The Carvins Cove area just outside Roanoke offers some of the region's best mountain biking (and hiking, trail running, and horseback riding). It offers over 30 miles of multiuse trails ranging from beginner to expert level and from relatively flat (this is, after all, southwest Virginia!) to mountainous (can you say 1000' climbs?).
Thanks to hundreds of hours of volunteer efforts, all of the trails at the Cove are clearly signed so if you have a map and a decent sense of direction, finding your way shouldn't be a problem. However, be aware that the Cove is large (around 12,000 acres) so letting someone know your plans is always a good idea. Also be aware that cell phones do not work in many/most areas of the Cove so don't plan to use your cell as a "safety net".
Trails at Carvins Cove are pretty rugged and are most suitable for mountain bikes as opposed to hybrid or comfort bikes.
Generally the trails are true "cross country" style riding: moderately technical with a good amount of roots and rocks to remind you that you're in Southwest Virginia. The trails closest to the water are typically a bit more rolling while trails such as Buck, Hi-Dee-Ho, the Gauntlet and the Trough have much more elevation change. The Trough has been reworked to have a great series of bermed turns and jumps to make it a local gravity crowd favorite. In general, the preferred bikes for Carvins Cove are "trail" oriented full suspension bikes and tires with pretty low pressure to provide traction in the rocks and roots.
For info on potential group ride plans at the Cove check out the Roanoke IMBA website or facebook page. (Roanoke IMBA is the local chapter of the International Mountain Bicycling Association and they are responsible for a lot of the trail work at the Cove and other area trails. Pathfinders for Greenways also does a large amount of trail work around the area.)
The Carvins Cove Natural Reserve is the 2nd largest municipal park in the country and is a jointly managed entity of the city of Roanoke parks and recreation department and the Western Virginia Water Authority (Carvins Cove provides water a huge portion of the residents of the city of Roanoke). Due to security concerns for the reservoir, visitors to the Cove must obtain a pass to be on the Cove property. You can purchase passes using an "honor system" kiosk at the Bennet Springs or Timberview Road parking lots or at the boat docks parking area off Reservoir Road (map below).
Land use fees:
Daily permit: $2.00 Annual permit: $20.00
Land use hours:
April 1 through September 30: Seven days a week, 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
October 1 through March 31: Seven days a week, 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Looking for trail conditions? Right now the best place to go is the Carvins Cove Trail Reports page on facebook. And after you go to the Cove, post your own report. The more people who use it and update it the better! If the trails are wet, please take an alternate ride. The fire road is a great choice when everything's wet, and if the lower trails are muddy, the trails on Brushy Mountain are often better drained.