Archived Outdoors

To the top: Trail network matures at Canton's Chestnut Mountain

Chestnut Mountain’s trail hub offers a variety of options. Holly Kays photo Chestnut Mountain’s trail hub offers a variety of options. Holly Kays photo

In a sunny clearing 350 feet above U.S. 23, the choose-your-own-adventure portion of Canton’s Chestnut Mountain Nature Park  begins. 

After walking uphill 0.8 miles from the parking lot, the wooden path opens up toward the clearing, where a pair of wooden arches — one marking the entrance to the Berm Park  Skills Course and the second to the park’s backcountry trail network — waits alongside a large map.  Colorful squiggles denote the ever-growing roster of trails and represent an ongoing challenge to the town employees tasked with maintaining the map.

“We’re on our fifth or sixth iteration of that map station,” said Town Manager Nick Scheuer, “because every time we add a new trail, we have to update the maps.”

New trails

When Chestnut Mountain opened to the public  in April 2022, its only trails were the short circuits at Berm Park and the ascent and descent trails connecting them to the parking lot, less than 2 miles total.  

Now, the park features about 17 miles of trail, split about evenly between hikers and bikers.

“We’re seeing a lot of growth now because Berm Park was very much a really cool, novelty thing to come see, but if you’re trying to ride for fitness or exercise, or you’re a mountain biker that’s used to riding in Western North Carolina, you want more mileage,” said Scheuer. “And now we have that.”

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Mountain bike trails are concentrated in the western half of the park, with the 1.8-mile Ladybird Trail serving as a spine to which the other bike trails connect as they loop around. This descent-only trail is rated intermediate, filled with berms and opportunities to pump and jump down the mountain to its terminus at the entrance to Berm Park. It’s named in honor of a dog who used to come each day with one of the trail builders. She was “the best greeter,” Scheuer said, but got sick as the trail got finished, ultimately passing away.

Ladybird Trail came online  in November 2022, the same month as a 1.7-mile upper portion of Papertown Express that’s open to hikers and uphill bikers. This summer, Chestnut Mountain opened the 1-mile Champion Trail, rated double-black for expert riders, as well as Wildcat, a 1.1-mile intermediate trail. October saw the arrival of Union, a 1-mile intermediate/advanced bike trail linking Ladybird and Champion. A half-mile, beginner-friendly bike trail called Sunburst is expected to open in the next week.

While the trails are rated for specific difficulty levels, they’re built to be progressive — riders can often choose to avoid the more intimidating obstacles until they’re ready to face them. Even on expert-rated Champion, said Scheuer, “as long as you have braking control, you can ride this trail.”

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A treehouse-like pavilion waits A treehouse-like pavilion waits at Turnpike Landing. Holly Kays photo

Opportunities for hikers have been increasing too, mainly on the east side of the park. In addition to the 4-mile Papertown Express, which is open to hikers and uphill bikers throughout its length, Chestnut Mountain now offers two hiker-only trails. The 2.6-mile Old Timer Trail circles the northeastern boundary of the park, while 1.5-mile Dutch Cove Trail connects with Upper Papertown Express to explore the northern boundary at the center of the property.

There’s also Turnpike, another shared-use trail that’s a half-mile lollipop from the junction of Middle Papertown Express and Old Timer. At its heart is Turnpike Landing, where a pair of treehouse-inspired pavilions, swings and a stand of regal old oak trees offers a rewarding endpoint for families in search of a mid-grade hike. From the parking lot, it’s a roundtrip of about 3 miles.

“The shortest route if you went to the top and then hiked back out is probably over 5 miles,” Scheuer said, “and so having something that’s accessible and a destination was important to have on the mountain, and I think this serves that well.”

Both the map and signage throughout the park make it clear which kinds of users are allowed on which trails. That, said Scheuer, is key to ensuring that users of all types have a quality experience. The strategy seems to be working.

“You feel it when you’re in the park,” he said. “The interactions that I have when I’m here riding with hikers is always very positive.”

After Sunburst opens, construction will start on an advanced bike trail. Then, the trailbuilding phase will be done.


The trail system is nearly complete, but the to-do list is not. Over the coming weeks, a project adding a picnic pavilion and restrooms will go out to bid. Meanwhile, Haywood Waterways Association is leading a stream restoration on Hominy Creek,  including invasive species removal, regrading the bank to a more natural slope and installing stream structures to promote native aquatic species.

Also on the agenda is turning the field next to the parking lot into a kid’s bicycle playground.

“It will have rocks to ride over and wood features for kids to learn how to ride on,” Scheuer said. “So there’s be progressive features all the way around this oval loop.”

The field will also house a concessions area. The town plans to build a wooden platform to get the base elevation out of the floodplain and to install shipping containers that can be leased out to businesses that would complement the park next door — an outfitter, a coffee shop or a taproom, perhaps.

Remarkably, the concession area is the only project within Chestnut Mountain that is currently unfunded. Most costs have been covered through grant funding, provided by the N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, Recreational Trails Program, Department of Natural and Cultural Resources and Land and Water Fund, with Haywood County Tourism Development Authority also contributing.

Such grants typically require matching funds from the recipient, but Canton was able to use the value of the land, which the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy gifted to the town after buying it for $3 million, to satisfy the match. While the town has funded a few necessary connections and the exit trail, about 90% of the project was grant-funded, Scheuer said, with $750,000 spent so far.

Meanwhile, Asheville YouTuber Seth Alvo financed Berm Park using contributions from his subscribers — at just the right time to keep the project alive.

“That timing was around when Tropical Storm Fred came, so there was a significant period of time before we got the PARTF and RTP grants were it was really just very difficult to justify building something like this when we’ve got $18 million worth of facility damage and everything else,” Scheuer said, “so having him [Alvo] crowdfund Berm Park and activating the park and getting it off the ground was just amazing timing.”

Back to life

The end of construction will signal the beginning of Chestnut Mountain’s larger legacy.

The park could connect to multiple new trails projects in the area. As part of a planned modernization of U.S. 19-23, which runs right past Chestnut Mountain, the N.C. Department of Transportation wants to build a shared-use path from downtown Canton to the Buncombe County line, which would allow visitors to park in Canton and ride a mile down the road to explore Chestnut Mountain.

On the other side of the ridge, the new Pisgah View State Park  is now under development, expected to open in 2025. Driving between the two parks takes about 20 minutes, but their property lines are separated by only about a mile of privately held ridgeline that’s rugged and forested, Scheuer said.

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Town Manager Nick Scheuer (left) and Parks and Recreation Director Sam Dunbar stand at by the Town Manager Nick Scheuer (left) and Parks and Recreation Director Sam Dunbar stand at by the Dutch Cove trail. Holly Kays photo

“Even if they were to develop those properties, that area is just not going to be utilized most likely,” he said. “So I think there’s an opportunity to make a connection there, which would be pretty unbelievable.”

Such a connection could spur development of backcountry campsites. Campsites are allowed under the park’s master plan, but the town is considering various logistical factors before it decides to build them. However, Canton is committed to being a good steward of the property and amenities it already has.

Right now, Canton Parks and Recreation Director Sam Dunbar is doing much of the legwork to maintain the property, along with crews from Elevated Trail Design, which the town has under contract to perform six days of trail maintenance each month. But in the future, Scheuer would like to see a Friends of Chestnut Mountain group form, providing volunteer labor to keep the park in top form.

“The property was so manipulated and has so much invasive species, and so many drainage and water issues that we could be working for a long time to restore and heal the property,” said Scheuer.

Before its rebirth as a nature park , the 450-acre property almost became a speedway, and later, an indoor ski resort. The land was heavily disturbed at various points in its history, and the scars are obvious when walking the property. While some areas feature impressive hardwood stands, others are covered with skinny young trees, vines and a variety of invasive plants.

For Canton, that history sets up a win-win future. The property was far from pristine when it came to town ownership, so cutting new trails — especially trails that use the existing network of logging roads — wasn’t a problem from the conservation perspective. And with a new owner like Canton, which has a built-in incentive to keep the land healthy, the area’s ecology is likely to improve over time.

“The conservation-recreation story is a really cool one,” said Scheuer, “Both of those can work together really well, if done correctly. That’s something that I’m excited to see is just this thing come back to life.”

Race Chestnut Mountain

Run the trails of Chestnut Mountain Nature Park during the Chestnut Chase, a 10K race slated for 9 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 12 in Canton.

The course begins with a rough 600-foot gain in the first 2 miles up Papertown Express, followed by rolling hills through the brand new Old Timer trail. Amazing fall views will greet runners as they scream through the downhill return to the finish line.

There will be one aid station at the intersection of the lollipop course, which runners will pass at miles 1.5 and 4.6. Water, light snacks and backcountry medical support provided, with BearWaters Brewing Company offering post-race refreshments.

Registration is $30 at and closes at midnight Nov. 11. Leashed dogs are welcome. Proceeds will support the Chestnut Mountain Foundation and North Carolina Mountain Trail Runners.

Care for Chestnut Mountain

The Town of Canton is in the early stages of organizing a Friends of Chestnut Mountain group to provide volunteer maintenance for the trails. Anybody interested in participating is encouraged to contact Parks and Recreation Director Sam Dunbar at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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