The Cherokee National Forest lies along the western slopes of the Appalachians in East Tennessee. The Forest Service roads are gravel and dirt and are open to bicycles -- even the gated gravel roads. Most roads are graded, but there are some designated "off-road vehicle/4WD" roads that are rougher and steeper. Horse trails are also open to mountain bikers. There are a few single-track trails open to bicycles, but bicycles are not permitted on hiking trails. Check with the Forest Service office (423-476-9700) for current access restrictions.
Description: From Paint Creek campground (1690'), FS 31 climbs 5 miles to Hurricane Gap (2960'). From the gap, FS 467 descends 4.5 miles to US 25/70 (2230'), 2.9 miles from Hot Springs. Going right from the gap, in 0.1 mile a dirt road climbs to the left 1.4 miles to Rich Mountain fire tower (3670'). Continuing straight FS 422 rolls along the west face of the mountain. At mile 2.5 (3090') of FS 422, you have views into the French Broad valley. At mile 4 the road bed gets rockier, and at mile 6 (3100') you have another view of the French Broad. At mile 9.8 (2960') there is a trail up and to the left marked by two stubby posts, continue on the double track. At mile 10.2 (2920'), there is a gated grassy road to the right, continue left into the clearing and then back into the woods on the right, going steeply down a rutted 4WD descent to a clearing (2500') and the junction with FS 422A. Gravel FS 422A takes you back to FS 31 in 2.8 miles. The FS 422A junction with FS 31 (2200') is 1.9 miles from Paint Creek campground. At mile 4.2 (2300') along FS 31, FS 31B is a 3.4 mile, fairly level spur.
From Paint Creek campground, FS 41 provides an easy and scenic ride along Paint Creek 5.5 miles to Paint Rock (1260') and the French Broad River. Paint Rock Rd (River Rd) follows the river upstream 6.8 miles to Hot Springs (1360'). From Paint Rock you can take FS 54 3 miles up to Lone Pine Gap (2274'). FS 54 descends 2 miles to TN 107 at Pine Spring Church (1600'), 4.6 miles from Houston Valley rec area (1720'). From Lone Pine gap you can go left along the Pine Mountain Trail 1.5 miles up to the Chimney Rocks Trail (2600'). Descend Chimney Rocks 2 miles to the river (1250'), and take FS 209C and FS 209 3.6 miles back to TN 107 just east of the Houston Valley rec area. Here's more info on Chimney Rocks trail.
A mile west of the Houston Valley recreation area, a gravel road leaves TN 107 at Burnett Gap (2010') and climbs 2.6 miles to the Meadow Creek tower (2875'). You can loop back on the Gum Springs trail (1.3 miles) by going east 1 mile on the Meadow Creek Mountain trail. You can descend to Long Creek Road (1200') from the tower via FS 404 (7 miles), or west 5.7 miles along the Meadow Creek Mountain trail. This makes a nice 13 mile loop. Long Creek Road is accessed from TN 340 off of US 25/70, 2.7 miles west of TN 107.
More mountain biking in the Cherokee National Forest can be found to the north ( Horse Creek ).
Tennessee lookout towers