Looking for great single track? You need to check out the Cherokee National Park in Copperhill, Tennessee. It hosts the Tanasi and Chilhowee Trail System for mountain bike riders. The Tanasi Trail system offers abundance of options for easy single track rides under the foliage of a forest canopy, challenging intermediate and difficult climbs and plenty of downhill runs with technical sections comprising of rock gardens, tree roots obstacles and tight switchbacks.
Why You Should Ride the Tanasi Mountain Bike Trails
While on a weekend whitewater rafting trip on the Ocoee River, (read Whitewater Rafting on the Ocoee River), I had the pleasure of taking a side trip to explore the Tanasi Trail system. It was our last morning of our weekend whitewater trip on the Ocoee River, Copperhead, Tennessee . While my lovely wife was still asleep in our cabin (read Three Reasons to Stay at White Water Express), at 06:30 am I drove for 25 minutes to the Tanasi trail system. At the Ocoee White Water Center ranger station I paid a $3.00 vehicle entrance fee to park. The park wasn’t open so I didn’t pick up a map. Be sure to pick one up and carry it along with you. More on that later.
The Tanasi trailhead starts at the Ocoee White Water Center. The Ocoee river area also has the distinction to host the canoe slalom venue for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, GA.
At the trailhead, I donned my gear long pants, POC VPD shorts and downhill upper body armor jacket, long sleeve dri fit shirt and helmet, 750 lumens light and hopped onto my 2007 Maverick Matic mountain bike to navigate the dark morning route. See 5 Tips for Mountain Bike Night Riding for information on my gear.
I started on an easy downhill ride along the Rododendren trail 1.25 miles to the Ocoee No. 3 powerhouse. I was expecting a trail marker for another connection, but instead found a informative display of the Ocoee powerhouse. Unbeknownst to me, if I had a map available I would have navigated to the entry of the Thunder Rock Express trail from the Thunder Rock campground near the powerhouse. Instead I backtracked to the White Water center and rode a .7 mile climb on the Bear Paw Loop . To see all the available trails loops refer to Tanasi Trail Map.
The local signs at the trailhead to the bear paw trail warn of bears in the area. I thought nothing of it until the shadows and blacken tree trunks along with snapping twigs caught my attention. I felt the hair raise on the back of my neck as I traversed the loops.
The trails are well marked to lead you to the interconnecting Chestnut Mountain loop rated and documented as difficult from the trail map. The trail sign mileage deceives it’s actual difficulty luring you into a false sense confidence to complete a .5 miles or 1 mile section to the next entry loop. I committed to the trail and it became a long steady extra steep climb in areas. Unlike climbs that plateau and provide a break, the long technical climb with switchbacks along rock gardens, rock shards, large exposed roots challenged me where I did not have an extra bail out gear for my single ring drive train.
After the steady climb, I was on the Chestnut mountain trail going downhill. It felt counterintuitive riding relatively smooth single track to rock gardens down and then see another hard section to climb. I was hesitant to go further onto the next trail Quartz loop with a return back to the the cabin and checkout at 11:00 am. I figured I may not return here for a while so I rode the Quartz loop for 2.2 miles rated moderate comprising a technical climb up roots, rock shards and sucking air in the upper elevation. This appeared to be the highest section. Finishing the Quartz loop I took the Quartz loop spur to the second half of the Chestnut loop.
Again as I rode down sections of the loop I incurred a climb to the River view loop. Referencing the Tanasi Trail Map, the river view loop has long downhill sections but conversely just as long of a uphill climb. I finished out the River View loop and spur to reconnect with the Chestnut Mountain loop and return to Bear paw.
It is a great trail to challenge your skills in climbing and rewarding downhills. Since I was riding solo I took the downhill sections with caution riding the rear brake to save body, mind and soul from the edge of the mountainside.
The Cherokee National Park is definitely an ideal destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Give yourself a long weekend to fully explore both trail systems and experience whitewater rafting on the Ocoee River. For detailed descriptions of the Tanasi and Chilhowee Trail Systems see theblueridgehighlander.com.
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