Explore Tennessee’s only EPIC-rated mountain biking ride

Photo courtesy of the International Mountain Bicycling Association / Mountain bikers ride along a steep section of Tennessee’s only EPIC-rated trail system, located in Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area.

Does "epic" sound like your speed? How about ripping on two wheels through the woods, where beautiful views, new challenges and immersive nature experiences abound? The International Mountain Bicycling Association can help you along in your search with a list of rides it denotes as EPIC, one of which resides right here in Tennessee.

What is an epic ride?

IMBA defines its EPIC-status trails as not only true backcountry riding experiences but also "...immersive rides that are technically and physically challenging, beautiful to behold and worthy of celebration." Each of the rides is at least 20 miles long and in a natural setting. Most of the trails are also singletracks -- meaning they are generally about the width of a bike. This list of iconic and adventurous places to mountain bike is crowdsourced annually.

Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area on Tennessee's northern border is home to the state's only IMBA EPIC-rated ride. The Big South Fork was the first national park to ever receive this designation. Although the 125,000-acre park has more than 300 miles of mountain biking and other trails, the EPIC ride consists of five trails around the Bandy Creek Campground: Collier Ridge, West Bandy, Duncan Hollow, Grand Gap Loop and John Muir trails. This totals about 34 miles. Each of the trails is connected with small gravel roads to make one large loop, beginning and ending at the Bandy Creek Visitor Center.

Throughout the ride, you will come across scenic views of the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River, numerous rock formations and stream crossings. You also will come across a few rock gardens, a section of trail that is littered with rocks, though the trail is maintained to be as beginner friendly as possible. Hikers and backpackers are also welcome on the singletrack trails.

The factor that makes these trails unique is the Big South Fork Bike Club and its alliance with the National Parks Service. The club is a loyal group of volunteers who "adopt, maintain, patrol and ride the mountain biking trails" within Big South Fork. Joe Cross of the BSF Bike Club says other units of the National Parks Service have even looked at Big South Fork as an example of good bike relations.

"What has helped us maintain a favorable relationship with the NPS at Big South Fork has been the constant effort of volunteers donating sweat equity into the routine maintenance of our trails," Cross says. "We have proven to be good stewards of our bike trails."

For more information about Big South Fork and mountain biking, visit bigsouthforkbike.org and nps.gov/biso/.