Nantahala National Forest Mountain Biking Overview

Nantahala National Forest, North Carolina

  • Adjacent to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, this national forest offers comparable scenery and welcomes mountain bikers throughout much of its 500,000 acres.
  • Bike hundreds of lightly graveled forest roads along mountain streams and up mountaintops such as Cheoah Bald.
  • Course through a series of loops over 42 hilly miles alongside Fontana Lake in Tsali Recreation Area. The campground and washing station are two much-appreciated amenities.
  • Camp at Hanging Dog Recreation Area, astride Hiwassee Lake, or enjoy a refreshing swim after cycling its eight-mile mountain-bike trail.
  • Stick to the path at Panthertown Valley to avoid sensitive wetland bogs and view superlative geological scenery along 30 miles of trails. Schoolhouse Falls is a prime destination.

Big Creek Loop
Length: 9.4 miles round-trip
Elevation Change: 700 feet
Rating: More difficult
USGS Map: Highlands
Head & End: Junction of FS 401 (Rich Gap Road) and Bull Pen Road in Horse Cove. Parking is available for four to six cars.
Access: From Highlands drive 3.1 miles on Horse Cove Road to FS 401 (Rich Gap Road). Park in pull-off on FS 401 near the Old Poplar tree.
Attractions & Considerations: The loop may be ridden in either direction. The view of the rock faces on the Fodderstacks, Rich, and Blackrock Mountains are more dramatic if the return is made on FS 401. Grades on Walking Stick Road and FS 4567 are equally steep. This loop is suitable for hybrid bikes. Cars and trucks use all segments of the loop, but traffic is generally light on the gravel sections. There are two short paved sections where traffic is heavier. Start east on Horse cove/Bull Pen Road (paved), and turn right onto the gravel Walking Stick Road (SR 1608). After crossing a bridge over Big Creek, watch for FS 4567, which is on the right. This road winds and twists up to FS 401. Turn right. The short piece of pavement ends at the landfill. Continue on the gravel to the starting point. In addition to the tremendous views of the exposed rock faces on this route, there are views of the falls and cascades on Big Creek. Walking Stick Falls is on private property.

Blue Valley Waterfalls
Length: 6.6 miles one-way
Elevation Change: 400 feet
Rating: More difficult
USGS Map: Highlands, Scaly
Head: Intersection of Clear Creek Road (SR 1613) and FS 367 (Little Yellow Road)
End: Abes Creek and small parking area
Access: From the intersection of US 64 and NC 28 in Highlands, drive south on NC 28 two miles to Clear Creek Road and continue 1.3 miles to FS 367, which is on the right after a sharp hairpin turn. There are four to six parking spaces on the shoulder of FS 367.
Attractions & Considerations: Blue Valley has many creeks and waterfalls. Most waterfalls are either visible from the road or can be reached after a short hike. If any time is spent at a waterfall, it is advisable to have some method of securing your bicycle. From FS 367 go west until it intersects with FS 79 (Blue Valley). Continue west to Abes Creek. A detour on FS 79C (0.6 mile one way) can be made to the base of Glen Falls. To see the falls, secure the bike at the bottom and hike up. There are several primitive campgrounds and picnic areas. Wildlife areas and some timber cuts are behind the gated roads.

Brush Creek
Length: 6 miles one-way
Elevation Change: 950 feet
Rating: More difficult
USGS Map: Highlands, Scaly
Head: Cole Gap on Buck Creek Road at Junction with FS 4539
End: Emmaline Gap where FS 4539 has been seeded to grass
Access: From Highlands take US 64 east three miles to Buck Creek Road. From Cashiers take US 64 west seven miles to Buck Creek Road. Drive north on Buck Creek Road 2.3 miles to Cole Gap and FS 4539 and Yellow Mountain Trail. Park off road.
Attractions & Considerations: Route is on FS 4539 (Brush Creek), which was recently improved by incorporating parts of old logging roads, a new section around Houston field and Smith Camp, and the lower end of Flat Mountain Road. Start at the gate on FS 4539 and cycle down on the gravel road. The initial descent down to Houston field is steep. The section around Smith Camp is up and down, while the section on old Flat Mountain Road is fairly level. The route has several views of mountains and valleys. There are also clearcuts and thinnings. Toward the end of FS 4539 and the approach of Emmaline Gap, the road has been seeded to grass for wildlife management. Turn back at this point. Only hiking is permitted in Emmaline Cap.

Clear Creek Loop
Length: 8.8 miles round-trip
Elevation Change: 500 feet
Rating: Easiest to more difficult
USGS Map: Highlands
Head: Intersection of Clear Creek Road (SR 1613) and FS 367, Little Yellow Mountain Road
End: Same as head
Access: From intersection of US 64 and NC 28 in Highlands, drive south on NC 28 2.1 miles to Clear Creek Road. Turn right onto Clear Creek Road and continue 1.3 miles to FS 367, which is on the right after a sharp hairpin turn. There are four to six parking spaces on the shoulder of FS 367.
Attractions & Considerations: This loop is suitable for hybrid and city bikes because one-quarter of the route is on a paved road, while the remainder is on hard-packed gravel. Be cautioned about cars and dogs in the residential areas of Clear Creek community. The loop starts down Clear Creek Road, and includes Blue Valley Road (FS 79) and a return on FS 367. An optional detour may be made for Wilson Lake on FS 301. All turns are to the right. There will be one short climb where the grade is 10 percent. For the most part the average grade is 4 to 5 percent. Attractions include Wilson Lake, camp and picnic areas, and two small waterfalls visible from the road. There are several gated roads to wildlife areas.

Moss Gap Area
Length: 3 miles one-way
Elevation Change: 550 feet
Rating: More difficult
USGS Map: Glenville
Head: Moss Gap at intersection of SR 1522 and FS 323, or the intersection of SR 1522 and SR 1001
End: Turnaround near Wilson Creek
Access: From US 64 and Ellijay Road (SR 1001) south of Franklin in Macon County drive northeast on Ellijay Road 9.6 miles to SR 1522. Or from NC 107 and Tilley Creek Road (SR 1001) south of Sylva, drive southwest 6.6 miles on SR 1001 through Speedwell to the Jackson-Macon County line. SR 1522 is on the Macon County side. Moss Gap and FS 323 is 1.2 miles and 200 feet above SR 1001. The bike route may be started at SR 1001 or at the Gap.
Attractions & Considerations: Because much of the timber in the Moss Gap area was harvested during the late 1980s, there are a number of vistas along FS 323. Remaining forested stands are young. FS 323 has a hard-packed gravel surface and is not gated except during the winter months. From Moss Gap cycle northwest 0.5 mile where Turkeypen Gap road joins FS 323. Continue on FS 323 past several old roads. At the intersection of two roads on the right and one on the left, stop and make a half-mile detour on the gated road on the left for a view of Western Carolina University campus. FS 323 continues down to a turnaround near Wilson Creek. A road from the turnaround leads to a campsite on the Creek. Another road leads to a wildlife area. If you wish to explore any of the side roads, please walk. Several of the roads have been seeded for wildlife, or because of erosion problems.

Round Mountain
Length: 2.9 miles one-way
Elevation Change: 300 feet
Rating: Easiest
USGS Map: Cashiers
Head: Gate on FS 88 at intersection with NC 107. Parking on FS 88 is limited to two spaces. Do not block access to the gate.
End: Top of Round Mountain and end of FS 88 (Round Mountain)
Access: From the intersection of US 64 and NC 107 in Cashiers, drive south on NC 107 approximately six miles. FS 88 is on the left around a bend. Park on FS 88.
Attractions & Considerations: The feature attraction of this road is the panoramic view of Lake Jocassee and the surrounding area. The view is much more impressive than the view from the overlook on SC 171. The road has a gravel surface. Except for two short steep sections where the grade averages 10 percent, the road is easy to cycle. One and half miles from the gate, FS 89 (South Whitewater) branches off to the left. From there FS 88 circles around Flat Mountain. The final ascent passes a wildlife opening. In addition to the view of Lake Jocassee, there is a repeater station at the top.

Stewart Cove To Yellow Mountain Gap
Length: 3.5 miles one-way
Elevation Change: 300 feet
Rating: More difficult
USGS Map: Highlands
Head: Junction of Buck Creek Road (SR 1538) and Stewart Cove (FS 4593). Parking is limited to one space. Do not block access to the gate. If no parking is available at the gate, there is ample parking at Cole Gap two miles south on Buck Creek Road.
End: Yellow Mountain Gap and hiking trail to top of Yellow Mountain
Access: From the intersection of US 64 east of Highlands and Buck Creek Road, drive north on Buck Creek Road four miles. FS 4593 is on the right.
Attractions & Considerations: This route provides bicycle access to within one mile of the top of Yellow Mountain, which has an elevation of 5,127 feet. Cycling on hiking trails is not permitted, so be prepared to secure the bike at Yellow Mountain Gap (elevation 4,100) and hike one mile up. Yellow Mountain and its reconstructed tower is visible from several spots on Stewart Cove Road. The view from Yellow Mountain tower is spectacular and well worth the hike. Because the Stewart Cove area has been logged in the past, there are several old logging roads. When the most recent timber cuts were made in the late 1980s/early 1990s, a new road was constructed to provide access. With the exception of one fork, the new road is readily identified. At the fork that has a sign, bear right for Yellow Mountain Gap. For most of the length of Stewart Cove Road the surface is hard-packed gravel. For the last mile cyclists will wish their bikes had been equipped with shocks. The coarse gravel was appropriate for logging trucks, but it's rough for cyclists. At the Gap there is a junction of several old roads and the hiking trail, which is signed. Secure the bike at the Gap and enjoy the hike up.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »