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Bent Creek Trail Guide For Mountain Bikers


Bent Creek, An Experimental Forest

Bent Creek is an experimental forest. This means they utilized the forest to conduct experiments in forestry. The information they have gathered is used across the southeast and the country to help foresters of all variety.

Twenty years ago when my friends and I began mountain biking legal use trails were hard to come by. Bent Creek was one of few places we knew that riding was allowed and traveled here frequently to ride. Even then Bent Creek was well known for hiking, camping, fishing and cycling and was a destination for many enthusiasts.

Over the years it has been my pleasure to enjoy the use of the forest, to watch it grow and observe its change. The parking lots, the people and even whole sections of trail are not what they were when I first began to ride at Bent Creek. Time, nature and thousands of miles ridden have all had their effect. The forest is still the same though, better I think than ever.

Bent Creek - An Experimental Forest

There's a lot going on in the Bent Creek Experimental Forest

There's a lot going on in the Bent Creek Experimental Forest

Where To Park At Bent Creek

Bent Creek offers a variety of choices for parking. Depending on which ride you are planning you may prefer one over the other but for strong riders it won't matter. A 2-3 hour ride will take you about 12-14 miles and could cover both sides of the valley.

  • Rice Pinnacle Parking Lot - This is the first parking area you will find when you get to Bent Creek. It is located on the right hand side of the road a little past the entrance to the NC Arboretum (on the left) and the visitor information board (on the right).
  • Hard Times Trailhead - This is the second parking area you will encounter when you drive into Bent Creek. It is located on the left hand side of the road and is about a half mile past the Rice Pinnacle parking lot.
  • Ledford Branch Parking Lot - This is the third and last official parking area at Bent Creek. Just past the Hard Times Trailhead the road forks; the left fork goes into Lake Powhattan and the right fork, which becomes gravel and becomes the Bent Creek Road, leads you to Ledford Branch Road and the parking lot.

Rice Pinnacle Parking Lot

Rice Pinnacle Parking Lot In Bent Creek Forest

Rice Pinnacle Parking Lot In Bent Creek Forest

Trail Guides To Western North Carolina

Biking Bent Creek From The Rice Pinnacle Parking Lot

Leaving from Rice Pinnacle parking lot you have two basic choices; go up Norht Boundary Road straight to Ingles Field Gap or take the long way through the woods on the single track. If you take the road straight up to Ingles Field Gap you will be faced with a steady and moderately steep four mile climb. The good news is that the last quarter mile are downhill and can be fast. The other good news is that once you're at Ingles Field Gap you have two fun downhill options in front of you.

To go through the woods simply follow the paved trail past the information board and out of the parking lot. The paved part of the trail will take you down to a small bridge, then up an past an old lake bed. Once you pass the Lake Bed you have the choice to turn right and follow the power lines over to the Ledford Branch parking lot or keep going straight. At this point You can turn left onto Wolf Branch trail, which is my choice, or use one of the other trails that lead up to Ledford Branch or Rice Pinnacle Road. Once you have made it up to one of the main roads you can continue on to Ingles Field Gap via North Boundary Road.

Another way up, and even better down, is the Ingles Field Gap Trail. This trail makes one of the four trails that connect at Ingles Field Gap. It comes down from Ingles Field Gap and connects with Ledford Branch Road near the intersection with North Boundary/Rice Pinnacle Road. Ingles Fields Gap trail is my number one favorite ride at Bent Creek. This is saying a lot because there is also the Explorer Loop, Greens Lick and Lower Sidehill which are all really nice.

  • Trail Tip - Ingles Fields Gap is my favorite trail in Bent Creek. It has one of the longest, nicest, funnest downhills of any trail out there. On the weekends it is a highway of people going up and going down. During the week, even in the summer, it is virtually free of traffic and open to a little fast downhill riding-be careful though because it is narrow and you could still come up on someone else.

Greens Lick Trailhead In Bent Creek Experimental Forest

Its a long climb but well worth the effort to get to Greens Lick  Trail in Bent Creek.

Its a long climb but well worth the effort to get to Greens Lick Trail in Bent Creek.

Greens Lick Trail At Bent Creek

Greens Lick Trail has many feature. This step-up hip jump near the end of the trail follows a series of jumps and waterbreaks  that are nicely incorporated into the terrain.

Greens Lick Trail has many feature. This step-up hip jump near the end of the trail follows a series of jumps and waterbreaks that are nicely incorporated into the terrain.

Greens Lick Trail At Bent Creek Experimental Forest

Greens Lick is probably the most well know trail at Bent Creek. It is at the end of the longest climb, has the longest descent and is the newest trail. The Greens Lick Trail is actually a merger of two previous trails of questionable origin. To access Greens Lick you must first ride to Ingles Field Gap, where you will take the north fork going up the mountain to the west. After reaching Ingles Field Gap there is about another mile and half of climbing to do before you reach the top.

Greens Lick is a well built trail. There are many features built into the trail including several big berms/wall rides, jumps, drops and rocks. The trail has three distinct sections; an upper, mid and lower section. The upper section is nice and smooth once you enter and pass the opening rock garden. It has a really nice flow and includes the most wall rides. Some of the wall rides are more than 6" high and can easily spit you out into the woods on the other side of the trail so be careful.

The mid section moves into a little tighter trail conditions and some quick elevation change. First you go down some, followed by a little uphill. The downhill part of this trail is tricky. It has a nice little series of rocks that you can power through, or jump clear across if you can carry the line. The tricky part is that the trail has been designed for safety and includes some speed killing features meant to slow unwary riders down. The problem is that there is no clearly marked A and B line which means that a skilled rider who is cranking the down the trail is now faced with a series of additional hazards. Nevertheless the section is fun and completely ridable.

  • Trail Tip - when you are approaching the rocky downhill section in the middle of the middle section stay to the right if you want to go slower and stay to the left if you want to go faster. The left side is a series of rocks and drops that can be taken one or two at a time.

After climbing out of the middle section you transition into the third section. The transition is the newest of the new trail at Greens Lick, built during the original construction to connect the upper and lower sections of the trail. It is a little rough still but is a good, technical section. The final stretch of trail utilizes an old logging road and provides some wide open, don't use your breaks and let gravity take charge riding. The surface is rocky and pitted with loose gravel and some pretty nice jumps. Toward the bottom the trail turns into the woods with a series of nice jumps ending with a step-up hip jump to the left.

At the end Greens Lick turns you out onto Laurel Branch Road which will lead you directly to Bent Creek Road and the lake area.

Map Of Bent Creek

This is the original map put out by the US Forest Service.  The trails and forest have evolved since then; It is missing some notable items such as the Greens Lick Trail and new road cuts.

This is the original map put out by the US Forest Service. The trails and forest have evolved since then; It is missing some notable items such as the Greens Lick Trail and new road cuts.

Biking Bent Creek From Hard Times Trailhead

The Hard Times Trailhead gives the most direct access to the south side of the Bent Creek Forest. From Hard Times you can climb Hard Times Road all the way to the Blue Ridge Parkway. About halfway up Hard Times Road you can also take a left onto South Ridge Road, another one of Bent Creeks gravel access roads. South Ridge Road will take you up to many trails connections including the Explorer Loop and Sleepy Gap. Riding South Ridge Road to its end will drop you out on the Bent Creek Road at the far end of the Valley.

The lower trails (the Homestead, Small Creek and Deerfield trails) around the lake offer some tight, almost ethereal, rides through rhododendron thickets that lead up to grassy knolls. These trails have tight turns, steep climbs and a lot of elevation change- up and down. They are great technical trails and make for some really nice cross country loops.

  • Trail Tip - The Explorer Loop is a fun, looping, ride that is good both ways. It can be incorporated into several different rides and connects most of the trails on this side of Bent Creek. There are at least 7 ways to get on and off the Explorer Loop.
  • Trail Tip - The Pine Tree Loop is accessible from the middle section of the Explorer Loop system at the far end of the lake. It is a fun, fast, bottom ride snaking through the rhododendron forest growing alongside the actual Bent Creek and connects the farthest sections of the Bent Creek trails with the central Lake Powhattan area.
  • Trail Tip - Ride up Hard Times Road to South Ridge Road and take that to Sleepy Gap. Its about a four mile climb but is rewarded by the Sleepy Gap descent into the Explorer Loop. Once on the Loop I suggest going both ways at least once before taking Pine Tree or Deerfield back to the lake.

Biking Bent Creek From Ledford Branch Trailhead

Ledford Branch Trailhead is the third and most centrally located of the parking areas for bikers and hikers. It is deep within the park and roughly equidistant from all the major trailheads. It is easy to hit multiple areas of Bent Creek from this parking lot.

  • Trail Tips - From Ledford Branch you can access Wolf Branch from the top and ride it down. Wolf Branch has a couple of fun jumps, a log ride and a nice triangular shaped rock that you can launch from (its on the side of the trail and not mandatory). From here cut across to Hard Times Connector and hit the south side.
  • Trail Tips - You can also continue up Ledford Branch and connect with Sidehill trail. Take it to the Ingles Field Connector, an alternate route up to the Ingles Field Trail. Passing the Ingles Field Gap Connector and continuing along Sidehill takes you down to Boyd Branch Road and the lower trails surrounding the lake.
  • Trail Tips - If you continue up Ledford Branch and pass Sidehill and Ingles Field Gap trails you will meet up with Rice Pinnacle/North Boundary Road. This is a nice long, semi technical climb along an old logging road up to Ingles Field Gap.
  • Trail Tips - From Ledford Branch take the Bent Creek road and connect with the Explorer Loop, the Pine Tree Loop or Lower Sidehill.
  • Trail Tips - Ride up Laurel Branch and Little Hickory Top to Ingles Field Gap then ride down Ingles Field Gap Trail to Ledford Branch Road.

Lower Sidehill, Hidden Gem In Bent Creek Forest

Way at the far end of Bent Creek, along Bent Creek Road, near the top of a long and steep climb, you will find Lower Sidehill. This trail is one I often forget but never fail to enjoy. Sidehill itself used to be one of the central single track trails of Bent Creek but is now a gravel access road. Lower Sidehill, a name incongruous with its proximity to Sidehill, is in no way connected to the other. It takes you along an upper ridge at first, twisting through scrub pines twisted by the elements, then drops down through the forest, changing along the with the elevation. The bottom of the trail connects with Laurel Branch Road and later circles back into Bent Creek Road.

  • Trail Tip - first of all, ride this trail! It has a good climb that takes you to an elevation near 3000 feet and into a different type of forest than the rest of Bent Creek. Following that is a long ridge ride and downhill that is reminiscent of the Ingles Fields Gap downhill and is less traveled.
  • There is a sweet little skinny bridge/log ride about halfway down. It is located just past a left bend in the trail and is easy to ride and low to the ground. To be ready for it simply stick to the outside of the trail and be watchful; it is at least halfway down and has a smooth entry.

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