If you want a breathtaking experience, spend some time in the North Carolina mountains when the seasons are changing or coming into bloom. Whether it’s watching spring come alive or fall colors unfold, observing that transformation on a bike at 15 miles per hour beats trying to take it in at 50.
When seeking out a good mountain route, it’s best to consult the people who ride these routes often, and no one rides the mountains more frequently than the Blue Ridge Bicycle Club. In addition to sponsoring more than 170 group rides a year, the club’s Ralph Draves, its sommelier of cycling, has meticulously created more than 225 cue sheets detailing routes created largely for their scenic value and safety. Our 3-day, 2-wheeled getaway is based on three of Ralph’s trips.
Day 1: Black Mountain to Old Fort (Hickory Nut Gorge Option)
Distance: 32/52 miles
Draves starts this route from Black Mountain’s public parking lot off N.C. Highway 9, but since it’s early we recommend starting two blocks away, at The Dripolator Coffeehouse with a cup of fresh roast and a pastry. Then, get back on the highway and head south through town – unless you hear an alarming clanking sound from your crankshaft, in which case you should pull into Epic Cycles a block off N.C. Highway 9 on Sutton Avenue.
Highway 9 quickly leads you to Black Mountain, and just as quickly presents you with your first climb, up to 3,028-foot Lakey Gap. With the Broad River as your companion, continue down the highway. At Old Fort Road, you have a choice. One option is to continue on the highway to U.S. Highway 64 and go left, to Bat Cave, and on to Chimney Rock State Park, a total distance of 10 miles (and another 10 to get back on your route). You’ve entered the Hickory Nut Gorge, one of the most ecologically diverse areas in North Carolina. The Nature Conservancy’s Bat Cave Nature Preserve, where a host of threatened and endangered species is protected, offers a good taste of this biodiversity. A little farther down U.S. Highway 64 is Chimney Rock State Park, a visitor attraction brought into the North Carolina State Parks system in 2007. Take a strenuous hike to the top of Chimney Rock – it's worth it – for a panoramic view of scenic beauty.
Back at the Old Fort Road fork in the road, your second option is to go east and continue as Old Fort becomes Bat Cave Road. The riding here is on two quiet lanes that transition from rolling foothills to rugged Blue Ridge Mountains. You won’t find big climbs, but you might have a moment or two out of your saddle.
Around mile 21 (41, if you did the Chimney Rock spur), pass under Interstate 40 and enter the town of Old Fort. If you’re eager to ride the next 5 miles, the highlight of this already scenic trip, you might want to consider your appetite.
Back on the bike, you soon encounter a rarity: 5 miles of former roadway, Old U.S. Route 70, which has been retired and banned of motorized traffic. This route has a good climb at the start (it’s used to thin out the field at the start of the annual Off-Road Assault on Mount Mitchell mountain bike race every July), so pace yourself. Be sure to stop at Point Lookout and check out the stunning valley spread below.
From here, it’s mostly downhill back into Black Mountain and a well-earned dinner at My Father’s Pizza on Cherry Street, about a block off your route. Enjoy a local beer and one of My Father’s popular pizzas. A sound sleep awaits two blocks up U.S. Route 70 at Monte Vista Hotel, which spent the first 18 years of its life as a school before its 1937 conversion.
Day 2: Rosman and the Scenic French Broad
Distance: 34.7 miles
From Brevard to Rosman, U.S. Route 64 acts as something of a geographic boundary: North of the highway the southern Appalachians rise quickly and aggressively, from about 2,200 feet to more than 6,000 feet in about 9 miles. That’s good news for competitive cyclists who use the likes of U.S. Route 276 and N.C. Highway 215 for hardcore training rides, but not so much for the touring cyclist. Fortunately, for that person there’s the kinder, gentler, south side of U.S. 64, where Ralph Draves has crafted the 34.7-mile Rosman and Scenic French Broad route.
Work your way out of town heading southwest on a series of 2-lane roads. This is typical country-road riding, where a cue sheet strapped to your handlebars is essential. The French Broad River is your escort, taking you past rolling farms and pastures that help the miles slip by effortlessly. Before you know it, you’re in Rosman, where your appetite may lead you to veer your bike into the parking lot of the Country Skillet. Go for the double-decker burger on three slabs of Texas toast.
Back on the road, at mile 22.4, there’s a pullover big enough for just three cars but plenty of bikes. A short walk reveals one of the hundreds of waterfalls the Brevard area is known for. It’s a sight to behold.
On the road once more, it’s a lazy 12-mile return along much of the route you rode out on, back to Brevard.
While you’ve spent most of the day al fresco, the fresh air consumption doesn’t end now. Your sleeping accommodations, if you so choose, are at one of the most popular campgrounds in the state, Davidson River, which is nestled in a mature forest just inside Pisgah National Forest. It’s about a mile’s drive from the necessities: ice cream, barbecue and a Walmart with a well-stocked camping section. And if your bike picked up a rattle during the day, Sycamore Cycles is right there, too.
Day 3: Blackberry Pie
Distance: 30 miles
If you awaken on Day 3 feeling emboldened, you should know North Carolina’s mountains have more than a dozen challenging 100-mile organized rides, one of which, the WNC Flyer (formerly the Fletcher Flyer), takes place not far from where yesterday’s ride ended. You might be encouraged to learn that the Flyer is the least hilly of North Carolina’s mountain centuries. And you might appreciate the fact that the Blue Ridge Bicycle Club’s Blackberry Pie route (also known as the Flyer Tune-Up) gives you a 30.5-mile taste of the Flyer.
On your way out of the Davidson River campground, take a short detour west on U.S. Route 64 to stock up on provisions at the Food Matters Market, where you can build a deli sandwich or gluten-free tortilla wrap to stick in your pannier for later. Your route today eschews civilization, and there’s a great picnic spot about midway where lunch will taste especially good. You’ll start your ride at Bill Moore Community Park.
Your voyage begins with a quick 1-mile ride out of town and into the rolling terrain that marks this ride. Initially, you follow the wide span of the French Broad River Valley. After crossing N.C. Highway 280, you’ll enter the more intimate Mills River Valley watershed. An out-and-back on Watagnee Trail takes you up Queen Creek to a lovely meadow and mountain ponds, ideal for your lunch break – and nap.
The return to Fletcher is a gradual reintroduction to civilization. Over an early dinner at Fletcher’s Blue Sky Cafe, awaiting you are appetizers (Southwestern Spring Rolls), the entrée (Carolina BBQ Melt with onion rings) and dessert (Reese’s Peanut Butter Pie). Though you’re at the end of your trip, there’s nothing wrong with plotting the strategy for your next mountain ride: the WNC Flyer.
For cue sheets on these rides and the more than 220 other rides offered, visit the Blue Ridge Bicycle Club. Access to most of the cue sheets requires club membership, which starts at $25.
North Carolina State Parks offer a variety nature activities, but this also includes potential hazards. Take care, be safe and enjoy.