Bear Creek / Pinhoti Loop - Mountain Biking

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Summary

A 19-mile loop linking the best trails in this area, with longish climbs and unbeatable descents. Add some real NW GA mountains to your mountain bike ride!

Written by

Jeff Bartlett

Distance

19.0 miles

Destination Distance From Downtown

40.6 miles

Difficulty

3 of 5 diamonds

Time To Complete

3 hours

2 - 4 hours

Seasonality

All Seasons

Dog Friendly

Yes

Mulberry Gap is dog friendly, but the forest roads sometimes have vehicles on them, so be alert.

Fees Permits

Yes

Parking at Mulberry Gap is $5

Review

Intro

The issue people have with these trails is that they're not connected to much - Pinhoti is a point-to-point and Bear Creek Trail is on an island (as is Mountaintown Creek), so very few people can figure out how to ride any of them. More confusingly, there is a BEAR CREEK LOOP TRAIL that's signed and splits off Bear Creek at the bottom if you're heading up - it's an old road bed and doesn't get maintained as much. 

In light of this confusion, the following narrative is an insider's guide to enjoying riding these trails the way they should be ridden. This is some of the best mountain biking in the southeast, but in order to get the most out of your experience, you'll want to keep reading. 

What Makes It Great

Bear Creek Trail, Mountaintown Creek Trail, and several sections of the Pinhoti Trail (P1 & P2 among them) are clustered together in the shadows of Potatopatch Mountain and Turkey Mountain, below Conasauga Lake at the edge of the Cohutta Wilderness Area. In fact, the lower singletrack portion of Bear Creek Trail and the final Pinhoti 2 downhill run are widely regared as two of the best descents in the region. Ride both, then argue with your friends about which is better. While there are numerous ways to ride these trails and the forest roads connecting them, my favorite is the classic Bear Creek / Pinhoti 1 / Pinhoti 2 loop from Mulberry Gap. This loop totals 19 miles and includes approximately +3000 feet of climbing. You’ll check off both descents mentioned above, riding everything in its “fun” direction.More on the Mulberry Gap Mountain Bike Get-a-way below, but starting here definitely adds to the experience; even if you’re just doing a day trip, for $5/person you’ll have a place to park and access to flush toilets and wifi -- plus a bike wash and a hot shower when you’re done. Recommended RideTake a left out of the driveway onto the gravel of FR 18 (Conasauga Road / Mulberry Gap Road). You’ll start downhill immediately, but don’t get too excited -- it’s easy to blow right past the first intersection, where you need to make a right-hand turn onto FR 68 (Old CCC Camp Road). Follow this gravel road up, and up, and up -- be sure to stay left at the only junction from here, going through the gate if it’s closed to motor vehicle traffic. This climb is about 5 miles, and gains roughly 1300 feet along the way, but is never too steep. If you want a break before the steepest part -- it’s about a 9% grade for the last mile -- stop at the Barnes Creek Picnic Area. This small cascade is especially picturesque in spring. From here, continue uphill to the obvious overlook on your left; this is Bear Creek Overlook.Catch your breath (again) at the overlook, which offers a fantastic view of the surrounding Cohutta mountains, and enjoy the knowledge that the biggest climb of your day is done. From here, you’ll spend most of the ride losing the elevation you just banked in the most fun ways possible… though there are still two legit climbs to go before you’re back to the car!Just uphill from the overlook -- I know, I know -- you’ll reach the Bear Creek Trailhead. This short, upper section of the Bear Creek Trail is actually the most technical riding of the day, featuring two features that many riders will need to walk. If you’re shy about technical riding, you may skip this section by riding 0.1 mile back down FR 68 from the Bear Creek overlook and entering the trail via the gate on your left.From here, the Bear Creek trail follows an old logging road downhill for about a mile. At the next trail junction, take a right (follow the sign) and go around a gate. 0.2 miles later, the trail takes a sharp left into the woods, and the fun really begins. The next 2-mile section of trail is gorgeous singletrack through a lush rhododendron forest, much of it along the creek. It’s rocky enough toward the bottom that you’ll need to pay attention, but this isn’t technical trail. You’ll cross several creeks along the way, and the massive Gennett Poplar. Watch out for hikers on this popular segment of trail.When you reach the junction with Pinhoti 1, shortly after the giant poplar, it’s time to climb again; take a hard right and cut up the hillside. Don’t worry, it’s only this steep for a moment! Pinhoti 1 climbs for a while, with some fun rooty sections and a couple of short, steep pitches. After a left-hand switchback and a punchy climb with a water bar in the middle, P1 points back down.This downhill is NARROW in places, and includes a few tricky spots. Cover the brakes and keep it rubber-side down! You’ll cross another creek with a nice campsite at the end of the descent, then a bridge. Continue out to the gravel road.Take a left on the gravel, then follow signs for Pinhoti 2 to the right. The bad news is you’re about to climb again; the good news is that it’s mostly gentle doubletrack and it doesn’t last too long. Go right through another gate, and continue following Pinhoti Trail markers until you reach a trail marker on the left-hand side at the beginning of an obvious downhill.This downhill is a real ripper, interrupted only by a couple of brief out-of-the-saddle climbs. The trail carves back and forth down a ridgeline as you lose 600 feet of elevation in two miles. There are no technical features during the P2 descent, just sweet purpose-built singletrack with rollers and the occasional berm. At the end of the trail, take a right onto the gravel and cruise 2 miles back to Mulberry Gap.Alternate ways to ride Bear/P1/P2If you want to skip the 3-mile forest road climb: have a friend drop you off at the upper Bear Creek trailhead, just above the overlook, to start your ride. If you’re staying at Mulberry Gap, staff will also shuttle you in your personal vehicle for a modest fee.If you don’t mind climbing, but would rather climb off-road: You may also begin this loop by parking at the bottom of the Bear Creek Trail, then climbing up Bear Creek to access the overlook. Climb the adjacent Bear Creek Loop Trail to skip the lower singletrack if you don’t want to repeat this section. If you choose this option, you’ll take a LEFT on FR 18 (Conasauga Rd) at the end of Pinhoti 2, then follow forest roads back to your vehicle.If you’re feeling masochistic: Add Pinhoti section 3 (and dozens of tight switchbacks) as an out-and-back at the end of your ride; you’ll ride right past the sign after finishing the P2 descent. Since none of us are ever able to talk ourselves into this being a good idea, a good way to ride Bear/P1/P2/P3 is to park atop Turkey Mountain, at the Cohutta Overlook parking area that serves as Pinhoti 3’s upper trailhead. Start your day by blasting down P3, and you won’t have a choice but to climb it to get back to your car. Adding P3 increases this loop’s total by 8 miles, and the 4-mile climb out adds another 900 feet of climbing in two distinct chunks.

Who is Going to Love It

The terrain here offers some of the best mountain biking in the southeast, with longer climbs and descents than can be had in the immediate Chattanooga or Atlanta metro areas. 

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

These trails are open year-round, though please be respectful and avoid riding them when the trail surface is soft and your tires might cause erosion. During some parts of the year, gates may be closed to motor vehicles.The Mulberry Gap Mountain Bike Getaway offers camping, cabin rentals and a host of amenities that appeal specifically to mountain bikers like a bike wash, shower house, hot tubs, home-cooked meals and a selection of craft beer. Repeat: there is good beer.

Location

Mulberry Gap Mountain Biking Loop via Pinhoti and Bear Creek Trails

400 Mulberry Gap Rd
Ellijay, GA, 30540
34.798366, -84.612145

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