The winner of the best name for a trail system goes to Norton, Virginia's Flag Rock Area Trails, or as they call it: FRAT. Maybe I'm a bit biased since I was a fine young fraternity gentleman myself. But I digress.
Southwest Virginia has made a big push to develop and showcase the area's outdoor recreational opportunities. They have put a lot of that focus on developing OHV and other recreation trails and from what I've seen they're doing a fantastic job. Just like southeast KY, offroad trails aren't a silver bullet to the region's troubles - but they ain't gonna hurt so why not take the ball and run as far as we can with it?
Norton is right at an hour's drive from Pikeville KY so it would be easy to hit FRAT, the Breaks, and Sugarcamp Mountain in Prestonsburg in a weekend. Mountain biking in Coal Country is really seeing some good things happening and to that I say, "Cheers!" Do your part and go ride these places. Post about it. Send praise, the area needs it.
The namesake Flag Rock is accessible by a paved walk from a parking lot so you can just as easily leave the bike and take the family. It's also just on the other side of the mountain from the Devil's Bathtub - the most common route literally goes past the entrance to Flag Rock - and I guaran-damn-tee you've seen that pop up on your Facebook recently. Social media works.
Alright, on to the trails. You can get all the official information at frat.bike.
The entire Flag Rock Recreation Area is built on top of the mountain range that towers over the town. High Knob, accessible from FRRA, sits at 4,230 ft. The 8+ miles of trail I rode were all between 3100' and 3700' in elevation. Needless to say, the scenery was awesome and will be on another level when the leaves drop. A lot of the trails surround the two reservoirs also built on the mountain which just adds to the beauty.
As I mentioned, I rode a little over eight miles (including some meandering and some slight backtracking) which is the total amount of trail the City's website says they have. The kicker is that trails were literally being cut as I was riding and the group said they would be there well into October (over a month from the time of this post). The area has plenty of access to forest roads and plenty of mountain to build on. If they keep developing, this place could explode.
The first bit of my ride was spent just scoping out what's close to where I parked, right down from Flag Rock. Apparently I wasn't paying enough attention and instead of finding a trail to take up to the top of the mountain, I ended up on an access/service road used by the park. Whoops. Anyway, it was a direct route to the knob where Oak and Reservoir Trail intersect (albeit straight up the damn hill). I took the Reservoir Trail down from there which dumped me out at a trailhead next to the upper reservoir boat ramp.
From the trailhead, they had just developed some really nice, and unexpected singletrack; complete with rollers and berms that I wish I would have rode back up and sessioned a couple of times.
The Lake Lake Show takes you around the backside of the upper reservoir and dumps out to the dam. From there I took Reservoir Road to the lower reservoir dam. I haven't found the trail down to the lower dam spillway but it's there, somewhere. The overlook was pretty impressive, though.
Reservoir Road turns into Moonshiner's and this is where the backcountry trails begin. Moonshiner's is mostly an old timber road with a singletrack path through it, though it was mostly downhill. One of the double-black diamond trails, Lost Creek stems off of Moonshiner's. Being without a shuttle, I wasn't able to take Lost Creek (or the other double-black, Legion Park) because it appears to lead down off the mountain to the 4-lane by Norton.
Pickem Mountain was next. This trail was my favorite of the day. It wasn't particularly challenging nor did it have elevation loss but it was just so secluded and gave you that since of adventure that I love about mountain biking. There are some techy creek crossings and some scattered rock gardens but for the most part it's just simple, well built singletrack. Pickem also has some designated climbing areas and some pretty spectacular rock outcroppings.
Pickem takes you uphill to Forest Service Road 2420. This is grind-time. All uphill doubletrack that led me to the highest elevation of the day, just over 3700'. This is probably where some of the best views would be if the leaves were off. Most of FS-2420 follows a high ridge and I actually think it would be a hell of a place to just take the truck sometime and drive around.
After the long grind on FS-2420 you get treated to the best downhill of the day. Fern Gully and Grind Central combine to lose right around 350 vertical feet. Fern Gully is more or less a bench with drainage berms crossing the trail which makes for a fun jump session. Grind Central is designated single-black diamond, the only one on the map. This is narrow off-camber trail with rocks and roots scattered all over. You'll get dropped at Lake Lake Show (I passed by the junction when I started the loop) close to the upper dam.
I crossed the dam and hung a right, back into the woods which is still part of Lake Lake Show. Eventually Lake Lake transitions to Sugar Maple to zigzag back down to the road. This is a fun section of singletrack with some features and berms. They were also cutting in some more trail in this area. Sugar Maple put me out at a trailhead and shelter and concluded my ride.
I rode into town afterwards to grab a burger and a local Johnson City beer at Woodbooger Grill. The Woodbooger, as you may not know, is the local version of Bigfoot. The Grill is pretty well known for the area and I highly recommend it for a simple but good burger and fries.
I thoroughly enjoyed Flag Rock Area Trails. At just over 8 miles (but counting), it isn't a place to log the miles but linked with other trails in the area it would make for a great weekend. Drive over the mountain and hike to the Devil's Bathtub. I've done it, it's worth the hype. Or haul the moto bike and find some of the infinite miles of OHV trail in the area. SWVA is pretty happenin' for us outdoorsy folk so take advantage.