Home to the renowned Appalachian Trail, Pisgah’s Appalachian District boasts endless miles of gravel biking.
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 "Moab of the East" due to its diverse and seemingly endless network of trail.
The Pisgah totals 500,000 acres and includes over 1,600 miles of trail, and that's before you factor in the gravel roads. The forest is split into three districts: Pisgah, Grandfather, and Appalachian. This guidebook explores some of the best gravel rides in the Appalachian District, which "consists of Pisgah National Forest lands that stretch westward from the Great Smoky Mountain National Park's eastern boundary to Craggy Gardens on the Blue Ridge Parkway to Roan Mountain near Tennessee," according to the USFS. The most geographically diverse of all three, "elevations range from 1,900 feet at Max Patch to 6,684 feet at Mount Mitchell," they continue. While this guidebook is centered around the Appalachian District, these rides have been mapped from popular hubs in Hot Springs, Burnsville, Waynesville, and of course – Asheville.
Starting in Asheville, the Web Cove/Elk Mountain Loop is a local favorite and mostly paved, but has just enough gravel to warrant some wider tires. As mapped, the ride begins at Youngblood Bicycles on Merrimon Avenue in North Asheville. There are plenty of ways to start the loop, but this is their favorite and comes recommended by the owner of the store himself. For other questions, including scheduled group rides that depart from Youngblood, you can reach them by phone at 828-251-4686. This ride never ventures too far from town and only touches a small corner of the Applachian District – though it offers some killer views that reach as far as the Smokies!
Just north of town, NC-197 is another local favorite and best explored on this loop. It's great year-round and includes plenty of camping opportunities and some roadside waterfalls. You can start the loop in Weaverville, Mars Hill, or Burnsville (as mapped). Though starting in Burnsville can be a drive if you're staying in Asheville, Homeplace Beer Company is near downtown – and one of the best breweries in the region!
Tucked between the two previous loops, Big Ivy Road to Douglas Falls is a fun adventure ride through one of the lesser visited corners of Pisgah. The road is steep at times but is full of roadside waterfalls. The destination for the ride is Douglas Falls, just a short hike from a trailhead at the top of the gravel road. This route is closed to vehicles during the winter months, and you will likely have the waterfall all to yourself. If singletrack if more your style, Staire Creek and Walker Creek are two local favorites and are far less visited than other trails around Pisgah.
Ever heard of Hot Springs? When the name comes up, many people think of the National Park in Arkansas, but as with a several other states – North Carolina has one of its own. According to Wikipedia, the natural hot spring the town is named for is the only one of its kind in North Carolina, and in most of the southeastern United States. The Native Americans who originally occupied the area knew the spring to have natural healing properties, a belief that draws in countless tourists every year. The Hot Springs Gravel Grind is one of the best rides around and pairs the beautiful French Broad River with a historic fire tower on Rich Mountain — the views are nothing short of epic!
Tucked away in the westernmost reaches of the Appalachian District, Max Patch is one of the most iconic spots anywhere on the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail. While you could hike to the bald, grassy summit on this segment of the AT, you can also ride gravel roads to the mountaintop. The shortest and most direct route begins at the Harmon Den exit on Interstate 40 and heads directly to the summit following Cold Springs Creek Road. The other option is to begin near Waynesville for a long, epic day in the saddle. Even better, it loops back along the Cataloochee entrance to the Smoky Mountain National Park before returning to town. The area was "once home to a substantial Appalachian community and Cherokee hunting ground," according to sources, and is now home to the infamous Elk Herd that can often be seen grazing in the area.