Okay, here’s a disclaimer: I’ve never been mountain biking. And I really only learned to ride a bike well in the past few years. A daredevil, I’m not.
But when I saw that CLIMB Works (usually known for its ziplining) had opened a new mountain biking trail that was free only until May 18, I figured we better try it out! So we piled our bikes onto the back of our cars and took them along with us on our May trip to the Great Smoky Mountains.
I really didn’t even think about how scary mountain biking could be. I didn’t give it a single thought until we pulled up to the place (which, by the way, is about a 20 minute drive out of Gatlinburg). Then, I got nervous.
To make a long story shorter, we had an incredible time at CLIMB Works mountain biking. It was terrifying, but a complete blast. One kid chickened out, but we still enjoyed our time. I’ll tell you more about that later.
What is CLIMB Works?
CLIMB Works is primary is ziplining place. Instead of ziping through downtown Gatlinburg or Sevierville, this one is really in the mountains. So it takes a bit to get to. (Here’s a roundup of area ziplines. I’ve never tried CLIMB Works, but I’ve always thought it looked like the best one. We’re hoping to try in August.)
Here’s a snippet from the CLIMB Works story:
Proudly, we can say that CLIMB Works is what it is today because of a lot of sweat, sacrifice, teamwork, and all the right people at the right time. As we look back it’s hard to not be in awe how it all came together, but that’s what helps us know we’re moving in the right direction.
What to expect from the mountain biking trail
On the CLIMB Works website, suggested ages for kids riding are 10 and above. But I happen to know that they aren’t sticklers. They let my 7-year-old ride very willingly.
When we arrived and told the guys at the bike shop that we wanted to ride, they were really excited. Apparently, they’ve been wanting some kids to come try out the trail, but hadn’t had any through yet. My kiddos were happy to volunteer. (Remember, the trail officially opens on May 18, so we were trying it for free, and it wasn’t officially open yet. Things were pretty slow.)
We all immediately felt affinity for the guys in the shop, as they chatted easily with us. My sister-in-law’s bike was acting up after the car ride, and one guy quickly popped it up on a lift and took a look at it. He did a bit of fixing, just out of the kindness of his heart.
During this, my 7-year-old son was feeling very intrigued by a small trick spot, what they call the pump track (remember, I don’t know anything about any of this!), with lots of little hills and dirt. He finally mustered up the nerve to ask if he could try it. I figured he was way too small, but the guy there encouraged him to go for it. He was super cautious at first, but by the end of the morning, he was taking those little hills like a pro and working on falling correctly. The shop guys were coaching him. He was hooked.
My 10-year-old daughter was much more reserved. After getting everything straightened away, we all took off for the practice course. And that’s when she (and I) started to get nervous.
I don’t know what we were expecting. A trail through the woods, I guess. But when we hit the warm-up practice loop, we saw big hills and bridges and all kinds of tricky spots. My daughter took the practice loop once (it’s very short), very slowly, freaked out, and decided she was done. We talked her into trying again, which resulted in a nasty fall down a hill. One more time we got her on the bike, and that’s when she flipped her pink and white bike and really bruised her knee. Now she was really done.
So the 10-year-old ended up staying behind with grandma while the rest of us took off on the 2-mile trail. Let me tell you: As a mother, this is not for the faint of heart. Not only was I terrified for myself, but I kept picturing my baby flying down one of the steep hillsides (felt to me like a CLIFF, but when I described it that way to someone, my husband laughed at me) at full speed!
But he made it. And he LOVED it.
Afterward, the said it was the best day of his life.
So worth it.
Something to note: the first third of the trail is uphill. We walked most of it. It’s pretty intense. The second third is flat, and just when you think you’ve got things figured out, you get to the last third, which is downhill. It’s fast and intense. And terrifying. But really fun, too. And it’s nice that the tough part is at the beginning.
The trail ends with a structure that the staff calls “the curliest.” It’s really neat. It’s a curl-i-que shaped wooden structure (all built by local carpenters — and beautiful!) that you ride down at the end. You can pick the beginner track (flat), intermediate (a bit slanted), or expert (sideways!). I was majorly intimidated, but this was actually really fun, if you took the beginner track.
I would’ve loved to do it again, but that would have meant doing that uphill part again.
Some of our group did the 2-mile trail twice, but I stayed with the kids for the second time. My son would’ve loved to go again, but the adults wanted to move a bit faster this time.
For those of you who know much about mountain biking, the trail also has rollers, logs, bridges, and berms. The website says that the trail is “rideable for beginners, and rippable for experts.”
If you want to go
Here’s the deal: it’s a bit expensive starting on May 18. But I really think it’s worth it, if you have an adventurous kid. She/He will remember it for a long time. Pricing for the official opening isn’t online yet, but I believe it will be $25 per person for a half-day. If you decide to do this, bring a picnic snack, so you can stop, rest, and refuel before wearing your kids out again!
Bikes are available for rent for $45 for a half day, but I think you get a price break for renting a bike and doing the trail.
Riders are encouraged to call to make a reservation at 865-325-8116, but we just showed up and were fine. I’m sure that it will be more difficult to just walk in as things get busier.
One thing I asked the employees there: If you pay for a child, who then decides he/she doesn’t want to go, do you get the money back? I wondered this because my daughter did exactly that. She tried the practice loop a few times, then refused to go on. Some discussion ensued. Since this is all new, they are still working out the kinks. But the in-charge type of guy thought that there probably wouldn’t be a refund. If they give one, he said, it encourages people to give up.
I understand this point of view. If we had paid $25 for my daughter to go, she would have spent more time riding (we would have insisted!). But that’s not a lot of help to parents who aren’t sure their kids are up for it.
My advice is this: Don’t try it with kids under 10 unless they are very adventurous. And even with older kids, if they are hesitant, you might want to save your money. Or bring along grandma to keep an eye on the kiddo, if they decide everything looks too intimidating.
Employees who believe in the company
I loved our mountain biking adventure. I’m so, so glad we went to the hassle of bringing our bikes along on our Smoky Mountain trip. The trail was well maintained, the carpentry was beautiful, and there was enough to do to keep my little guy happy for hours.
But you know what impressed me the most about CLIMB Works? The employees.
While part of our group was out taking another lap, I stood and talked to one employee, who told me all about the CLIMB Works story, and about other properties they are working on in Hawaii and Nashville. He talked about helping build the trail all winter. He was animated and interesting and involved. We asked if he was a part owner.
“Nope,” he said. “I just work here.” But he spoke so highly of a company that lets employees work their way up to helping dream for the future. And that’s what this guy was doing. In between coaching my son on the safest falling methods, that is.
The other guy was out riding the trail, checking up on people. We saw him at least twice while we were on it, and he kept up the encouragement to my son every time.
The people were so impressive, in fact, that all five adults mentioned it as we left CLIMB Works. All of us wanted to come back, to try the ziplining and maybe mountain bike again. And my son, who had just had the best day of his life, declared that he wanted to work there when he grew up. None of us were surprised. Everyone just seemed so happy, and like they were doing exactly what they loved.
I’m a pretty laid-back mom, but I was still pretty nervous for my little guy during the mountain biking ride. If you’re like me, here are some things that might help:
- Walkie-talkies. Every so often, there are Walkie-Talkies along the trail, so you can radio for help almost immediately.
- Guides. As I wrote above, the guides are out riding the trail. They are extremely hands-on. You’ll see them a few times during each lap. I think they probably keep an especially close eye on kids that are riding.
- Minor injuries only. When I expressed “mom nerves” to one of the guides, he told me that since it’s a beginner trail, there are certain guidelines they have to follow. For example, when there’s a structure you could fall off of, there has to be a “fall zone,” or an empty area around it, so you won’t fall on a big, pokey rock, for example. They have thought this through. Trust the experts.
- Be prepared. But that’s not to say that no one will fall. We had three good falls out of our group of seven (all beginners). Stick some Band-Aids and Neo-to-Go in your pocket. And remember to fill up your bike’s water bottles, as you will work up a good sweat. And your kiddos might need a quick breather.
Have you ever been mountain biking in the Smoky Mountains? Can you give a recommendation?