Friday, November 19, 2010

Flint Ridge, Nantahala Outdoor Center, North Carolina

Limestone bike trail
Long slab of rock in the trail.
Flint Ridge probably has the best switchbacked climb that I have ridden this side of the Rocky Mountains! The initial section of singletrack is benched into the incredibly steep side of Nantahala Gorge. I have no idea how much work it took to build this trail and these turns, but the quality construction has paid off in a challenging-yet-rideable climb: a tough balance to achieve.

As I ascended this trail, I was breathing pretty hard due to the steep ascent right off the bat without any sort of warm up, and the relatively high cadence that I was pushing in my granny gear.  Using a 36 tooth big cog in the rear, I felt like I could climb these switchbacks with reasonable ease, thus the relatively high cadence.  It was still a serious workout and a challenge, but with the right gearing this trail is completely climbable! The singletrack trails here at the Nantahala Outdoor Center were definitely purpose-built for mountain biking.

Trail Switchback
One of many beautiful switchbacks.
After the initial set of switchbacks, the trail becomes much more rolling and the climbs become more moderate.   The singletrack winds along the ridge high above the Nantahala river.  There are several amazing views from the trail, so be sure to bring your camera!
As far as the actual trail construction, it appears to have been mostly machine built, with the bench-cutting usually about 4 feet wide.  In spots the bench narrows to 2 feet and in others it widens to 5 or more.  Despite the width of the bench, there is always a prominently defined trail of about 18-24 inches in width running down it, offering a true singlsetrack experience. Flint Ridge is a classic example of machine-built trail done right!

Scenic View
View of Nantahala National Forest from the mountain bike trail.
The Future
Currently, there's only about 5 or so miles of mountain biking out at Flint Ridge, but that is all about to change.  During my ride, I crossed paths with an enthusiastic volunteer who related his vision for Flint Ridge to me. It sounds like they are currently collecting a lot of funding and volunteers, and already have their own trail dozer. To hear this guy talk, over the next 5 years Flint Ridge will have:
  • Significantly more mileage
  • Beginner-level trails higher up the ridge in the flatter terrain
  • An upper parking lot providing access to those trails without the steep climb
  • Advanced loops located further out from the main trail head
  • Some man-made trialsy obstacles on the advanced trails
  • Incredible flow on the trails courtesy of a pump track designer from Raleigh
  • Some downhill-oriented trails complete with serious drops and stunts
Of course, at the moment this is all hear-say, but if this all came to pass: wow!  As I told the guy I met, this would be a great location for such a trail system.  Sure, Tsali is located to the north about 10 miles or so, but there is nothing significant to the south until you reach Blue Ridge in Georgia. (I have heard some rumors about trails at Hanging Dog in Murphy, but word on the street is they aren't very impressive. I hope to check them out in the near future and give you all the truth about what's there.) If the guys at Flint Ridge and NOC could build a system that harbored some serious technical riding, I think this place could be a great hit!

Bottom Line: While Flint Ridge already has some decent trails harboring amazing switchbacks that are worth a look, this is the trail system to keep your eyes on over the next 5 years!



Flint Ridge, North Carolina from Greg Heil on Vimeo.

Getting There
  • When traveling on US 19/74, hang a left over the bridge into the Nantahala Outdoor Center. 
  • After you cross the railroad tracks, tack a left up the steep, paved hill. There'll be a big sign at the base of the hill and it will have an indicator for the mountain bike trails with an arrow. 
  • Park in the "base camp" parking lot and continue riding on your mountain bike up the road.
Airborne Zeppelin Elite

The Route
Once you are continuing up the paved hill on your mountain bike, follow the signs for the Flint Ridge trail. Go up past what looks like an old pump house to access the trail and begin the switchbacked climb mentioned above.

Flint Ridge
After this, navigating on the trail system is pretty hairy at the time of this review.  The new gravel road that seems to go straight through what used to be the mountain bike trail network has messed up the navigation.  Some signs are missing, or incorrectly placed. However, if at any point you reach the gravel road and follow it downhill, it will drop you out right at the beginning of the trail, so getting seriously lost isn't really an issue!

As far as I'm aware, there are no current navigational resources for this trail.

Your Turn: Do you have more information that needs to be included, or do you have information on new developments since I originally posted this review?  If so, please leave a comment and help keep this post up-to-date and as useful as possible.

Also, if you're digging this trail review, be sure to "like" the Greg Rides Trails Facebook page and stay in the know!


brianW,  November 23, 2010 at 6:16 AM  

nice report, great pics

NOC BIKESHOP December 3, 2010 at 8:17 AM  

Come by the NOC bikeshop for a free map and more info on future trail development.

Stephen April 17, 2012 at 10:21 PM  

I rode this trail system twice this weekend & had a Blast!! The first hill was tough, but the switchbacks are sweet, and after that you Play for all that climbing!! Good Times!

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