On the horizon for Charlotte is a contiguous 26-mile, paved bike path that will bisect the Queen City. When it's completed, the Cross Charlotte Trail will provide an alternative mode of transportation and easy access to recreational opportunities. What might be most exciting about the new trail, however, is that it’s just the beginning. As part of the north/south spine of the Carolina Thread Trail, the CCT will anchor a 140-mile trail connecting millions of people through North and South Carolina.
While much work has already been done on this amazing project, it won’t be complete for many years. In the meantime, cyclists can take advantage of several fantastic trails to explore. Here, five of the best long-distance bike paths in the Southeast.
Neuse River Trail, N.C.
The 28-mile Neuse River Trail is a member of some pretty impressive clubs. As a designated section of the Mountains to Sea Trail , it provides a key connector to the longest hiking trail in North Carolina. As part of the East Coast Greenway, the Neuse River Trail will someday see travelers riding from Maine to Florida on a 3,000-mile path. And more locally, the NRT is the longest component of Raleigh, NC’s Capitol Area Greenway Trail System.
The Neuse River Trail is no slouch on its own, however. It’s the longest paved trail between northern Virginia and western Georgia. As it travels from Falls Lake Dam, the rail trail crosses wetlands and offers sublime river views from a myriad of boardwalks and bridges, including the 275-foot Skycrest suspension bridge.
Several connecting trails allow for a ride of varying lengths. The Walnut Creek Trail is over 15 miles long and includes a mile-long boardwalk through low-lying wetlands. And the American Tobacco Trail travels more than 22 miles into the heart of the foodie haven of Durham.
Insider Tip: Early mornings and later afternoons are the best time for wildlife spotting along the trail. It’s not uncommon to see a dozen deer during a long morning ride.
Virginia Creeper Trail
The 34-mile Virginia Creeper appeals to a wide audience of cyclists. Families and Scout troops are often found gliding the 17-mile downhill section from Whitetop Station to Damascus, VA. Riders with a bit more gas in the tank will continue through the next picturesque and flat 17 miles to the trail’s terminus in Abingdon, VA. For the hardiest of cyclists, a two-way ride includes more than 1,600 feet of climbing on the return to Whitetop Station.
However long you go, count on plenty of green, rolling scenery and support along the way. Bathroom stops dot the trail beginning at Whitetop Statio, while food options include the Creeper Trail Café as well as several options in the trail-friendly town of Damascus (among the best are Mojo’s Trailside Café and The Damascus Brewery). Several bike rental and shuttle services located in Whitetop, Damascus, and Abingdon sort all logistics so you can enjoy the ride.
Spring and summer are beautiful times on the trail, but fall is absolutely stunning. The dense tree line that borders many sections of “the Creeper” erupts with brilliant yellows, vibrant oranges, and deep reds beginning in early October.
Insider Tip: For an easy and inexpensive stay, set up camp at the Creeper Trail Campground, located within easy riding distance of the trailhead at Whitetop. Each spacious site is set among a working Christmas tree farm.
Greenbrier Trail, W.V.
West Virginia’s slogan “Wild and Wonderful” might well have been conceived with the 77-mile Greenbrier River Trail in mind. With a gentle 1 percent grade and stunning scenery, it ranks among the country’s premier Rail Trail experiences. Surrounded in parts by Seneca State Forest, Watoga State Park, and Monongahela National Forest, the trail passes through a remote and beautiful part of West Virginia.
Primitive camp sites line the trail in several areas. Multiple access points to the adjacent Greenbrier River, the longest untamed river in the eastern U.S, offer all sorts of swimming and fishing options, too. In winter, the GRT’s wide, crushed gravel surface also makes it great for cross-country skiing.
Because the trail is so remote, cyclists should come prepared for minor biking repairs and plan food and supplies accordingly. Also, sporting some bright orange is a great idea during hunting season.
Insider Tip: Stay in a turn-of-the-century “company house” in Cass, WV. Originally built for area workers, these wonders-of-wood paneling are filled with railroad history.
GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail, Greenville, SC
The Greenville Healthcare System Swamp Rabbit Trail is packed with a lot of great experiences along its 21 miles—and the trail is constantly growing. Following the Reedy River, the trail travels through the center outdoorsy-cool Greenville, SC to the up-and-coming town of Travelers Rest, about 10 miles away. It’s super easy to stop at either end to explore breweries, shops, and restaurants.
The multi-use greenway is built for both cyclists and runners with an asphalt surface and, in parts, a strip of cushioning rubber. There are several water stops, parking lots, and spots to rest along the way. Rentals are available in downtown Greenville at Pedal Chic, which caters to women cyclists, and Reedy Rides, which will deliver a bike to some areas around the trail. Some 500,000 people use this trail each year, so it’s a great place to practice good trail manners: Announce yourself when passing and give way to faster riders.
Insider Tip: At the northern end of the trail sits the rail-themed Whistlestop at the American Café. This funky slice of Americana serves classic comfort food in a super cool atmosphere. While in Travelers Rest, check out Swamp Rabbit Brewery for a selection of Austrian and German style beers.
New River Trail, VA
The New River—which is actually the second-oldest river in the world—forms the backdrop for 39 miles of its namesake state park trail. Following a the right of way donated by the Norfolk Southern Railroad in the 1980s, the 57-mile New River Trail never travels far from its historic past. The crushed stone path passes over several railroad trestles (including the nearly 1,000-foot Hiawassee Trestle), near dams, and through tunnels.
The New River Trail is actually a linear Virginia State Park. The park system has done a great job creating access points along the trail’s length and building infrastructure such as several rustic (read: no showers) campgrounds only accessible by bike or horseback. Blue Cat on the New offers bike shuttles for an easy, one-way trek. Most access points require a parking fee.
Insider Tip: For a cool diversion, rent a canoe or kayak at the Foster Falls area and see the river from a whole new perspective.
Written by Rob Glover for RootsRated in partnership with OrthoCarolina.
Featured image provided by Barry Peters