Mountain Biking Bent Creek Experimental Forest, NC

A series of fun little trails that offer a wide assortment of riding options.

A first-time visitor might wonder what to expect when visiting an area with a name like Bent Creek Experimental Forest. Experimental? What the heck does that mean? Is the USFS experimenting with trying to grow an urban forest? After all, it’s located just outside of a large city and the trip is along major highways and four-lane roads so the conclusion does make sense.

Pisgah National Forest
Pisgah National Forest, Asheville, North Carolina

The truth behind the name is that Bent Creek is first and foremost a research area for the USFS. They just happen to be understanding enough to allow other outdoor adventurers access to the area. It makes sense when you consider their current research is trying to develop an ecological approach to the management of land resources. The downside to the area is specially designated as a research forest is that certain areas can be closed and trails permanently altered. However, the fact that they’re even willing to allow riders there in the first place should outweigh any inconveniences the research may cause.

Lake Powhatan Asheville
Lake Powhatan

Quick Facts

  • mountain biking Asheville
    mountain biking, Asheville NC

    Trail(s): A 20-plus mile combination of singletrack, forest and gravel roads.

  • Difficulty: Beginner-Intermediate. True beginners might find some of the “technical” sections too challenging for their skills.
  • Location: Bent Creek is located in the northern tip of the Pisgah National Forest; just a few minute’s drive from Asheville, NC.
  • Directions: From Asheville, take I-240 west to I-26 east and get off on exit 2, NC 191. Turn left; pass the Biltmore Square Mall, and head south on NC 191 for 2 miles. Turn right at the stoplight onto Bent Creek Ranch Road, following the brown signs to the Lake Powhatan Recreation Area.
  • Facilities: Lake Powhatan Campground is located within the Lake Powhatan Recreation Area and offers 98 camping sites, flush toilets and hot showers. Sites are $12 per night. Backcountry camping is not permitted in Bent Creek.
  • Activities: hiking, hunting, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Other facilities for camping (April 1 through Oct. 30) and swimming are found at the Lake Powhatan Recreational Area
  • Admission: None if you park in designated areas outside of the gate for the Lake Powhatan Recreation Area.

Even with the trail closures, Bent Creek offers several trails that can be strung together to create a wide assortment of loops. You can do short loops, long loops even loop with chicken pox. The only trick is trying to orient where you are to a location on the map before you start. Certain portions of text cover up key points and junctions.

asheville nc mountain biking
Mountain Biker, Bent Creek Forest

Speaking of the map, geographically it’s great other than that text thing. The trail ratings and blazes, on the other hand, are a tad bit confusing. If you’re used to green blazes representing easy, blue intermediate and black difficult you have a hard time understanding why Pine Tree Loop has a blue blaze but is rated easy. And how the heck can Lower Sidehill be rated easier than Explorer Loop? Here’s the trick, the ratings are based on hiking and not biking and the color of the blaze has no bearing on the rating of the trail.

Some would describe Bent Creek as an after-dinner ride due to it’s proximity to Asheville. Based on the fact that it doesn’t offer any real facilities and most of the trails are less than two miles long, I would agree with that view. You could spend the entire day here but there are other riding areas within an hour’s drive that offer much more. Still, if you’ve got a couple of hours before you need to catch a plane, you certainly can’t go wrong riding Bent Creek.

Individual Trail Reviews

Pine Tree Loop
Pine Tree Loop is one of several trails that start near Lake Powhatan. It’s a fairly level, tight trail featuring a little bit of everything. There are some rooted sections as well as a couple of rocks thrown in for good measure. You can either ride the entire loop and finish back near the lake or use the connector trail to Explorer Loop and beyond.

bent creek trailsExplorer Loop
Explorer Loop is similar to Pine Tree. It’s not too technical or hard to ride. The trail is a bit wider than Pine Tree and definitely wetter around the Beaten Branch area. And if you ride it clockwise you spend a good amount of the ride slowly working your way uphill.

Sidehill is where the fun begins. Unfortunately, the USFS has closed a large portion of Upper Sidehill for their logging research however Lower Sidehill is still open and rideable. Lower Sidehill features some of the more technical sections of the trails. The rocks and roots are more numerous, there are couple more drops and there is even a plank bridge with a couple of broken planks thrown in just for the fun of it.

Campground Connector
Campground Connector is exactly that, a quick way to get from the Lake Powhatan Area to the Sidehill trail area or back. The trail itself is flat and free of obstacles. It resembles a walking trail more than an actual bike trail but doesn’t worry, it’s designated for both.


The Good

  • Very easy to drive to. Assuming you know where you’re going.
  • Close to Asheville
  • Easy trail access

The Bad

  • Most trails are short in length.
  • The people who work there aren’t really familiar with the map.
  • Not much in the way of big obstacles or technical riding.
  • No facilities unless you park at Lake Powhatan.
  • The mix of designated hiking, biking and horse trails can get confusing
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