When I moved from Tallahassee, FL, to Gainesville, GA (northeast of Atlanta) in January of 2019, I wasn’t sure what to expect. At that time, I’d been riding bikes actively and consistently since 2011-2012. and riding mountain bikes (MTB) almost exclusively since 2017.
At that time (and it’s pretty much only grown since then), Tallahassee had a fairly extensive network of interconnected trails and paths, and those that weren’t actually connected together, could be connected via riding on sidewalks or bike lanes; for me, the longest transit time via car to get to any of the major trail heads was no longer than 30-40 minutes. But most of Tallahassee’s trails wouldn’t be considered “good” or “exciting” by the greater mountain bike community, no matter how connected and easily-accessible they might be.
I knew that north Georgia was pretty renowned for its hiking (featuring the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, as well as many other beautiful, scenic southern hikes) and for its mountain biking. But I didn’t know much beyond that.
In the intervening 2+ years, I’ve made it an unspoken goal to ride and hike as much as I can; I get bored easily, and pretty much am always on the lookout for new, interesting, or photogenic hikes or rides. And I think that I’ve accomplished a lot, and that I’m in a place of suitable experience to give a rundown of riding locations to friends, family, and whatever other small group of followers I retain.
I’m not the fastest, strongest, most technically or aerobically capable rider; I’m not the most well-ridden in terms of places I’ve been, but I think that what insights I have to offer may be valuable to others — especially since most of the lists of MTB spots on the internet are just reprisals of each other, and I think I have some alternate / diverging opinions and options, though of course, there are simply some gems that must be echoed and reiterated, because they really are just that good.
With that in mind, I’ll drop right in to the top-10 list;
I’ve included a link for every one to the MTBProject map of the trails or trail system which I’m talking about apparently my version of WordPress doesn’t allow me to use the html plugin that MTBProject requires, so I’ve dropped screen shots of the map views in. Just hit up MTBProject for more specifics. I was trying to be hip and trendy and embed the actual manipulatable maps but alas I’ve been foiled. I’ve also included a brief summary of my thoughts and feelings on the area, and maybe a picture or two of the cooler spots.
10) Allatoona Creek Park (and Pitner Road Park)
Allatoona Creek & Pitner Road Parks are Cobb County parks, with trails managed and maintained by West Georgia SORBA. (The majority of the trail system is on the north side of Old Stilesboro Road, in Allatoona Park, but the two parks are directly linked by access double track, so I’ll include them together here.) This is one of four major metro-Atlanta trail systems, with the others being Blankets Creek, Big Creek Park, and Chicopee Woods. Access to Allatoona is easy, the parking lot is large, with amenities including restrooms and water, and the trail head allows basically immediate access to any of the individual or stacked-loop trails. The trails don’t feature much climbing, as the park is located in a wetland-esque area and along creek beds, but there is enough variety in trails to keep people coming back for more, with everything from true green beginner trails on the Pitner side, to more moderately technical XC trails on the north and east side of the property, and black diamond backcountry-esque tech on the northwest side, along with slope-style jump and flow lines minutes from the parking lot.
9) Blankets Creek Park (and Olde Rope Mill Park)
While lumping these two trails together might be a stretch, they’re definitely close enough together to be linked and ridden in one ride, and I’ve seen people do it; I don’t think either one deserves to be left off, and they assuredly compliment each other.
Both trails are managed by SORBA Woodstock; Blankets Creek Trails are on land leased from the Army Corp of Engineers, and Olde Rope Mill Park is city park. As mentioned above, Blankets Creek is one of the main and most popular metro trail systems. Like Allatoona, it offers easy access, parking, and amenities, and a variety of trail types, including technical XC-style trails, as well as flow and jump trails. There’s definitely more elevation gain (and loss!) to be had at Blankets than Allatoona, and the views are slightly better too.
However, Blankets lacks entry level trails that might be more suitable to casual or inexperienced riders, which is where Olde Rope Mill kind of fills in; while I’ve found Olde Rope Mill Park to be more crowded, its trails fall definitely more in the beginner/intermediate category versus the more advanced trails found at Blankets, and so when considered together, I think they make a solid system worthy of (at least occasional) consideration.
8) Chicopee Woods
Chicopee Woods trails are the third and final metro area trail system I’ll be including here; with land managed by the Chicopee Woods Area Park Commission (and I believe leased from the City of Gainesville) and trails managed by Northeast Georgia SORBA, this park area is a stellar, wooded space with easy access and a variety of well-maintained trails to suit every user. Although the top end and more technically demanding XC and jump trails seen at Allatoona and Blankets are notably absent here, the trails at Chicopee nonetheless offer an enticing option, and one that I made almost daily use of while I lived in Gainesville. The Chicopee Woods trails also seem to see less use than the previous two systems, and even though the trails are not directional here (whereas Allatoona Creek & Blankets are directional by day) they never seemed exceedingly busy to me.
Here on out we shall diverge from the more dense and managed trail systems. While urban/suburban trail systems such as those above, as well as similar systems like Big Creek Park, Sope Creek Park, and Fort Yargo offer easy access for a variety of people in Metro Atlanta and surrounding areas, and while parks and systems like these are a general boon to the sport, providing a great entry to mountain biking for newcomers, and easy perpetual practice for old-timers, they do have their disadvantages. Trail systems like these tend to be very busy, and very dense, and subsequently, very very well-managed. They are very typically directional by day of the week (i.e. riding clockwise MWFSu, and counterclockwise TRSa), and are usually actively closed after rain events, so that the soggy, muddy trails don’t get destroyed by the people that would otherwise flock to the trails. Directional trails are great ways to manage volume and reduce negative impacts on the trails, but reduce options and variety. Actively closing trails due to rain events is an excellent preventative measure to keep trails in optimum conditions with minimal maintenance, and even on non-regulated trails, you should avoid riding when they’re disgusting and wet and muddy. However, the SORBA agencies that manage these trail systems are typically very conservative in when and how they close down the trails, meaning that often trails can be closed for days at a time, reducing riding options. While, like many people, I ride trail systems like these more than other alternatives, they’re not my preference: if possible, I like backcountry trails — options in the National Forest and in state-managed DNR properties — where you feel far away from people and traffic, and often where the harder aerobic riding and most scenic views are found.
7) The Pinhoti Trail, Ridge & Valley Region
The Pinhoti Trail is multi-state, backcountry, multi-use trail that begins in Alabama. It’s like a cooler, lesser-known, bike-friendly AT. There are several sections of the Pinhoti Trail in this area of northwest Georgia that can be ridden separately or together, depending on your legs, lungs, and available time. Much of the trail in this area is ridgeline trails, where you’re going to suffer a nasty initial climb from the parking lot or gap, and then you’ll have a relatively benign and semi-flat ride along the ridge, and then a blistering descent down again. While these trails are maintained, they’re rough. They’re technical, with little rewarding flow. They’re very difficult overall, and I have yet to finish any section of the Pinhoti (in this region or elsewhere) where I haven’t felt beaten. I enjoy them because they’re challenging, and generally so far off the beaten path of rides in the area that you’ll encounter very few other people — if that’s your thing. Depending on which section you ride, the views are rather limited, but facilities and easy parking are generally provided. Probably the most popular section of the Pinhoti over here is the area north of HWY 136 — Snake Creek Gap — to Dalton, which hosts one of the harder MTB races (The Snake Creek Time Trials) every year.
6) Hickory Nut Trail (Tray Mountain)
To me, this is one of (if not the premier) backcountry downhill trail in Georgia. This region, north of Helen, is not really home to many single track options, but is well known for its road riding (see, Six Gap), and its gravel options. The Hickory Nut Trail is one of the only single track options outside of the dated trails at Unicoi State Park, and you’ve got to work to get there. There’s no easy way to get to the top of Tray Mountain: you’ll need a capable 4WD vehicle (this is a popular area with Jeepers and adventure motorcyclists), or you gotta park somewhere and ride 8-10 miles up the gravel forest service roads (FSRs).
The reward is a 3.5-4 mile long descent, dropping about 1400′ off the side of the mountain. This is an old, decommissioned forest road, littered with boulders and baby head rocks, frequently overgrown and blocked by downed trees, and far from anything and anyone. And it’s awesome. While it’s an unsponsored / non-sanctioned trail, it’s easy to find and as of the last time I rode it, not marked as closed or prohibited to ride on. (Motor vehicles are prohibited on trails in the National Forest and WMA land that are not numbered FSRs or explicitly demarcated OHV trails.) Of course, do your own research before you go, and never ride trails that are marked as closed or restricted, or that depart public land and trespass on private property. This little gem of single track (along with other trails on this list) are also part of the Trans North Georgia mountain bike race — an epic multi-day self-supported endurance ride. If you’re up for a gravel grinder to get to the top, this is a brilliant slice of single track, but it’s so remote and isolated from other trails that it doesn’t rank higher than this.
5) Lake Russell WMA
Lake Russell WMA is National Forest property that is managed by the GA DNR. This expansive network of FSRs and single track is a northeastern gem. During the winter or rainy months, there are all manner of gravel routes and options to ride, and it’s generally pretty and scenic, with Currahee Mountain providing great views to the east for those brave enough to drive or strong enough to ride to the summit. But Lake Russell’s greatest asset — its size — is also its greatest downfall. While there is enough riding to keep even the most intrepid rider like myself coming back for more, the dedicated mountain bike trails are sparse and not really well interconnected. There are many old or decommissioned roads or trails that lead nowhere, or have been lost to time, and there are a plethora of unsponsored (if not actually illicit) trails.
It’s easy to get lost or turned around unless you have a map or a friend, and connecting trails together via FSR is tedious and time-consuming. That being said, Lake Russel feels remote and rarely crowded, and provides a little bit of everything — tech, adventure, scenery, even waterfalls — but is not for the faint of heart of the entry level rider.
4) Stonewall Falls & White Twister
Stonewall Falls & White Twister Trails are some of my personal favorites, and a great entry point to more remote and backcountry riding for a newcomer to our sport. Access to the trail head is easy, regardless of if you have a moderately high clearance vehicle, or if you have park of the main highway at the local county park and ride a mile or two of pavement. The trails are aerobically taxing but not overwhelmingly technical (barring just a few spots), and the downhills are rewarding and somewhat flowy. I don’t believe there is a SORBA that maintains this area, and I know it’s in the National Forest, but the trails have largely been very rideable and well-maintained every time I’ve gone. Views are modest but pretty, and there are a couple nice stream spots and a respectable waterfall. While it’s out of the way for most people, I can’t recommend the riding here enough.
3) Buzzard’s Roost
Buzzard’s Roost is one of the newest trails in the north Georgia area; as of writing this, it’s still not open to the public, however, I was able to ride it at one of Northwest Georgia SORBA’s open trail days. Whenever Whitfield County completes the parking and opens the park, I suspect it will become a hot spot and an absolute favorite for many riders.
Shaped like a lollipop, the trail routes you up a lone mountain ridge, with a substantial bit of climbing, but nothing that ever felt overwhelming or impossible. The switchbacks are well placed and well termed, and the average grade stayed around 5%. The most stunning thing about the ride was its exposure: easily the most exposed trail compared with anything else I’ve ridden, and probably the most exposure of any trails I’ve been on — including hiking — in the area. The east side of the mountain had the best views towards the Cohuttas, and the most exposure, but the west side featured really gnarly rock gardens and technical features; while it’s not the absolute wheel demolisher that I found Raccoon Mountain to be, it’s still a challenge and not beginner-friendly. The location just off I-75 and west of Dalton will be a big draw for avid riders, and I suspect that while it’s open to walkers and hikers as well, that the 10+ mile loop length will discourage casual visitors, meaning that in combination with directional trails, should keep all trail users safe and let the MTBs push the downhill portions.
2) Bear Creek, Pinhoti 1-5, and the Cohutta Wilderness
While out of everything on this list, I’m probably least-versed in this area, with my limited experience out there, it absolutely deserves this number two spot. The plethora of hiking and cycling opportunities in and around the Cohutta Wilderness leaves nothing to be desired. The biggest detriment I can find to this area is that accessing it isn’t easy; of course, that keeps it much tidier and less busy, but means that for those without higher clearance vehicles or the legs to pedal much of the FSRs, it’s going to be a bother getting up there. The trails vary from narrow, isolated, ill-maintained abandoned FSRs, to beautiful, flowy, well-maintained single track, and everything in between. For those willing to explore the FSRs, there are several sweeping vistas, from which I’d argue some of the best views in the state are found.
And in the top spot…
Bull & Jake Mountains
Very similar to Bear Creek, Bull & Jake leave little to be desired, and between the two systems, Bull & Jake wins only because I’m more experienced with the system, and because there is better/easier access to get out there.
As with Bear Creek, Bull & Jake is a huge network of trails and FSRs in the National Forest. As far as I’m aware, Bull & Jake is the only International Mountain Bike Associate Epic ride in the state right now. Most commonly broken down into Bull Mountain on the west, and Jake Mountain on the east, with connecting trails in between. Bull Mountain is comprised of steep, nasty, chunky gnar, and is definitely old school cool, while Jake Mountain is a flatter, more fast and flowy descent. The connecting trails in the middle of the system vary between new, modern machine cut flow, and old hand cut paths. As with Bear Creek, be prepared for a climbing workout no matter where you go.
The Stanley Gap / Aska Trail System — I’ve not ridden this, so I can’t rank it here, but I gather that it’s an excellent, if somewhat small and isolate system with some challenging tech and climbing, and great descents.
Charleston Park — this is a great tiny park in Forsyth County, with some challenging root gardens and fast, fun descents. The loop(s) are short enough to do as repeats, the views of Lake Lanier are pleasant, there are facilities, and the trails are casual enough that any ability rider should be able to tackle them.
I’ve included below my excel table that helped me rank these all. I started by listing my personal top-10, (out of what I’ve ridden) and then I added other factors, to get an average score at the end, which is what I used to rank everything in this specific order. Please note that everything here is just an opinion, and there’s a lot of great riding out there that I didn’t choose to list here. This is just a list of MY personal favorite trails (and primarily single track trails) in the area, and I’m always on the hunt for new stuff to ride.
Weighting factors that I used: Max & Avg technicality — 3 being the most technical, and stuff I find difficult, 2 being average, something that a beginner would find difficult, but maybe doable, and a 1 is easy, walking paths, etc.. Points for length and variation — a higher weight was given to trails or trail systems where you could make the ride as long or as short as possible and ride the trails any way you choose. Views / scenery is self explanatory. I’d always prefer to have a good view than not. Aerobic effort required is sort of a subjective average of what trails feel really difficult — a 1 would be a paved, flat multiuse path. Downhill quality is another subjective measurement of how long, fast, and fun a downhill run is. Flow is a yes or now. I docked points if the trail or trail system was either unsponsored or illicit, or has unsponsored or illicit trails in addition to the main trails. Perceived remoteness is how far away from society do you feel? It frequently corresponds with actual physical remoteness, but not always. Ease of access — a 1 indicates that you have to drive a good ways, and need a 4WD or high clearance vehicle or a lot of additional riding to get to your trail head. A 2 means that there is probably parking somewhere, but that you’ll probably need to do a little bit of riding to get started or driving in or on a forest road. A 3 means there is parking at or near the trail head. Overall fun is a measure of how much I would re-ride that system, all else equal. Perceived trail quality is linked to overall fun, but is also related to trail maintenance, trail style, trash, etc.. And then part of the weighted average was my favorite trails got weighted more.
I spent a good bit of time riding, thinking, and working on this list of north Georgia trails; if you found yourself here, I hope you found it useful. For more information, MTBProject is an amazing resource, as is Strava, the local SORBA facebook or website, and as always — local bike shops and riders. Best of luck, and good riding.
(Also, apologies for any typos…)