Autumn Mountain Biking in Charlotte

Jeff Bartlett
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Spinning wheels grab a berm and your bike tilts inward as you carry speed through a tight turn. Flashes of bright gold, deep red, and fading green create a tunnel of color as you slice through an autumn forest. You can’t even remember what it was your boss was on you about just an hour ago. Now it’s all about the cool temps, fast trail, and spectacular scenery that a Carolina fall brings.

One of the greatest amenities we enjoy in Charlotte is an extensive mountain bike trail network. Rolling hills, thousands of acres of forest, and the dedication of a world class trail club combine to make this possible. Here are some resources to help you get out and enjoy this amazing time of year on the trail.

Jeff Bartlett

Getting started

For those who haven’t spent much time rolling through forested single track in Carolina, we’ll start with some tips from the local pros. Donald Butler, assistant manager at Bike Source, a full service retail shop and one of the largest Specialized dealers in the country, offers some advice to get you out on the trail.

When making the transition from Road to trail, Butler says, there are a few things to keep in mind:


  • Learn your bike. There’s lots of potential to blow a tire on the trail. And it’s very common to be in the woods by yourself. Get to know the basics of bike repair. The Bike Source offers classes on basic bike maintenance should you need help.

  • Control is key. The rocks, roots, and furry woodland creatures of a single track trail all create obstacles you don’t usually need to worry about on the road. Some lessons or tips from a website like this may help.

  • You got ID? One of the benefits of trail riding is getting away from it all. So unlike road biking, it’s very common to mountain bike solo. Bring some ID with you so if there’s a problem other riders can know who you are. Butler uses an ID bracelet.

  • Start on the right trail. Butler suggests the main loop of Shermans Branch or Francis Beatty as great entry level trails

Rob Glover

Where to ride

Now that you’re up and rolling, you’ll need some other trails to try out. Here are some great fall options:

1. The Back Yard Trail
Butler says that this is a great trail to ride in the fall and winter as the spiders and the poison ivy are fading away. But arachnids and poisonous plants aren’t the only things to fear on one of the most technical trails in the area. Ledges, rock drops, and plenty of jumps infest the 11 miles of single-track and continue to improve as more work is done. Any trail with a section called the “poo tracks” is worth checking out. Not for the beginner or timid intermediate.

2. Kerr Scott Reservoir

David Siu

Not so far outside of Charlotte, about a 1.5 hour drive, the trails at Kerr Scott Reservoir are among the Epic rides listed by the IMBA (International Mountain Bike Association). Three trail systems (Dark Mountain, Warrior Creek, and OVM) combine forces to create a berm filled 30-plus mile roller coaster ride.

3. Lake Norman State Park
One of the greatest trail collections near Charlotte, and a favorite of Butler’s, is Lake Norman State Park. The 30 mile trail system is made up of multiple loops. The original Itusi trail is 6.5 miles of generally miler terrain. The Laural loop is a fast, rolling style trail. The trails are well marked and there are bathroom facilities at the main parking lot. Important note: Trail direction is clockwise on even years and counter on odd numbered years.

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