The Weekenders

Mountain Bike in Tennessee

Jul 1, 2002
Outside Magazine

Grinders in the mist: Tennessee's Great Smoky Mountains

While the rest of the South is making a beeline to crowded Great Smoky Mountains National Park, steer your weekend assault vehicle, with bike rack fully loaded, to Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, near Oneida, Tennessee. Just 80 miles northwest of Knoxville on the Cumberland Plateau, which rises a good 1,000 feet above the surrounding areas, the 117,000-acre park straddles Tennessee and Kentucky and offers stunning vistas, a grab bag of geological artistry—from stream-cut gorges and cliff overlooks to sandstone arches, chimneys, and rock shelters—and mile after mile of kid-pleasing bike trails.

Stop for maps at the Bandy Creek Visitor Center, near the park's Tennessee entrance, and choose a route. You'll find plenty of options, including two mountain-bike-only singletrack loops (Duncan Hollow Trail, 5.3 miles, and Collier Ridge, 8 miles), old railroad-bed trails, rugged jeep roads, and more than 200 miles of horse trails (watch it—the horse trails are muddy and often littered with you-know-what). When you tire of biking, try hiking or rock climbing, take a guided horseback ride, or go canoeing or fishing for catfish and smallmouth bass on the Big South Fork River.
The pool at the Bandy Creek Campground is a big draw for kids, but with 190 sites, it's not exactly idyllic. For cushier lodging, try the stone-and-log cottages at Pickett State Park, 12 miles north, which come with appliances, cooking and serving utensils, and a fireplace with firewood. Leave the sleeping bags at home—the cabins even come with bed linens.

WHO CAN GO: Riders older than seven should be able to handle trail elevation changes, which are steep but short.
COST: No entry or permit fees. Bandy Creek campsites, $15 per site for up to six people. Pickett State Park cottages, $95 for two bedrooms. Reservations required for both.
CONTACT: Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, 423-286-7275; ; Pickett State Park, 877-260-0010;