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  • Cole Stilwell
  • Cole Stilwell on a mountain bike at Harbison State Forest
    PHOTO | COLE STILWELL Cole Stilwell rides his bicycle at Harbison State Forest.

Harbison State Forest - a mountain biker’s haven

The World Outdoors

Harbison State Forest is a mountain biker’s havenIts easily the most popular trail system in the area and for good reason. The forest has over 25 miles of trail ranging in difficulty with the scenic Broad River as the backdrop.

It’s in Saint Andrews just minutes from Lexington. My grandpa and I have been wanting to try out mountain biking for a good while now, and Harbison seemed like a great place to start. We’ve gone on bike rides at Edisto Beach and I’ve done some road biking, but this seemed different. I’m a hiker, and biking felt like cheating.

I by no means had a good bike. I repaired it myself after it sat in the garage for well over a year. My grandpa, the Chronicle’s Chuck McCurry, on the other hand just got himself a brand new bike.

Muddy run

On a chilly Saturday afternoon, we set out with no clue what to expect.

When we arrived at Harbison, the parking lot was already full. Thankfully we found a spot on the side of the road.

We unloaded our bikes and hit the trails. It was an absolute blast to fly down the connector trail over rocks and roots until we ran into what would soon become our worst enemy, mud.

Our descent came to a halt at a bit of mud. It was easy to get around but it foreshadowed the rest of our ride. We couldn’t escape it forever.

We continued deeper into the woods along the easymoderate rated Firebreak Trail. It was turning out to be the perfect February day, sunny and close to 50 degrees. The trails were alive with hikers and bikers.

The trail weaved around a shallow valley filled with hardwoods and pines.

We handled the climbs with ease and enjoyed the downhill stretches.

Mud was everywhere. By the time we finished the section, we were covered with it.

Mountain trail

After a mile and a half, we reached the start of Midlands Mountain Trail. The first bit was wide, mostly flat and followed a ridgeline with open pine forests on either side.

The trail slimmed down to single track. We were greeted with a fast, long, and twisty downhill section that was great. Cold air blasted my face as I raced down the smooth trail off the ridgeline into the valley below. It quickly came to an end and gave way to uphill pedalling the rest of the way to Harbison Bluff.

There’s not much to see at Harbison Bluff. It’s a spot that’s perched nearly 100 feet above the Broad River but the trees block much of the view leaving the river barely visible. We continued down Midlands Mountain Trail and it soon split off into upper and lower sections. We took the lower section but we quickly came to a halt in the sticky mud caking the floodplains.

Instead we took the upper route and were glad we did. The upper route twisted and turned around the forest’s valleys. It was well-maintained and my favorite mile of the day.

Every climb led to a descent back down. The only thing slowing us down were the occasional muddy spots and several small creek crossings.

The section ended with a short hard uphill that we walked.

We decided to try our hand at the moderate-hard rated Spiderwoman Trail, the most challenging in the forest, and for good reason. We were in way over our heads.

It started off easy enough, downhill through a dense pine forest. Out of nowhere the trail took a sharp turn and took a steep zigzagging path down over rocks and roots. I held onto both my brakes as tight as I could, but they barely slowed me down. I rattled my way down the hill and it was a miracle I didn’t crash.

Chuck did the smarter thing, he walked down.

The trail shot right back up and after rounding a bend, we were once again above the Broad River. The trail cut across a bluff 50 feet above the river. There we stopped for some water and a quick tightening of my brakes.

Rock garden

At the top of the bluff, we found the most challenging feature in the forest, the rock garden.

The garden was a steep downhill over a maze of rocks and roots with several sharp switchbacks along the way.

After the last downhill incident, I walked down this one. We finally reached the riverbank to find the Broad River turned into a chocolate soup of mud and debris flowing fast.

There wasn’t much to see so we pressed on.

Over the next mile, we followed Spiderwoman up short steep climbs away from the river. We took a shortcut up a hill back to Firebreak Trail.

It was great to be back on wide and flat trails. We enjoyed the peaceful and mostly uneventful ride back to the parking lot.

We had a blast on our first real mountain biking trails, biking 8.7 miles over the afternoon.

The trails were mostly well maintained. Overall, they were fairly easy. All the climbs and descents were short, with only 550 feet of ascents over the entire route.

Harbison State Forest is perfect for beginners with trails like Midlands Mountain and more advanced bikers can enjoy Spiderwoman and Bluff Trails. With a sparked interest in mountain biking, I’m excited

With a sparked interest in mountain biking, I’m excited to explore what the Midlands mountain biking scene has to offer over the year.


Mailing Address:
     PO Box 9 Lexington
     SC 29071
Street Address:
     131 Swartz Rd.
     Lexington SC 29072
Phone: 803-359-7633
Fax: 803-359-2936