If you are like most touring cyclists, you’re in perpetual search of the next new and exciting destination. If you are looking, we have a suggestion for you: Asheville and Western North Carolina in the southeast United States. We are biased since we are locals and provide bicycle tours in the area, but we know you won’t be disappointed even if you don’t join one of our tours…
The region has it all: Stunning mountain views, smooth roads, epic trails, tasty craft beers, traditional and cutting edge cuisine, a vibrant art scene, and much more. From the top of Mt. Mitchell (the highest point east of the Mississippi River) to the flats of the French Broad River valleys, you can have any riding experience you desire. On-road or off, the quiet roads and varied terrain of our trails will satisfy any rider. The region lends itself to great cycling since it is surrounded by National Forest and National Parks.
Off the bike, the area has everything a cyclist would want. The food scene is booming and known to be one of the best foodie destinations in the south. Asheville is known as “Beer City USA”, and for good reason. You’ll find the best beer, from local upstart brewers to national craft brewers who have located their east coast breweries to the area. Plus there are great sightseeing opportunities in addition to the State and National Forests and Parks. At the top of the list is the Biltmore Estate – a beautiful house and garden built during the height “Gilded Age” and not to be missed!
Why should you come to the mountains of Western North Carolina and Asheville? Here are our top 10 reasons why:
Known as “The Good Roads State”, North Carolina has some of the best riding roads in the United States. From epic climbs to valley flats, the riding is variable and as challenging as you wish. The highest peak east of the Mississippi River, Mt. Mitchell at 6,684 feet (2,037 m), is a reasonable riding distance from downtown Asheville. The French Broad River creates a beautiful path for easier rolling roads along its shores from Asheville to Brevard. Janez Brajkovic, a professional cyclist from Slovenia who has raced at the top level around the world, came to the area to train at the end of 2014 and said “for me, Asheville has the best roads I’ve seen in America so far”. A number of American professional road racers call Western North Carolina home, and for good reason.
Just as the road biking is variable, so is the mountain biking. From the extreme technical terrain of Pisgah National Forest to the variable and more relaxing trails of Dupont State Forest, all off road enthusiasts will be satisfied. In the early days of mountain biking one of the earliest hot-spots in the United States was Tsali Recreation Area located in the Nantahala National Forest. Many out-of-own riders set themselves up in Brevard and ride in Pisgah and Dupont. There are several great local shops that can help you out. Sycamore Cycles has a cafe for your morning coffee, and The Hub has several local beers on tap for your post-ride imbibing.
The “capital” of Western North Carolina, Asheville has become the epicenter of culture, diversity, and art for the southern United States. It has been said that Asheville now “out-San Franciscos San Francisco” because of the character and uniqueness of the city and its residents. From buskers on downtown street corners, to the many art galleries in the River Arts District, the city is where it is at if you’re looking for a creative vibe. It is home to many companies in the cycling industry such as Cane Creek, Industry 9, and others. A visit to the area to ride must include a visit to Asheville.
The Food Scene
In order to cruise down the road or trail you need fuel for your tank. Already home to the best barbeque in the world, the creative vibe of Asheville has expanded into a luscious food scene. You won’t go hungry after a ride in Western North Carolina. A number of award winning chefs have set up shop in Asheville. Top restaurants include Curate, Rhubarb, and Chai Pani. Others to visit are Zambra, White Duck Taco, French Broad Chocolate, and King James Public House. And if you want to stick with barbeque, feel free to visit 12-Bones, President Barack Obama’s favorite barbeque destination. You can’t go wrong, and your appetite will be very satisfied.
The Blue Ridge Parkway
This 469 mile ribbon of National Park stretches from the Shenandoah in Virginia, through Western North Carolina, and into the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Many have pedaled its length, covering the best of the Blue Ridge and the Appalachian Mountain chain. Enjoy vistas that can see several states. The best views are in Western North Carolina including Cumberland Gap, Craggy Gardens, Mt. Mitchell, Grandfather Mountain & the mile high bridge, and Mt. Pisgah. Many “rough it” by bike camping the route, but there are others that make the most of organized bike tours along parts of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Pisgah National Forest
Pisgah is the forest that the Blue Ridge Parkway carves through on its way across Western North Carolina. The flowing lush mountains that make the region picturesque are mostly parts of this National Forest. For road bikers roads such as Highways 276, 80, and 215 give cyclists the opportunity to test their climbing legs and see some beautiful views of the surrounding area. Technical mountain bikers will find heaven on Pisgah’s trails. The most technical trails are near the towns of Pisgah Forest and Brevard. Easier, but no less fun, trails can be found in the Bent Creek Area of the National Forest.
The perfect post-ride recovery drink, craft beer is the ideal afterword to a hard day in the saddle. The area is known as “Beer City USA”, and has a booming local craft beer scene. Wicked Weed, Burial Brewing, Pisgah Brewing, Green Man are at the top of a list of local craft brewers too long for this blog post. The scene, plus the great mountain water, and the central location on the Eastern Seaboard of the USA has attracted larger craft brewers to set up their east-coast facilities in the area. New Belgium is in downtown Asheville, Sierra Nevada is in Mills River, and Oskar Blues is in Brevard. Sierra Nevada and Wicked Weed have outstanding restaurants. If you’re looking for some good grub after a ride near Brevard, check out Oskar Blues’ Chuburger food truck.
Dupont State Forest & Its Waterfalls
If you’re ever seen the movies Last of the Mohicans or the first Hunger Games, you’ve seen this beautiful state forest. Nestled southwest of Asheville, near Brevard, it is a regular destination for mountain bikers. In fact, Reeb Ranch, Oskar Blues’ mountain bike park, is located just outside the park’s boundaries. WIthin the park you’ll find natural beauty in abundance, with the most striking sites being the waterfalls. From the towering Triple Falls, cascading Bridal Veil Falls, to the welcoming Hooker Falls, the rushing waters are a sight to see. All of the falls are accessible by mountain bike, and some by road bike.road bike
The Biltmore Estate
This place makes Downton Abbey look like an outhouse. The magnificent mansion, gardens and estate have been meticulously maintained since it was built over 100 years ago. The house was built by George Vanderbilt – member of the prominent Vanderbilt family – and is the largest home in the United States. After George’s death much of the original estate land was sold very cheaply to the United States Forest Service to create Pisgah National Forest. The Estate has excellent roads for casual riding. You can rent bikes from the Estate, explore as a part of an organized tour, or ride on your own as part of an estate visit.
The fall colors in Western North Carolina are stunning. Ride the Blue Ridge Parkway and through Pisgah National Forest at the right time and you’ll see the bright reds, yellows, and oranges. The area rivals any “leaf friendly” area for its beauty in the fall.