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At the foot of Falls Lake Dam, a shiny rainbow composed of bikes and helmets perches outside of The Bike Guy at the start of the Neuse River Greenway. The

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

At the foot of Falls Lake Dam, a shiny rainbow composed of bikes and helmets perches outside of The Bike Guy at the start of the Neuse River Greenway. The

9 Can’t-Miss North Carolina Bike Paths

At the foot of Falls Lake Dam, a shiny rainbow composed of bikes and helmets perches outside of The Bike Guy at the start of the Neuse River Greenway. The locally owned and operated bike shop is just the latest iteration to hold space in this 150-year-old building that was once a farm supply store. Part watering hole, part repair and rental shop, The Bike Guy is celebrating its 10th year, opening a few months after the greenway was completed.

“We’re right here at mile zero,” owner Rob Adkinson says. “I love this trail. It’s great for beginners, paved and flat, with just a few hills that you may not even have to downshift for. And the people you meet on it are fantastic and all over the place.”



The Bike Guy tunes up bikes and rents bikes to visiting day-trippers before they head out for a ride. Most of the 27.2-mile greenway is in view of the Neuse River, which means bald eagles, herons, and other waterfowl soar overhead. But keep your eyes on the trail — the deer are friendly and not likely to brake for you.

“Besides small wildlife, the greenway is full of local celebrities on bikes and recumbent tricycles. One of the most beloved is a cyclist in his 80s who sits his lapdogs in a basket on his trike,” Adkinson says. “Our mission is to help make people’s lives better through cycling. But it’s the cyclists who come in off the trail telling their stories that make us happy.”

Whether cycling is a way of life or just a weekend hobby, here are nine can’t-miss bike paths across North Carolina. No matter what your experience level, there’s a ride that can help you get into nature, out of your head, and out enjoying North Carolina’s shaded paths.

 

Lake Norman State Park features more than 30 miles of single-track bike trails. Photography courtesy of THE NORTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL AND CULTURAL RESOURCES

Western

Brevard Bike Path

This five-mile paved path takes you by the Davidson River and into Pisgah National Forest. The former route of the Carr Lumber railway, the Brevard Bike Path is relatively flat, perfect for beginners. Take care on the stretch next to NC Highway 280 and when crossing roads.

Not sure where to start? Consider Jameson’s Joy Memorial Fitness Park, where there are plenty of restrooms near the trailhead. On your return trip on this out-and-back trail, stop at Oskar Blues Brewery for a cool beverage and a tasty meal from their CHUBwagon.

Lake Norman State Park

Head to the largest manmade lake in the state for 30.5 miles of single-track trails. Lake Norman State Park is a popular spot to clip in on one of eight loops off the Itusi Trail. Beginners and families should start with the three-mile Hawk Loop, which offers views of Norwood Creek and connects to the Hicks Creek Loop.

The Manba and Laurel Loops offer more difficulty for seasoned riders. Keep your eyes peeled for great blue herons — the graceful birds like to nest and breed on islands near the dam.

Lake James State Park

Lake James State Park, tucked into the mountains 50 miles northeast of Asheville, is a gorgeous oasis for camping, hiking, paddling, and biking. Head to Paddy’s Creek Campground for access to 14 miles of easy-to-moderate bike trails.

Prepare yourself for some elevation climbs on the four loop trails; the six-mile West Wimba Loop is the longest and most challenging. Post-ride, cool off with a dip in the lake and take in a great view of the surrounding peaks.

 

More than 16 miles of the American Tobacco Trail — a recreational rail trail that passes through downtown Durham — are paved. Photography courtesy of Discover Durham

Central

American Tobacco Trail

Urban bikers escape Bull City on the 22-mile American Tobacco Trail connecting Durham to southern Wake County. Pick up the trailhead near the Durham Bulls Ballpark and head south. There will be some fun bridges along the way taking you over Interstate 40 and Beaver Creek.

Expect lots of shade under the pines and plenty of wildflowers in the summer. If you do an out-and-back, you’ll have your pick of downtown Durham breweries and restaurants where you can relax and refuel post-ride.

Hanging Rock State Park

Intermediate and advanced mountain bikers flock to Hanging Rock State Park for its 15 miles of rocky bike trails. Nine separate trails, each well-marked with blazes, keep bikers challenged as they shift and climb through the gorgeous park.

At three miles long, the Original Loop is the longest, though advanced bikers may opt for the short but demanding half-mile Rattler Trail that connects to the intermediate 1.4-mile Major Tom Trail. Cool off at the park’s lakeside beach, or make a weekend of it at the clean, secluded campground. Hanging Rock’s famous vistas, wildlife, and mountain laurel make for a sweet reward.

Take a peaceful bike ride through extensive wetlands, along boardwalks, across seven bridges (two of which are suspension bridges), and past historic sites on the Neuse River Greenway. photograph by Michael Robson/visitRaleigh.com

Neuse River Greenway

The popular Neuse River Greenway — a segment of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail — offers 27.2 miles* of uninterrupted trail through Wake and Johnston Counties. Paved and mainly flat, bikers can choose small or large sections depending on how long they’d like to be in the saddle.

As the greenway hugs the Neuse River, keep your eyes peeled for bald eagles, herons, cranes, and osprey sharing your view.

*Watch for a construction detour between mile 15 and 18 through spring of 2024.

Medoc Mountain State Park

Medoc Mountain is a 325-foot peak, the remnants of volcanic activity on the fall line separating eastern and central North Carolina. And while you won’t find major elevation changes, you will find nine miles of moderately difficult biking trails.

Be prepared for a splash when you cross Bear Swamp Creek. Take a break and look in the shallows for a Carolina Mudpuppy — also called a Neuse River waterdog — an aquatic salamander found only in North Carolina.

 

Ride along boardwalks on the mostly flat Cape Fear River Trail. Just don’t forget bug spray! Photography courtesy of Distinctly Fayetteville

Eastern

Cape Fear River Trail

Saddle up for seven miles out and back through wetlands and marsh along the Cape Fear River. Part of the East Coast Greenway, the Cape Fear River Trail is 10 feet wide, mostly flat, and an excellent perch for taking in 700 species of plants, trees, and birds.

You’ll cross wooden bridges —including a scenic covered bridge — and ride on boardwalks. Mountain bikers may want to take a detour on the Cape Fear Mountain Bike Trail one mile north of the Clark Park trailhead.

At Dismal Swamp State Park, miles of trails lead visitors around a hauntingly beautiful landscape. Photography courtesy of THE NORTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL AND CULTURAL RESOURCES

Dismal Swamp State Park

How about a ride through the largest remaining swamp in the eastern United States? Dismal Swamp State Park, located in the northeast part of the state along the Virginia border, offers 21.5 miles through bald cypress, pine, tupelo, and maple trees.

A unique habitat, it’s home to bobcats, black bears, otters, and 70 species of reptiles and amphibians. The swamp was also part of the Underground Railroad, where many enslaved people hid on their route to freedom. Start at the visitor center and head down Canal Road. After a quarter mile, make a pit stop to see a replica of a liquor still. Bird lovers should veer off on Kim Saunders Road for a 5.4-mile grass-and-dirt trail known for its warblers.

This story was published on Aug 08, 2023

Alice Manning Touchette

Alice Manning Touchette is a writer and editor living in Raleigh.