When Southerners think of places to mountain bike, south Alabama doesn’t usually spring to mind. The rolling coastal plains and Gulf region are a far cry from the rocky and rugged mountains to the north. But still, the region has its own special challenges for mountain bikers, and an increasing number of bike trails are springing up from Dothan to Mobile.
The following five mountain bike trails are some of the best in south Alabama, and they offer enough technical challenges to satisfy even the most seasoned cyclists.
University of South Alabama Mountain Bike Trails
The South Alabama Mountain Biking Association (SAMBA) has created one of the top mountain biking trail systems on the Alabama Gulf Coast, and it’s located right on the campus of the University of South Alabama (USA) in Mobile.
The trails are hidden away on the north side of the USA campus and offer up a wide variety of challenges. In the system there are three loop trails that provide more than 23 miles of options. For beginners, there is the 3.5-mile, orange-blazed Beginners Loop. If you’re a little more advanced, try out the 8-mile, red-blazed Intermediate Loop. And for more experienced cyclists there is the 12.4-mile, white-blazed Advanced Loop.
Several individual trails make up these loops, each with its own special character. The Front Trail is a twisting series of switchbacks, while the Grasslands Trail is relatively flat and fast, that is until you hit the sandy section near the end. And Red Rock features a long and steady climb. Most of the trails are root-laden, twisting, and fast, with several narrow bridges (some only inches wide) that cross wetlands.
Because the trails are located on the campus next to a student residential area and sports field, they are closed between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m.
Located just north of Mobile in the town of 8 Mile, the trails of Chickasabogue Park are not only fun, but they also provide riders a challenge and a workout.
At this park managed by the county, there are nine individual singletrack trails that total more than 14 miles in length. Because the trails intertwine, riders can choose from seemingly endless combinations of loops, and you never have to backtrack on the same path.
The park itself is split neatly in half by I-65. To the west of the interstate, the Indian, Cemetery, and Beach loops are fast, rolling trails through a pine forest with enough roots, rocks, swales, and sandy landings to challenge beginners and seasoned cyclists. On the east side of I-65, the trails snake with dozens of switchbacks that make tight turns.
The trails are also used by hikers, so keep your eyes open for them. Before heading out, check with the park office on which direction to bike. The park alternates the direction to help with erosion and to make it easier to spot hikers coming down the trail with cyclists heading one direction, hikers the other.
The trails are open from 7 a.m. to sunset and are clearly marked with painted wooden signs or paint blazes, each color indicating which trail you’re on.
Fort Rucker Mountain Bike Trails
Face it, South Alabama is relatively flat. You’re not going to get extreme elevation changes when you bike in this part of the state, but the obstacles that you’ll face more than make up for that, especially on the trails at Fort Rucker.
The backbone of the Fort Rucker trail system is a 6-mile loop that is made up of several smaller trails, including Shrek’s Swamp and the Grubb Run. The loop is basically a rolling cross-country trail, but don’t let that "rolling" fool you. As you work your way up and down the many hills on the loop you’ll get a good workout.
Locals will tell you that the best way to tackle the Fort Rucker MTB trails is to just take an afternoon and explore the shorter rabbit-hole trails. You’ll find plenty of technical challenges and obstacles to navigate, like creek and log crossings, steep ravines, plenty of roots, some tight turns, and narrow bridges. A favorite is the Ravine Trail with the steepest and deepest ravine.
When you combine the loop and side trails, there are almost 11 miles to explore at Fort Rucker.
Be aware that hikers also use the trail system, which is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to sunset and on weekends and holidays from sunrise to sunset.
Troy University Bike Trail
A fast, flowing ride awaits you on the bike trail at Troy University in Dothan. This is just a really fun ride for beginners, while more advanced riders will want to pick up the speed and do a couple laps to get in a good workout.
The trail measures about 5 miles and includes a few log crossings, roots, and patches of sand. Because it’s mostly flat singletrack, with just a few tight turns and hills, it’s good for beginners. A highlight is a stop at a pond in the middle of the course, where you can take a break and cool down while enjoying the scenery.
Forever Wild Trails
A relatively new ride in south Alabama, the Forever Wild Trails in Dothan began as a dream of the Dothan Department of Leisure Services. It began with 40 acres of city land that was going to be converted into a green space, but soon other supporters joined in. Wells Fargo Bank donated 60 acres, and then another 400 acres was donated by Alabama’s Forever Wild program, which protects historically and environmentally significant land. With that purchase, the South Alabama Mountainbikers (SAM) got to work designing and building the trails, and the park officially opened in October 2016.
The Forever Wild Trails include 6 loops that are all joined together by connecting trails, bridges, and boardwalks, totaling more than 9 miles of challenging singletrack. You’ll cross long and narrow boardwalks over beautiful wetlands, cross feeder creeks, and face some nice tight, banked turns.
An interesting feature of the Dothan Forever Wild Trails is the pump track, a series of steep banked turns that you can ride without pedaling. All you do is "pump" the bike by pulling up on the uphill climb, pushing down at the top.
The city and associates have also installed four bicycle repair stations, three at the trailheads and one at the main trail intersection, so you can make those quick fixes and get back on your way.
Written by Joe Cuhaj for RootsRated in partnership with BCBS of AL.