Thursday, April 22, 2010

Bear Creek, Ellijay, Georgia

Getting There

Head west out of Ellijay on Hwy. 52.  Right after mile marker 8, hang a right on Gates Chapel Rd.  Drive for about 5-6 miles, and you'll see a sign for the Bear Creek trailhead pointing up a gravel forest road to the right.  If you are just doing the 10 mile out-and-back, turn right and drive up the road to the trailhead. If you're combining this with the Pinhoti for a 17-18 mile ride (see below), park down on the road.

The Route

First off, I'd like to mention that Jim Parham's Off the Beaten Track is wrong on the route for this trail.  Parham would like to send you up the Bear Creek Loop Trail to the right and have you just descend the Bear Creek Trail.  Two problems with this:
  1. The initial climb is a steep, steep hike-a-bike that is not a whole lot of fun.  
  2. The rest of the "Bear Creek Loop Trail" looks like wide cross country ski trail/doubletrack, and isn't really any sort of decent singletrack.
No, the best bet is to ride this as an out-and-back.
But there are still two options to choose from:

Option 1:
Start from the trailhead. Ride this as a pretty straight forward out-and-back, about 5 miles each way.  To do this ride, start heading up the Bear Creek Mountain Bike Trail, and continue to climb climb climb and follow the signs.  When you pass the gate at the top, follow the signs and hang a left on the forest road, and do some more climbing.

Eventually, you'll see a singletrack switchback coming down the hill and connecting from the right. Continue straight/left to the visible gate, and hang a right on what looks to be a much nicer forest road. Stop at the overlook and take some pictures.  Continue up the road, and hang a right at the sign for the upper Bear Creek parking lot.

Hop back on the singletrack, and descend down through those switchbacks you saw earlier. Hang a left, and retrace your tracks back down the mountain.

Option 2:
For this option and about a 17-18 mile ride, park down on Gates Chapel Road. Climb up the gravel forest road to the lower parking lot that you normally would have driven up in Option #1. 

Complete all the directions for Option #1, but soon after you start climbing, note the Pinhoti trail taking off up to the left.

As you have almost finished your descent from Option 1 and you're almost back to the lower parking lot, the Pinhoti will be on your right. Hang a right and climb up, and ride this awesome section of the Pinhoti trail.  When you hit the gravel forest road, hang a left to the Y junction, and hang another left onto the pavement. Ride for a couple of miles, and you're back at your car, having ridden some of the finest singletrack in North Georgia!

Navigational Resources

Lower Trailhead

All About the Trail

What, that trail was in Georgia? You could have fooled me! The Ellijay mountains and the trail design of the Bear Creek trail are much more reminiscent of trails that I have ridden in Montana than those I have in Georgia. For instance, trails such as Bull Mountain and many of the other great North Georgia rides tend to go up-down-up-down a great deal. In the Rocky Mountains and especially Northwest Montana, most of the popular rides climb straight up the mountain, and then bomb straight back down! This is how Bear Creek rides, and this trail may seriously have been the best trail I’ve ridden since I left Montana!

The Bear Creek mountain bike trail really is good enough to be compared to Rocky Mountain riding. Classic East Coast features still abound, but the fast, blissful ride back down the mountain had me reminiscing of my times shredding the Rockies!

Smooth Section
As I mentioned in the route description, this trail is best ridden as an out-and-back, so you’ll climb the same trail that you descend. It is a manageable climb if you ride it the way I described, and is a bomber run back down! The trail turns and flows down the mountain, with only one or two momentum-killing switchbacks. There are some smooth sections of buff trail, but for the most part it feels like a pretty technical descent as you’re bombing at high speed. Really, I think that this trail is as technical as you make it. The faster you descend, the gnarlier it gets!

Also, when the skilled rider rails this downhill at speed, the opportunity for something else emerges: some serious air time! There are whoops and rollers, small drop offs and even a couple of sizeable kickers spread over the entire length of this trail. Honestly, I don’t remember the last time I took that much air that many times riding a mountain bike trail! It was easily the most hangtime I’ve gotten in a 5 mile stretch of trail anywhere in the Southeast!

In addition to the excellent quality of the singletrack, the scenery afforded by this mountain bike ride is, again, one of the best in North Georgia. The trail climbs almost the entirety of its length directly above the tumbling, picturesque Bear Creek (hence the name). Shortly after beginning the ride, the Gennett Poplar will be off to the left side of the trail. One of the biggest trees in the Southeastern United States, it is an incredible sight to behold! I wrote more about it here.

As you reach the top of the trail, be sure to follow my directions to the overlook. The East Coast isn’t well known for containing stunning views. Places like Colorado offer up gorgeous vistas when the mountains protrude above the tree line, and places like Utah and Arizona have wide-open desert expanses begging to be photographed. Most of the potential views in the Appalachians and definitely North Georgia are obscured by the thick forests surrounding the trail. Despite the fact that it was manually cleared out, the overlook at the top of Bear Creek is definitely an abnormally gorgeous view for a North Georgia mountain bike ride. Be sure to bring your camera and take advantage of all of these photo opportunities (or just enjoy the ones that I’ve posted here).

Beautiful North Georgia Mountains

Bottom Line:

Bear Creek may be the best mountain bike trail in Georgia. Having been featured in several prestigious mountain bike magazines, I had great expectations when I came to ride the trail, and I wasn’t disappointed! It has it all: great singletrack, awesome views, climbs, fast descents, technical riding, buff trail, and plenty of air opportunities!

The Real Bottom Line:
You need to ride this trail if you ever get the chance!

More Posts About this Trail:


Mark April 23, 2010 at 7:16 AM  

Greg, you really need a GPS and start mapping these rides.

Greg Heil April 23, 2010 at 9:15 AM  

Do you think you can find someone that will sponsor a GPS for me? I'd be all over that!

Mark April 23, 2010 at 9:31 AM  

Well, you can write to all the all the GPS companies and see if someone will come through. Otherwise, look for an Garmin Edge205 on Ebay or CList. You can usually get a used 205 for $75.

Greg Heil April 23, 2010 at 9:42 AM  

Hm, I will have to think about that. I wonder if writing to people would work. If so, that'd be the way to do it!

Thanks for the thoughts man, I will definitely look into it!

Diane of Mulberry Gap Mountain Bike GetAWay August 14, 2010 at 11:42 PM  

Enjoyed reading your review. If you are not familiar with Mulberry Gap Mountain Bike Get-A-Way, you need to check us out. We are an overlooked alternative to Gates Chapel. You can ride in and ride from there and follow up with showers, a meal, lodging. We shuttle too for those that want more riding, less climbing.
Come by sometime and we'll show you around.

Jamie,  October 25, 2010 at 11:40 PM  

Greg, thanks for the detailed review. I only had time to ride one trail while in Ellijay and your route was a perfect mix of challenging climbs, speed, and distance. I'll definitely come back when I have more time to punish myself.

Greg Heil October 26, 2010 at 9:12 AM  

@Diane, I'd love to come by and check you guys out some time.

@Jamie, I'm stoked that you enjoyed the ride! Sweet, isn't it? I'm curious: did you just do the Bear Creek trail, or did you add in that recommended section of the pinhoti? Either way, my mission was accomplished: help people find awesome trails to ride! Sweet!

Jamie,  November 2, 2010 at 12:08 PM  

Greg, I took the sharp right turn and included the section of the pinhoti. Thanks again.

Anonymous,  August 6, 2011 at 7:36 PM  


Just rode Beer Creek today (not the Pinhoti section) and you were exactly right. What a blast! I arrived at 7am and had the whole trail to myself. Great directions. I followed them all the way up and they were perfect. I even saw a dead snake on the upper forest road. It reminded me of your post on snakes.

Thanks for the review.


Greg Heil August 7, 2011 at 4:13 PM  

Sweet dude, glad you had a great ride!

Anonymous,  February 26, 2012 at 8:37 PM  

Thanks for the review Greg, I drove up from Atlanta today and got a great ride up and down maybe 2/3rds of Bear Creek Trail. You weren't kidding about those jumps! I'm definitely coming back for another ride plus a turn onto the Pinhoti section as well.


Greg Heil February 26, 2012 at 9:12 PM  

Awesome, glad you had a fun time, Mike!

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