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Can You Mountain Bike the Appalachian Trail?

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The Appalachian Trail is one of the most beautiful networks of trails in the world.  However, this 2,200 mile trail extending between Maine and Georgia is a hiking-only trail.

So the short answer is that no, you can’t bike the Appalachian Trail.

Setting the Scene

Imagine this, if you will: You’re perched atop your trusty mountain bike, heart pounding like a drum, peering down an ancient, rugged trail that snakes its way through the verdant Appalachian wilderness. The cool, forest-scented air fills your lungs as you mentally prep yourself for the exhilarating, bone-rattling adventure that lies ahead. Can you hear the wild call of the Appalachian Trail (AT) from your two-wheeled steed?

A Reality Check: The Rules of the Trail

But hold your horses! Let’s not jump the gun here. Before you kick up dust and let gravity be your guide, there’s a vital question that needs addressing: Can you actually mountain bike the Appalachian Trail? In a nutshell, the answer is more of a “nope” than a “yup”.

According to the current guidelines set by the National Park Service (NPS) and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), biking on the AT is, in fact, a big no-no. The trail, a revered hiking path that stretches more than 2,100 miles from Georgia to Maine, is designed and maintained primarily for foot traffic. This means that you, my daredevil friend, would be flouting the rules if you were to tackle the AT on two wheels.

Why the Pedal Prohibition?

You might be scratching your head, wondering, “But why such a bummer of a rule?” It’s not just some arbitrary commandment etched in stone. There’s rhyme and reason behind this ban on biking.

The AT, an iconic footpath conceived in 1921, was not constructed with the intention of accommodating mountain bikes. The trail is narrow, and in parts, as steep as a preacher’s pulpit. So, introducing mountain bikes into the mix could lead to conflicts with hikers, potential damage to the trail, and increased risk of accidents. Safety first, right?

Much of the Appalachian Trail is off limits to trail bicycles, mountain bikes, motor vehicles, and other motorized off road vehicles are not permitted. There are times of the year when you are allowed to ride in parts of the Pennsylvania State Gamelands and you may be as close as 200 feet of the Appalachian Trail. But you can’t bike on the trail itself.

Alternatives for Adventure-Seekers

Alright, let’s wipe off that frown. All is not lost, intrepid mountain bikers! While the AT might be a no-go, there are a ton of other gnarly trails that are fair game.

The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, for instance, is an epic trail that might quench your thirst for adventure. Clocking in at a whopping 2,774 miles, it’s the longest off-pavement route in the world, extending from Banff, Alberta, Canada all the way down to Antelope Wells, New Mexico.

Closer to the AT, you could check out the Virginia Mountain Bike Trail or the Tsali Trails in North Carolina. These trails offer a blend of challenge and scenic beauty that can rival the AT, minus the rule-breaking.

Conclusion: Respect the Rules, Revel in the Ride

So, in short, you can’t mountain bike the Appalachian Trail. But don’t let that rain on your parade. There’s a whole wide world of trails out there just itching for your tires to tread them. Respect the rules, saddle up, and ride on! Let the wind whip through your hair, the adrenaline pulse through your veins, and the beauty of nature unfurl before your very eyes. The adventure is out there, just waiting for you to pedal towards it!

Just remember to be prepared for those long trails.  You’ll want to have water but also things like a toolset and a first aid kit.  See my article on what to bring on long outings and my checklist of 12 essential items to bring in your backpack of gear.  Like a boy scout, be prepared and you’ll have a better time with fond memories.

About the Author

Tony K

Senior Technical Writer, MountainBikeExperience.com

Tony K is a technical editor at MountainBikeExperience.com. He has a focus on downhill bike riding but still loves xc bikes too.

With more than ten years of mountain biking experience and more than 5 years testing mountain bikes, Tony has ridden and tested hundreds of different bikes and products, everything from XC to enduro bikes. Tony regularly competes in mountain bike races while seeing how long those compontents can hold up which gives me a lot of insight.

When he isn't shredding down a mountain or camping out, he is writing reviews for Mountain Bike Experience.

Rides: Surly Lowside, Canyon Exceed