Mountain Creek Park Technical MTB Ride

Mountain Creek Park Technical MTB Ride

Published: September 19, 2023

2023 is the Year of the Trail in North Carolina and we invite you to spend it at Catawba County Parks! This series of articles will help you do that with details on suggested routes across our four parks. Our next feature is a technical MTB ride at Mountain Creek Park.

Ride Statistics:
     Distance: 2.25 miles plus 5.25 miles to access technical trails, with numerous add-on options 
     Estimated Time: 1 hour (includes ride time to/from trailhead)
     Elevation Gain: >200 feet 
     Difficulty: Intermediate to Advanced 

Ride Overview:
Mountain Creek Park, located on the northwestern tip of Lake Norman, features an extensive multi-use trail network designed to optimize mountain biking. This 2.25-mile ride incorporates the park’s two most advanced trails rated blue/black, which are fast and flowy with opportunities to catch air over technical features such as rollers, jumps and drops. Access to and from the expert trails adds an additional 5.25 miles, with the option to extend the ride further onto numerous trails of varying difficulty. Note: Trails at Mountain Creek Park close to biking and hiking based on wet conditions for both safety and trail conservation. To see current trail status prior to your ride, please visit us on Facebook @CatawbaCountyParksNC, on Instagram @catawbacountyparks, or check out the Tarheel Trailblazers trail status page. You may also call the park office at (828) 465-9645.

Directions to Trailhead:
From Newton, travel south on NC Hwy 16 to Buffalo Shoals Road and turn left. In 0.6 miles, turn right onto Little Mountain Road and proceed 4.8 miles to the entrance of Mountain Creek Park on the left. From the park entrance, follow the signs for the Lower Trailhead and MTB Skill Area, circling around the roundabout for a left turn up to the lower parking lot. 

This ride begins at the bridge over Mountain Creek to the park’s north side, accessed by following the 5.25-mile ride described in detail in the Loblolly Loop Ride trip report, which starts at the trailhead for Terrells Folly next to the map stand adjacent to the pump track and picnic shelter at the lower trailhead parking area.

Ride Description & Details:
Follow the Loblolly Loop route to the bridge spanning the stream that Mountain Creek Park is named after and cross to the north side, which encompasses nearly 12 of the park’s 19.52 miles of trails. Begin your technical ride by continuing past the map stand on the other side of the bridge, through the junction with Mountain Creek Loop, and straight onto Wampus Way, a green-rated, bi-directional singletrack shared with hikers. The hard-packed dirt path immediately begins a gradual climb, requiring you to pedal steadily as you enter a hardwood forest with an understory of oaks, poplars, beeches, and hickories and a canopy of tall, evergreen loblolly pines that provide shade year-round. With no significant features but a few loose turns and gentle rollers, Wampus Way is the easiest and most direct way to the central trail hub where all of the park’s most challenging mountain biking trails connect.

At 0.15 miles, the trail begins to parallel a powerline and passes a path to the left at 0.2 miles leading into a clearing; veer right here instead to continue through the woods, crossing a service road at 0.3 miles on an approach to a Y-junction at 0.4 miles. This is the intersection with the central trail hub, a half-mile loop connecting ten trails, all of which originate from or terminate into Mountain Creek Loop, the outer perimeter route on the park’s north side. The hub, still named Wampus Way as denoted on the signs at this junction, can be traveled by hikers and bikers in both directions to access their desired routes so be aware of and respectful to other trail users. 

Turn left to go clockwise up the central trail hub for 0.1 mile, immediately crossing a clearing under a powerline, coasting on a slight downhill before re-entering the woods and continuing to the trailheads for Haymaker, Old Boozy and Ladderback at a map stand at 0.5 miles. Take the leftmost fork at this three-way junction onto Haymaker, a fast-flowing trail rated blue (intermediate) with black (advanced) features, all of which have bypass routes. A favorite trail in the park for many expert riders, Haymaker is an aggressive jump line with 10 significant features, each leading quickly into the next, so keep your head up and stay alert throughout the 0.3 mile run.

Haymaker begins with a short, flat area through which you’ll need to accumulate speed to clear the technical features ahead while maintaining control of the bike. Pump with every curve and dip to gain momentum, aided by a slight downhill grade that follows a left turn at 0.55 miles as the meandering trail brings you to a rock jump approximately two feet tall. From here, you will gain significant speed, gliding through a low left-turning berm into a faster section that begins with a small roller followed by a large (4-foot tall) table top leaning slightly left. Use the next small roller to control your speed into another big table top followed by a slightly smaller one. Immediately ahead, the trail turns 90-degrees to the right and offers the option of a rock garden, a rock drop or a bypass on the right of the two features. Launch off a rock jump next before coming to a rock garden between trees; use your speed from the jump to leap over the rock garden, roll through it or detour it on the left.

Past the rock garden, Haymaker flows downhill and crosses a gully over a wooden platform, meandering left and right through loose curves and over mild rollers, some jumpable. It swings through a left-leaning downward-sloped berm and into a right-hand curve, through which you’ll want all the speed you can get to make the landing on a small but long step-up that follows. The trail then swings to the right through a tight banked turn and ascends slightly, requiring you to pedal as you make your way through a left-turning berm before merging onto Mountain Creek Loop for the completion of your run on Haymaker at 0.8 miles.

Watch for hikers on the trail as the two paths combine and travel through a clearing under the powerline. The short section of trail here is bi-directional; riders may be coming toward you as they coast downhill on Mountain Creek Loop and should be given right of way. On the other side of the clearing at 0.82 miles, the trail splits again at a Y-junction; bear left to merge onto Wampus Way for a climb through twists, curves, switchbacks and one service road crossing back to the junction with the central trail hub at 1.1 miles. Turn right to travel counter-clockwise on the hub, signed Wampus Way. In 250 feet, keep straight past the trailhead for Puddle Jump off to the right and pass through another clearing under a powerline. Like in the other clearings you’ve traveled through thus far, you’ll find a variety of colorful native wildflowers growing under the powerlines, including Small’s ragwort, oxeye daisy, daisy fleabane, black-eyed Susan, clasping bellflower, toadflax, yellow crownbeard, and goldenrod.

The trail re-enters the woods and comes to another major junction at a map stand at 1.25 miles. Miners Run and Shiners Stash originate here; take the sharp right onto Shiners Stash, the other black diamond trail within the park. At a length of 0.24 miles, Shiners Stash is slightly shorter and has less features than Haymaker but is steeper and thus faster as it flows downhill over high berms and some pretty big features. The two are in close competition for the most difficult trail at Mountain Creek Park, but both receive rave reviews from expert riders.

Shiners Stash begins with a few turns and rollers you can pump through to gain momentum on an approach to the trail’s downhill section, where your speed increases noticeably, rollers get taller, and turns become faster. Watch your speed coming into the tight, right-hand, 90-degree berm at 1.35 miles which leads to a rock drop; the boulders here may pop up your front tire, so be prepared for a little launch on this jump or choose instead to go around it. Keep your momentum as a 6-foot-tall, 12-foot-long table top lies just ahead; it requires lots of speed and/or hang time in the air to clear if not bypassed on the left.

A jump over the table top sets you up perfectly for the left-turning berm that follows, which sends you flowing up a slight incline and back down to collect speed to clear a sloped rock garden step-up. At 16-feet-long with a 5-foot take-off, the step-up is the largest technical feature in the park and can be a bit intimidating on your first run; like everything else, it too can be avoided by staying to the right of it. The trail swings right at the top of the hill, then descends to a 3-foot rock that has a long lander that you can drop off of or send it. Unless you skip the rock drop altogether, you will be cruising fast into a left-banked berm and through a few turns and small rollers to the terminus of Shiners Stash as it merges into Mountain Creek Loop at 1.5 miles. 

Mountain Creek Loop crosses on a moderate downhill through a final powerline clearing, this one offering a distant but beautiful view of two coves of Lake Norman to the left. Birds such as great blue herons, great egrets and geese can often be spotted wading on the edge of the lake while hawks and bald eagles can be seen soaring overhead throughout the year, joined by ospreys from March to October. As you re-enter the woods and continue along Mountain Creek Loop, listen for owls and woodpeckers that can be found throughout the park.

The trail follows along the edge of a cove of Lake Norman and the banks of Mountain Creek for the next 0.3 miles, past a junction with Puddle Jump at 1.65 miles. It travels on a rolling terrain through a riparian zone, abutting a cove forest on the left and a loblolly forest on the right. The monoculture loblolly forest, duotone with shades of brown at the bottom and green at the top year-round, is contrasted by the diverse cove forest comprised of American beech, hickory, oak and slippery elm trees that change their hues seasonally, becoming especially showy in autumn displaying assorted shades of yellow, crimson and brown.

The green/blue rated trail is fast and flowy, with natural features, twisting turns and a variety of rollers. As the path swings away from the creek at 2 miles, it climbs steeply up through a set of switchbacks, requiring you to pedal as the trail swings around a gully and begins a pleasant descent through which you can coast or blast at maximum speed to the completion of the loop at the bridge over Mountain Creek at 2.25 miles.

To extend your ride further, consider hitting Baked Possum, Hot Hole, or Rabbit Race, three other trails popular with riders at the park, listed here in order of decreasing difficulty. To return to the lower trailhead parking area where you started, cross over the creek and complete the Loblolly Loop route you followed to reach the bridge. 

Mileage Breakdown:

  • 0.00 – cross bridge over Mountain Creek
  • 0.05 – continue straight onto Wampus Way at map stand and junction with Mountain Creek Loop
  • 0.30 – cross service road
  • 0.40 – bear left at Y-junction at 3-way split of Wampus Way (onto Central Trail Hub)
  • 0.50 – left turn onto Haymaker
  • 0.80 – keep straight onto Mountain Creek Loop
  • 0.82 – bear left at Y-junction onto Wampus Way
  • 1.00 – cross service road
  • 1.10 – turn right at T-junction at 3-way split of Wampus Way (onto Central Trail Hub)
  • 1.15 – keep straight to pass junction with Puddle Jump and travel through clearing
  • 1.25 – take sharp right turn onto Shiners Stash
  • 1.50 – keep straight to merge onto Mountain Creek Loop as it travels through clearing
  • 1.65 – junction with Puddle Jump
  • 2.25 – turn left onto bridge over Mountain Creek

Visitor Reviews:
It’s a fun trail system with lots of miles. The jump trails are pretty solid especially the black diamond ones. Shiners Stash is pretty gnarly with pretty big features! Blue trails are flowy. All in all, a great trail system! YouTube Review

Awesome park! Trails all over the place but large maps located at almost every intersection and each trail entrance is marked with a big naming post. Overall the trails have good flow. The dh/flow specific trails are exceptional! Some very cool drops and jumps but nothing super huge and all obstacles are passable. Aside from the trails, the park is beautiful with lots to offer for anyone. Bravo Catawba County! Google Review

Mountain Creek has fast become one of my favorite mountain bike trails. No doubt has the best designed trail system in the Charlotte/Lake Norman area. The large jungle gym system is great for kids as well. Google Review.

Super fun MTB trails. Not super technical but fast and flowy. Fun design for how the trails can be ridden with so many options. Great signage! Google Review

I've only been there to ride the trails, but everything looks spectacular. Big playground for the kids, pickleball courts, dog park, fishing pier, and kayak launch. Bathrooms are super clean (it is a new park) The trails were professionally built by Elevated Trail Designs and are fantastic! The trails are smooth and flowy with some nice features on the bike only trails, but if drops and jumps aren't your thing, there's close to 20 miles of trails to choose from. Google Review

Ride Video:

Other Routes in the Series: