Before I met my wife, the entire state of Georgia rarely crossed my mind. I knew nothing about it, except for its geographic location and the fact that it was one of the 13 original colonies. Moving to Georgia never occurred to me as a possible course for my life… not even in my wildest dreams!
As you might imagine, I had never thought about the prospect of mountain biking in this state either. Sure, I had heard of the legendary riding in North Carolina and West Virginia, but Georgia? C’mon now.
Having lived here for more than 2 years now I can personally attest to the fact that life will take you places that you’ve never dreamed you would go, and that Georgia is a mountain biking hotbed. Specifically, North Georgia is the place to be. While the bottom three-quarters of the state are really quite flat, the upper quarter bordering North Carolina and Tennessee contains legitimate mountains… and legitimate mountain bike trails. Add in a mostly year-round riding season and active trail clubs and you have a formula for great mountain biking.
The Pinhoti trail is a massive, mostly singletrack trail that stretches from the upper reaches of North-Central Georgia all the way down to Central Alabama. The trail is 330 miles in length, and Georgia contains 164 of those miles. Unlike many trails of this scale in the eastern US, most of the Pinhoti trail in Georgia is open to mountain bikes.
As you might expect, IMBA (the International Mountain Bicycling Association) recently bestowed the venerable title of “Epic” to the Pinhoti. The word is out, and everyone knows what an extraordinary ride this is.
Due to its length, it would be nearly impossible to write a concise review of the entire Pinhoti trail. Some of the sections further to the south and west near Dalton are considered to be some of the most technical mountain biking in the state. The sections near Ellijay are beautifully-constructed, narrow singletrack and unlike the sections around Dalton, they are relatively smooth and fast.
If there’s one thing that you can be sure of when riding the Pinhoti, it’s that you’ll definitely be doing a lot of climbing and a lot of descending… and you’ll probably love every minute of it!
It doesn’t seem fair that Ellijay should have so many incredible trails in such a relatively small area… but they do. Another classic ride, the Bear Creek trail intersects the Pinhoti trail here (mentioned above).
The Bear Creek trail lies in a gorgeous section of the Chattahoochee National Forest and many different factors contribute its scenic nature: Bear Creek tumbling alongside the trail, the mighty Gennett Poplar, and the scenic overlook of the Cohuttas found at the top of the trail.
Not only is this ride stunningly beautiful, but the trail is a blast to pedal on as well. This is a simple out-and-back, with the singletrack climbing steadily for 5 miles. Then at the top, you get to turn around and bomb back down. The descent back down Bear Creek is fast, amazingly flowy, and best of all it is uninterrupted. Continuous downhills of this length are pretty rare here in North Georgia!
While this is just one trail in the Aska Trail System, Stanley Gap is definitely the crown jewel of the Blue Ridge area. Best ridden as an out-and-back, the trail climbs steeply from the Deep Gap parking lot all the way up to the high point, and then descends back down a little ways to Stanley Gap.
After turning around and climbing back up that shorter section, the main downhill back down to the start is your true reward… and it is to die for! The speeds you can achieve dropping down this steep, steep section of trail can honestly be scary: make sure you either bring the balls or the skills to deal with the tight trees, big rocks, and sudden turns whipping past at mach 5!
Since this trail is practically in my backyard, there is a special place in my heart reserved for the Bull Mountain trail and the surrounding trail system.
Admittedly, the standard 11-mile Bull Mountain loop isn’t the best singletrack ride in the world. Much of the climbing takes place on old roads and doubletrack. However, the descent back down more than makes up for it! Expect rocks, rocks, and more rocks, high speeds, rhododendron tunnels, and the need to pick bugs out of your teeth after grinning all the way down.
In my opinion, two of the greatest things about the Bull Mountain loop are the large amount of elevation gain (and loss), and the remote feeling in the outer reaches of the loop. Up on the high Bare Hare trail, I always feel as if I am totally removed from civilization. It’s just me, my bike, and the mountain peaks!
I recommend adding in this approach trail to turn it into a 17 mile lariat.
Stonewall Falls is one of the only legitimate singletrack mountain bike trails in the northeastern corner of the state, and it is definitely worth a little bit of a drive to reach it. This 11+ mile loop is a challenging ride that will at least stretch you physically if it doesn’t test your bike handling skills.
In short, this trail never feels like it is on flat land. It is either climbing a hill or descending the other side. There is no break, there is no respite: your heart will be going the entire time!
In the end, the descents, narrow singletrack, and beautiful forests make all of the pain worthwhile. As a grand finale, Stonewall Falls sits at the very end of the loop, signaling the end of your ride from far off with its roaring water: a fitting end to a mountain bike trail in Georgia.
I’ve done enough writing, now it is time to hear from you: Have you ridden in North Georgia? What’s your favorite trail?
If you haven’t been here, what is your favorite trail where you live?