From epic views to roadside waterfalls and remote gravel, the Pisgah’s Grandfather District is the must-visit destination for gravel riding and bikepacking in the Southeast.
Pisgah National Forest has earned a reputation as one of the top mountain biking, hiking, and trail running destinations in the east. Some have even nicknamed it the "Moab of the East" due to its diverse and seemingly endless network of trail. In addition to some of the most remote and rugged trail riding in Pisgah, the Grandfather District is home to both the Linville and Wilson Creek Gorges, parts of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and it's bordered by Mount Mitchell State Park. This guidebook includes an array of gravel rides, many doubling as excellent multi-day bikepacking routes.
Starting this guidebook off, the Point Lookout/Mill Creek Loop is a half-gravel, half-greenway loop that's a great alternative when Kitsuma Loop is too muddy, snowy, or wet to ride. Though Pisgah is renowned as an all-season destination, Kitsuma is composed heavily of clay and best avoided during or immediately after wet weather. Don't let the wet weather sway you, though, this route is loaded with plenty of views and is never too challenging!
Starting in Asheville, the Curtis Creek/Blue Ridge Parkway Loop stands out as the longest ride on this list. Local bike shop Motion Makers highly recommends this loop and considers it perfect for any "strong rider who wants a serious 70+ mile loop starting in Asheville." Much of this route is paved, including the entire stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway, but Curtis Creek offers a screaming fast descent down a quiet gravel road mid-ride. Even better, if you have the energy, you can ride straight to the top of Mount Mitchell. Just shy of 6,700 feet, this grandstand is the highest point east of the Mississippi River and offers incredible 360-degree views from a viewing platform on the summit.
Just up the road from Old Fort and Black Mountain, a placard along Curtis Creek Road recognizes the area as the first official tract of Pisgah National Forest purchased under the 1911 Weeks Act. In many ways, the area laid the foundation for how the government both creates and manages public lands even today. The road is closed to vehicles during the colder months but is open to bikes all year. It also pairs well with the South Toe River or Buck Creek Road/NC-80 for two other excellent gravel rides. Bring your granny gear, though—Curtis Creek is a quad-busting climb that will have you begging for a break!
Heading further east into the Grandfather District, even more paved roads begin to transition to gravel as you get further from town. Many would argue that the Two Gorges Loop is the single most epic route on the list–a ride that has earned its reputation with listings on countless forums, apps, and blogs including bikepacking.com. The 75-mile route is possible as both a day or overnight trip, and offers "incredible scenery, plenty of camping opportunities, and a speedy 20-mile descent," according to writer athlete Logan Watts. The views on this ride are incredible, especially as you skirt the western rim of Linville Gorge and return along the Wild and Scenic Wilson Creek.
The easternmost edge of the Grandfather is home to two more incredible gravel rides that start in the small town of Collettsville. First up, the Maple Sally/Brown Mountain Beach Loop wanders along one of the most winding and seemingly-endless gravel roads you will ever find. Almost 20 miles long, the route offers incredible views throughout and sees little vehicle traffic due to its remoteness.
The other route near Collettsville and Lenoir is the Grandfather Long Gravel Tour, a route highly recommended by locals. Because it includes countless turns and remote county roads, be sure to have this route downloaded into your phone or GPS device ahead of time—cell reception is unlikely. What makes this route great? You'll earn several views of Grandfather Mountain and you have the option to ride up the Blue Ridge Parkway to snag some views of the beautiful Linn Cove Viaduct—the final piece of the scenic roadway to be completed.