Travel an hour east of Birmingham on Highway 20 and you’ll find the quiet, unassuming town of Anniston. With a historic downtown area of red and brown brick façades and well-worn stools at the local diner, this Calhoun County spot might seem like a town that time forgot.
But over the last few years, the area has also made a name for itself in outdoor adventure circles—especially biking and mountain biking. The Chief Ladiga Trail, a bicycle-specific paved pathway, begins in Anniston and, after crossing the Georgia border and changing names, runs all the way to Atlanta. Anniston also is home to the best new mountain biking mecca in the southeast: Coldwater Mountain. Here's how to get out and enjoy it.
The Team Behind the Trails
The International Mountain Biking Association, a nonprofit that builds and maintains biking, is the driving force behind the 4,000-acre project that is Coldwater Mountain. According to their ranking system, it's a Bronze-Level destination. More than 25 miles of trails have already been built and 75 more are in the construction phase to be completed by 2017. These pathways are designed to cater to riders of all skill levels. Scenic, entry-level trails run alongside downhill technical sections that equate to red-dirt backcountry paradise.
IMBA is hoping that Anniston’s Coldwater Mountain rivals parks and destinations in places like Moab, Utah, and other pilgrimage-worthy spots in the western United States. These locations are not only dependent on stellar trail systems, but also the fostering of a unique and dedicated biking culture. Advocates and enthusiasts are a necessary component in creating the allure and earning the title of the best mountain biking destinations in the country.
In order to reach these goals, trail builders have been invited in from all corners of the U.S. to leave their creative signature on the mountain. The results for those who participate in riding these trails are characteristic of any preeminent mountain biking destination—endless interpretation of the styles and techniques used to traverse the landscape on two wheels.
Highlights of the Mountain
One of the more popular trails for the adventurous downhill mountain biker is the Bomb Dog Loop. This 11.3-mile trail loop starts at the Cold Springs Trailhead and showcases some of the most technologically advanced trail construction available today. This translates to maximum flow on singletrack trails with berms, rollers, and jumps. Rollers acclimate riders to the hardwoods and pine forest found in this region while also serving as a fitting introduction to the feel of the soil and trail design.
After the initial section, a few options allow riders to choose which skill level best suits their abilities and interests. The three options within this larger loop are grouped in fairy-tale fashion: Papa Bear (hardest), Mama Bear (middle), and Baby Bear (easiest). After choosing, riders should be prepared for a brief climb and sporadic rock outcroppings, including a memorial to the namesake of the trail: Floyd the Bomb Dog, a much loved local sheriff deputy canine.
After the brief climb, two miles of some of the best downhill mountain biking trail await and serve as the black diamond crescendo of this trail loop. A few more miles bring riders back to where they started—and brings euphoric smiles to their faces.
Another very popular set of twin trails are Blue and Green Gravity, which can be found in the western portion of the park near the entrance road. Both trails contain the bermed, switchback downhill sections that pleasantly surprise riders with the smoothness and efficiency made possible by cutting edge trail design. These sections of trail are shorter than the Bomb Dog Loop at one mile each, but they are also entirely downhill. These trails don’t take long to complete and so are perfect for beginners making their entry into Coldwater Mountain and getting more confident on the bike. They both also require a climb to get back to the entrance.
If You Go:
Centrally located between Atlanta and Birmingham, Coldwater Mountain is in the northeastern corner of Alabama in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. There is no entry fee and the park is open from sunup to sundown, seven days a week. From Birmingham, take Highway 20 East approximately 41.5 miles to exit 179. Turn left onto 202 and travel approximately two miles to Calhoun Road. Another right on Coldwater Pump Road will bring you to the main entrance.