The North Mills Recreation Area's Trace Ridge trailhead is one of four major trailheads for mountain biking in the Pisgah Ranger District of the Pisgah National Forest, and includes some excellent mountain bike trails appropriate for a range of riding abilities. We'll start from the Trace Ridge parking area; to reach it, head north on Wash Creek Rd (FSR 5000) from the North Mills Recreation Area, then turn left onto Henderson Reservoir Rd (FSR 142) at the Wash Creek Horse Camp. Follow 142 until it dead-ends at the parking area.
This area was logged heavily in summer of 2014, making for an ugly clear cut along the south side of 142, but the trails above the Trace Ridge parking area are largely unaffected.
There are two classic rides here. First is Trace Ridge itself, a blistering descent which loses 1,000 feet of elevation over two miles as it roars through a series of rhododendron tunnels. Like many Pisgah downhills, you'll be able to go as fast as your stomach allows, but keep your eyes open and your weight back; several rooty drops in the 1-2 foot range and erosion down the middle of the trailbed will require your attention. To ride Trace Ridge: Head west on 142 toward Wash Creek Horse Camp, then turn left on Wash Creek Road. After a sign for "S curves" ahead, look on your left for a gravel road marked as FSR 5000B. After a bit more climbing, an unmarked washout to your right marks the beginning of Spencer Gap Trail! Some technical climbing awaits, then Spencer Gap levels off into a beautiful, contouring bit of singletrack that wanders through the forest before intersecting Trace Ridge. Take a left, knock out a bit more climbing and you'll be rewarded with a fun descent. Finish at the parking area; the Trace Ridge trail continues downhill toward North Mills, but is badly eroded and most riders would hike this section. Total ride length is about 8 miles. The second classic ride combines the Middle Fork Trail, Fletcher Creek Trail and a small portion of Spencer Gap into a relatively beginner-friendly ride that does not include any prolonged climbs or descents. Fletcher Creek Road (FS5097)is known colloquially as the "Never Ending Road," and for good reason; it snakes interminably through at least five coves before disintegrating into several more miles of what one map calls a "linear wildlife opening." To combine these trails: follow FS5097 from the parking lot until it intersects the lower portion of Spencer Gap trail, then take a left and ride Spencer Gap back down to a river ford. Take a right onto Middle Fork after the ford, which takes you back up to FS5097; take a right on FS5097, then another right on Fletcher Creek Trail and follow Fletcher Creek back down to FSR 142. This trail crosses the river three times and is generally wide and easy, snaking in and out of hardwood forest and through grassy fields. When you reach the gravel, take a left and follow 142 back to the parking area. Total ride length is 12 miles.