Mountain Biking: Red Carpet Rides

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, May 1994

Mountain Biking: Red Carpet Rides
By Bob Howells


Red-Carpet Rides
Mountain bikers who are still wearing themselves out haggling over access to new territory are simply not looking for love in all the right places. They should be looking to the Bureau of Land Management, for one, which has given the fat-tire set a big, wet, bureaucratic kiss as of late. After inking a partnership with Shimano, the bike-component giant, the agency has identified more than 150 little-known bikeworthy trails and is drawing plans for maps and signs. The Forest Service, long amenable to bicyclists on its logging roads and horse trails, now has a primer for cooperating with local bike groups on development ("A New Perspectives Approach in National Forest Recreation and Its Application to Mountain Bike Management," available on request from its author, Andy Kulla at Lolo National Forest in Montana; call 406-329-3814). Even scattered state agencies, hungry for extra revenue, are nudging open the doors. The mountain-bike destinations gathered here are some of the best of what's cropped up on public lands recently--and just a sampling of what's to come.

Tsali Recreation Area, North Carolina
Nantahala National Forest is the epicenter of southeastern mountain biking, but rather than crowds and conflicts, popularity here has spawned new trails--some just completed, more under way. The Tsali Recreation Area, in the north-central part of the forest, has 50 miles of single-track open to mountain bikes, including two new routes that share a trailhead: Mouse Branch and Dave Thompson trails.

Mouse Branch is a moderate eight-mile ride through the forest beside Lake Fontana in the gently rolling Cheola mountains. The trail undulates along their contours through rhododendrons, mountain laurels, and hardwoods, with an occasional opening onto the lake. After you bag Mouse Branch, you can do another eight miles on the Dave Thompson, a similar trail with lots of stream crossings. Equestrians and mountain bikers alternate trail days in the Nantahala, so if it's a horse day on these trails, try the Right and Left Loops, another 25 miles of single-track whose trailhead is just 500 yards to the north.

Tsali Recreation Area is 14 miles west of Bryson City on North Carolina 28, just south of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Call the Forest Service at 704-479-6341 to check which trails are open for bikes on which days, and peruse volume one of Jim Parham's Off the Beaten Track (available through Nantahala Outdoor Center's mail-order service, 800-367-3521) for descriptions and maps of most rides in the area. Camp at the trailhead ($10 per night), or stay at Nantahala Village ($50-$70 per night; 704-488-9616), a lodge that caters to mountain bikers. NOC (704-488-6737), seven miles west of Tsali on U.S. 74, rents bikes for $25 per day.

Cottonwood Valley, Nevada
Wild horses and burros broke the trails here, a few mountain bikers discovered them, and this fall the BLM will sanction them with signs and trailhead display maps. The 40-square-mile valley is looped by nine interconnecting circles of single-track, all of which begin at about 4,200 feet and climb to about 5,000. The 5.5-mile Race Course Loop flirts with the foothills of the Spring Mountain Range, following rollers and darting in and out of arroyos. Wash crossings are technical but short; the rest is technically easy but moderately strenuous. Race Course hooks up with the 13.5-mile Dead Horse Loop, which climbs higher--out of the cholla and creosote and into Joshua trees, junipers, piñons, and Red Valley, a two-mile slice of narrow, rust-colored canyon. A screaming 2.5-mile-long descent deposits you back in the valley, where you can choose your next track. All the routes are marked with cairns, and vistas are so expansive that you can usually spot your car. (Heck, you can spot Las Vegas, if you want to.) Three-season riding is great; in summer, go early or late in the day.

To reach Cottonwood Valley, take Interstate 15 south from Las Vegas about ten miles to the Blue Diamond/Pahrump exit. Go west about 17 miles on Nevada 160 to Good Springs Road (which is unpaved and unmarked), then south six-tenths of a mile to the head of Race Course Loop trail. Look for a copy of the Singletrack Shopping Guide: Rides for the Singletrack Gourmet, by Suzanne Shelp, in local bike shops, including Blue Diamond Bicycles (702-875-4500) in Blue Diamond, which rents bikes for $25 per day. Call the BLM at 702-647-5000 to find out where you can pitch a tent.

Euphoria Ridge Trail, Oregon
In the dense rainforest of western Oregon's Coast Range, a prominent ridge has long connected some 150 miles of mountain-bikeable BLM logging roads. But until Club Bump, a local mountain-bike group, took matters into its own hands starting in spring of 1991, there was no trail along the ridge. Now there's Euphoria, a nine-mile loop between Remote and Bridge, two map-speck towns southeast of Coos Bay. The gravel roads up Jones Creek drainage take you to the top of the ridge--1,120 feet of climbing in just 2.5 miles. Then you can ride the ridge's three sections: meadows and clearings where elk and deer loiter, then a mossy, stunted forest of firs and myrtles interrupted by the occasional rhododendron, and finally through some old-growth Douglas firs to a short section of double-black-diamond downhill carved into a forgiving hillside of soft mud and moss. A logging road loops you back to the start.

From Eugene, take Oregon 126 west 61 miles to Florence, U.S. 101 south 56 miles to Coos Bay, and Oregon 42 southeast 36 miles through Myrtle Point to Bridge. Follow Big Creek Road to Jones Creek Road (BLM 29-11-23), then take every right fork to the ridge. The best sources of information on Euphoria are those who built it and ride it: Club Bump (503-572-2745) and Myrtle Point Mountain Cycles in Myrtle Point (503-572-5455). Camping is unrestricted; call the BLM at 503-756-0100.

Pedernales Falls State Park, Texas
Mountain bikers still run across a lot of padlocked gates in 94 percent privately owned Texas. But since state parks get to hang on to any revenues they generate, administrators at places like Pedernales have begun to see the light. Mountain bikers, once outlawed, now get a warm howdy. Wolf Mountain Trail is a 7.5-mile ride that loops around and finally peaks atop 1,000-foot Wolf Mountain, where the reward is a wide-angle view of the rolling Texas hill country. The broad, nontechnical trail rolls through junipers and cedars, pecan trees, box elders, and live oaks. When you've done Wolf Mountain, ask at the entrance station about a more difficult, unofficial 7.5-mile trail. They'll whisper the directions to you.

Pedernales is about 40 miles west of Austin. Take U.S. 290 to Johnson City, then go east on Ranch Road 2766. The drive-in fee is $6; ride in for a buck. Trail maps of Wolf Mountain are available at the entrance. The park (210-868-7304) has a full-facility campground ($14 per night), and there's primitive camping ($7 for four people) two miles up Wolf Mountain Trail. Rent bikes at Bicycle Sport Shop in Austin ($20 per day, $48 for three days; call 512-477-3472).

River Trail 223, Montana
Nothing is easy in the Rockies of western Montana, not even a ten-mile ride along the course of the Clark Fork River. Trail amelioration has made this little-known single-track route rideable, but a couple of short sections are still hike-a-bike for most riders. The trail undulates through stands of mature and old-growth Douglas firs, ponderosa and lodgepole pines so dense that you seldom see the spectacular subrange of the Bitterroot Mountains looming above. Then it widens to eight feet in places where it traces an old wagon road. Another 300 miles of trail wind through these parts, but they're even tougher. On the horizon for the end of this year, though, is the Route of the Hiawatha, a 45-mile unpaved railroad conversion with trestles and tunnels, that will stretch all the way to Idaho.

From Missoula, go west 75 miles on Interstate 90 to St. Regis, then east 12 miles on Montana 135 miles to the Forest Access sign for Trail 223. You can camp along the trail or five miles east of the trailhead in Lolo National Forest's Cascade Campground Forest ($5 per night; call 406-329-3814.) Or rent a cabin, eat, and soak another four miles east at Quinn's Hot Springs ($20-$50 per night; 406-826-3150). Trail maps and more information are available from Lolo National Forest (406-822-4233).

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