Exploring Gaston County, N.C., by bike is perhaps the best way to gain an appreciation for what makes this the go-to spot for outdoor recreation in the region. Spencer and Crowders Mountain burst skyward from the surrounding piedmont and miles of creeks and rivers carve pathways through the tree canopy on their journey from mountains to sea.
From flowy riverside trails and paved greenways to granny-gear climbs, rock gardens, and screaming descents, you’ll find mountain and road rides for any level of cyclist. Mostly, you’ll just find it hard to believe you’re 100 miles east of the Appalachians and just minutes from uptown Charlotte. No matter how you like to ride your bike, you can find something in Gaston County.
Let’s say it’s a recovery day, or maybe you’re taking the family out for some bicycle bonding time. Consider peddling Gastonia’s Avon & Catawba Creek Greenways. Three miles of paved trail connect Lineberger and Ferguson Parks for some creekside riding with loads of spots to view wildlife or stop for a picnic.
The paved, 1.5-mile Highland Rail Trail is a great option for cyclists looking for level terrain at an easy pace. Double your distance by adding a loop around Rankin Lake and start and finish in downtown Gastonia to check out Gaston County’s latest entry into the craft beer scene, Cavendish Brewing Co.
For intermediate to advanced cyclists, miles of scenic rural roads make for some epic rides through the Gaston countryside. Got a couple hours to spare? Ride the Belmont Loop for 15 miles and take on the elevation at Cramer Mountain. The Spamerton Route, affectionately named by locals for the Cramerton to Spencer Mountain route, gains more than 1,000 feet of elevation over 23 miles.
Up your game with routes ranging from 30 to 70 miles, mapped out by Gaston County Cyclists. Their group rides throughout the spring, summer, and fall attract cyclists from all over the region. The holy grail of Gaston road riding is the Four Peaks Metric Challenge. With more than 2,500 feet of elevation gain, the terminus at South Main Cycle’s Pub Station in downtown Belmont is a welcome site at the finish.
Mountain Bike Trails
Are roots and rocks more your thing? No worries, the mountain biking scene runs every bit as deep as the road-biking culture in Gaston County. Novices and families can start out on the Seven Oaks Preserve Trail or the South Fork Trail. Both natural surface options offer a four to six mile out-and-back ride on relatively flat and non-technical trail through protected hardwood forest. For a full day of hiking and biking, Seven Oaks connects to the footpaths of Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden.
For the adrenaline-motivated crowd, there’s no shortage of singletrack. Rocky Branch Park just outside downtown Belmont keeps growing with 4.3 miles of tight trails, punchy climbs, and multiple creek crossings.
Lose yourself in the 10-plus miles of singletrack at George Poston Park) and you’ll be wondering if you’ve somehow bombed your way to western North Carolina. Twisty, tight trails with roots, rocks, and jumps under a heavy tree canopy are designed for the intermediate to advanced rider. Novices can test their skills on the Lake Loop before tackling the four other more advanced trails. A new pump track has been added this year and a kid’s loop just off the trailhead parking area is a nice amenity for families.
Where can you go to ride more than 35 miles of trails, all winding their way back to a riverfront grill serving everything from burgers, chicken & waffles, and BBQ to fried pickles and lettuce wraps? Plus you’ll find a host of local craft beers? For real, it’s the U.S. National Whitewater Center. BYO gear or rent anything you need on site for a day on the trails. With eight miles of beginner trails, 15 miles of intermediate singletrack, and five miles of advanced trail, it’s easy to connect the loops for as much distance and challenge as you like.
Need a tune up? Or getting the total package and don’t know where to start? South Main Cycles in Belmont and RideABike in Gastonia are your go-to local authorities. Top brands, customization options, demo bikes, and super-knowledgeable staff make it easy to spend wisely on gear that matches your riding style. The Outfitters Store at the USNWC stocks major brands and loads of gear and apparel options to not only perform but kill it on the fashion front.
Races & Events
For road racing fans, the CaroMont Health Criterium, held each spring, brings world-class cyclists to Gaston for racing, BMX demos, a kids crit, and a party in the streets of downtown Belmont. On the mountain bike side, there’s the Ride & Seek MTB Adventure Race each fall at the USNWC. Teams of two navigate challenges against the clock and other competitors on the 35+-mile trail system. In the spring, Gaston County Parks & Recreation hosts Bikefest at George Poston, with guided trail rides, skills clinics, demos, food trucks, and live music.
Now’s your time. Wind your way along the shady back roads and churn the dirt at George Poston or the USNWC to find out for yourself why everyone from cycling veterans to wanna-be riders come to Gaston County to ride.
Written by Ann Gibson for RootsRated in partnership with Gaston County Gov.