Flow Country Comes to Alabama: Coldwater Mountain

Coldwater Mountain in Anniston, AL might just offer a glimpse into the future of mountain bike trail building. Yes, the trails are expertly sculpted and offer plenty of flow but they’re part of a broader movement toward conservation and tourism that promises to shake up traditional mountain biking paradigms.

Forever Wild

The State of Alabama established the Forever Wild Alabama Land Trust in the early 1990s and the group has been buying up land for recreation and conservation ever since. The 4,000 acre Coldwater tract adjacent to the town of Anniston was purchased by Forever Wild in the late 1990s and the plan is to make Coldwater into a world-class mountain biking destination over the next 3-5 years. Forever Wild and the Northeast Alabama Bicycle Association (NEAMBA) worked with IMBA’s Trail Solutions group to plan out a network of 60 miles of singletrack ranging from mild to wild. Recreational Trail Program (RTP) grants have played a large role already and should be a key funding source going forward.

Yee Haw!

The ribbon cutting ceremony for the first 11 miles of trail at Coldwater Mountain was held this summer and the trails received rave reviews. Phase I includes a 1.5 mile beginner loop and a 10 mile intermediate loop accessed from a single central trailhead west of Anniston.

Greg got a chance to ride the trails on opening day (be sure to read his article in Dirt Rag #165) but when I mentioned I would be going to check the trails out for myself earlier this month, he was stoked to make the trip again! Coldwater is about 2 hours from Atlanta and is easily accessible off I-20. The trailhead currently features a couple portable toilets, a kiosk with map, and parking for dozens of vehicles. There are even some nice boulders dotting the perimeter that are perfect for playing on while your buddies get their stuff ready.

The main intermediate loop is directional and riders are asked to ride clockwise. From the trailhead the singletrack immediately dives into the woods with a few rollers and bumps to get things going. The tread was dry and a little loose through the first section with chunks of gravel dotting the trail but everything flowed really well.

After about a mile the trail begins the main climb in earnest, eventually gaining about 600 feet in 2.5 miles. It’s a pretty consistent 7% grade all the way up and there are zero technical trail features to trip you up–just put your head down and climb! Toward the top the trail cuts onto an old logging road where I felt my heart rate push into the red zone but thankfully it was over quickly.

At this point there’s a sign on the trail that reads “Downhill next three miles. Ride within your ability. Lower your saddle for more fun. Caution snakes.” The next three miles certainly delivered on the sign’s promise, though fortunately minus the snakes.

If you’ve ever mountain biked at a ski resort or ridden one of IMBA’s official flow trails, you know what this trail is about. Sculpted berms, perfectly spaced doubles, and well-timed transitions are par for the course. Of course I knew all this going into the ride but I was still struck by just how aggressive some of the angles were at Coldwater. I rolled over everything with ease but this trail made me realize how far I have to go before I can consider myself a gravity rider!

Toward the bottom of the trail the slope seemed to flatten out a bit and it was here that I really opened things up (attempting to keep up with Greg is a challenge and is, at times, ill advised). Reaching the lowest point of the loop at around the 7.5 mile mark, we had another 1-mile climb to the parking lot. This may sound cliché but Coldwater is definitely one of those trails that feels like it offers more descending than climbing.

Here’s a video Greg and I shot on our ride:

Build it and we will come

One of the goals of the Coldwater project is to bring tourism to this part of Alabama which isn’t entirely far fetched, considering how far mountain bikers are willing travel to ride good dirt. ¬†Greg and I stopped for BBQ sandwiches at Betty’s in Anniston and we’re told the plan is to eventually provide trail access from town. In the meantime, 11 miles of trails and BBQ probably isn’t enough to draw riders from around the country but this is definitely a spot to watch. Heck, even Moab wasn’t built in a day!

Coldwater Mountain offers a rideable case study in how various organizations can work together to support a vision for world-class mountain bike trails that not only delight riders but also drive economic growth. Head out to Anniston, AL to get a glimpse of the future of mountain biking!

14 thoughts on “Flow Country Comes to Alabama: Coldwater Mountain

  1. Great write-up, that was a fun day! I like this line : “(attempting to keep up with Greg is a challenge and is, at times, ill advised)” :D I’ll admit, I did take a couple of tumbles that day… but it was all in the name of good fun!

    Commenting on the condition of the trail tread, the singletrack on this most recent trip was much loosier and sandier than it was on opening day. I’m not sure if that’s a result of all the traffic the trails have received, or if there had just been a lot more rain before opening day than on our most recent trip. Things still flowed well, and there were still TONS of jumps to boost and berms to rail!

  2. Thanks for visiting. I’m a local to the area and the trail and am always happy to hear of people coming to ride. IMBA should be here within days if not already to begin adding to the trails. Now if you’ll excuse me,I suddenly have the itch to go ride CWM. Gotta love Bomb Dog!

  3. 3 miles of downhill! I’d be interested to see the average grade.

    The east coast does miss that opportunity to bring people in for this type of recreation. Unlike the ski resorts of the Rockies, there just is not as much of a draw for long travel mountain biking. I feel lucky to have a large number of trails available to me in the DC area.

    Excellent write-up and review of this system. I’m hopeful that building a system like this can bring an economic benefit to an area.

  4. AJ711, there is plenty of gravity riding on the East Coast within a few hours of DC. 7 Springs, Mountain Creek, Highland, Beech Mountain…and those are just some of the bike parks. That’s not even mentioning the low key/off the grid DH trails we have (some are right in our back yard)

    I think Coldwater is going to be my next road trip!

    • Heh, thanks for the recommendations! I’m working my way up to long distance travel for biking. The myriad of XC trails I have around me (Schaeffer Farms, Fountainhead, Seneca Creek, Muddy Branch, Fairlands and a host of others in VA I haven’t hit yet) keep me busy at the moment. Whitetail, Snowshoe and Masanutten have some decent trails, apparently.

      I’ll definitely keep yours in mind and add them to my wishlist.

  5. Also, I would note that while full-blooded DH trails are in the plans for Coldwater, this currently is NOT a DH trail. This descent is in the middle of a big loop which, as Jeff noted, includes several legit climbs that would be torture on a downhill bike. And since this trail is so far away from roads, there’s really no good way to shuttle it (at least, that I’m aware of).

    Again, true DH trails are in the masterplan for the mountain… and when that happens, they might be some of the best DH trails in the Southeast! Can’t wait to see what the guys cook up.

  6. Looks awesome. If I ever find myself in AL I will have to check it out.

    You are aware, I’m sure, that there are several Flow Country Trails awarded by IMBA here in the U.S.A. My local trail, Cuyuna, has one ( http://cuyunalakesmtb.com/posts/sand-hog-hill-wins-flow-country-trail-award/ ). Sand Hog Hill is not the only descent at Cuyuna, just the only award winning one. Trails like Ferrous Wheel/Rolly Polly and Bobsled get a lot attention from riders.

    You should really do a review of Cuyuna. Its sort of a “hidden gem”, being a Ride Center in north-central MN. Also, there are about 10 miles of dedicated winter fat bike trails (it is MN after all) to along with the singletrack. Its very unique.

    And yes, I will comment on every trail review that isn’t Cuyuna till it gets its proper review. :-)

  7. Snowboy76 beat me to it.
    The write-up of Coldwater definitely reminded me of Cuyuna. I drove just over 5 hours to ride it (and stayed at an awesome B&B, about 20 minutes from the trails).
    —-

    I love that downhill sign! Telling people to lower their seat is awesome (the snakes, not so much.)
    The boulders in the parking lot are a nice touch. It’d be cool if all the trails had a “goof off” area while waiting for your buddies.

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