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Trail Guide: Mountain Biking Kitsuma Trail in Old Fort, NC

Your complete guide to mountain biking NC’s Kitsuma Trail in Old Fort. Find route recommendations, how to shuttle, what to expect, & more!

Stretch of singletrack on Kitsuma Trail in North Carolina surrounded by lush green foliage

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For me, a great mountain bike trail (and thus a great mountain bike ride) must include a few things: a variety of terrain to keep things interesting, beautiful scenery and landscapes, and a decent descent for the amount of climbing (very important). The Kitsuma Trail in Old Fort, North Carolina checks all these boxes.

A classic for local riders and a must-ride for visitors, the Kitsuma mountain bike trail is a 4-mile (mostly) downward descent on the slopes of Kitsuma Peak. But be prepared to earn your turns. The climb up to Kitsuma is a bit of a grind whether you decide to take the paved greenway or machine-built singletrack. Or… you can opt for a shuttle but then you don’t get the ‘full’ Kistuma experience :).

Read on to learn more about how to plan your ride and what to expect on this iconic trail.

Kitsuma Trail at a Glance

The stats below are for pedaling up the paved greenway. There are several other options for getting to the top – see below.

  • Location: Old Fort, NC
  • Trail network: Kitsuma Peak
  • Distance: 10.2 miles
  • Rideable time: 100%
  • Fitness level: Very good
  • Skill level: Advanced
  • e-bikes? No
  • Ride style: Enduro
  • Elevation gain: 1,857 ft
  • Elevation loss: 1,857 ft
  • High point: 3,150 ft
  • Singletrack: 50%
  • Ride time: 3-4 hours
  • Ease of navigation: Easy**

*As measured by my Garmin Fēnix watch
**I always recommend having TrailForks or MTB Project downloaded to your phone

Watch the Singletrack Sampler rip down Kitsuma

Important Things to Know

Mountain biking the Kitsuma trail is awesome, but there are a few things to know before hitting the trail:

  • e-bikes are NOT allowed: Like most of the trails and trail networks in Western North Carolina, e-bikes are not allowed on Kitsuma Trail. Please respect this.
  • The climbing is stout: Depending on whether you take the paved greenway or the parallel Bernard Mountain Singletrack, there is quite a bit of climbing to get to the start of Kitsuma Trail and even more once at the beginning of it. Eat a good breakfast and take some snacks.
  • Watch out for hikers: Kitsuma Trail is a popular trail with hikers. Please stay in control and be alert on blind corners.
Trail sign for Kitsuma Peak Trail in North Carolina
This is the trail sign at the bottom of Kitsuma Trail at the picnic area. You do not want to pedal up this way unless you like to suffer.

What to expect

Kitsuma mountain bike trail has a bit of everything (as would be expected for a trail in Pisgah National Forest – the land of ‘you never know what’s coming’).

Here are a few things to expect on your first run down:

  • A steep climb at the start: Even if you’re shuttling, brace yourself for a steep climb at the start of the Kitsuma mtb trail. If you’re not shuttling, expect at least an hour of pedaling up, up, and up.
  • Fast flow mixed with steep chunder: The Kitsuma Trail really has it all from fast, flowy sections to some pretty steep and raw stretches, particularly near the bottom.
  • Small to medium drops: These come up fast near the top. Always scope before you send.
A medium-sized rock drop on Kitsuma mountain bike trail in North Carolina
A medium-sized drop just after dropping in from the top of Kitsuma Peak

Kitsuma Trail Map

Kitsuma runs parallel to Route 40 just outside of Old Fort, North Carolina. The climb at the start takes you up to Kitsuma Peak where you can look out over Marion County.

Kitsuma on Trailforks.com
Mountain bike leaned against tree at top of Kitsuma Peak in North Carolina. Views are obstructed by trees
This is the ‘lookout’ near the top of the Kitsuma climb. It’s not the best viewpoint in North Carolina, but still pretty nice!

Three Ways to Ride Kitsuma mTB Trail

There are three ways to ride Kitsuma Trail depending on your fitness levels and motivation.

In the order of less pedaling to the most pedaling:

1. Shuttle it

The Kitsuma mountain bike trail can easily be shuttled. If you have two cars, you can shuttle yourself by parking one car at the bottom parking area and driving the second car up to the Kitsuma Peak parking area at the top.

If you don’t have two cars or don’t want to shuttle yourself, Mountaintop Shuttles provides weekend shuttles (Saturdays and Sundays only) up to the Kitsuma trailhead.

The shuttle drive time is about 15-20 minutes.

2. Pedal up the Point Lookout Trail Greenway

If you want to pedal up to Kitsuma, the ‘easiest’ way is to take the 3.5-mile paved Point Lookout Trail from the bottom parking area to Mill Creek Rd. at the top. From there, it’s an easy road pedal to the start of Kitsuma Trail.

I actually enjoyed the pedal up the paved greenway. The grade is mellow and it’s a scenic ride through beautiful North Carolina forest.

(Note: when I rode this route, my mileage was 10.4 with 1,860 ft of climbing which is a little different than what TrailForks says).

Kitsuma on Trailforks.com
Paved Point Lookout Trail Greenway in North Carolina lined with lush green foliage
The paved greenway will take you most of the way to the start of Kitsuma Trail. It’s actually quite a nice, mellow pedal

3. Pedal up Bernard Mountain Trail

Bernard Mountain Trail is a new machine-built trail that parallels the Point Lookout Greenway. If you’re looking for extra miles and extra climbing, this route is for you. It will add about 400 ft of climbing and 1.1 miles.

If you choose this route, it is a pretty big ride (11.5 miles with 2,200 ft of climbing), so be prepared with lots of water, snacks, and daylight.

Best time to ride Kitsuma Trail

Mountain bikers can ride Kitsuma Trail year-round, but the best months are spring and fall for cool temps and nice weather.

Winters can be cold and rainy while summers can be brutally hot and humid.

Photo out over front of mountain bike handlebars onto Kitsuma mountain bike trail in North Carolina

Post-Ride Enjoyment

Old Fort is actually a cool little town with some good restaurants, breweries, and local color.

Here are a few things to do post-ride:

  • Grab a beer and some food at Hillman Brewery
  • Sample a second beer at Whaley Farm Brewery
  • Go swimming in one of the rivers or creeks. (I don’t know of any specific swimming holes, but you can dunk in Mill Creek or one of the other rivers around Old Fort).

Final Thoughts

I really enjoyed my ride on Kitsuma. The pedal to the top is a bit of a grind and there is a final steep section to get up to Kitsuma Peak, but the downhill is worth it. Fun, fast, flowy singletrack through the woods with a few technical spots and drops sprinkled in. It’s a blast!

Kitsuma is a classic for the area, so if you’re visiting western North Carolina, be sure to add this one to your bike-it list.


Looking for more rides in Western North Carolina? Check out these related blog posts:

Have you mountain biked the Kitsuma Trail? What did you think? Which route to the top did you take? Leave a comment below!

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