10 Ways to Keep Your Cool: Summer in North Carolina's Mountains
Though it may sound a bit crazy, mountain biking at night has its advantages: no more worries about getting in and out before the light fades, fewer riders on the trail, and a significant drop in temperature. Besides the practical reasons, night riding offers that extra measure of joy and adrenaline you can only get when darkness obscures your vision and your other senses pick up the slack—you focus on the feel of the trail beneath your wheels and the breeze on your face; you pick up on the smells and sounds of the natural world at night.
All you really need to go nocturnal is confidence, a riding buddy (always a good idea, but especially after dark), and a good headlamp. Lamps with variable power settings provide a full range of options: low power allows you to extend your riding time during the dusky hours, while higher settings let you navigate the trails well after sundown. Rechargeable versions keep you juiced and ready to go.
Test your night vision at Bent Creek Experimental Forest, a local favorite of Asheville riders. Located just a few minute's drive from town in Pisgah National Forest, the 1,100-acre watershed contains a popular collection of trails on fire roads and single-track, suitable for mountain bikers of all levels. The Hardtimes trailhead is a good place to start. Head south from Asheville on the Blue Ridge Parkway/NC 191 and make a left on to Brevard Road/NC 191. Drive past the Biltmore Square Mall and head south on 191 for about two miles. Make a right onto Bent Creek Ranch Road and continue down the road for a little over two miles; the trailhead parking lot will appear on the left.
Contact information: Bent Creek Experimental Forest, 828-667-5261
Graham County's Tsali Recreation Area is another A-list destination, before or after dark. This mountain-biking hot spot sits on a hilly peninsula in Nantahala National Forest, at the feet of the Great Smoky Mountains. Tsali's four main trails offer rolling, hard-packed single-track, taking bikers on a roller coaster ride along Fontana Lake and into the woods. To get to Tsali, travel east from Robbinsville on NC 143 to the junction with NC 28, then head south for about eight and a half miles. The entrance will appear on your left and is well marked with signs.
Contact information: Cheoah District Ranger Office, 828-479-6431
If you prefer skinny tires to fat, check out Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Moonlit-rides along the 11-mile Cades Cove Loop Road are popular with road cyclists looking to avoid crowds and car traffic. Bring a light to enjoy the solitude of this scenic route on moonless summer nights. Head north into the park via U.S. 441 until you reach the Sugarland Visitor Center; from there, drive west on Little River Road, which turns into Laurel Creek Road and then the loop.
Contact information: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, (865) 436-1200, firstname.lastname@example.org
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication