Updated: Oct 4, 2019
Summary: A bike accessible 3 mile section of the much longer Buckhorn Gap trail, which has a bit of everything including flowy, fast downhills, mildly technical rocky sections, an eroded gully, stairs, and flat, pedally creek crossings. The trail is fairly moderate by Pisgah standards and is a great introduction to riding the more difficult trails in Pisgah.
Difficulty: Pisgah Beginner - The top section of the trail is fairly smooth, but turns left into a section with moderate sized rocks and some awkward, eroded lines, followed by an eroded gully with water bars that can be slippery when wet. The most notable feature is a busted up staircase after the first creek crossing, which can be a bit intimidating and is worth looking at.
Length/Elevation Change: Around 3 miles downhill, coming up from Clawhammer it is closer to 10 miles total with ~950ft of elevation changes. Expect longer than normal riding times for the distance due to the creek crossings near the bottom.
Notable features: The most significant feature for most riders will be a staircase of water bars that is in the middle section of the trail, shortly after you push up an oddly placed concrete climb. The staircase is fairly long, with a good number of waterbar drops, some of which are loose and poking out of the trail. The rest of the trail is fairly mellow, although the rocky section near the top may prove a bit challenging for newer riders, as will some of the water bars that follow.
The trail begins off of Clawhammer Rd, up from the horse stables. The entrance to the trail is on the left and is often overgrown in the summertime:
Through all that brush, you can make out the sign there in the center-left. The trail runs just to the left of the sign and Clawhammer Rd continues to the right.
Starting out down the trail, it is a fairly open, smooth ride with a few loose rocks, but not much technical to speak of.
This section of trail has a few awkward turns that are easy to fly up into and hit wrong, but it's nothing high consequence, just a bit flow killing if you aren't paying attention.
As you make your way down, eventually you'll reach a 3 way intersection, which intersects Buckhorn Gap with Buckhorn Gap and Buckhorn Gap. This is one of three critical intersections.
It's a bit confusing, but to the right is the hiking only section and to the left is the bike and horse accessible section:
Once you go left and drop into this bit here, is when the trail turns to being rocky.
You'll find for the next segment of trail to the second intersection, it's fairly rocky and slightly eroded. For more advanced riders, there are plenty of opportunities to hop rocks, jump a few roots, and ride aggressively. For newer riders, some of this section may be a bit intimidating, but there are easier lines and sight lines are good.
As an example, this is a predominate feature you'll see on the next short segment:
It stays pretty consistently like the photo above for the first quarter mile or so, where you have a few roots, moderate sized rocks, and eroded segments.
There are definitely some bad lines and it is a bit on the rocky side, so newer riders may find themselves slightly intimidated, but the section is short and easy to walk and get started again. It also isn't terribly steep and everything is rollable. The main thing to watch for is not to stuff a wheel in a hole from a rock that moved or something similar, other than that, it's low consequence and low likelihood of getting stopped.
After a quarter mile or so, the first section of trail that is notable comes up:
This is the feature looking back at it. Advanced riders won't find much of an issue here, but newer riders will note the approx. 1-2ft drop into some loose rocks. It's easily rolled, but it does steepen slightly. The visibility of this section is very good and it's easy to see coming, but newer riders may want to scope it out before rolling into it. It takes place just after a sweeping right hand turn, which ends directly on the root shown above.
The rockiness continues briefly, but is similar in nature, until the second section of trail that is worth mentioning comes up, which is an eroded, washed out slab of concrete preceded by an off camber waterbar:
In the photo above, which is looking back, the water bar is visible just before the concrete. I only mention the water bar, because it can be very slippery when wet and it's easy to lose traction on it and get pushed to the side. What I typically do, is go pretty far trail left, then cut to the right before the water bar, so I can square up the waterbar and prepare for the drop in to the washout section.
The washout section is rollable and easy to take slow, but it kindof comes up blind, so it is difficult to see until you are up on it, so newer riders will want to watch for the waterbar and scope out the washout before riding it.
From this point on, the trail follows an eroded gully with several similar water bars. There is nothing technical here to speak of, but it is clay and will likely change as it rains. Currently, as of writing this, the main thing to watch for are the off camber waterbars, which will be easy to slip on if they are wet, but none drop off too far.
At the bottom of this short, quarter mile or so section, you'll reach the second intersection, which is a big open area with a stream running next to it:
This appears to be a campsite or rest spot for horses, but the trail continues to the left, unless you want to check out the stream.
From here, there are two main things to watch for: a few creek crossings and a busted up staircase.
The creek crossings will start shortly after you turn left at the horse camp intersection and there are two ways across them. The first is the horse crossing, which is straight through the stream, while the other is across some log bridges.
Once you get to the first crossing, you'll see a sign like this:
The hiking arrow points to the section of the trail with the log bridges and the horse arrow points to the crossings.
The log bridges are currently in a bit of rough shape, they can be sketchy to walk across, but if it's cold or you don't want to get your feet wet, they are good options.
The crossings are pretty mellow and shallow typically, although a few of them have awkward entries, none of them have any real surprises.
There is no right or wrong way here, just go whichever you feel, but keep your eyes up for these signs, because they'll continue all the way down to the Avery intersection.
After you cross the first few creeks, you'll come up on a little climb up some busted up concrete:
What follows after this is the most technical section of the trail. It will turn downhill briefly, before you reach this downhill staircase (photo is looking up from the bottom):
Newer riders or those not confident riding down stairs will probably want to walk this, but those riding it should be aware that it's in rough shape and a few of the stairs have blown out. I typically take the far trail left line, because the steps are smaller, but also more embedded. If you go far right, you may have some loose stairs to deal with:
Once you reach the bottom, either by bike or by foot, the trail turns flat and continues through a series of creek crossings. There are no real considerable technical challenges ahead and it's fairly mellow.
Eventually, you'll reach an intersection with Avery Creek on the left and Buckhorn Gap continuing straight:
At this intersection, you can continue straight to stay on Buckhorn Gap or go left to stay on Avery Creek trail. If you take Buckhorn, it leads you back up to Avery Creek Rd, but if you go left onto Avery Creek Trail, it dumps you out a little further down the road.
In either case, if you take Avery Creek trail, the character remains mainly the same from here down (it's very different than the upper section of Avery Creek), although there are a few sections with some mild exposure.
The Buckhorn Gap trail climbs back out for a while, but similarly is the same in character.
If you ride Buckhorn on it's own, I'd suggest taking Avery Creek back to the stables, it's less fire road descending, but if you are going up to Bennett, going right will have you climbing on singletrack a bit more.
Recommended route: Typically, the easiest way to access Buckhorn Gap is to climb up Clawhammer Rd from the Pisgah horse stables.
The entrance can be somewhat easy to miss, especially during the summer since it's so overgrown and the sign is covered up. You end up going roughly 2 1/2 miles up Clawhammer Rd, where you'll see the entrance on the left.
There are no other legal ways of accessing this segment of trail that I'm aware of, although you could always do an out and back. The trail is sometimes climbed to access the trails at the top of Clawhammer Rd (e.g. Upper Black, Avery Creek, Buckwheat Knob), but I'd only suggest that if you really wanted to stay off Clawhammer.