If you’ve never combined biking and camping before, it’s an excellent way to get outdoors and explore Alabama. Compared to hiking, biking enables you to cover more ground each day, but you still move slowly enough to really soak in your surroundings. Plus, you can load up a bike with all the gear you need to travel for a few days.
For decades people have been bike touring, traveling long distances via paved roads and carrying loads of gear in panniers. In recent years, people have also taken up bikepacking, where the goal is to carry a lightweight load in streamlined bags and tackle terrain that might be too rough for a traditional touring set-up.
Whether you’re interested in touring or bikepacking, Alabama offers some excellent places to ride and camp. If you don’t have much experience, a great way to get started is to do a two-night trip that combines Georgia’s Silver Comet Trail and Alabama’s Chief Ladiga Trail. (If you’re a strong rider, you could do this as a one-night trip, but it’s challenging.)
Running from Smyrna, Georgia, to Weaver, Alabama, these two paved paths follow an old rail corridor, and together they stretch 94.5 miles. By following these Rails-To-Trails pathways, you get to enjoy mostly flat terrain, you don’t have to share space with motor vehicles, and for much of the way attractive forests and fields surround you. Still, civilization is only a short ride away, making it easy to grab food, water, and supplies, or simply duck into town to enjoy local attractions.
A Few Logistics
The trip we outline here begins in Georgia and ends in Alabama. If you don’t have someone who can pick you up at the end of your journey, you’ll need to spot a car near the end of the Chief Ladiga Trail in Anniston, Alabama. You can leave your car at a parking lot next to the Michael Tucker Park Campground.
When you begin the Silver Comet Trail in Smyrna Georgia, park you car at the Highland Station shopping center at the corner of South Cobb Drive and East-West Connector in Cobb County. Then, you can ride on the paved Silver Comet Trail Cumberland Connector path one mile to reach the start of the Silver Comet Trail at the Mavell Road Trailhead.
The Silver Comet Trail
From the Mavell Road Trailhead to Powder Springs, you’ll be on one of the busier sections of the Silver Comet Trail, especially on weekends. At first, the path skirts urban and suburban areas, but as you proceed west, your surroundings become more rural. While you’ll probably pass other cyclists, it’s unlikely that you’ll meet to other people with bikes loaded up for camping.
Along the way you’ll encounter trailhead parking areas and parks that have restrooms. Plus, there are many places where you can leave the trail and easily ride into town for restrooms, water, and snacks. For example, the Hiram Trailhead at mile marker 14.7 is near Homer Leggett Park, which has good restrooms, a water source, and picnic tables. In the Hiram Trailhead parking lot be sure to check out the old train caboose that’s actually a sheriff station. While you’ll find amenities along the trail, they’re sporadic, so it’s wise to study the online Silver Comet Trail map in advance and plan your stops.
As you ride, you’ll see many interesting structures, such as the Pumpkinville Trestle, which you’ll encounter about 23 miles into the trip. Located less than a mile from the Rambo Road Trailhead in one of the trail’s more remote regions, the trestle stretches more than 750 feet and rises more than 120 feet above the forest floor. At mile marker 30.9 you’ll pass through an impressive railroad tunnel that was built in 1912 and stretches 800 feet.
Continuing on, your ride leads past farm fields and attractive stretches of forest with interesting boulder formations. At mile 34, make your way to The Beautiful Rock Campground to stay the night. Located near the Silver Comet Trail, this combination campground and RV Park has primitive campsites and restrooms with showers.
If you want to try to do the trip in two days, or you just feel like pushing on, skip Beautiful Rock Campground and continue on. At mile 37.6 you can take a side trip into the town of Rockmart to explore the attractive Riverwalk Park and the interesting historic downtown area, and maye get a meal at one of the town’s many quality restaurants and cafes.
As you depart Rockmart, the trail leaves the railroad bed to follow Highway 278 and traverse hilly terrain until Cedartown. If you bypassed The Beautiful Rock Campground, and you want to do the trip in two days, stop at the Camp Comet camping area at mile 45. This secluded spot includes fire rings and a couple of raised platforms for tents.
When you leave Camp Comet, you’ll face some of the most physically demanding terrain of the trip. The Silver Comet Trail follows rolling hills, some of which are steep and might require you to dismount and push your bike. Take great caution in this area as you might pick up speed on downhill sections and encounter tight turns. As you move farther west, the trail returns to flat railroad grade and the miles are much easier.
At Mile 51.3 the trail passes the Cedartown Depot, which is a replica of an original train station. It houses the Silver Comet Museum, as well as restrooms, concessions, and showers.
At mile 61.5 you reach State Line Gateway Park, which sits on the state line between Georgia and Alabama. Lots of folks pause here to take pictures in front of the park arches and relax for a while at the picnic tables.
Chief Ladiga Trail
Continuing west on Alabama’s Chief Ladiga Trail you’ll begin one of the most scenic stretches of the trip, riding among mature hardwoods in the Talladega National Forest.
The trail runs along Terrapin Creek, and then near mile marker 7 the Chief Ladiga Trail intersects with the Pinhoti National Recreation Trail, a 335-mile path that stretches from Alabama’s Flagg Mountain to north Georgia. If you camped the night before at The Beautiful Rock Campground, this is a good place to end your day, as you will have ridden more than 34 miles. Not far from the trail you’ll find the Chief Ladiga Trail Campground. Here you can pitch your tent (or even stay in a comfy lodge room), get a shower, and enjoy snacks and drinks.
As you head out for your final day, you’ll have good views of Dugger Mountain and large tracts of wilderness and forested land. The Chief Ladiga Trail then goes through the town of Piedmont, where you can find sandwich shops and other places to grab a bite.
At mile marker 25.6 on the Chief Ladiga Trail your ride takes you through the campus of Jacksonville State University. Having gone through the remote stretches of the Talladega National Forest, this section will definitely feel more lively and bustling.
Farther along in Jacksonville, you’ll reach a train depot where many people traveling the Chief Ladiga Trail pause for a break. As you move toward the town of Weaver, you’ll ride among farm fields and wetlands, and enjoy the shade from stands of tall pines. Finally, the trail follows a raised railroad bed surrounded by stone as you roll into Weaver. From the end of the trail, you’ll ride less than a mile to return to Anniston.
Gear and Other Tips
• You can carry your gear in panniers, or you can check out bikepacking.com to get an idea of other types of gear haulers.
• Carry standard camping equipment, such as water bottles, a stove, fuel, fire starter, cook pot, bowl, utensils, headlamp, knife (multitool), sleeping bag and pad, plus a tent or other shelter. Because there are many water sources along the way, you won’t need a water-treatment system.
• Consider using a hammock rather than a tent. During long bike rides, it’s likely that your backside and your hips will get sore, and you can relieve pressure on these areas by sleeping in a hammock.
• In addition to cycling shorts and gloves, your clothing system should include layers of clothes that will wick moisture and dry quickly. If you do the trip in spring, fall or winter, bring wool or synthetic insulation layers as well. (Don’t forget a hat!) Also, bring a change of comfortable clothes for exploring town. If you have bike shoes with clips, remember to bring an extra pair of shoes for camp and town.
• Be sure to wear eye shields, and consider using a mirror that attaches to eye shields or handlebars. And don’t forget your bike repair kit!
Written by Marcus Woolf for RootsRated Media in partnership with BCBS of AL.