-grace cycling great who at the time had endured a two-year fight with cancer, had an epiphany while riding 140 miles from Blacksburg, Va., through Valle Crucis and to the summit of Beech Mountain in 1998. This was a year before he would win the Tour de France, the pinnacle of road racing, seven consecutive times.
But the story of the High Country and Armstrong began before his battle with cancer. Years before, Lance Armstrong raced in the 1000-mile Tour DuPont, one of the premiere cycling events in the nation that had the climb up Beech Mountain as a part of the race. He won the Tour DuPont twice in ’95 and ’96 and during that time someone had painted “Go Armstrong!” on the highway.
After fighting cancer, Armstrong returned to the High Country unsure if he would ever race professionally again. But as soon as he reached the foot of Beech Mountain, Armstrong wrote in his autobiography that the ascent “triggered something in me.”
He reflected on his life and racing and cancer and future. He saw the faded paint on the highway and saw a cross-section of his whole life. In short, the High Country is where Armstrong picked up the pieces of his life that cancer surrendered and embraced them. After reaching the summit, he declined a car ride back down the mountain and made the descent on two wheels.
“I passed the rest of the trip in a state of near-reverence for those beautiful, soulful mountains,” Armstrong wrote. “I rode with a pure love of the bike, a pure love of life itself. As I rode on, Boone began to feel like the Holy Land to me, a place I’d come to as if on a pilgrimage.”
From Valle Crucis to the summit of Beech Mountain is 11.3 miles. It is a tough ride, but the descent is, obviously, all downhill. Take N.C. 194 from the Valle Crucis Elementary School to Banner Elk and turn right on N.C. 184 and ride to the top of Beech Mountain. Check out a Google map of the route here.
Of course, the High Country features other not-so-famous routes that are almost as tough or easier on the body. Check out two recommended “Recreational Routes” in the High Country Regional Bike Plan for Ashe, Avery and Watauga counties below. Also, don’t forget about the Blue Ridge Parkway that is a favorite of cyclists.
Mountain biking is becoming less limited with the number of trails at Sugar Mountain, Beech Mountain and Rocky Knob Mountain Bike Park in Boone growing. Endless creative route combinations are possible along the highways and secondary roads. Check out Map My Ride for thousands of bike rides mapped out by local bikers.
A few potential road rides:
• Park at the Todd General Store and ride along side the New River on the flat Railroad Grade Road.
• Park at Historic Cove Creek School off of Old U.S. 421 and cruise the back roads of Sugar Grove, Zionville, Mabel and Cove Creek
• Park at the kayak access near the U.S. 321 Bridge over the Watauga River in Sugar Grove and ride along the flat Watauga River Road
The options are endless…
Boone Area Cyclists
Prefer to bike in a pack? Check out Boone Area Cyclists, which is a club for cyclists of all ages that is located in Boone. Along with organizing group rides out in the High Country, it is also an advocacy group that promotes cycling opportunities in the region.