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.
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.
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!