THE MOUNTAINS OF NORTH GEORGIA & SOUTHEAST TENNESSEE
The word Appalachia invokes many images, some with a basis in reality and others conjured by Hollywood. The 197 mile Appalachia Bikepacking route confirms some stereotypes but dispels many more and provides a four to five day immersion into the rugged landscape and unique culture at the intersection of north Georgia, southeast Tennessee and extreme western North Carolina.
“In the five days I spent here, I didn’t meet one person who wasn’t friendly and welcoming” said one rider. In terms of people, this is the takeaway. Questions such as “How many gears that thing got?” and “How far ya ride each day?” are as likely as advice about where to camp. If you need water then flag down a horse drawn buggy or hybrid Jeep and just ask.
The area is rugged. Roads don’t always take the most logical or easiest route from point A to point B. The Appalachia Bikepacking route doesn’t either and includes the Gee Creek Horse Trail and section 14b of the Benton MacKaye hiking trail. The Benton MacKaye trail is open to bicycles and the relatively gentle grade along the ridge is actually the least difficult and more scenic way to approach the summit of Buck Bald. The Gee Creek horse trail ascends the Chestnut/Black Mountain massif and exists to crush your spirit before leveling out onto a ledge with vistas to the east. The descent off the massif toward the town of Tellico Plains is classic mountain switchbacks with rock walls and sheer cliffs.
Mile 83 to 118 form an arc from the town of Tellico Plains, east on pavement through the Tellico River Gorge and then west over the mountains on gravel roads bordering the Bald River Creek Wilderness. This section would make for an outstanding day ride in its own right. There are many campgrounds along River Rd and each one will make you wish you had pedaled a little further the night before.
A 17 mile section of pavement returning south from Tennesse’s Hiawasse River offers opportunities for cheeseburgers, ice cream and an overnight at the Company House Bed & Breakfast. Towns with names such as Turtletown and Ducktown offer glimpses into the heart of the poor south before entering the singletrack trails along the Ocoee River. It is possible to avoid the singletrack trails and simply coast down into the Ocoee River Gorge. Either way is sublime.
The final 35 miles includes part of the Death March route around the Cohutta Wilderness where self sufficiency and a love of climbing are requirements.
Deciding on how many days to allocate for the route will likely come down to your level of fitness and how you prefer to camp. Those who prefer wild camping will have more flexibility. 20,000 feet of climbing in less than 200 miles is a lot and much of that climbing is steep. Five days will allow for a somewhat relaxed pace and time to recover at the end of the day.
October is typically the driest month of the year and fall foliage reaches peak in early November. Summer can be brutally hot and doesn’t give up easily in the South – daytime highs can reach 95°F through September. A great time to ride this route would be very early spring, just before the trees bud for less obstructed views through the forest.
- Bears are active along this route, especially in the Cohutta Mountains and near the Bald River Wilderness along Bald River Road. Hanging a bear bag is not only smart but sometimes a requirement on National Forest Service land.
- Water is plentiful along the route except at higher elevations along ridges and during times of drought. Consider filling prior to ascending the Gee Creek horse trail (mile 58) and the Benton MacKaye trail (mile 122.5).
- Gnats can be a problem especially in late summer and early fall. These are the biting kind, closer to mosquitos than anything else. Consider some form of repellent.
- The route is a loop and so drop off or shuttle will not be needed. You can leave your car at the traihead for the Tearbritches trail which is very popular with hikers.
- Cottonwood Campground or the trailheads at Alaculsey located at mile 16 are more accessible and could be used for departure.
- The nearest town to the start and end of the route is Chattsworth, approximately ten miles to the west.
- There are several campgrounds in the miles after the town of Tellico Plains. Tired riders may want to take advantage of the Dam Creek walk in campground (mile 101) which is secluded, quiet and the first encountered. The Sourwood Campground (mile 103) is nestled right up against the river and popular with anglers. The Holly Flats campground (mile 109) offers a more remote camping experience.
- Green Cove Outfitters (mile 102) is focused mainly on fly fishing but offers basic camping resupply.