Upper Sycamore Cove
Updated: Oct 4, 2019
Summary: One of the Pisgah "beginner" trails, this short loop is often ridden as an after work ride and consists of moderate singletrack climbing and a reasonably fast rooty descent, with a final section that leads through streams, roots, mud, and a small rock drop.
Difficulty: Pisgah Beginner - No major drops or features, but several off camber or narrow sections that can be tricky when wet. There is one eroded section after a switchback that may pose problems for new riders, but is short and easy to see coming.
Length/Elevation Change: 3.5 miles, 600ft with the Grassy Rd climb
Notable features: Starts with a bit of tricky, rooty climbing, then turns downhill some some narrow root sections. These climbing sections can be a bit tricky especially when wet. The most notable feature is after a tight right hand switchback, which is an eroded segment with a rut and several small drops. There are other small, rollable drops and awkward segments, but all have good sight lines and are easy to see coming.
The trail starts off at the intersection of Grassy, Lower Sycamore, and Upper Sycamore, where you'll see a Sycamore Cove sign. If you take the trail to the right, you will end up at Lower Sycamore, the left route continues climbing to Upper Sycamore.
It's worth noting at this point that Sycamore Cove can be a loop in itself, without grassy, however I generally do not do it this way, as it is a bit of a tough climb in either direction with some hike a bike sections, riding Grassy is much easier and more straightforward.
In this case, we'll take the left route at the intersection above. Starting on the climb, you'll begin to see a bit of what the Sycamore trails are like with these little patch of roots.
There are some tricky spots here, but nothing high consequence or that can't easily be walked or sessioned.
After conquering a few rootballs like the above, you'll come into this section where the trail opens up a bit:
The segment above is a good example of how to handle the rest of the trail. The line choices are either to go far left, down the center, or to the right. The temptation is to take the far right line, because it's the smoothest and sets you up for the corner better, but it can be deceiving mainly because it puts you so close to the edge of the trail.
On these sections, the option is to stay to the left (inside), where it's more awkward and technical, or take the outside line, which is smoother but runs along the edge. I generally stay left and take the more difficult line, because it gives you more room to maneuver (it's easier to move outside than back inside again) and it isn't as exposed. The "smooth" lines can be deceiving, because they are often along the edge of some other roots, that are more likely to push you away from them if you hit them or get off line. I'd rather go over the center of the root even if it's more work, which gives more room to move if needed.
At any rate, this will continue on/off briefly, until you reach another root segment:
This one used to be notable until someone cut out on of the off camber roots for whatever reason. Now, you can see a cutout of the most awkward root, which makes the rest an easier approach. In any case, this bit can be tricky, but the end of the climb is near:
This whole section took longer for me to write the description than it takes to ride it, so don't be too intimidated if you took a while to read this. The end, shown above, comes quicker than you expect, the root sections can just be a bit intimidating since it's somewhat of a steep climb to the top.
Once you reach the peak, you'll drop down through some tunnels, coming up on the first left hand turn:
The first segment to note is this little rut shortly after you start, which follows some benign roots. The temptation is to take the left line and drop into the rut, but I typically roll over the rock on the right to line up for the corner that follows. After you turn left, the trail will speed up a bit and you'll come up on a right hand turn that leads you into the segment below:
The photo above shows the start of a fairly long series of roots that are off camber. For true beginners, this section may pose a challenge or be intimidating, especially if they are wet.
The photo above shows the rest of the section. Most of the roots are low lying, small, and not of significance, but the quantity of them means this section can get slippery and want to push you right. As I described on the climb, my typical line is to stay further to the inside of the trail and go over the roots rather than try to make that relatively narrow and smooth, but higher consequence line to the right. Worst case, you can move further outside if you have to, but starting to the inside gives you more room to maneuver if you find it's needed.
After this, the trail opens up a fair bit and is fairly smooth without a lot of consequential features:
It can get pretty fast, but this trail is also hiked pretty regularly by locals, so please be mindful especially around blind corners. After a while of the smoother terrain, you'll come up on the next feature of note:
The right hand turn and awkward wall ride above isn't really something to note aside from where you are on the trail. Shortly after this section, you'll turn briefly left and hit the narrowest section of the trail:
This section is short, but narrow, and there aren't a ton of line choices. The roots on it are slightly off camber, there aren't enough of them to pose any real threat, but the narrowness of this section may intimidate some especially if it's wet.
Immediately following is a right hand turn that leads over one awkward root:
I typically aim left go roll over the larger section of the root, it's a bit rougher but gives you more room. After this, the trail will open up a bit again, until you reach an awkward tree gate:
The temptation here may be to go right, but it's narrow, the roots are off camber, and the segment of trail is exposed. I typically cut through the middle, but it can be really awkward and, even though I've ridden it many times, I still get caught up sometimes.
Shortly after this is a right hand turn, that ends in a straightaway section with a rock rollover:
The rock at the end of this photo is rollable on both sides, it's ramped on both sides, but it isn't trivial either:
As you can see on the backside of the rock shown above, it does drop off a little bit. It can be taken slow and rolled, but you'll need to make sure that you are comfortable allowing the bike rising into you on the run in and falling away on the other side. It's a great place to session, but no shame in walking either.
From here, the trail will S-turn a bit with some awkward root sections, but nothing considerable given what the trail has given us so far. Eventually, you'll come up to this switchback:
As with Lower Sycamore, the switchbacks indicate the most technical section of the trail is coming up. From here, there is a 4 part section we'll break down.
First, you have a little rock kicker trail right, shown below looking back:
You can ride around the jump, it's just something to note.
The next part is where the trail S-turns shallowly and drops down some small roots. If it's really wet or leafy, this bit can be hard to keep traction on:
The caution here is to not get too fast, because the segment that follows makes a sharp right hand turn before cutting left again, it's easy to lose traction and slide out if you are too fast. Following this smooth-ish bit, you run into the most considerable part:
Looking down at it isn't the best perspective, but does show the turn immediately after the awkward rut. Looking back, it's a bit easier to see why this is a notable segment:
There are two small-ish drops in the middle of the rut. The temptation may be to ride the side, trail right, but I'd recommend going down the center, as it provides a better channel for you to stay on your line rather than sliding out.
Immediately after is a right hand turn, which leads you into a left hand creek crossing and is the final portion of this segment:
From here, the trail opens up a bit until you take a right hand turn and come into another segment of root drops:
The smoothest line is to stay far left, but that line ends awkwardly. You could also stay far right, but similarly, it has an abrupt finish. I generally go down the middle. If you rode the rutted section previously, this shouldn't pose much of a challenge, but if you had trouble with any previous segments, it may be worth looking at.
Once again, the trail cuts left, rolls through some loose rocks, then continues down across a bridge.
There is a brief uphill pitch after the bridge, followed by another dip. More advanced riders can stay left after the bridge and send it off a little lip, but newer riders will want to stay right after the bridge. Shortly after, the trail will turn left across a creek crossing, then roll into another washed out section:
This section can stay fairly wet, but isn't really much to consider otherwise, just be aware of the right hand turn at the end, which cuts real close to a tree and can be a bit awkward. Following that left hand turn, you'll run into a little rocky skinny over a creek:
After the rock skinny, you'll run down a really fast section that's mostly straightaway and ends in a rock drop:
The drop shown above isn't very large, but is a great place to practice dropping off features at various speeds. It's maybe 2-3ft from lip to landing, it can also easily be rolled, but it is worth noting for beginners. You can see a better perspective on the size looking back at it:
There isn't really a ton to worry about here, just notable for being a good drop to practice on.
From here, the trail opens briefly before ending on a rock bridge and S-turn, which dumps out on 276 and ends Upper Sycamore.
Similar to Lower Sycamore, Upper Sycamore can be ridden as a Sycamore Cove loop by climbing Lower Sycamore, then finishing on Upper Sycamore. That's generally not the recommended route, though.
Most riders climb Grassy Rd to where it intersects with Sycamore Cove, then go left to climb up Upper and end on 276.