A guest post by Laura Colbert of Loose Nuts Cycles in Atlanta, GA
Since Monday was a federal holiday, it was one of the rare days when both my partner, Chris, and I have the same day off of work. After a week’s worth of rain in Atlanta, we needed some outside play time, so no idea seemed better than a day on our mountain bikes. Chris had been talking about these new trails in Alabama for a while, so we decided to head west to check them out. I have to admit, I was skeptical about driving to Alabama to go mountain biking. Living in Atlanta, we usually head north to Tennessee and the Carolinas for the best trails. Alabama didn’t seem like an intuitive place to go for awesome trail riding.
All of the reviews that I found of the Coldwater Mountain trail mentioned a 1.5 mile beginner and a 9 mile intermediate loop; however, when we arrived at the trail head we heard from some locals that they had recently added an optional loop off of the beginner loop, adding another couple of miles. Starting from the parking lot, we descended immediately at that great angle that looks flat but is just downhill enough to make you feel extra fast. The trail builders didn’t hesitate about including jump opportunities from the start, so be ready as soon as you clip in/put your feet on the pedals. After about a mile , the trail splits 3 directions (from left to right): beginner loop extension (new), intermediate loop, beginner loop. We went left and continued our jumpy, smooth descent, with the added benefit of some wide, easy berms. So fun and so fast! When the downhill ended (as it inevitably does…), the uphill was pretty reasonable. It didn’t take too long to get back to the gravel parking lot. Total extended beginner loop–a fast, fun 2.5ish miles.
After getting some directions from a local dad with a lot of unsolicited advice, we headed out for loop on the longer intermediate loop. We began with the same quick descent as before, but this time took the middle fork. We descended a bit more and then began the 6 mile climb that you’ll find mentioned in almost every online review of this trail. I have a habit of getting grumpy during long uphills, so needless to say, I was not happy by uphill mile 4 or 5; however, now that I’m not looking ahead at more uphill trail and breathing hard while trying to drink water, I would like to note that the climb wasn’t hard. It’s just looong…. I think most people who have some time in a mountain bike saddle will be able to find the right gear and spin it to the top. There’s nothing too technical to get in the way, just a lot of pedal strokes. When you do get to the top of the mountain, you ride through a section of flat baby-head rock before getting to this sign:
and this sign:
Then the descent starts. The descent splits not too long after it starts: left–intermediate, right–most difficult. I chose to go right, knowing that Chris had probably made that same decision 30-seconds before me. I was a bit nervous at first to pick this option, but it turned out it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it might be. There were no sudden drops, no rock sections, no roots or generally sketchy sections. There were jump opportunities from beginning to end of the 3-plus mile descent. As a girl who is just beginning to get comfortable jumping, I stayed on the ground most of the time, but the trail flowed well, whether grounded or airborne. The most difficult part of the “Most Difficult” trail was just knowing what speed was right for me going over the manmade jumps and berms.
Unfortunately, this downhill doesn’t spill right out into the parking lot, so we did find ourselves about 2 miles from the parking lot with another long uphill to climb. It takes away a little of that 3 mile downhill buzz, but definitely not all. After climbing back to the parking lot, Chris and I unloaded our water and snack supplies and did one more fast lap–just the extended beginners loop–to finish off the day.
While writing this review, it took a lot of effort not to overuse the word “fun”, but if asked to summarize these trails in one word, “fun” is exactly what I would say. Coldwater Mountain is a great place to be if you want to spend some time jumping and riding around berms, but it’s also built so that it’s fun if your jumping skills are limited/non-existant. The fun to work ratio is pretty spot on. I wouldn’t go to Coldwater Mountain to hone my technical skills, but I will be back when I need a fun, fast day on a mountain bike that I know I’ll feel good about.
The other thing I really liked about our visit to Coldwater Mountain is that there was a great mix of skill levels and types of riders on the trail. We saw families with kids on scoot bikes on the beginner trail. We saw overweight adult dudes trying to get back in shape by riding the extended beginner trail. We ran into guys who ride trails multiple times per week. Most impressively, there were many more women of varying abilities than I usually see on our trail rides. It really seems like NEABA, SORBA, and Alabama’s Forever Wild organizations have done a great job of promoting this trail system and including the community in its development. Even after a bunch of fun jumps and long downhills, the different trail users might have been my favorite part of our visit.
I’ve read that the goal is to make the Coldwater Mountain trail system the next mountain bike mecca in the southeast. The plan is that within about 5 years, the current 15 miles or so will expand to 60 miles. Sure enough, we saw evidence of construction and heard from locals that more miles are already in progress. You can bet that if the remaining 45 miles of trails are as fun as the first 15, I’ll definitely be back.
Bonus feature of Anniston, AL: It’s home to the U.S.’s tallest chair, formerly the tallest in the world.