Lower Sycamore Cove
Updated: Oct 4, 2019
Summary: A great intro to Pisgah loop, Lower Sycamore has a lot of features you can expect to see on all the trails in the area. The loop is short, works as a great add-on for Black Mountain routes or a short one after work. The trail is a mix of smooth, flowy sections, some challenging roots, and a few tricky spots near the end.
Difficulty: Pisgah Beginner until the first intersection with Starn's, after that it becomes a little closer to Pisgah Intermediate mainly due to one or two sections. The top section (Beginner) has one or two awkward spots to check out, but nothing high consequence. After the Starn's intersection, there are a few narrower, tricky spots that are low consequence but will require comfort with drops and narrow trails.
Length/Elevation Change: 3.5 miles including the climb, 1.2 of downhill, approx. 500ft of elevation change depending on how you loop it
Notable features: The trail has a few root balls that may challenge beginner riders, but nothing terribly difficult until you reach a section with two different line choices, which drops off a bit on either side. Aside from that feature, until the Starn's intersection, most features are smallish roots consistent with what you see at the top of the trail.
After the Starn's intersection, the character of the trail changes a bit. You go around a switchback and there is an awkward series of drops and rolldowns, followed by a narrow quarter-half mile segment with some off camber roots and drops. Nothing high consequence, but it may challenge true beginner riders.
Similar to other Sycamore loops, the trail can either by accessed by climbing Upper Sycamore or Grassy Road Trail. We'll assume Grassy and start at this intersection, where Upper and Lower Sycamore split:
To the left is the climbout to Upper Sycamore, to the right is Lower. We'll go right and you'll see what to expect from here on out.
You can see these types of root sections all throughout the trail. The one in the center drops off maybe a foot or so, but nothing too significant. The goal with these is to keep your head up and tires rolling through, which will allow your bike to roll over them. Just be a little more careful when they are wet, they can get slick.
You'll roll down the trail, which will turn right and you'll encounter a steep-ish root ball that you have to rolldown. If you are a true beginner and don't have a lot of experience with roots, it may be worth stopping to evaluate, but I believe most riders can handle it without too much trouble.
Following that segment, you'll come up on this bit of eroded trail:
What you'll notice is a rut that runs along the left side of the trail. The rut is somewhat new and caused by water runoff down the trail, but it can change character and there are a few 1-2ft drops throughout. For beginner riders, this section may be a bit intimidating, but it is possible to take it slow or just stop and walk around it.
I suggest staying in the rut rather than trying the ridearound to the right, which has a narrower entrance than the photo indicates and can cause you to slide into the rut.
After this section, you will go through some smooth bits of trail, down another root ball, right corner, then come around a left corner where you'll see this bridge:
This bridge can come out of nowhere if you take that left turn too quickly and, like all wood features, it can be slick when wet. It's otherwise not much to worry about, possibly aside from that tree sticking over it, which you could clip your bars on.
After the bridge, there are no more significant features for a while, just some fast, flowy trails mixed with a few little rocky sections and roots. I believe most beginners can ride this reasonably well, although be careful if it's wet, so there isn't a lot to worry about for a little bit.
The next section to watch for is when the trail surface starts to noticeably smooth out, like it's unusually and uncharacteristic of the rest of the trail, hardpack almost. Once you see this, you encounter the first section where I think most beginners may want to step off and look at the feature and most intermediate riders will want to choose a line:
This is the feature looking at it from the top, you should notice a split in the trail, but it makes more sense looking at it from the bottom:
Here you see the two options, the one on the left (from the bottom, this line is on the right at the top) is a bit more approachable but rough, the one on the right is smoother, but considerably steeper. I've done both lines and seen more advanced riders drop off the right one, but I usually default to staying right from the top, it gives you a little wider setup for the oncoming corner and there are less options to awkwardly slip out.
Either option is equal in difficulty, but be aware of the corner immediately after the feature, if you go flying into it not paying attention, it'll catch you off guard.
From here, the trail continues in character with the rest of Sycamore, with a few rooty bits, smooth bits, then more rooted out bits.
Eventually, you'll see a little rock kicker on the right and know you are coming up on the Starn's intersection.
The image above is looking back up the trail and is more awkward than visible in the photo. There is no "bad" line through here, but you'll want to keep your bike rolling as straight through as possible with whatever line you pick. Some of the roots can catch you off.
Once you reach the bottom of this bit, you are at the intersection of the rest of Lower Sycamore and Starnes.
From here, beginners have a bit of a choice to make. If you go right and push up Starnes, you will push up this root ball and be back at Thrift Cove in a few minutes or you can continue to the conclusion of Sycamore.
If you choose to go up Starnes, you'll go right and push up this short bit of trail:
If you go this way, you'll push up for a few minutes and be back at Thrift, just below the Thrift/Grassy fork.
If you didn't go up Starn's, hook a left and see this sign:
From here, continue on briefly until you reach a switchback leading right:
This switchback is tight, but it's primarily notable because this is where the trail starts to change a little bit and you know you are coming up on the most difficult feature of the trail. It's easy to pick up a lot of speed after the switchback, but I would recommend keeping it dialed in especially the first time down.
As you progress down, you'll roll over a few roots, then you'll see what is a noticeable drop from the top of the trail. Looking back at this section from the bottom, you'll see this:
There is a lot to unpack here, so we'll start at the top portion of the image. This looks more intimidating from further back, so I'd suggest dismounting and checking it out before ripping into it.
First, you'll see a handful of 1-2ft root drops at the very top. These are easy to roll, should pose no problem for someone riding in Pisgah, but if you are a true beginner then it could create some concerns, so check them out first. I believe a few are waterbars, but some are just eroded bits of trail.
Shortly after, you'll roll up on the first little rocky rolldown, shown in the photo above. The rolldown itself is fairly docile, but it's easy to get a lot of speed on it and mess yourself up on the next 2 or 3 drops. This section has washed out considerably in recent years, leading to a few more features forming.
Once you are down the rocks, the next bit is a root drop, followed by a little waterbar drop, followed by a small rock drop. Some of these roots are off camber, so if it's wet, they will want to push you into the left side of the trail. Fortunately, to the right side is just a big dirt wall, so if you favor pushing right then it's relatively safe.
My suggestion for this section is to check it out as something to work up towards and walk it or carefully ride it depending on the conditions. The key, in my opinion, is to avoid getting too much speed on the first roll down so that you end up out of control. At the same time, you have to manage your braking so that you don't get pushed off by the off camber roots. This section can be tricky, it's trickier when wet, and it changes every so often, so there is no shame in walking it (I've ridden it many times, then walked it many times when I wasn't feeling up to it).
At the end, you'll see this stream crossing, hook a left and carry on (UPDATE:08/2019 - This log bridge is now gone and replaced by a wooden one). From here, the trail weaves through some trees and is generally pretty flowy for a little bit.
After a little while, the trail will narrow and start to climb briefly:
This is, once again, where Sycamore changes character a little bit and becomes narrower and more technical. It's not as difficult as the prior section, but you have fewer line choices and less room to navigate. Again, this is what makes Lower Sycamore such a great intro to riding in Pisgah: you get a little bit of everything.
From here, the trail narrows considerably. You will encounter a handful of root balls with different line choices.
The first few are fairly mellow, but eventually you'll run into the first one that has a line choice worth considering:
The photo above is looking back, you'll see there are two line choices. If you stay trail left, you'll end up riding down some off camber roots. The alternative is to take a 1-2ft drop trail right, but have an overall smoother run-up to the end of this segment. I've done both, but generally prefer going trail right, as it is less likely to result in sliding out, despite being a little closer to the edge.
From here, the trail will climb briefly, then you'll see a few roots you have to climb over:
This section marks the start of a 3 part tricky bit. Once you cross the peak of the section above, you'll drop down and immediately be met with this section:
The photo above is taken looking back at the trail. Once again, the temptation may be to stay trail left, however the best line is to come around to the right and drop down the roots. If you stay trail left, the trail ends abruptly and can be really awkward (it's also often armored).
Immediately afterwards, you will see a tight turn down some roots next to a tree:
Immediately after the second tree in the photo above, there is an awkward rootball that again, once to push you right. I generally run into this section and stay as far left as possible, even though pedaling over the roots can be awkward, it lines you up for the next part much better:
The photo above is looking back at the trail, you can see the roots really want to push you trail right, due to being off camber. The best way down this is to come in as wide as possible, expecting it to push you into the smooth section, doing so allows you to set up for the turn a lot easier.
Shortly after, you'll see another small root drop, but it shouldn't be too much to worry about.
The trail will S-turn and weave a bit, before you come up on a semi-tight right hand turn:
Immediately after the turn, there is a rootball that doesn't have any real large roots, but has a lot of them packed together:
You can shoot straight down this, but it ends in an abrupt left hand turn, so going too fast may put you off the trail. It's not really high consequence if you do, but can be tricky if you are going too fast. It's also a tough batch of roots to turn on especially if the trail is wet. I find you can typically come into it pretty slow and brake through it without too much trouble, but you will want to keep it rolling to prevent sliding out.
After the left hand turn immediately after the roots, the trail smooths out a fair bit and remains fairly flat. You'll come up on a small creek crossing, some pedaly roots, then you'll come up on this bridge:
The bridge above marks the end of the trail, as shortly after you'll come up on 276 back to the road.
There are two main ways of accessing Lower Sycamore Cove.
The first is to do the Sycamore Cove loop, which would mean climbing Upper Sycamore Cove, then looping around to the lower part. This route starts off 276 at the Sycamore entrance closest to the forest entrance, but has some fairly considerable steep climbing sections and technical climb bits. It's an interesting route if you want a more difficult, technical climb, but is a lot of work also.
The second, which is the most common, is to climb Grassy Rd to the intersection of Grassy and Sycamore, then go right. This can also be done from the bottom of Lower Black Mountain, which makes either Sycamore a good add-on for finishing up on Black. In this case, you would climb up Grassy Rd for a while, then go right at the intersection with Sycamore and continue down to the road.