Mountain Biking in Big South Fork

Single-tracking in Tennessee's Cumberland Plateau

The Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area was created by an act of Congress in 1974, which set aside funds to purchase over 100,000 acres along the Cumberland Plateau, the western boundary of the Appalachian Mountains. The South Fork Cumberland River, long famous as a paddling destination, cuts north through steep sandstone canyon walls that loom nearly 800 feet above the river's churning surface. With dramatic changes in elevation in such beautiful country, it isn't surprising to discover that mountain bikers can also enjoy many miles of trails here.

This land first rose from the sea over 250 million years ago, squeezing the material underneath to form among other things coal. But the sandstone and shale surfaces are those most likely to play a part in any off-road biking adventure at Big South Fork. There will be few worries about having to ride on slick clay here. As the sandstone erodes, the surface provides great traction to a mountain bike's fat tire. However, sandstone's eroded product sand collects in long pits, a challenge seldom encountered away from the coast. Other challenges await the brave mountain biker in Great South Fork. Deep stream crossings and radical elevation changes are just two of the conditions that make a ride here extraordinary. But don't expect everything to be extreme. The National Park Service has worked with area bike clubs to build and maintain trails suitable for all experience levels.

For those times when the bike is resting, an extensive network of hiking trails presents a closer look at this unique land. Horseback riding is a popular local activity, and a large number of horse trails also open to bikers wind along the plateau. I know, I know. Riding horse trails isn't normally that much fun, but most of the trails shared between bikers and horses inside Big South Fork are tolerable so far as riding conditions go, and they're more than worth the effort. The camping facilities at Bandy Creek and Blue Heron Campground are modern and well built. The swimming pool and laundry facilities make it even more pleasant to stay the week and enjoy the many rides in the area. Or, if a more private and secluded spot is preferred, primitive campgrounds can be found at Alum Ford, or, for that matter, anywhere in the area that hasn't been posted with camping restrictions.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 8 Nov 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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