First Flight Bicycles

Itusi Mountain Bike Trail at Lake Norman State Park

The Itusi Trail system is currently made up of 8 loops: Hawk, Norwood Creek, Hicks Creek, Wildlife, Laurel, Fallstown, Fox and Monbo.  The Norwood Creek and Hicks Creek Loops can only be accessed from the Hawk Loop while the Monbo Loop is separate.  Fox, Fallstown and Wildlife are accessible via the Laurel Loop or riding State Park Road to Wildlife Road. Keep in mind that all loops will be ridden in the clockwise direction in even numbered years and in the counter-clockwise direction during odd numbered years.

The Itusi Trail system at Lake Norman State Park is a perfect place for beginners all the way to expert mountain bikers. Just over 30 miles of trails with many options for mileage await for you to have fun in the woods.

Difficulty: Easy/Moderate

Distance: 30 miles

























Loop Descriptions

  • Hawk Loop
    This is the original 4 mile trail loop that is directly accessible from the parking lot.  This loop is bisected by an access road that can be used to head back to the parking lot.
  • Norwood Creek Loop
    Approximately 2.5 mile loop that is accessed from the Hawk Loop via a short section of 2-way trail.  Check out “turtle turn” during the summer months when the turtles use the partially submerged logs to get a tan.  You can hear them plop into the water upon your arrival!
  • Hicks Creek Loop (AKA: The Blob)
    A one mile loop accessible from the main Hawk Loop.  Look towards the lake for evidence of tree felled by the local beavers.  The beavers have a dam and lodge further up Hicks Creek (not bike-accessible).
  • Monbo Loop 
    Opened in 2007 and almost doubled our trail mileage.  The six mile loop can be found by heading down the short section of 2-way trail next to the trail kiosk and taking a left on State Park Road.  The trail access will be on your right just over the bridge.  The Monbo Loop features more sustained climbs and descents which makes it many riders’ favorite section.  Since it is the furthest loop from the parking lot, it is where you will often spot a family of deer.
  • Laurel Loop  
    The Laurel Loop has more technical trail features and is built to IMBA blue standards.  This makes the Laurel Loop slightly more challenging for the beginner cyclist.  The Laurel Loop takes its name from the beautiful Mountain Laurels that can be found along the trail.  Features include several creek crossings, a “V” tree, berms and a twistier trail alignment.  Total Laurel Loop mileage is 9.75 miles.
  • Wildlife Loop  The Wildlife Loop is the largest loop on the last phase of the Itusi Trail.  This Phase is located on 249 acres between Wildlife and Morrison Roads.  This acreage was previously logged by Crescent Resources and later planted with pine trees.  The areas adjacent to the creeks are hardwoods which results in some nice variety.  Wildlife is 4.5 miles long.
  • Fallstown Loop  Fallstown is a nice quick 1.25 mile loop accessed via the Wildlife Loop. Fallstown also allows access to the Fox Loop.
  • Fox Loop The Fox Loop is 3.5 miles and has a couple of interesting trail features.  There is a nice gully run with pivot trees that you may end up leaning on!  The Fox Loop will be accessible via the Fallstown Loop which is accessible via the Wildlife Loop.


June 2001: First Flight Bicycles begins discussions with Jud Burns, then superintendent of Lake Norman State Park, about the possibility of constructing bike trails in the park. This begins the long process of balancing the desires of the riders with the needs of the park. There were no mountain bike trails in the state park system at this time. The project is spearheaded by Jeff Archer and Bob Karriker.

August 2001: Layout of the proposed trail begins. (Approximately 500 man-hours were spent on the design of the first two phases of the Itusi Trail)

February 2002: The State Trails coordinators inspect the proposed layout.

September 2002: Final approval of the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to construct the trail.

October 19, 2002: Trail construction begins!

December 2002: Major ice storm closes the park and delays trail building.

January 2003: Begin construction of the Hicks Creek Loop

March 2003: Begin construction of the Hicks Creek Loop bridge.

March 2003: The process of naming the trail begins and we contact the Catawba Indians cultural center for possibilities. The word Itusi is Catawba for hawk and has a nice ring. The approval process begins.

March 19, 2003: Charlotte Observer runs a story, with pictures, about the trail project.

May 2, 2003: IMBA Trail Care Crew makes an afternoon visit.

May 2003: Information kiosk is erected as an Eagle Scout project.

June 25, 2003: The trail is inspected and approved and can open to the public after a short “punch list” of repairs is completed.  One of the inspectors comments that: “We now have a new standard for trails in NC State Parks”.


July 18, 2003: Phase I is officially opened to the public (4.25 miles). Phase I volunteer hours for construction: 2,103

September 14, 2003: Grand opening celebration and kick-off of the Norwood Creek Loop construction. Channel 9 News covers the opening along with several newspapers and sports magazines.

September 18, 2003: We receive the IMBA/Clif Bar grant.

October 2003: Construction begins on the Norwood Creek Loop (2.5 miles). Casey Rhinehart is promoted to park superintendent.

November 2003: Volunteer-only night ride series begins.

December 2003: Awarded an IMBA/REI trail building tool kit.

May 24, 2004: Norwood Creek Loop is opened to the public (6.75 miles now open)

September 2004: Trail temporarily closed due to hurricane Ivan.

October 3, 2004: Corridor flagging is completed for the Monbo Loop (6.25 miles).

October 20, 2004: Construction begins on the Monbo Loop.

January 23-25, 2005: IMBA Trail Care Crew full visit and trail building clinics.

January 28, 2005: Lake Norman Times article.

May 2005: Stop trail building and begin the summer maintenance program for the existing trail.

August 2005: Begin work on our second MOA to include construction of an unnamed Phase IV that will boast more challenging trail features.

September 17, 2005: Resume construction of the Monbo Loop.

December 2006: We use a Duke Energy $1,000 grant to rent a Bobcat mini skid steer for a month to speed up construction

January 26, 2006: Receive a $15,000 Lowes Home Improvement grant to purchase a Ditch Witch SK300.

May 2006: Purchased $5,000 worth of hand tools with an Adopt-A-Trail grant.

June 2006: Stop trail building and begin the summer maintenance program for the existing trails. The Ditch Witch proves to be invaluable for maintenance.

September 2006: Resume construction of the Monbo Loop (6.25 miles). Approximately 4.5 miles are finished. Eagle Scout puts up trail blazes for his Eagle project.

November 2006: Receive notice that we are being awarded $20,000 from Duke Energy to purchase a Bobcat 316 mini-excavator.

March 28, 2007: The new Monbo Loop officially opens to the public giving us 13 miles of trail.

October, 2008: Final approval is given to the new Phase IV trail.  This trail will be approximately 7 miles long and will be bordered by Lake Norman, State Park Rd. and Wildlife Rd.

December 2008: The Tarheel Trailblazers approve spending $10,000 to pay for mechanized corridor clearing on Phase IV.  On the 13th, the Trailblazers sponsor a trail work day which results in about 40 trail workers.  Approximately one mile of machine built trail is hand finished.

May 2009: Bob Karriker runs over his leg with the Ditch Witch while building trail at the Whitewater Center in Charlotte.  Since Bob is the lead mechanized trail builder, this brings construction of Phase IV to a halt.

May 2009: Lake Norman State Park hosts the initial meeting of the North Carolina Mountain Bike Alliance.  The goal is to get more trails in NC parks and the Itusi Trail is held up as an example of how to make it happen.

June 2009: Laurel Loop becomes the official name for Phase IV and signs are ordered.

December 2009: MOA for the unnamed Phase V is submitted to the State Park system.  Layout work continues on Phase IV B

January 2010: The Laurel Loop “A” opens to the public on January 2nd.  The planned January 1st “grand opening” is delayed until the spring due to inclement weather.  Laurel Loop “B” is flagged and ready to begin construction.  This section will add an additional 4.25 miles.

January 2010: Applied for $75,000 RTP grant which would finish Phase V in 2 years.

August  2010: Received a $10,000 REI grant to help with construction of Phase IV.

September 2010: Awarded a $75,000 RTP grant to build 11.5 miles of new trail.  This will include approximately 4 miles to finish the Laurel Loop plus 8+ miles of new trail in the 249 acres between Morrison Road and Wildlife Road. The grant window is 2 years which will result in 30 miles of singletrack trail by the end of 2013!

October 2010: Received the final approved MOA for Phase V.  The flagged trail alignment from the far fire road entrance of Laurel Loop up to the proposed stream crossing is ready for construction.

November 2010: Ground is broken for Phase V.

November 18-21, 2010: IMBA Trail Care Crew visit.  The Itusi Trail receives its second TCC visit. 55 volunteers!

March 25-27, 2011: Casey Rhinehart (LNSP Superintendent) and Jeff Archer (First Flight Bicycles) make a presentation at the SORBA Southern Conference, in Brevard, under the heading of “success stories”. 

April, 2011: Large storms knocks down a large number of trees and takes power and phone service from the park.

May, 2011: Seth Archer, Eagle Scout candidate from Troop 171, places large red Rescue Markers on the existing trail.  Each sign marks a unique spot on the trail and can be used by park staff to locate lost or injured trail users.

September 14, 2011: Laurel Loop extension opens, completing the 9.75 mile Laurel Loop.

December, 2011: Recap of the 2011 trail work at the Itusi Trail:

47,409 feet of trail cut, 25,230′ of Laurel Loop and 22,179′ of Wildlife

636 machine hours, 182 design hours, 722 machine hours

1,799 volunteer hours

3,339 total hours AT THE TRAIL, does not include the hours spend writing grants, sending emails, press releases and all the other behind-the-scenes stuff that happens almost every day.

Equivalent of one person working 40 hours a week for a year and a half!

May 19, 2012: Sean Endres, Eagle Scout candidate from Troop 171, constructs a changing booth and places it in the trailhead parking lot.  No more changing in the car or Part-a-Potty!

June 2, 2012: National Trails Day brings out 65 volunteers to perform trail maintenance at the trail followed by lunch provided by REI.

August 10-12, 2012: First Southern Spokes festival is held at the Itusi Trail.  The festival includes, riding, demo bikes, camping, food and movies!

September 22-23, 2012: Second annual Cackalacky 500 take place at the Itusi Trail.  Participants start at 10PM and go for 500 minutes.

November 12, 2012: The final punch list is finished and the Fox, Fallstown and Wildlife Loops are officially opened to the public.  This marks the end of the construction of new bike trail at Lake Norman State Park.  We will now move into maintenance mode.  Enjoy the ride!


Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Why is the trail closed?
A: The park staff will close the trail to protect it from damage.  Typically, this will be for approximately 24 hours after a moderate rainfall.  Large amounts of rain or several days of rain may close the trail for longer periods of time.  If in doubt, call the park office at (704) 528-6350

Q: What are the park hours?
A: The park changes hours seasonally.  Hours are posted on the Lake Norman State Park web site.

Q: What is “Itusi”?
A: When we were looking to name the trail, we wanted to have a memorable name but one with some meaning.  Many of the North Carolina trails carry Indian names such as Tsali and Nantahala.   The Catawba Indians were native to the area, so I contacted the Catawba Cultural Center for help.  I asked for Catawba words for native animals, volunteers and trails.  We were given a list of possibilities and chose Itusi which means “hawk.”  The name recognizes a native park animal plus the original inhabitants of the area.

Q: What is Monbo?
A: Each loop of the park needs a unique name which has to be approved by the NC parks system.  We try to bring some meaning to each name.  The Norwood Creek and Hicks Creek loops are named for adjacent creeks.  The Hawk Loop takes its name from the native species.  The Monbo Loop was harder to name.  Monbo Road is close to the loop and is an interesting name.  The original French settlers had a mill on the Catawba River named Mont Beaux which was “Americanized” to Monbo.

Q: How can I help?
A: 100% of the trail system has been built by unpaid volunteers.  Riders and hikers just like you.  To get involved, contact First Flight Bicycles at (704) 878-9683.  The more you volunteer, the faster the trail gets built!

Q: What not to do?
A: The trail system in controlled by the North Carolina Department of Natural Resources who have very strict rules as to what may be done in the park.  We have signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the park system that spells out the details on trail construction and maintenance.  Please check before performing any work at the park.  Things that are specifically prohibited include:

  • Leaf blowing: The park staff believes that the leaves protect the trail from water damage.
  • Stunt building: Man-made stunts or structures are prohibited.  This includes modifying natural materials to build obstacles.
  • “Pirate” trails:  Please do not build new trail or alter existing trail.  The trail corridor has been specifically designed to control erosion and stay out of environmentally sensitive areas.

The MOA also states that the trail system can be closed if the rules are not followed.  The park staff is overburdened with their regular park duties and do not have the manpower to build and maintain trails.  If the trails become too big of a burden, they can be closed.






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