Passing Through: Johnson City, Tennessee

by Melonee Hurt

If you haven’t experienced East Tennessee’s newest mountain bike park, Tannery Knobs, you need to. But this fun new skills park isn’t the only biking hotspot in the area. We kicked around this fun mountain town for a weekend and can whole-heartedly recommend several good biking spots, great biker-friendly places to stay, and of course, some delish craft brews.

Ride

Located just a few miles from the heart of downtown Johnson City, Tannery Knobs is an easy bike ride from the city center. There’s a beast of a climb to get up to the top of Tannery, but the trails and pump track that await at the top are worth it.

At the bottom of Tannery is a rails-to-trails project called the Tweetsie Trail that is a fun 10-mile paved, flat ride that takes you into the small neighboring town of Elizabethton. Many locals credit the development of this trail with igniting a spike in cycling overall in this area.

If you are looking for some more off-road riding, there are several options close by, including Winged Deer Park, Buffalo Mountain and, if you have time for a 30-minute drive over to Kingsport, there’s Warrior’s Path State Park.

Winged Deer features a nice mix of pro- and volunteer-built off-road goodness. This park offers a true beginner trail as well as a rocky advanced trail, which make it a great stop for groups with different skill levels.

If you are up for straight-up, monster climbing, head over to Trail #29 at Buffalo Mountain. It shares access with motorized vehicles, but Chad Wolfe, owner of the Trek store in Johnson City, says he’s noticed an uptick of folks coming over from North Carolina to ride 29.

“It seems to be gaining traction (pun intended) as one of the most rugged and challenging trails around,” he said. “It’s a monster climb, with serious rock to keep just about anyone on their toes.”

A fire tower sits at the top of Buffalo that provides a spectacular view of the area. For a slightly easier challenge, you can ride up Forest Road 188 and then ride down 29 or back down 188.

Warrior’s Path offers a technical, cross-country single track that is pretty sweet. Back in Johnson City, after you hit Tannery, Buffalo and the Tweetsie Trail, kick around East Tennessee State University’s trail network that offers a punchy, classic, single track right in town. These trails are rideable from Tannery or anywhere else in downtown.

Stay

While you are in Johnson City, the perfect place to stay for any mountain bikers is Tannery Flats, which literally sit right on the Tannery grounds. As Wolfe says, “the trails aren’t in your backyard, they ARE your backyard.” The Flats are brand new and super cool.

The Carnegie Hotel is another great option in town and literally across the street from ETSU, so it is bikeable and/or walkable to Tannery and the ETSU trail system.

Refuel

For post-ride libations, Yee Haw Brewing is a must. Attached to White Duck Taco Shop, this complex has a large, open patio. The tacos (we love the Thai Peanut Chicken and then Bangkok Shrimp) and cold craft beer will be a welcome treat after shredding up the trails. If you land at JRH Brewing just down the street, you can sample the Tannery Knobs IPA.

Willow Tree Coffee House and Music Room is open early, has bike racks, and is a perfect post-morning ride destination since you literally ride right past it on your way to Tannery Knobs from downtown.

The Atlantic Ale House is also a popular spot for bikers being located right next door to quite possibly the coolest bike shop, Trek Johnson City. Stop in and see Chad and his crew. They are about the biggest champions of cycling you will ever encounter, and the store is a fabulous adaptive reuse of a beautiful 94-year-old rehabbed downtown building.

This gang is the genius behind the now-legendary “Taco Trek” and “Bikin’ and Eggs” community rides that draw several hundred bikers out for a ride and some choice grub.

If you embark on the Tweetsie Trail, while heading towards Elizabethton, stop in to Jiggy Ray’s Pizza or Riverside Taphouse in downtown Elizabethton.  This trek is 15 miles round trip and very family friendly.

Located midway between Knoxville, Tennessee and Asheville, N.C., Johnson City is on the fast track to becoming a solid biking destination.