Head out of downtown Johnson City to loop up and over Buffalo Mountain on Trail #29
. With some killer views from the fire tower at the half-way point before you drop off the backside heading to Erwin. From there, it's a curvy road ride through the Cherokee National Forest on your way back to town. An awesome loop for eMTBs as well.
You can drive to the trailhead for #29 and cut out 12 miles of the road riding from town. If you choose that, there is a $5 per car fee in cash due at the feed tube.
The trail is multi-use and shares access with motorized traffic so, as always, keep yourself under control and be aware of your surroundings. To be expected most of this trail is remote, so bring appropriate provisions.
Leaving downtown Johnson City you quickly leave the city behind on Sinking Creek Road just outside of the ETSU campus. Intersecting with Dry Creek Road, head left. Dry Creek winds its way through the Cherokee National Forest and is popular among road cyclists. It's a long gradual climb to the trailhead of #29, which is marked with brown NF signs on your left (about six miles into the ride).
is definitely rugged and steep, plenty of significant rocks doing their best to draw your attention from the epic views along the climb. The trail intersects the forest road (188) near the summit. Tip: if it's been wet up to this point, skip the last little bit to the top by turning left at the forest road (what's left is notoriously wet, so if you see significant water on the way up, this section will be mud).
Climb the concrete path around the gate (past the parking lot). Once it flattens out, you can follow the trail around the second gate straight in front of you to see the fire tower. Otherwise (or after taking in the views), you'll come back down to the top of the concrete road and follow the USFS trail marker for the rest of #29.
The going gets even steeper on the backside and seems to change through different layers of trail along the way. Big rock faces and smooth berms one mile transitions to steep chutes and chunky rock gardens the next.
Once you've dropped out of most of the elevation, you'll ride through pristine forest complete with stream crossings and a backcountry feel that makes it easy to forget you left from town a few hours ago.
After some tamer sections, the trail gets rowdy once again before kicking you out on Decon Creek Road. The last few miles on Deacon Creek are far faster and more fun than they should be and will keep the smiles going.
From here, you take a short right on 107 and then back onto Dry Creek for the return trip (if you are up for bonus points, you can make it an out-and-back from this point). Get ready for one more climb, but once you pass the trailhead for 29, it's almost all downhill the whole way back. Two punchy climbs are all that keeps you from the dozens of breweries and restaurants in downtown Johnson City.