North Slope (Clockwise)
Updated: Oct 23, 2019
Summary: A seasonal (Oct15-Apr15 ONLY) 'front country' Pisgah trails that offers a great combination of technical climbing, fast descents, and mixed terrain. Functions very well as an add-on for Sycamore or Lower Black, along with being a great introduction to riding narrower trails in Pisgah.
Difficulty: Pisgah Beginner - No major drops or features, but several off camber or narrow sections that can be tricky when wet, along with repetitive waterbars. There are also some narrow sections that may intimidate some riders, but they are short. If I was to categorize it, it'd be closer to intermediate on the climbing, but Pisgah beginner on the downhill.
Length/Elevation Change: 4 miles, ~600ft of climbing
Notable features: Going CW, you start out on a hike a bike that can be soul crushing for those not used to pushing. There is a short, technical rock section with a steep dropoff on the side, but most people walk that. From there, there are a few rootballs on narrow sections of trail, but nothing that is terribly difficult or long. Going downhill, the trail has a few waterbar drops, but all are rollable and easy to see coming. Often during the winter, there are very icy sections that can be slippery.
The trail is a loop that starts out of the Davidson River campground. Finding it can be a challenge. The best thing to do is ride past the guard shack at the entrance and stay on the main road until you see this parking lot:
You should see a sign at the other side of the lot, ride to the left of it and take a left after the bathrooms. Do not go down the road to the amphitheater.
Once you turn left onto the asphalt, the trail should be immediately on your left after a campsite, you should see a wooden sign pointing to the entrance, but it can be obscured by brush:
After you turn left past the sign, you will start the singletrack. You'll cross a bridge, then climb up to the first intersection, where the loop begins. You'll want to take a left here and start climbing, but before you begin, I want to offer a bit of a warning.
This is a VERY popular hiking trail and it is seasonal. You may encounter people that tell you that you can't ride here. The signage is confusing, because it shows 'No bikes' and people tend to scratch off the dates below it. You are allowed to ride this trail Oct 15 - Apr 15. If someone gives you grief, tell them it's seasonal and to call the USFS station if they want to clarify it. If they start getting mad, be polite and ride away. On that same note, please go above and beyond to be nice to hikers. We risk losing this trail due to conflicts, so be respectful even if it isn't returned and don't instigate.
Also note that North Slope...faces North. That means it tends to not get a lot of sunlight and has more ice than other trails. There are a few spots that this is really noticeable, but all of them you can see coming.
Moving on, once you climb up the access trail after the bridge, you reach the loop itself and you can go right or left. For this walkthrough, go left:
Pretty soon, you'll start to see what you are in for in the first half mile or so of the climb. You will encounter 3 or 4 sections with stairs and water bars like you see to the right. These are short and easily pushed, but a bit annoying. Don't be afraid if you can't ride them, I can't either.
After having your soul crushed in the first quarter to half mile or so, things will mellow out considerably. The climb will become much easier and more rideable.
Right when things start to mellow out, you will encounter this thing after a short dip downhill followed by a rootball:
The 'GoPro effect' is very real here. What the camera doesn't show is that the rock is notched, always wet, and very slippery. There is also a good 8ft drop off onto the right hand side into a creek bed. I have seen people ride this, but the vast majority walk it.
Moving on, things once again, mellow out and the section above is shown to be the exception rather than the rule. There are some rooted sections that can be tricky if you lose momentum, but they are easily seen coming and low consequence if you have to bail off.
Eventually, you'll reach another bridge, although it's more rideable, followed by a narrow entrance into the bridge you see below.
From here, the trail continues to climb and remain fairly smooth until the peak, where there are some narrow and rooted sections.
What you see below is the norm for the crest of North Slope:
You can see in the image above that the trail narrows fairly significantly and runs along the side of the mountain, which can be tight in sections. These sections are short and the trail cuts in and out of being wide and narrow, but don't be afraid if you are nervous on these narrow bits: you aren't alone. It took me a while to push it out of my mind especially when the trail is wet.
You will run into sections like this off and on, but none of them have any notable features, just they are narrow and a little bit rooty. You can ride them slow, but you'll want to be selective about line choice.
Eventually, you'll reach what I'd call the three rocky sections of North Slope, the first of which starts with this flat faced rock:
You have a few lines here, but I usually straight shot over the roots and rock, then hook slightly right to continue on the trail. There isn't really a 'bad line' here, but if it's wet, those rocks do want to make you slide out and I've fallen on them more than once. There isn't really anything of note immediately following, aside from a few little rocks and one you'll need to roll off of.
The next section is the last of the sections I'd note on the upper portion of the trail:
I note this for several reasons. First, it's always wet thanks to a little stream that runs down it. Second, because if it's below 40, it'll probably be a sheet of ice. I usually stick to the far left line where you see the muddy, wet bits, but the right line is viable, although a bit more awkward.
Moving on, you'll run into one more hike a bike section that's short, followed by some more narrow bits, and finally the downhill:
This is a 3-way intersection with Art Loeb to the left and the rest of North Slope to the right. If you hook a right, you'll follow a fairly flowy bit of downhill through some roto tunnels. Please watch for hikers, this section can be wide open.
It's a fun bit of trail with few features of note, until you start to reach the waterbars after a right hand turn:
Once you reach the first set of waterbars, they keep coming at you. They aren't one long staircase, but they do drop off a bit. Fortunately, you can hit them all straight on and they are all fairly approachable. You see a lot of these types of stairs in Pisgah, so it's a good place to get familiar with riding them and do some sessioning if you want to improve.
Eventually, you'll reach a gravel road after a few sets of waterbars and a little rocky section.
Once you reach the gravel road, take a right and ride for a ways, but be on the lookout for an intersection on the right side of the trail. If you reach asphalt, you've gone too far. Also be warned, this road tends to turn into a sheet of ice when it's below freezing.
While riding the road, you are looking for this sign here:
Take a right, you will climb up a bit and dip down again, at which point you'll reach this intersection with the asphalt:
There is a gate on the right, you need to ride past the gate. Once again, if you get into asphalt, you've gone too far.
You'll climb out again on a fairly wide, but loose climb that has a few roots and ledges you can practice wheel lifting over if you want. Sometimes this climb is eroded and rutted out, so it may be narrower depending on the year.
After a short bit of climbing and downhill, you'll reach a bridge:
There isn't really anything notable about this bridge, except that it has been there a while and developed this slippery, disgusting slime on top of it. When wet, it's very slippery. I've had my back tire slip just pedaling across it evenly, so be careful.
From this point, the trail opens up on the final, flowy descent back to the starting point. There isn't much to note here, it's fairly fast and open without any real technical features. You can go again, loop back and go CCW, or head back the way you came by going left.
Directions: Park at the grassy lot or in front of the Davidson River, ride towards the Davidson River campground and go past the guard shack. Continue straight until you see a parking area on the left with a sign for the amphitheater. Do not go down the amphitheater road, rather go to the left of the sign and bathrooms, then left onto the road again. Shortly after, you'll see the trail on the left between two campsites.