Swain County Has Great Road Cycling and Off-road Mountain Biking at the Tsali Recreation Area
In the Western North Carolina mountains, the word "flat" is seldom used to describe our landscape. So, needless to say, biking these hills can be a challenge for road bikers and off-road bikers alike. The 'flowy' trails at Tsali have earned a reputation as a top destination. In 2015 Outside magazine named Tsali as one of its “10 Great American Mountain Biking Trails.”
No bike? No problem. All of Bryson City's bike shops have rentals.
Each year, Swain County attracts thousands of mountain bikers to the world-famous Tsali Recreation Area Trail System, 15 miles west of Bryson City. Pronounced "SAH-lee" and named after the 19th century Cherokee Indian martyr, the 42-mile network of multi-use trails is consistently rated one of the top ten riding destinations in the United States. The 'flowy' four-loop system offers a variety of landscapes and trail types from single track to old logging roads. Hikers may use the trails any day of the week, but mountain bikers and horseback riders are kept separated by alternating use of the trails. There are signs at the trailheads that clearly list which trails are available. Tsali trails schedule.
There are also color trail map signs at each trail intersection to help with navigation and emergency response. In addition to a “You Are Here” designation, each map has a unique number that can be used by rescue and Forest Service personnel to pinpoint location.
In recent years, the sport has grown to such an extent that now there are a series of annual races held in the area. Read what riders have to say (Raleigh News Observer, June 2016).
For more casual off-road biking there are three trails in the National Park – two in Deep Creek just minutes from downtown and the Oconaluftee River Trail north of Cherokee.
In Deep Creek, bicycles are allowed on the Deep Creek and Indian Creek trails only. There are no loops to ride; these trails are out and back only. Deep Creek area trail map (pdf)
Deep Creek Trail may be ridden from the parking lot to the fourth bridge (at the Loop Trail); this is about 1.7 miles each way (1 mile beyond the junction with Indian Creek Trail).
Indian Creek Trail may be ridden from Deep Creek Trail to the intersection with the Deeplow Gap Trail; this is about 2.9 miles each way.
Oconaluftee River Trail, Cherokee. This flat, wide 1.5 mile (3-mile out and back) trail meanders along the river. It has a gentle terrain excellent for beginners and children. Advanced riders will enjoy it as well. Park at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Visitor Center on in Cherokee at the Transit lot on the left just as you leave the Reservation.
There are many miles of uncrowded country roads for biking in Bryson City and throughout Swain County, many designated as bike routes.
Lakeview Drive (a.k.a. "Road to Nowhere") is a lightly traveled road that winds six miles into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, north of Bryson City. It is a moderate to strenuous ride with views of Fontana Lake.
Just west of Bryson City, bike trails include two moderate loops offer a variety of landscapes on lightly traveled roads. The 13-mile Lower Alarka Loop offers views of Lake Fontana and the Tuckasegee River, while the 15-mile Upper Alarka Loop offers a mixture of scenic flat farmland and steep mountain grades.
Bike Shops & Outfitters
Bryson City Bicycles
Contact: Diane Cutler or Andy Zivinsky
157 Everett St
Bryson City, NC 28713
Known for their fun friendly staff, local trail knowledge, and expert mechanics, Bryson City Bicycles is a fully stocked shop that caters to all ages and skill levels from families to racers. You can rent and buy bikes, have top-notch repairs and service done as you wait, get the local scoop on trails, races and rides, and shop for fun, unique gift items including the largest selection of exclusive Tsali products. Need maps and information, clothes, helmets, kids’ gear? We’ve got you covered. Located on Everett St. in the heart of downtown, we’re here to help make your trip truly memorable. [Bryson City Bicycles was named “One of America’s Best Bike Shops” in 2014 & 2015 and was awarded the InterBike Award for “Best Mountain Bike Shop of 2015”.]
Nantahala Outdoor Center Biking
13077 Hwy 19 W
Bryson City, NC 28713
Grab some accessories, rent a mountain bike, get a quick repair or ask a question at NOC’s Bike Shop in the Nantahala Gorge. NOC provides the closest bike shop to Western North Carolina’s Tsali trail system. Our guides know about the best local rides, from family-friendly excursions to heart-pounding, technical trails. And NOC’s expert mechanics can help you with all repair needs while you relax by the river. We also offer an array of excellent Specialized bikes for rent, from entry-level to high-end. And we offer access to our on-site Flint Ridge Trail here at the Nantahala River.
Contact: Chris Royce
35 Slope Street
Bryson City, NC 28713
Tsali Cycles bike shop offers local beer on tap and wine tasting. A full service, friendly repair shop with fair prices and an experienced staff. Trek bikes to rent and sell along with road bikes and used bikes for those just getting started.
Complimentary bike checks, maps, and advice that will provide you with all you need for a great biking experience!
Come have a cold one with us!
Riding in Deep Creek
Guidebooks for Biking
For more information, we recommend Swain County resident Jim Parham's two excellent books about biking in the Smokies. These books are generally available at area bookstores and outfitters or may be purchased from the author.
Off the Beaten Track: Guide to Mountain Biking in Western North Carolina / The Smokies, and Road Bike in the Smokies.
Jim also has a great Tsali Trail Map (waterproof and tear resistant). Available locally from Bryson City Bicycles on Everett Street and at Parton's Trading Post on US 19/74 as well as from the publisher.
P.O. Box 158
Almond, North Carolina 28702