North Carolina’s well-maintained and well-loved bike trails are a testament to the state’s intentional efforts to care for its cyclists. By reconstructing its abandoned railways into community trails, North Carolina has transformed from a hub of tobacco and textile production to a hub of rails-to-trails bike routes. The state’s bike trails are green, lush, and home to abundant wildlife. If you’re a cyclist exploring the Tar Heel State, here are 10 of the best bike trails in North Carolina–from the small but booming bike town of Brevard to the hustling cities of Charlotte or Raleigh.
What makes North Carolina a great place for cyclists?
North Carolina has proven its commitment to cycling and is continuing to invest effort and funding into its expanding network of trails and cycling-friendly communities. Voted 18th friendliest bike state, North Carolina is home to 13 bike-friendly communities. It’s the only southern state to have taken all 5 Bicycle Friendly Actions recommended by the League of American Bicyclists, including safer street laws, a state bike plan, and the use of federal funding on cycling initiatives. Two of the state’s largest cities, Raleigh and Charlotte, are both accessible by clean and family-friendly bike paths. Extensive trail connections are underway, like the Mountains to Sea trail network that connects the Great Smoky Mountain routes to smooth, coastal paths in Outer Banks or the East Coast Greenway that extends across the Eastern Seaboard.
10 best bikes trails
1. American Tobacco Trail
Location: Chatham, Durham, and Wake, NC trailheads
Distance: 22 miles
The American Tobacco Trail is the first of many rails-to-trails routes on our list. It’s surrounded by tall pines full of wildlife. Cyclists share the southern portion of the trail with equestrians and hunters. The surrounding game lands are managed by the U.S Army Corps of Engineers, but firearms aren’t permitted on the trail. This wooded trail is stunning in winter, covered in frost and snow. If you’re an experienced cyclist ready for a wintery ride, this trail is a great choice (just make sure you’re prepped with the best cold-weather cycling gear). The 22 miles of paved trail are being expanded even further to connect to the Black Creek and White Oak trails.
2. Atlantic & Yadkin Greenway
Location: Greensboro, NC
Distance: 7.5 miles
The Atlantic & Yadkin Greenway is another former rail line turned paved bike trail. The trail is a combination of three greenways, Lake Bryant, Bicentennial, and Battleground. Its terrain is asphalt in some areas and gravel in others and leads you through urban and rural areas. This greenway is popular for its abundant bird and wildflower species. You can stop to watch the eagles, herons, and ducks or to enjoy the honeysuckles at one of the trail’s bridges. Lake Bryant, shaped like a crescent moon, is the greenway’s most notable attraction.
3. Boone Greenway
Location: Boone, NC
Distance: 4 miles
The Boone Greenway follows the course of the New River and runs under roads. Its picturesque mountain streams, woods, and meadows full of brightly colored wildflowers distinguish this greenway as Boone’s “hidden gem.” The trail features the ruins of a power supply company from the early 1900s. At points, it branches off onto more challenging bike paths for more advanced cyclists. The Boone Greenway ends at a shopping center, the perfect place to rest while browsing the shops.
4. Neuse River Trail
Location: Raleigh, NC
Distance: 30 miles
The immaculately maintained Neuse River Trail is a favorite of many Raleigh visitors and locals, with so many options for fun. Falls Lake Dam Recreation Area at the south end of the trail offers camping, swimming, boating, and many other outdoor activities. The trail includes boardwalks and bridges and is lined with a lush, green forest canopy and rows of white picket fences. It provides some hills with moderately challenging elevation gain, making the 33-mile course good for Gran Fondo training.
5. Cape Fear River Trail
Location: Fayetteville, NC
Distance: 5 miles
The Cape Fear River Trail has some moderately hilly sections that make you feel your heart pumping and is great for a quick workout. The trail is home to 700 species of plants and 150 species of birds with signage throughout explaining the wildlife, so this is also a great trail for kids and nature enthusiasts. The trail has marshes teeming with a variety of reptiles and a waterfall. If you’re up for a cycling challenge, you can complete the difficult 160-mile-ride of Cape Fear Run from Apex to Wilmington.
6. Thermal Belt Trail
Location: Rutherfordton, NC
Distance: 13.5 miles
This former rail line trail runs through a small former gold-mining town set against a mountainous backdrop. The town of Rutherfordton has small family-owned shops and restaurants where you can unclip and enjoy refreshments. The Thermal Belt is a family-friendly trail with pavilions, a dog park, slides, and outdoor exercise equipment. The highlight of the trail is its steel bridge, once part of the railway, that lights up with colorful lights in the evening. It also connects to Overmountain Victory Natural History Trail and the Battle of King’s Mountain Trail.
7. Little Sugar Creek Greenway
Location: Charlotte, NC
Distance: 5 miles
This easy trail is located in Huntington Farms Park, right near Charlotte’s South Park Mall, and is great for smooth cruising. It has fountains and dining areas for picnics and connections to sports fields, playgrounds, an MTB trail, and Charlotte’s Natural History Museum. This greenway is still growing, and plans to expand it are in place.
8. Salem Lake Trail
Distance: 7 miles
The Salem Lake Trail is surrounded by a forest full of wildlife and traces the lake, so you can make a day out of cycling and lake activities. Salem Lake Park is a popular spot for exercise and recreation. The walking and bike trail is mostly dirt with some inclines and is shared with equestrians. The north side of the trail is a technically challenging course for mountain biking with jumps for expert cyclists.
9. White Oak Greenway
Location: Cary, NC
Distance: 7 miles
The White Oak Greenway is a paved, segmented trail that connects many parks. It’s woodsy and shaded in some sections and wide open and sunny in others. The 7-mile greenway was completed in 2020 and connects to the American Tobacco Trail and adjacent neighborhoods. The trail runs over boardwalks and through tunnels and thick, shady forests full of wild raspberries and honeysuckles.
10. Charlotte Rail Trail
Location: Charlotte, NC
Distance: 11 miles
The historic Charlotte Rail Trail runs through the city of Charlotte and is beautifully landscaped. The ride has fun and colorful local art installations that make it a unique experience. Cycling this trail is a great way to enjoy the city and connect with the community. The trail makes commuting within the city on a bike simple and stress-free. Soon the trail will include the Rail Trail Bridge over I-277 to provide safe and efficient access to the city center for commuters.
If you’re new to cycling, no worries! Many of these trails are great for beginners, and you can use our cycling training plan to help you prepare.
The longer the trail the more important the right gear. Cyclists of all skill levels should have a properly sized saddle and pair of cycling shorts or bib shorts with a comfortable chamois before going for a ride. If you’re not sure how to wear them, read our guide on how to style your bike shorts.
If you’re looking for other top-notch bike trails in the South, try our recommended 10 best bike trails in Georgia. Or register for our Gran Fondo Hincapie in Greenville, SC.
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