Thundering down a slope is the thrill many of us need. The rush of adrenaline is the reason that many riders keep coming back over and over again to Madison County, pushing ourselves to the limit and then finding that release as we finish the hill and begin the descend. I’ve been riding all my life on both roads and trails and Madison County has proven to be a truly perfect place to ride.
Madison County has been gaining traction as a high-quality biking destination that offers challenging and scenic riding. I’ve cataloged about a dozen distinct routes throughout the county that all provide different experiences for the rider and compensate for differing ability levels. Whether you prefer road cycling or getting out on the trails, Madison County has a route you’ll love.
Despite being a seasoned rider who craves adrenaline, I find that sometimes my most enjoyable rides are the ones that are the most peaceful. The River Road Ride (outlined below) is my favorite because it’s the kind of ride that both casual and experienced riders can enjoy. The route is particularly wonderful in the early morning or near sunset.
River Road Ride
Sun out, river flowing, and with the mountains in view, the River Road Ride will always be a one of the most scenic biking routes in Madison County. The route is an out-and-back starting in downtown Hot Springs and is about 14 miles in total. Here’s why it’s great:
1. It’s Easy
The best part about this route is how flat it is. It’s difficult to find flat routes when you live in the Appalachian Mountains but this route is one of the few. The River Road Ride is a route that nearly all ability levels can handle and will sandwich you between the mighty French Broad River and the beautiful Appalachian Mountains.
2. Immersed in Nature
The River Road Ride throws you into the beauty of Hot Springs and takes riders through varying rural landscapes that can’t be found in such a short stretch of road elsewhere.
The journey begins as riders leave going east out of Hot Springs on Bridge Street, over the French Broad River and then an immediate left onto Silvermine Road, which quickly turns into River Road. Riders will find themselves riding on a quiet, paved road overlooking the French Broad River, and then they’ll be plunged into farmlands for several miles. Large pastures with charming farmhouses dot this section of the route all while being silhouetted by the enchanting mountains.
Soon enough, however, River Road turns to gravel and riders meet up again with the French Broad River which the road clings to for this second chapter of the route. Once on the gravel section of River Road, I often find myself distracted by the sounds of the flowing river, the crunch of gravel under tire and the gentle wind blowing through the thick and ancient forest. Naturalists have acknowledged the rare diversity that exists in this section of the route as extremely unique. In particular, extremely rare butterflies can be found in this stretch, and if you’re an eagle-eyed rider with a bit of luck you may see some flutter across the road.
3. Low Traffic
What makes the River Road Ride so peaceful, however, is the lack of traffic that you’ll encounter on it. Very few cars travel all the way down River Road so riders can lose themselves in the sounds of nature and the beauty all around them without much effort. Weekends tend to have a few more car encounters so I’d recommend riding on River Road during the weekdays if able.
The gravel section of river road continues for approximately 3.5 miles until riders reach Paint Creek and the North Carolina/Tennessee Border. The Paint Creek Bridge is the official turn-around spot for riders interested in riding just the 14-mile River Road Ride. If you’re tempted to continue, however, check out Madison County Outdoors’ guide for the Paint Creek Loop – a 27 mile ride full of mountainous views and challenging, scenic hills.
Finishing a ride in Hot Springs is “the icing on the cake.” After loading up your bikes there are a number of great eateries in Hot Springs to grab a burger and some beer. My favorite post-ride spot is the Iron Horse Station or Spring Creek Tavern.
There is endless beauty in Madison County and in Hot Springs in particular. Riders have remarked that Madison County is one of the friendliest counties in the cycling community and it shows. Locals pride themselves on how breathtaking the views are around every corner, and cycling tourism continues to be a welcome sight.
For more information or to get the Strava link for the River Road Ride be sure to check out www.madisoncountyoutdoors.com where cyclists can see the many cycling, mountain-biking and off-road biking routes available in Madison County, NC.
–Written by Bill Downey, Administrator of Madison County Outdoors