Looking for the perfect riding getaway that easily blends first class road and mountain biking with plenty more family friendly activities worthy of a week in the Blue Ridge Mountains? Beech Mountain, located in northwestern North Carolina, has just that, with a pro-level DH course mixed among beginner-to-advanced lift-served bike park, world-class road riding and everything from hiking to caverns to zip lines to keep everyone entertained.
Beech Mountain Resort serves as a nice center to it all, surrounded by plenty of restaurants, lodging and non-riding activities. Roll through for details on the riding options, recommendations for where to stay and eat and things to do off the bike…
BEECH MOUNTAIN RESORT & MOUNTAIN BIKE PARK
The Beech Mountain Bike Park is open June through September, and the lift runs Friday (noon to 5p), Saturday and Sunday (10a to 5p). At the top of the mountain is Emerald Outback, an XC trail that runs well outside park boundaries that’s not officially part of the park. The city just received a grant to rebuild it, the grand re-opening will be October 19, 2014.
Lift passes are $10 per run or $30 for the day. Season passes are also available for $200. It’ll actually be open through October 19 this year since they’re hosting the collegiate nationals the following weekend.
It’s located near the Tennessee border, about 2:30 from Asheville, Greensboro and Charlotte, NC, and Knoxville, TN.
This summer was the first summer they offered a youth clinic, and at no charge! They’re doing three half day sessions this summer, my son (9) and daughter (6) participated in last week’s Saturday clinic. There are two more planned for August 16th and 23rd. They’ll expand the camp and clinic program for summer 2015, and it’s done by height rather than age…so preexisting skill level will dictate what the kids get to do.
The clinic started with a couple of games and skills assessment, then moved up to the lower skills section:
Smaller berms, skinnies and jumps/drops are at the base of the mountain and help instructors teach the essentials. Lessons aren’t just for kids, either, anyone can hire an instructor for lessons or guided tours of the mountain.
After a few short runs to teach handling skills and assess ability, the kids hit the lifts to ride the green (beginner trails):
Despite the color and name, the green trails are fast, flowy and fun for all skill levels. The faster you go, the more challenging they are. They split off to a second, bigger skills section half way down the mountain with table tops and larger berms.
The instructors, TJ and James, who were students at Lees McCrae college at the base of the mountain, were very friendly and helpful. Most of the kids were between 9 and 13, so TJ broke off and spent a little one-on-one time with my daughter, which was very helpful.
After a couple runs on the beginner trails, we moved on the blues (intermediate), which are a little steeper with higher banks, some drops and mild rock gardens.
It was pretty wet, having poured rain the day before, but it drains fairly well and there were no standing puddles. Even the rocks and roots weren’t too slippery, but we did have to curb our enthusiasm a bit.
The black (advanced) lines range from tough to pretty wicked, with penalties for overdoing it pretty high. The rocks are plentiful, and there are enough jumps and drops to challenge most riders. It’s good enough to be part of the Pro GRT series, check out video of the 2014 DH course over at SickLines.com.
All of the trails lead into flowy, highly bermed sections at the bottom, with a couple of larger table tops on the black trails.
There’s an abundance of open terrain visible from the lifts, and Beech’s marketing manager (who set us up with lift passes and lodging, for the record) says they’ll be continually expanding trail offerings for all skill levels. Considering we spent all day riding here and never once tired of the current trails, we’re pretty excited to see what else they come up with.
Beech’s sports shop shares space with Magic Cycles, which rents a wide range of Giant full suspension adult mountain bikes and various size youth bikes.
They’ve also got a full service shops and parts and accessories in case you forget or break something. They also rent protective gear and full face helmets. Fitting a six year old with knee pads was a bit of a challenge, though.
Want some climbing? The road from Lees McRae College in Banner Elk up to Fred’s General Mercantile is steep. It’s what Lance Armstrong used to test his legs when coming back from cancer (though the “Viva Lance” graffiti on the pavement seems to have been removed in recent years…), and it’ll test yours, too. And the descent will test your nerves and your brakes. But you’ll want to do both, and Fred’s makes a great starting and ending point. Shown top left on the map, it’s at the peak of Beech Mountain, so if you’re staying nearby, a climb from the condo to the store will be all the warmup you’ll need. From there, this is one my favorite loops. It’s only 30 miles round trip, but it packs in almost 4,000 feet of climbing…mostly in the last half of the ride. In fact, you’ll drop about 2,600 feet from start to mile 11 as you fly down NC 194, a curvy, lightly trafficked mountain road that is easily some of the most fun I’ve had on a road bike.
At Mast General Store, another local landmark, you’ll take a right, then another right on NC 105 for a mostly uphill cruise back toward Banner Elk. Some friends from the area have cautioned against the traffic on NC 105, but there’s a 2-3 foot shoulder and good visibility most of the way, so use your own judgement. You could always turn around at Mast and simply retrace your steps, but you’d miss the ride through the valley on Tynecastle (NC 184), and past Sugar Mountain Resort (which has limited trails, too)
Earlybirds take note, there’s often a heavy fog over the mountain until as late as 11am, which severely limits visibility. Not just your visibility, but drivers’ ability to see you, too. So take it easy, get a big breakfast at Jackalopes and enjoy your morning. Then get out and hammer.
WHERE TO STAY AND EAT & THINGS TO DO
First things first: Beech Mountain Brewing just opened, and it’s right across from the bike rental shop. Duchess for the win.
When it comes time for real food, there are few good options open in the summer (this is still a ski town, after all). Famous Brick Oven Pizza not only has some amazing pizza and calzones, they do salads and sandwiches, too. They even have gluten free crust options.
They also have ice cream and homemade desserts and chocolates.
And this most excellent beer selection. Plus a game room, miniature golf and outdoor movies on Saturdays if the weather cooperates.
Just outside the resort’s parking lot is Famous Fast Eddies, which offers up all manner of BBQ and bar food: Ribs, wings, burgers, fish and chips, and a full bar.
For breakfast, there are fewer options in the summer. Fred’s Mercantile has a deli/cafe, and it’s also good for stocking up if you’re staying for the week:
Coffee, snacks, Cheerwine (an NC original and worth it even if you don’t drink soda), Dr. Enuf (the original energy drink), and lots of beer and wine. Apparently, visitors drink a lot of wine – (Famous Fast) Eddie is opening a wine shop next door to his restaurant and says they typically sell more of that than food in the winter.
If you want a huge, much better breakfast for a really good price, head a little ways back down the mountain to Jackalope’s View. Very good, very big portions and very well priced. They have a lodge, too, if you don’t want to roam far from bed for your morning fuel.
For lodging, we stayed in a two bed, 1.5 bath condo with full kitchen arranged by Beech Mountain Realty & Rentals. Most rentals require a week’s stay, but the unit we were in goes for just $500 a week.
Between rides, there’s lots to do in the area. Check out Grandfather Mountain, Linville Caverns, Linville Gorge, the Blue Ridge Parkway (more good road riding!), whitewater rafting, Tweetsie Railroad and much more. Check BeechMTN.com for links and more options. And if you’re heading into Boone for a day, check out Rocky Knob Mountain Bike Park. No lifts, but a very well built trail system with a massive playground for the kids, too.