Friday, November 12, 2010

Fontana Village Trail System Review, North Carolina

Lower Lewellyn Cove Trail, Fontana.
The trails at Fontana are commonly referred to as "little Pisgah," and for good reason: they are rocky, they are steep, and they are a ton of fun!

The individual trails that comprise this system can vary widely in their width, steepness, and technical difficulty. While many of the trails are nice, narrow singletrack, some are much more doubletrack-esque.  One of these wider trails actually used to be a narrow gauge railroad winding through the North Carolina mountains: awesome!

Describing one distinct route here is impossible, because this network of trails criss-crosses all around the village and totals about 20 miles worth of mountain biking. Because of the diversity of these trails, I think that giving you individual snapshots of a few must-ride trails will be a much more effective way to present the mountain biking gold that lies in the hills surrounding Fontana Village:

Lewellyn Cove Loop
Singletrack Trail This loop begins right at the eastern entrance to Fontana Village.  The climb up the doubletracky Upper Lewellyn trail is pretty moderate and non-technical.  Once you turn off onto Lower Lewellyn though, get ready for a steep onslaught of rocky goodness!  The initial drop into Lower Lewellyn has got to be one of the best rock gardens that I have ridden in a long time!  Keep your eyes up and looking down the trail though, because there are several sharp switchbacks that seem to come out of nowhere.  Attention is crucial on these turns, because they are pretty exposed.

As Lewellyn continues, it drops down into a gorgeous section of deep forest and crosses a bridge over a beautiful rocky stream.  Enjoy the serenity of the forest, as the trail will soon demand your full attention!

Baby Heads
Baby heads galore!
The singletrack then turns toward the highway and starts to climb... and climb and climb and climb! The climbing isn't actually the most notable feature of this section of the trail--it's really the exposure!  So few trails in the Southeast actually contain any serious exposure, and this section of Lower Lewellyn is an absolute breath of fresh air in that respect. There's nothing like riding along a trail that's 18-24 inches wide with a drop of 20+ feet on one side.  Not only would a serious fall await you if your concentration erred just a fraction, but you would definitely end up on the highway with the potential to become serious roadkill in a hurry! This trail undoubtedly fits the description of "airy": and I love it!

Singletrack above the highway.

Gold Branch
Bench cut trail
Located up off of the gravel road dubbed "Fontana Village Road," the Gold Branch trail is nice and narrow, with some steep climbs that will undoubtedly force you to granny-gear it. This trail is surprisingly devoid of many roots or rocks, but it does contain a large number of steep, tight switchbacks. Despite the steep grade, these switchbacks were all very rideable, and I was absolutely soaking up these sharp turns!  There's an art to building a fun, classic switchback, and the builders of Gold Branch nailed it! The only other place that I've ridden in the Southeast that has such a challenging but rewarding set of switchbacks is Flint Ridge at the Nantahala Outdoor Center.

Turkey Shoot
Turkey Shoot is a classic descent, and is utilized as the downhill course whenever a race is held here at Fontana (usually about twice a year). That said, owning a burly DH sled isn't a prerequisite for riding this trail; it is totally rideable at high speed on a 4-5" travel full-suspension bike, or slower speed on a hardtail.

The trail drops steep and fast down the side of the mountain, losing elevation at a crazy rate! Lips just begging to be launched off of crop up on the top of most every rise, providing ample opportunities for the adrenaline addict to catch some serious air!

Be sure that you can handle the landing though, because the roots and rocks are plentiful... and deliciously entertaining!  The tread does consist of fairly wide singletrack that allows you a little room to maneuver and select an appropriate line, which is pretty standard on a downhill course.

If I had plenty of time to spend at Fontana and ride, I could easily see myself running lap after lap on Turkey Shoot: this is one trail that you do not want to miss!

Bottom Line: Fontana is one rough-and-tumble trail system, and definitely isn't for the faint of heart or legs! But if you are up for the challenge, the rocky climbs and descents of Fontana can be incredibly rewarding!

Bridge on Lower Lewellyn Cove.
Lodging at Fontana
Since Fontana Village is a resort, naturally the nearby lodging options are plentiful.  Fontana offers a little bit of everything, including: hotel-type rooms, private suites, cabins, and campsites. Not only does Fontana provide great mountain biking and lodging, but there are opportunities to hike, swim, play mini golf, disc golf, enjoy fine dining right at Fontana, and take in the local sites. Visit their website for more information.

Navigational Resources
Timm Muth has written the guidebook for the Fontana Village Trail System. It includes several different combinations of trails that are each an awesome, unique ride.  It includes very accurate maps of the system, and detailed descriptions of every section of trail.  Since this place can really be a maze, I highly suggest that you buy this book.

I actually had the opportunity to meet up with Timm and be shown around these trails in person.  Timm is a skilled mountain biker and an all around nice guy, and it was really a pleasure to ride with him. I really enjoyed getting to hear some of the history behind the riding in this area, in addition to getting the inside scoop on mountain biking all across the state! Thank you Timm for the great time!

Of course, you don't need to meet up with the author of a guidebook in order to navigate these trails.... just buy the book.  I used it to navigate through a figure 8 loop comprised of 4 different trails the day before Timm and I met up, and I've just got to say it again: this book is a must-buy if you don't want to worry about getting lost!

Fall colors
Fall colors at Fontana.

Getting There
From the West: 
While traveling west on US Hwy. 74, take a left onto Hwy. 28 towards Almond. Follow Hwy. 28 for about 22.5 miles, and then take a left into Fontana Village Resort.

Map to Fontana Village Resort
Map to Fontana Village from the East.
Image courtesy of

From the South:
When heading northeast on US Hwy. 129/74, take a left off of 74 and continue to follow 129 for 11.5 miles. Take a right at NC 143 and follow that for 8.8 miles. Take a left at NC 28 and follow that for about 11 miles, and then take a left into Fontana Village Resort.

Map to Fontana Village Resort
Map to Fontana Village Resort from the South.
Image courtesy of

Park near the entrance.  Lewellyn Cove starts right next to the entrance, and the rest of the trails can be accessed just a little further in and up in the trees.

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.


Anonymous,  November 16, 2010 at 12:07 AM  

They don't look like they ridden very much


Greg Heil November 16, 2010 at 8:20 AM  

No I don't think they get much at all, but in places it was hard to tell as all of the leaves had just fallen--usually takes a while for them to get ridden in!

Ragon98 March 10, 2011 at 1:38 PM  

How are the trails currently? I was thinking about driving up this weekend. Are they in good condition?

Greg Heil March 10, 2011 at 2:05 PM  

Hey man, here's the latest info that I've published on these trails. Hope this helps:

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