The Chattahoochee National Forest covers almost the entirety of northern Georgia. Spreading across 26 different counties and totaling 867,000 acres of land, the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest (“Chattahoochee” for short) offers “approximately 850 miles of recreation trails, and dozens of campgrounds, picnic areas, and other recreation activity opportunities,” according to the USFS. While some patches of the national forest appear to be disconnected from the main body of the forest, it’s all the Chattahoochee.
The southern edge of the Chattahoochee roughly coincides with where the Appalachian Mountains begin, with the range running from the southern edge of the Chattahoochee all the way up into the state of Maine, and even beyond into Canada. While the forest includes some smaller ranges like the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Cohutta Mountains, those smaller ranges are all a part of the larger Appalachian system.
Chances are if you read Singletracks regularly, you either A) live in the Southeastern United States and love reading about trails in your region or B) are getting pretty sick of hearing about the mountain bike trails in Georgia. Since Singletracks’ headquarters is based in Atlanta, we spend a significant amount of time talking about the trails here. But that’s for good reason.
Allow me to beat the Southeastern drum (at least) one more time.
10 Best Mountain Bike Trails in the Chattahoochee National Forest
With some 850 miles of trails, there’s a wide range of different types and qualities of mountain bike trails in the Chattahoochee National Forest. Here, I’ve rounded up 10 of the best trail segments and trail systems, totaling hundreds of miles of singletrack. With this list, you’re now prepared to pedal some of the best trails that Georgia, the Southeast, and maybe even the nation have to offer.
1. Pinhoti Trail: P1, P2, P3, Ellijay
The Pinhoti trail is a long-distance, point-to-point trail that runs for over 100 miles from the northern reaches of Georgia down into central Alabama. Several different sections of this trail provide some of the very best mountain biking in the state, and the sections commonly referred to as P1, P2, and P3 can be ridden together for a top-notch ride. P1 begins off of the Bear Creek trail (see below). P2 runs past Mulberry Gap Mountain Bike Getaway (see below again). And P3 runs up from Holly Creek Road to Highway 52.
These three sections of trail can be ridden together or combined in a variety of different ways, but each and every one offers top-quality singletrack.
2. Bull/Jake Mountain Trail System, Dahlonega
The Bull and Jake Mountain trail system is a large network of singletrack outside of Dahlonega, Georgia. Often referred to simply as “Bull Mountain,” the system can be split into two halves: the Bull side, which is steeper and more technical, and the Jake side, which is flatter and flowier.
Above and beyond the roughly 30 miles of mountainous singletrack, you can add in as many miles of doubletrack and dirt road riding as you want… literally. For an excellent endurance race in this trail system, be sure to read up on Fool’s Gold below.
3. Bear Creek, Ellijay
Bear Creek is a classic North Georgia trail that can be looped with a dirt road or ridden as an out-and-back. On the way down, Bear Creek throws water bar jump opportunities, some chunky rocks, and fast, flowing creekside singletrack at the rider. Combine with P1, P2, and maybe even P3 (mentioned above) for a longer ride.
4. Pinhoti Trail: Mountaintown Creek, Ellijay
With the way the Mountaintown Creek portion of the Pinhoti Trail is separated from Bear Creek, P1, P2, and P3 with a small stretch of singletrack that’s off limits to bikes, Mountaintown is most often completed as its own ride… that is, if it’s ridden at all. This fast, technical descent crisscrosses the creek multiple times. If you’re not up for thousands of feet of climbing to access the chunky rock gardens, water bars, and challenging stream crossings, it’d be best to avoid this ride. But if you’re game, Mountaintown will reward you with perhaps the finest backcountry mountain biking experience in the state.
Are you sadistic enough to combine Mountaintown with Bear Creek, the Pinhoti, and an inordinate amount of dirt roads? Then join Singletracks for the Singletracks Brutal Loop in the spring.
5. Pinhoti Trail: Snake Creek, Dalton
The Snake Creek Gap section of the Pinhoti trail runs about 34 miles one-way and offers up some of the rockiest, most technical riding in the state of Georgia. While there are one or two smooth bits, and a number of steep climbs and descents, this section of the Pinhoti mostly hugs the rocky ridgetops above the town of Dalton. Be sure to check out the Snake Creek Gap Time Trial (info below) for a most excellent race on this section of trail.
6. Dry Creek Trail System, Calhoun
The Dry Creek Trail System connects to one end of the Snake Creek Gap section of the Pinhoti trail, but the singletrack in this system couldn’t be more different. Machine cut with mountain bikes in mind, the trails in this 26-mile network offer some very approachable singletrack for this area of the national forest.
7. Aska Trail System, Blue Ridge
The Aska Trail System is anchored by the Stanley Gap and Green Mountain trails. Stanley Gap is a steep out-and-back trail that makes for a grunt of a climb on the way up, but an absolutely ripping high-speed descent on the way back down. While Green Mountain is a bit mellower and flowier, that trail still offers some respectable climbs and descents, along with views of Lake Blue Ridge.
8. Stonewall Falls, Clayton
While Stonewall Falls is often overlooked, if you want to ride in the far northeastern corner of the Chattahoochee National Forest, this is the trail to hit. Don’t let the 11-mile distance fool you: this trail is filled with never-ending steep climbs and descents. If you want more challenge, opt for the optional black-diamond routes.
For more mileage, a quick pedal down the dirt road will bring you to the neighboring White Twister trail.
9. Lake Russell Loop, Cornelia
The Lake Russell trail might be one of the flattest and most scenic trails in North Georgia. Located outside the town of Cornelia, it’s one of the furthest-south trails in the eastern half of the national forest.
The Lake Russell trail would be considered easy, if it wasn’t for the odd root web and abrupt climb, or the tricky ride over the dam. If you’re willing to walk the occasional tough section, this roughly 5-mile loop is great for beginners.
Mountain bikers can also head up the road a touch and hit the Ladyslipper trail, then continue on up into the wilds of the forest on a maze of dirt roads.
10. Windy Gap, Chatsworth
While Windy Gap is primarily a motorcycle trail, this route–singletrack in some places, doubletrack in others–makes for one of the most technical, sustained descents in all of North Georgia. Big boulders up top, massive jumps down low–bring your suspension and your nerve for this beast of a trail!
The one downside to Windy Gap is that it’s almost unclimbable as an out-and-back, and to pedal a loop requires many, many miles of dirt roads. Even shuttling this trail is time consuming. All of these factors combined mean that if you make the effort, you’ll probably have Windy Gap to yourself.
For 2018, the Singletracks Brutal weekend is adding a second day of riding, with the Day 2 route including the Windy Gap trail so join us if you’ve never ridden Windy Gap.
5 Best Off-the-Bike Activities in Chattahoochee National Forest
North Georgia is filled with natural and historical attractions. Here are just a few of the possible activities you could enjoy on your days off the bike, with an emphasis on the natural appeal of the Chattahoochee National Forest.
Hike the Appalachian Trail
The southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail (AT) is located at the top of Springer Mountain, near the Bull and Jake Mountain trail system. The trail runs through North Georgia and then heads thousands of miles north to Mount Katahdin in Maine.
The most popular section of the AT in Georgia is the Blood Mountain portion, which makes for a great day hike. The slickrock bald on top of Blood Mountain provides endless views of the Chattahoochee National Forest–a rarity due to the tall trees and dense vegetation found in the Southeast.
Visit Amicalola Falls
At 729 feet tall, Amicalola Falls is the tallest waterfall in the state of Georgia. An 8-mile approach trail leads from Amicalola Falls State Park to the top of Springer Mountain and the beginning of the Appalachian Trail. As a result, most AT through hikers begin here.
Reach Georgia’s High Point: Brasstown Bald
Another natural wonder that can claim the title of “tallest in Georgia” is Brasstown Bald, Georgia’s high point at 4,784 feet above sea level. With a prominence of 2,108 feet, the 360-degree views from the Brasstown Bald overlook are unparalleled.
Tour a Historic Goldmine in Dahlonega
Dahlonega, Georgia is the site of arguably the first major gold rush in the United States, beginning in 1829. Consequently, the gold mining history here runs deep. Tourists can visit a gold mining museum, and even take a tour through some of the original mines. One of the best-known tourist mines in the area is the Consolidated Gold Mine.
Harvest Apples in Orchards near Ellijay
Ellijay, Georgia is famous for its apple orchards, and if you’re visiting in the fall, picking apples by hand is a popular pastime. The town of Ellijay even holds an annual apple festival.
5 Best Campgrounds in Chattahoochee National Forest for Easy Trail Access
Chattahoochee National Forest is filled with campgrounds both large and small. Here are 5 of the best spots that will set you up with easy access to the trails.
Mulberry Gap is on the finer end of the camping spectrum, with everything from posh campsites to cabins. For a very reasonable fee you can score meals at the dining hall, and I can personally recommend the meal package. Oh, and did I mention that they have trails on-site and access to the best backcountry singletrack in the region, like P1, P2, P3, Bear Creek, and much more?
With a name that ends in “Mountain Bike Getaway,” you can’t go wrong.
2. Lake Russell Recreation Area
You guessed it: this campground is located directly adjacent to the Lake Russell trail. This campground is relatively accessible and yet, this entire area near Cornelia flies way under the radar for most visitors.
3. Jake Mountain Campground
Alright, I wouldn’t call the Jake Mountain Campground the “best” at anything and it’s usually full of horses, horse riders, and horse trailers, but if you’re looking for camping right at a trailhead that costs all of $0, check out the Jake Mountain campground.
Bonus: since this area is designed primarily for horse trailers, the pull-through sites are well-suited to RVs–perfect for a posh base camp, as long as you bring the “posh” with you.
4. Bear Creek Campground
Again, if you’re looking to camp right next to singletrack, this is a great choice. However, don’t expect any place to set up a camper. This is a rustic hike-in campground that requires campers to carry gear in across a bridge to the camping area. There are no designated campsites, but there are already a number of fire scars spread throughout the area. Pick one, pitch your tent, and enjoy.
3 Best Mountain Bike Events in Chattahoochee National Forest
Held on the most technical mountain bike trails in Georgia, the Snake Creek Gap Time Trial Series is a perennial favorite. Originally offered with 34- and 17-mile options, riders now also have the option to brutalize themselves on 50 miles of punishing singletrack. The extra miles added for the new 50-mile version mostly take place in the Dry Creek Trail system (mentioned above) so while perhaps those miles aren’t as technical as the Snake proper, this winter race series is challenging enough to draw riders from as far away as eastern Canada.
Previously known as the Fool’s Gold 100, this race lives on, just in a shorter 60-mile version. The popular endurance race is held on the trails in the Bull and Jake Mountain Trail system — #2 on our list above. The route offers up some of the best singletrack and dirt roads in North Georgia. Come ready to party… and to suffer.
For those who really want to suffer, the Trans North Georgia is a self-supported bikepacking race that runs from the South Carolina state line to the Alabama state line. In total, it covers 357 miles and climbs 38,690 feet, hitting many popular trails along the way.
Bonus: The Singletracks Brutal Loop
The Singletracks Brutal Loop is a great way to sample some of the best trails on this list (numbers 1, 3, and 4 if you go all-out) in a collaborative, rather than competitive, atmosphere. Join us for the 2018 edition on March 31 and April 1.
3 Best Bike Shops Near Chattahoochee National Forest
Located in downtown Ellijay, not only is Cartecay Bike Shop convenient to all of the Ellijay-area trails, it’s central to almost the entire Chattahoochee National Forest. While the shop might look small from the outside, it’s a full-service shop that offers “bikes, repair & maintenance, rentals, accessories, group rides, bike fit, or trail advice,” according to shop owners.
While Northstar Bicycle is located a bit south of the forest, it’s not far from the Bull and Jake Mountain Trail System. If you’re driving up 400 from Atlanta, you’ll pass right by as you near the forest. Northstar carries a great selection of bikes and parts in stock, and can take care of any service or maintenance needs that you have.
“Blue Mountain Bikes is Blue Ridge’s newest bike shop,” their website reads. For a small shop, they carry a respectable selection of brands, including Evil, Specialized, Banshee, Kona, and more. As an added bonus, Blue Mountain Bikes has a pumptrack right on site, so you can drop by just to ride and hang out.
Your Turn: Have you ridden in North Georgia? What’s your favorite trail in the Chattahoochee National Forest?