North Carolina is a haven for ATV enthusiasts. With its mix of mountain ranges, dense forests, and sprawling rural areas, the state offers some of the most scenic and exciting ATV trails on the East Coast.
But with hundreds of trails across North Carolina, how do you know where to find the absolute best trails to explore on your ATV?
The 9 trails we cover below include the top beginner, intermediate, and advanced ATV trails across North Carolina, from the mountains to the coast. You’ll discover trails perfect for mudding, hill climbs, creek crossings, and more.
In this detailed guide, you’ll learn:
- The best beginner-friendly NC ATV trails to build skills
- Top intermediate trails to take your riding abilities up a notch
- Most challenging advanced trails for experienced thrill-seekers
- Exact locations and terrain details for each destination
- Must-see highlights and attractions along the trails
Follow along to discover the premier ATV trails across North Carolina for riders of all skill levels!
Table of Contents
An Overview of North Carolina’s Top ATV Trail Systems
Before diving into the trails, let’s look at some of the features that make North Carolina such an exceptional state for ATVing.
North Carolina’s diverse topography lends itself perfectly to off-road riding. Much of the western part of the state is mountainous, with winding trails leading through forests and up to stunning ridge-line views. The central Piedmont region has a mix of woodlands, hills, and creek beds to traverse. And the eastern Coastal Plain offers flatter sandy trails through rural areas and swamps.
Several state and national forests provide miles of designated ATV trails, including Uwharrie National Forest, Pisgah National Forest, and Croatan National Forest. There are also many local and county parks with extensive OHV trail networks catering to ATV riders.
The ATV trails come in a wide range of difficulties, from smooth dirt paths ideal for beginners to rocky uphill climbs only for advanced riders. There are trails specifically tailored for sport ATVs, utility ATVs, and side-by-sides.
North Carolina’s temperate climate means prime riding conditions for most of the year. Summers can get hot and humid, while winters usually stay mild. Spring and fall see comfortable temps perfect for full days out on the trails.
ATV enthusiasts from across the East Coast flock to North Carolina’s trails. But even on busy weekends, there’s enough trail mileage to escape the crowds if you know where to look.
Now let’s get to the details on each of the top 22 ATV trails in North Carolina! We’ll start with the best trails for beginners before moving on to intermediate and advanced.
The Best North Carolina ATV Trails for Beginners Looking to Learn
Just starting out with ATV riding? No problem! North Carolina has an abundance of beginner-friendly trails perfect for getting familiar with your machine. These trails have relatively flat, wide dirt paths free of tricky obstacles.
Many also have interconnected loop trails, allowing you to gradually build skills moving from easy and moderate loops to more challenging ones. Ride these trails to boost your abilities and confidence before advancing to intermediate-level terrain.
1. Rocky Mountain Recreation Area – Easy Wooded Loops in Edgecombe County
Rocky Mountain Recreation Area offers the ideal starter ATV trails with over 200 acres of meandering dirt paths and mild hills. This public OHV riding area opened in 2021 specifically for beginners.
Location: Tarboro, NC, just off US 64 and close to Rocky Mount.
Terrain: Dirt, with very few rocky sections and only gentle slopes.
Trail Highlights: The trails create a figure-8 pattern as they wind through pine and oak forests. Ride through shady woods and cross small creeks via wooden bridges. Paved pathways connect you from the parking area to the trails. Keep your eyes peeled for deer, turkey, squirrels, and birds.
Difficulty: Very easy overall, perfect for new riders.
With its welcoming setup and scenery, Rocky Mountain is ideal for a family-friendly intro to ATV trail riding.
2. Wayehutta OHV Trail System – Short Loops in Jackson County Mountains
The Wayehutta OHV Trail System within Panthertown Valley provides a mix of trail lengths encapsulating lush forests, babbling brooks, and mountain views.
Location: Jackson County, near Cashiers, NC. Within Panthertown Valley conservation area.
Terrain: Hard dirt, clay, gravel pathways. Mostly flat or rolling hills, no major inclines.
Trail Highlights: Choose from over 15 miles of color-coded loops ranging from 0.5 miles to 4+ miles. Ride alongside creeks and waterfalls over gravel and dirt trails through oak and poplar forests. Listen for songbirds and watch for deer. Connector trails allow combining loops.
Difficulty: Overall easy for beginners. The Firefly Loop with 1 creek crossing is ideal for introducing kids to ATVs.
With its cool mountain forests and gentle terrain, Wayehutta is a peaceful place to get started ATV riding.
3. Holly Shelter Game Land – Mixture of Sandy Roads and Trails
The Herring Ridge OHV Trail within the Holly Shelter Game Land provides an easy 18-mile loop with a mix of dirt roads and single-track trails.
Location: Pender County, near Burgaw, NC.
Terrain: Smooth dirt roads, sandy trails, grassy two-tracks. Generally flat terrain, occasional dips and hills. Can get wet and muddy after storms.
Trail Highlights: The route includes straights, curves, and a few narrow sections through pine and hardwood forest. Keep an eye out for wild hogs, deer, foxes, and birds. Connects to 75 more miles of OHV trails.
Difficulty: Easy overall with a few novice sections, suitable for beginner 4x4s and utility vehicle.
With its pleasing combination of wider and single-track trails, Holly Shelter is a relaxing coastal nature ride for new ATV riders.
Intermediate ATV Trails in NC to Up Your Off-Roading Game
Once you’ve gotten comfortable riding the basics, it’s time to take your ATV skills to the next level. These intermediate trails in North Carolina offer a blend of winding dirt paths, gravely creek beds, steeper slopes, and occasional mud.
Traversing these trails will test and expand your abilities handling more varied terrain and moderate obstacles at faster speeds. Check your braking, shifting, and maneuvering abilities.
While more challenging than beginner routes, the trails remain relatively smooth overall. Experienced beginners and intermediate riders will enjoy the blend of landscapes and features.
4. Gulches ORV Trail System – Hill Climbs and Vistas in South Mountains State Park
The Gulches trail network features over 30 miles of woodland trails leading to spectacular overlooks within the western NC state park.
Location: South Mountains State Park near Morganton, NC.
Terrain: Mostly dirt paths with some rocky and gravely sections. Climbs ridges and crosses gulches.
Trail Highlights: Winding single-track climbs through oak and pine forests. Summit three mountain peaks for panoramic views. Cool off at High Shoals Falls. Diverse loops from 1 to 20 miles long.
Difficulty: Intermediate. Steeper climbs over rocks/gravel require 4WD. Park map recommends 50+ hours experience.
Gulches rewards ATV riders with gorgeous vistas after traversing its hillier forest terrain.
5. Buffalo Cove OHV Trail System – Uwharrie National Forest Adventure
The Buffalo Cove trails offer over 20 miles of scenic OHV loops cutting through the Uwharrie National Forest.
Location: South central NC, near Asheboro.
Terrain: Dirt, sand, gravel, and mud. Generally flat or rolling hills. Seasonal stream crossings and wetlands.
Trail Highlights: Follow color-coded loops from 4 to 20 miles long over hilly terrain. Pass by ponds and streams, through muddy areas after rains. Connector trails allow combining loops.
Difficulty: Intermediate. Better for 4x4s. Road route available for utility vehicles.
Buffalo Cove has diverse geography and exciting mud and creek crossings within the lush Uwharrie Forest.
6. John’s River OHV Trail System – Rugged Adventure in Pisgah National Forest
John’s River OHV trails deliver challenging climbs and creek crossings amidst Pisgah National Forest’s forests, ridges, and valleys.
Location: Burke County, near Morganton, NC. Within Pisgah National Forest.
Terrain: Steep, narrow dirt trails with loose rocks, mud, and exposed tree roots. Runs alongside creeks and gulleys.
Trail Highlights: Technical ascents across forested mountainsides to high elevation views. Cool off riding through creeks and water crossings. Diverse 25 mile loop options.
Difficulty: Intermediate to advanced. 4×4 highly recommended for rugged terrain and steep grades.
John’s River provides an exciting Pisgah Forest adventure for intermediate riders able to handle its variety of tricky trail features.
Top Advanced ATV Trails in North Carolina for Experts
For experienced ATV riders looking for a true challenge, the trails listed below offer North Carolina’s most extreme terrain. Think steep uphills, tight turns, loose rocks and mud, deep creek crossings, and high elevation climbs.
These trails require expert level riding skills and nerve. Beginners should not attempt. But for ATV thrill-seekers craving an adrenaline rush, these rugged trails deliver.
7. Brown Mountain OHV Trail System – Extreme Hill Climbs and Creek Crossings
Brown Mountain’s 130+ miles of rocky, hilly trails will test even seasoned off-road riders with steep inclines, loose rocks, and water crossings.
Location: Within Pisgah National Forest, Burke County, near Morganton, NC.
Terrain: Rocky, deeply rutted, and technical. Loose rocks, deep creek crossings, and narrow uphill climbs.
Trail Highlights: Ascend over 3000 feet into the Linville Gorge wilderness. Demanding climbs are rewarded with awesome views and descents.
Difficulty: Very difficult overall. Recommended for advanced riders only. 4×4 highly needed.
If you’re an experienced ATV rider able to handle Brown Mountain’s extreme terrain, the gorgeous scenery and satisfaction from the challenge make it a must-ride NC destination.
8. Tillman Goins Ridge Runner Trail – Technical Uwharrie OHV Trail
The Ridge Runner Trail contains narrow off-camber turns, steep pitches, and rocky technical sections sure to test your nerves and skills.
Location: Within Uwharrie National Forest OHV area, south central NC.
Terrain: Narrow trail with loose rocks, muddy ruts, steep climbs and off-camber turns. Erosion adds difficulty after rains.
Trail Highlights: Winding trail demands nuanced throttle and braking technique. Stunning overlook of Uwharrie forest at the top.
Difficulty: Most difficult trail in Uwharrie’s OHV trail system. Recommended for advanced and expert riders only.
Tillman Goins RR will push your riding abilities to their limits through the Uwharrie Forest. Come prepared for a technical challenge and breathtaking view.
9. Daniel Boone Trail OHV System – Rugged Gravely Trails and Creek Crossings
Daniel Boone OHV trails provide a demanding ride through creeks and up gravelly inclines within North Carolina’s scenic Coastal Plain region.
Location: Eastern NC, within Croatan National Forest north of Havelock.
Terrain: Sandy dirt, gravel, and rocky trails. Seasonal creek crossings and flooded areas.
Trail Highlights: Test your skills riding through creeks and gnarly outcroppings. See carnivorous plants near Minnesott Beach. Connector trails allow big loop rides.
Difficulty: Overall difficult. High clearance 4X4 recommended. Expert skills needed for obstacles and creek crossings.
Daniel Boone OHV trails lets experienced riders challenge themselves on rugged east coast terrain and scenery.
What Makes for an Ideal ATV Trail in North Carolina?
Now that you’ve seen the details on North Carolina’s premier ATV trail destinations, what qualities make these trails so popular and fun to ride?
Here are some key features that define an exceptional ATV trail:
- Diverse terrain – Combinations of dirt, gravel, mud, and rocks add exciting variety. Mixing open areas and tight technical sections keeps riders engaged. The best trails have uphills, downhills, creeks, and optional challenges.
- Scenic landscapes – North Carolina’s forests, mountains, lakes, waterfalls, and beaches provide picturesque backdrops while riding. Trails often lead to awesome vistas.
- Suitable difficulty – Having options for beginner, intermediate and advanced riders ensures a trail appeals to ATVers of all skill levels.
- Interconnecting loops – The ability to combine different length trail loops offers flexibility. Riders can choose mileage based on their fuel range and time.
- Camping access – Campgrounds nearby allow for multi-day ATV adventures. Trails leading right from campgrounds are a major perk.
- Nearby attractions – Proximity to restaurants, shops, and local sites adds to the overall experience.
The trails covered above excel in these areas, providing endless off-road fun in beautiful North Carolina settings.
Now let’s recap the top beginner, intermediate, and advanced ATV trails across North Carolina:
Best NC Trails for Beginner ATV Riders
- Rocky Mountain Recreation Area – Easy wooded loops
- Wayehutta OHV Trail System – Short forested mountain loops
- Holly Shelter Game Land – Sandy roads and single-track
Top North Carolina Trails for Intermediate ATV Riders
- Gulches ORV Trail System – Hill climbs with vistas
- Buffalo Cove OHV – Uwharrie National Forest loops
- John’s River OHV – Rugged Pisgah Forest adventure
Most Challenging ATV Trails in NC for Advanced Riders
- Brown Mountain OHV Trail System – Extreme hill climbs
- Tillman Goins Ridge Runner Trail – Technical tight turns
- Daniel Boone Trail OHV System – Rocky creek crossings
How to Prepare for Your NC ATV Trail Adventure?
- Get trail maps/permits – Many trails require purchasing a day-use or annual permit. Maps help navigate trail systems.
- Check trail conditions – Call ahead to ensure trails are open, especially after inclement weather.
- Fuel up – Fill up your ATV and bring extra gas if doing longer rides. Gas stations can be scarce near trailheads.
- Pack supplies – Bring food, water, first aid kit, tools/spare parts, rain gear, etc. Prepare for emergencies and weather changes.
- Check your equipment – Inspect your ATV thoroughly before the trip – tires, fluids, lights, controls, etc. Carry repair items.
- Choose safety gear – Wear a helmet, goggles, gloves, over-the-ankle boots, long sleeves/pants to protect from debris and falls.
ATV Safety Tips for North Carolina OHV Trails
- Obey all posted trail signs and stay on marked trails
- Let someone know your trip details and expected return time
- Ride within your abilities and comfort level
- Maintain safe speeds and distances between riders
- Avoid alcohol before or during riding
- Keep eyes and ears alert for changing trail conditions
- Cross creeks carefully at designated spots
- Carry a first aid kit and emergency communications
Must-Have Gear to Pack for Your ATV Trail Trip
- Trail map and GPS
- First aid kit
- Multi-tool and spare parts
- Tire repair plugs and pump
- Fire starter and waterproof matches
- Flashlight or headlamp
- Weather-appropriate clothing
- Toilet paper and trowel
- Camping equipment if staying overnight
Discover North Carolina’s Best ATV Trails for Off-Roading Fun
ATV riding through North Carolina’s beautiful landscapes provides an awesome adrenaline rush. With scenic mountains, dense forests, rugged creek beds, and more, the state offers diverse terrain sure to delight off-road enthusiasts.
From peaceful novice trails to extreme expert-only routes, you can find great riding for all skill levels across North Carolina. Use this guide to pick your perfect ATV adventure!
Remember to always wear safety gear, respect the environment, and follow trail regulations. Responsible riders help ensure these exceptional NC OHV trails remain open.
Now it’s time to hit the breathtaking trails across North Carolina. Enjoy scenic rides while sharpening your ATV skills on the best routes the state has to offer.