Lower Butter Gap / Cat Gap
Updated: Oct 4, 2019
Summary: A seasonal (only open for mountain biking October 15 - April 15) trail connecting the bottom of Butter Gap to the fish hatchery parking lot. The trail itself is fairly moderate, with a few staircases and muddy sections to watch out for, along with a rock feature that is great for sessioning. The trail tends to stay fairly wet and not handle large amounts of rain very well.
Difficulty: Pisgah Beginner - There are a few chunky sections, awkward spots, and staircases, however all features are fairly easy to see coming and approachable by riders that are capable of riding trails such as Sycamore Cove or Cove Creek, however the difficulty is slightly higher than those due to the staircases.
Length/Elevation Change: Depends on route, multiple routes (full Butter Gap, full Long Branch, Searcey Creek Rd / Long Branch).
Notable features: There are a few sections that stay pretty consistently muddy and wet, along with some awkward dips and short steep sections. The main repeating feature to watch for are a series of steps that start after the trail turns into Cat Gap, along with a rock drop in the middle that has a few lines and a ridearound.
The main thing to watch for is hikers, however, as this trail is a popular hiking route and is often busy with hikers heading up to John's Rock, so riding later in the day is preferable and controlling speed to be respectful to other trail users is advised.
As with other seasonal trails that have a lot of hiker traffic, it's worth pointing out that this trail is only open to bikes October 15 - April 15 due to user conflicts. Please don't poach this one, you'll probably get ticketed, yelled at, give mountain bikers a bad name, or all of the above.
Also, I repeatedly encounter angry hikers and disrespectful mountain bikers more on Cat Gap than any other trail. This is a high traffic trail due to the John's Rock loop, especially after you pass the open campsite area and rock feature, so please control your speed and watch for other trail users, say hello to others and slow down when you see them. We are at risk of losing access to this trail due to user conflicts, so your behavior matters.
I'll also add that I combined these two into one trail for several reasons, mainly that they are only really accessible together and splitting them up would cause confusion. They are technically two trails, though.
At any rate, this trail starts at the intersection of Long Branch and Butter Gap:
Heading straight down, you'll encounter the first notable series of sections on this trail:
What you see here is pretty characteristic of this trail, there is a small stream running down into a rock with a pool of water and mud at the base of it. The feature here isn't particularly difficult, but worth noting because it's one of a series of three challenging features that starts right off the bat:
The rock you see above
A short dip followed by a rooty climbout
A steep chute that runs into an awkward drain
I typically go high left here onto the rock, but any line works fine, just be aware it drops off slightly at the end. Once you roll off it, you are greeted with this little dip/g-out:
The only line here that really works is to go left into the mud hole, then climb up the roots on the other side. The key is to keep a steady pace and expect the climb out the other side. I'd also suggest watching for low hanging trees, I dented a helmet here more than once.
After you climb the roots on the other side, there is a short, rooty chute on the other side:
It starts as soon as you get to the crest of the climb out of the dip, then shoots down. The line is down the left, but it can be wet or loose, so keeping some brake control is recommended. At the bottom, it drops you into a drain that is often clogged with leaves and filled with water:
Despite several attempts to fill this in or armor it, the stream that runs through it continues to keep it wet and full of mud. It's rollable, but you need to really push into it, because it dips down pretty deep.
My suggestion for navigating this section is to take it slow, especially the first time, and ease into it with good brake control. You don't really need to fly down any of it, but going too fast can put your head into a branch or an awkward spot with the dip above.
After this section, you roll alongside a stream and come up on a bridge:
Don't worry, everyone walks this. It used to be more approachable, but the run in to it is off camber and washed out, so there is no really good way to get onto it, just walk it.
After you walk or ride that awkward bit, the trail mellows out a fair bit, but you'll encounter more muddy sections of trail that pretty consistently hold water:
The section of trail here is very cool, you end up weaving through some roto tunnels and crossing a few mudholes. I think I've seen this section dry entirely maybe twice, it just seems to capture water and hold onto it. The roto tunnels are cool to ride through, though, and make for an interesting landscape.
Shortly after, you'll run into another section by the stream that is a bit tricky:
The photo above is looking back at the feature, but basically you roll in from the top of the photo and have to lift onto the roots below. The section running by the creek is fairly off camber and eroded, but the combined roll in and step is a bit awkward for some, mainly because all the roots are angled and very easy to slide up on.
After this bit, there is a bit of climbing up and down some roots, followed by the entrance to a camping area:
This open area is where you need to really start to watch for hikers.
Shortly after, you run into the rock feature where Cat Gap begins. The feature is a large piece of rock that is split in two by a series of bushes, the photo below is the left side:
The next photo is the right side, which most people ride down:
You can ride off any side of it, none of them are particularly large, but the most rollable side is to the left as you come down the rock, which you see in the photo directly above. The landing is a bit abrupt, as it angles up some, however it is rollable with good technique and is a great place to session drops.
From here, the nature of the trail changes. The tight, narrow section ease up and the staircases begin. Shortly after the rock drop, you'll see what I'm talking about:
The photo above is of the first staircase, looking back at it. There are three waterbars, all of which are easily rollable. You can also pop off the rock on the left, but it's a bit of an awkward landing.
These types of features continue down the trail for a while, as the trail weaves through some more roto tunnels and trees, narrowing and widening with some regularity.
Eventually, you reach the largest of the staircases:
This one can be discerned because it's the narrowest staircase and it comes up after the other stairs have left up a bit. They are all rollable, but you have to take them kindof slow due to the corner immediately after it:
The corner has a few waterbar drops on it, it's also fairly tight. In order to not get stuck on the tree in the middle of the corner, you have to really take it wide, almost along the far left edge, however that sets you up for the largest part of the waterbar to cross. It's best to take these last two sections with a slow enough speed that you can line up properly, or you'll end up in the woods.
Once you roll out of the above, you'll see a bridge on your left. Some ride it, I walk it because I don't do well with narrow wood features. Shortly after is a brief climb that isn't of much importance, but can be a bit awkward:
I usually climb up the roots on the left rather than try to squeeze through the ones on the right, but either is ridable.
After this section, the trail turns down briefly before the last consistently muddy section:
The segment of trail above tends to stay pretty wet and has a few off camber roots, followed by a mudhole that tends to be fairly deep. It can be ridden, but sometimes it's best to walk it especially if the water is high enough. Shortly after, the trail pitches up for the last time, followed by a short downhill that follows the fence to the fish hatchery.
There is a brief section with some narrow stairs, but if you've ridden the stairs to this point, they shouldn't be much of a problem. My only suggestion is to not blast them too quickly at first, because the last technical section requires a bit of lining up for:
The section above cuts into a narrow, rooted bit by a tree. There isn't a bad line necessarily, but it's easy to slip coming into it if you try to grab a handful of brake. I typically run down the middle and onto the wood bridge.
Looking left after this section, you'll see the fish hatchery parking lot and the end of this trail segment.
There are two main ways of accessing this trail:
From Butter Gap: Rather than climb up Long Branch, just continue down to the rest of Butter and Cat. We'll cover directions to Butter in another post, it can be a bit tricky.
From Long Branch: You can either ride Long Branch in it's entirety or climb Searcey Creek Rd to the lower half of Long Branch, which dumps out at the bottom of Butter Gap. If you park at the hatchery, climb up Davidson River Trail until it reaches the road, go left at the road and Searcey Creek Rd is your first gate on the left. If you continue on, you'll climb a bit further to reach the top of Long Branch further up. In either case, the trail will intersect at the same point and you can take Long Branch down to Butter Gap.