South Mountain X3 Populaire – 84 miles

This past weekend, Felkerino and I ventured out with friends to ride the South Mountain X3 Populaire, which was designed by Crista Borras.  South Mountain X3 is an 84-mile ride that starts in Thurmont, Maryland, and takes you three different ways over – you’ll never guess- South Mountain.

If you’re looking for a ride that is less than a century, offers beautiful climbs, and features diverse terrain, the South Mountain X3 populaire is the ride for you.

The ride begins with over 20 miles of rolling rural roads and gentle terrain to loosen up the legs. The route passes barns, goats, llamas, and cows. That’s a lot of fauna (except for the barns). To make the start extra special, you even ride through a couple of covered bridges.

Riding through the Covered Bridge

After leaving the farms behind, the ride meanders through the cannons, statues, monuments, and terrain of the battlefields in Gettysburg National Military Park.

Paul in Gettysburg

Not long after Gettysburg, the route enters orchard country. Apple trees are everywhere. The route takes roads that make the rider think that the mighty Big Flat is coming up in the near future (OH NO!), but at the last minute the cue sheet directs you away from Big Flat and takes a pleasant meandering climb over South Mountain instead (OH YES!).

Orchard Country

The Michaux State Forest awaits on the next stretch and, upon leaving it, you get a fantastic downhill that seems to last forever, but really only takes you to lunch. Don’t worry though, another wooded South Mountain climb through Caledonia State Park starts right after lunch so I recommend you keep that in mind and don’t eat too much pizza. It also offers up a nice downhill stretch after you reach the top of it, and the next stop is a Sheetz in some small Pennsylvania town. Don’t eat too much here, either, because you might be tasting it again right after you start climbing.

Chris in Caledonia State Park

The final South Mountain ascent at mile 69 is a toughie (up Old Route 16), but nothing unbearable.  For some reason, it doesn’t seem quite as picturesque as the previous two, perhaps because the steeper incline doesn’t allow one to relax and soak in its unique beauty. However, the winding wooded section near Camp Ritchie Road is a delight. Also, after you reach the tip top of the climb, Maryland 550 rewards you for all your effort and rushes you down through more farm country to the posh McDonald’s finish in Thurmont.

Barn on 550

Gentle terrain to start, three extended climbs, three long downhills, orchards, battlefields, farm animals, and lots of quiet roads. 5,000 feet of climb in 84 miles. South Mountain X3 populaire has it all and I highly recommend it.

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