One of the best places to ride in America, Tennessee is a haven for mountain biking—a place that offers trails for every level of rider. Located in the southeastern portion of the U.S., Tennessee is a landlocked state that is relatively small yet populous; bordered by Missouri and Arkansas to the west, North Carolina to the east, Kentucky and Virginia to the north, and Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi to the south.
Tennessee’s terrain is rather varied depending on the region in which mountain bikers opt to ride. The Appalachian Mountains, which dominate the eastern part of the state, are loaded with grueling up and down courses, and the western half of the state, near the Mississippi River, lures riders looking to tackle a whole array of technical challenges. Tennessee features six major geographical regions: the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Appalachian Ridge and Valley Region, the Cumberland Plateau, the Highland Rim, the Nashville Basin, and the Gulf Coastal Plain, all of which feature mountain biking courses for novice, intermediate, and expert riders.
To give you a better idea of what you can expect from the courses in Tennessee, below we have highlighted five of the state’s most popular trails, and provided a detailed description of the challenges, terrain and scenery each one offers.
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Raccoon Mountain Trail Network
Located roughly 15 minutes from downtown Chattanooga, one of Tennessee’s largest cities, the Raccoon Mountain Trail Network is comprised of several fun and scenic trails that circle the TVA Raccoon Mountain pumped storage facility. Collectively, these courses, which are some of the most popular in the state, offer a wide array of riding terrains and environments, terrains that are mostly designed and intended for experienced riders only. There are, however, a few wide and rather even trails that are beginner-rider-friendly—trails without much elevation gain that make up a mere 10 percent of the total Raccoon Mountain Trail Network.
Open from sunrise to sunset year round, the Raccoon Mountain trails are the direct result of an innovative partnership between the Chattanooga chapter of IMBA-SORBA and the Tennessee Valley Authority. This well-designed and expertly maintained network of trails has transformed what was once under-used mountain terrain into a well-liked recreation area and mountain biking utopia.
As mentioned above, approximately 90 percent of the many trails at Raccoon Mountain are designed for intermediate to advanced riders, and while not one of these trails is directional, it’s hardly noticeable, as even when the parking lots are at full capacity, the trail system is so extensive that it never feels overly crowded.
The courses at Raccoon Mountain supply riders with plenty of fast and flowing single track, fitness-building climbs, and a couple of descents that are so rapid they demand riders’ full attention. Those who like rocks, roots and other technical challenges will also find what they are looking for at Raccoon Mountain, particularly on the trails entitled Megawatt, Laurel Point and Live Wire II.
In addition to the wonderful trails at Raccoon Mountain, there are also many amenities sprinkled throughout the facility, including restrooms, bike wash stations and repair stands, a covered picnic area, and ample parking with immediate access to some of the more popular trails, including Electric Avenue I and II, Laurel Point and the East Rim Trails.
White Oak Mountain
The trails at White Oak Mountain, familiarly known as the “Biology Trails,” are located in the rather small city of Collegedale (Hamilton County), Tennessee, a suburb of Chattanooga that is also part of the Chattanooga TN-GA Metropolitan Statistical Area and rated as one of the safest cities in which to live in the state.
White Oak Mountain offers nearly 18 miles of varied trails that collectively give mountain bike riders a well-rounded experience, one that ranges from rolling hills, steep climbs and fun descents to miles of technical single track, all set against a backdrop of the stunning Ooltewah Valley.
The Biology/White Oak Mountain Trails are located on the west end of the Southern Adventist University’s campus, directly behind the Outdoor Education Center and high ropes course. There are several trailheads from which riders can start their cycling fun, although the one located on University Drive at the intersection of Morningside Drive is the main park entrance. The trails here comprise a stacked loop system, with the easiest trails closest to the parking lot and the more difficult trails located further away. Riders can take a short 15 minutes ride or one that encompasses several hours, depending on their needs and preferences.
Overall, the trails at White Oak Mountain are rated intermediate (3 of 5 diamonds) in terms of the level of difficulty, and all trails are open year round weather permitting. Adding to the popularity of these trails is the fact that there is no entry fee or permits required to gain access to White Oak Mountain, and the park is hiker and dog-friendly. The courses here are also open until 10:00 PM seven days a week, making it the ideal spot for night riding.
Thunder Rock Express
Situated in the town of Ocoee, Tennessee, the Thunder Rock Express is a short and difficult ride, one that measures 1.5 miles in total distance and is rated advanced, intended for very experienced riders only.
Generally considered one of the more difficult trails of the Tennessee backcountry, the Thunder Rock Express is a course that is loaded with both manmade and naturally-occurring obstacles, including bridges, drop-offs, rocks, roots and more. All in all, the course is not only of competition quality, but is also one of the most beautiful trails, not only in the state of Tennessee but in the entire southeastern region.
Thunder Rock Express is an all-downhill section of track that features a couple of awesome jumps, loose shale terrain, off camber turns, deep gravity wells, sharp, twisty turns and two fun bridges that can be extremely slippery when wet. The course can best be described as a “blazing fast” ride that is smooth and flowing in spots but rather chunky and rough in others. Riders are urged to keep a close eye on their speed, as some sections of the Thunder Rock Express can be very narrow and precarious, leaving riders exposed to dangerous falls if the bike is too fast.
Locals rate the Thunder Rock Express as one of the best advanced courses in the state of Tennessee, a place where experienced daredevils can test the limits of speed and their bike handling skills as they shred down the mountain in pure ecstasy.
Located in the town of Antioch, Tennessee, the Cane Ridge trail is a two-mile course (four miles when ridden as an out-and-back loop) designed with the beginner or novice rider in mind. Featuring plenty of twists and turns, small hills and gullies, the ride here is a great way to get some much needed exercise while you enjoy the Tennessee sunshine and scenery.
Antioch, as well as the Cane Ridge Trail, is situated in southeastern Davidson County and is known by locals as an outdoor paradise. The trail, with its spacious and mildly undulating terrain, is the perfect course for those new to the sport of mountain biking. And despite its mostly peaceful track, framed by rolling hills, cool water and endless sky, the trail does include a number of semi-challenging obstacles, including rocks, roots, jumps and a bit of downhill speed, all designed to help novice riders grow accustomed to the Tennessee terrain and prepare them for some of the region’s more difficult and technically challenging courses.
Located just outside the city of Columbia, Chickasaw Trace is an eight-mile, intermediate-rated loop course and one of the best and most popular rides in Middle Tennessee. Each year the course hosts a fun race called the Chickasaw Trace Classic, which draws riders from throughout the state of Tennessee and beyond.
The Chickasaw Trace Trail commences on a stretch of flat and fairly fast single track terrain, which gives riders a chance to warm up before hitting the more technical sections of the course. Once warmed up, riders will hit the sections of the course known as the Trail of Tears and the Black Trail, which feature some fairly tough climbs, rapid descents, fast, twisty switchbacks, and a range of obstacles and impediments that keep the course interesting.
The park in which Chickasaw Trace Trail is located covers roughly 300 acres and is located on the banks of the Duck River and a tributary known as Knob Creek. The local mountain biking club is responsible for the maintenance of the trail and does so with the help of Adopt-A-Trail volunteers.
image credit: Christopher Gund