A Few “Best Rides”

Riders on the Neuse River Trail near Clayton, NC


By Adam Searing

Chapel Hill and Carrboro have much to offer, but it isn’t always easy to find the best suggestions for bicycling. Everyone has his or her own favorite rides, so below are a few of my own.

I’d suggest making sure you have Google Maps on your phone — it has a bicycling function that clearly shows greenways and bike lanes. The other issue is that Raleigh and Durham unfortunately have us beat hands down for greenway systems, making my “long ride” choice requiring an out of town trip. And as always, remember to wear your helmet.

Best ride with kids

This would have to be the very popular Bolin Creek Trail starting at the Community Center off Estes Drive in Chapel Hill near University Place. Parking by the playground is a great way to start or end any ride with plenty of traditional play equipment coupled with tons of safe open space to run around in and a thorn-heavy rose garden with brick pathways just to keep things interesting.

The Bolin Creek Trail now extends all the way to Umstead Park and into Carrboro on Tanyard Branch, exiting near Northside Elementary School. After 25 years, the critical connection under Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard is currently under construction and will be finished soon. Parents can leave their bikes at this point on the trail and ascend a dirt path up to Chapel Hill’s Caffé Driade if they are in need of extra energy.

Chapel Hill’s Greene Tract offers great “secret” mountain bike trails and hiking.

Best secret mountain bike ride

If you ride mountain bikes you probably know about UNC’s Carolina North trail system. But did you know there is an additional six miles or so of great single-track trail near UNC’s property? The town and county-owned Greene Tract Forest has 160 spectacular acres of rolling hills, small creeks, huge oaks and other hardwoods and some amazing trails. Hiking is popular as well among the small number of people who know about this resource. Either ride this connector trail from Carolina North or park here at Larkspur and Weaver Dairy Extension. The trail is behind the fire hydrant and over the railroad tracks. The group Friends of the Greene Tract provides a detailed trail map here.

Best 50 mile+ greenway ride

No, it’s not going up and down Durham’s great American Tobacco Trail. Despite the well-deserved popularity of this trail going into Durham, this rails-to-trails conversion can get a little monotonous if you head for miles south through a beautiful but unending tunnel of trees.

Rather, start at a North Carolina’s amazing state NC Museum of Art in Raleigh. Make sure you are using Google Maps with the bicycle trail function turned on and you see you can make a lollipop loop south of downtown Raleigh on the Walnut Creek Trail all the way to the Neuse River Trail and then down to Clayton. Heading back take the Crabtree Creek Trail from Anderson Park on the Neuse and return north of downtown.

This is a challenging loop that will require some navigation and strong legs. However, the pleasure of riding side by side and not worrying about automobile traffic is heavenly. Combine that with spectacular Neuse River landscapes, amazing outdoor art and a quick stop at Lassiter Mill Park, this is an epic not to be missed.

Best early morning road bike loop

It’s gotten much busier with automobile traffic since I started riding out here in 1980, but the classic “Beaver Dam” road loop starts as you depart either Carrboro or Chapel Hill at Calvander. Continue on Dairyland Road past the amazing Maple View Ice Cream and turn right at Dodsons Crossroads.

Continue to Borland Road, take a right, and scream down the huge speed-inducing hill to Arthur Minnis, where you will take another right and then a left on Union Grove Church Road to head back.

Depending on your start you can get in 20 miles, but variations using Orange Grove Road and many other rural routes allow far greater distances. Have fun, respect traffic and go as early as possible!

Adam Searing is a lifetime resident of Chapel Hill, a mountain bike coach and attorney. 

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