Mountain Bike Tours: Esprit de Knobby

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, April 1993

Mountain Bike Tours: Esprit de Knobby
By Johnny Dodd

Time spent tricking out your mountain bike is inversely related to time spent bumping down the trail. But come a spell of warm spring weather and even the most discriminating gizmologist has to lay down the catalogs, pack up the panniers, and get some mud on the knobbies.

Situated far from the madding buzz of bicycling techno-babble, these weekend mountain-bike rides offer everything from manicured single-track to meandering logging roads to creek and scree crossings. Some routes are painstakingly mapped; others seem all but forgotten. Explore from a base camp, pitch a tent near the trail, or crash at a nearby lodge or motel. You might have to wait a few weeks for snow to clear at higher elevations, but that should allow you just enough time to mail order your bar-end brake-lever extenders.

Fishlake National Forest, Utah. This remote two-million-acre swath of dense pine, piñon, and juniper forest in central Utah feels like the edge of the world, but it probably won't for long. The uncharacteristically canny Forest Service has already mapped 21 mountain-biking routes in this backcountry oasis, which is destined to become a fat-tire fantasy land à la Moab, its neighbor two and a half hours to the east.

Set up base camp at Fish Lake, off Utah 25 southeast of Richfield; then choose from hundreds of miles of single-track trails and gravel and dirt roads. Start out on the 26-mile Fish Lake Loop: From the rustic Fish Lake Lodge, head north on Utah 25 up 1,000 feet to a ridge overlooking the sandstone gorges of Capitol Reef National Park; then make a screaming gravel descent back to the lodge. For another half-day ride, tackle the 18-mile Hancock Flat Loop (it's anything but flat), which climbs a rough gravel road from the Lakeside Resort into alpine meadows and descends via a steep single-track or less challenging jeep road. Or follow the 27-mile Windy Ridge-Cathedral Valley Loop, a daylong advanced ride that starts 25 miles southeast of Fish Lake and passes by hundred-foot-tall sandstone pinnacles in the national park. Don't forget to deflate your tires a smidgen before hitting the sandy stretches.

Fish Lake is three hours south of Salt Lake City. Take I-15 and Utah 28/U.S. 89 south toward Richfield, then Utah 24 southeast to Utah 25, which leads to Fish Lake Lodge. The Windy Ridge-Cathedral Valley trailhead is at Heart Lake; take Utah 24 southeast to Utah 72 north, then take Forest Road 206 to the lake. Pick up trail maps at the Fish Lake Lodge visitor center. Pitch a tent in one of several Forest Service campgrounds within a mile of the lodge ($6 per night; 800-283-2267) or rent a rustic cabin for $25-$49 per night from Fishlake Resorts Associates and Lakeside Resorts (801-377-5780); newer cabins and condos start at $45 per night. For more information on biking all over Utah, call the Panorama Tourism Council at 800-748-4361.

Craftsbury Sports Center, Vermont. Dairy cows generally outnumber humans in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, but in late spring you'll see almost as many fat-tire riders along the area's twisty nordic-skiing trails. Surrounding the Craftsbury Sports Center, a seasonal ski area-cum- biking mecca, nearly 200 miles of dirt and gravel roads snake out past lakes and swamps and over a hilly countryside worth working up a sweat over.

The 28-mile West Glover Loop makes a good Vermont sampler. From Craftsbury's Nordic Ski Center you follow a series of lightly traveled dirt roads north through villages flanked by maples, spruces, firs, birches, and the occasional barn or graveyard. Grab sandwich fixings at the general store in West Glover and take a dip at Parker Lake before heading back to Craftsbury. The route is rated difficult, which in these parts means that there are moderate hills. For the fit of heart, there's the 27-mile Mud and Sweat Loop, which starts on single-track along the Ruthies Run ski trail at the center and churns steeply for ten miles across creeks, rocky gullies, a good bit of mud, and an electric fence or two. The last 17 miles are on bumpy dirt roads, but if you make it this far, you won't be complaining.

Craftsbury is an hour north of Barre via I-89 and Vermont 14. Pick up trail maps at the Craftsbury Sports Center, as few of the roads have names or signs and one intersection looks hopelessly like the next. The center also offers bike rentals ($25 per day), tent camping ($15 per night), and dormitory lodging ($56 per person per night, including three meals); call 800-729-7751 to make reservations. Bike season at the center officially begins in May, but you can tool around on your own as soon as the snow melts.

Chattahoochee National Forest, Georgia. The Cherokee Nation laid out a wicked network of trails through Georgia's Appalachian Mountains, some of which have recently been converted by the Forest Service to single-track for mountain bikes. If you've got a hankering to ride them, a topo map is crucial. It's easy to lose your bearings in these black oak, red maple, and pine woods.

Rich Mountain Trail, an 8.8-mile out-and-back from Stanley Gap to Lake Blue Ridge, south of the town of Blue Ridge, is fairly demanding, so don't be embarrassed if you have to carry your bike on the steep, rocky parts. The Bear Creek, Mountaintown Creek, and South Fork trails, west of Ellijay, are more manageable. The 6.7-mile Bear Creek Trail is actually a single-track figure-eight loop that traces and crosses its namesake stream around hardwoods, rhododendron patches, and the huge yellow Gennett Poplar, the state's largest poplar tree. The more primitive 5.6-mile Mountaintown Creek Trail winds from Hills Lake past a series of streams and waterfalls and up a short, steep incline to a Forest Service road, where you can loop back south to the trailhead. The inclines and stream crossings are fairly difficult here. The relatively easy 2.7-mile South Fork Trail winds along single-track on the banks of the south fork of the Jacks River, crossing the river only once. Keep an eye out for black bears, and don't stop for copperheads.

Chattahoochee National Forest is two hours north of Atlanta. Take I-75 and U.S. 411 north to the Cohutta District ranger station in Chatsworth, Georgia (706-695-6736 or 706-864-6173), where you can pick up trail maps and directions to the trailheads. The Bear Creek and Mountaintown Creek trails are about 15 miles east of Chatsworth, off Georgia 52. The Rich Mountain and South Fork trails are closer to the town of Blue Ridge, 35 miles to the northeast, off Aska Road and Georgia 5, respectively.

Camp on primitive sites at the Bear Creek Campground, near the Bear Creek trailhead, or at Jacks River Fields, adjacent to the South Fork trailhead. There are no fees; bring your own water. You can bunk at Ellijay's Stratford Inn ($42- $44 for a double with breakfast; 706-276-1080) or Top of Ellijay ($36 for a double; 706-635-5311).

Silver Mountain, Idaho. Years ago, these Idaho mountains were stuffed with enough silver and zinc to give a miner palpitations; nowadays, mountain bikers are the ones pinching themselves. As soon as ski season ends the hills start echoing with the sound of shifting gears, rattling water bottles, and cries of gravity-induced ecstasy.

Just south of Kellogg at the Silver Mountain Ski Area, you can take the world's longest gondola 3.1 miles up to the Mountain Haus at 5,700 feet (individual rides cost $8.95, so you might as well purchase a day pass for $13). From there, six trails totaling 63 miles wind down through the hemlocks and Douglas firs. Start with the 22-mile Pine Creek Trail, which follows an old logging road past wildflower meadows and an old zinc smelter before twisting through a few intense switchbacks to the gondola base. Then pedal the 18-mile Big Creek Trail, which offers a hairy scree crossing and views of Kellogg and the valley. If you're inclined toward inclines, head up the Kellogg Peak Trail, a steep two-mile climb up a cat track to the 6,300-foot summit; then descend to the Mountain Haus on a snowless ski run. Watch out for hikers on the multiple-use trails.

Silver Mountain is one hour east of Spokane, Washington. Take I-90 east to the Bunker Avenue exit and follow signs to Silver Mountain Resort, where you can pick up trail maps; call 208-783-1111 for information. You can camp at the KOA in nearby Pinehurst ($14 per night; 208-682-3612) or stay in Kellogg at Patrick's Inn ($54 for a double; 208-786-2311) or the McKinley Inn ($45 for a double; 208-786-7771). Bike rentals are available for about $20 per day from LouLou's (208-783-1123) or Excelsior Cycles (208-786-3751).

More at Outside

Elsewhere on the Web