The start of the 68 mile Gravel Reaper route is located two hours north of Atlanta in the heart of Georgia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. The area is a mecca for outdoor activity and on summer weekends you may encounter dozens of others on MTB, gravel and road bikes. This route climbs and descends several ridges and passes Camp Merrill, home to the US Army’s 5th Ranger Training Battalion.
When someone says “North Georgia Mountains”, this is the place they are talking about. The Gravel Reaper route starts only a few miles east of the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Both the name and the fact that the AT will be crossed twice on this route should give an indication of the terrain. When someone says “North Georgia Mountains”, this is the place they are talking about.
Expect thick forest and long gravel sectors along streams popular with anglers. The Chattahoochee National Forest Fish Hatchery is located on the route at mile 52. Highlights include perennial roadie favorite Wolfpen Gap Rd but where the roadies summit and begin to descend, you will turn into the forest and continue climbing. Long gravel descents include rough Duncan Ridge Rd from which the route takes its name and infamous Winding Stair Gap Rd which will test both your nerve and your brakes.
The US Army’s 5th Ranger Training Battalion is based at Camp Merrill which is passed early in the route. Here the Rangers conduct mountain warfare training. Don’t be surprised if you encounter the soldiers up in the hills or see them rappelling out of helicopters.
- Those who choose to filter will have no problem finding water except at higher elevations and during times of drought.
- Afternoon thunderstorms are common. Plan on an early start if you choose to ride in the heat of summer.
- Rangers from Camp Merrill will occasionally close a road for public safety reasons as they conduct operations. Closures typically only last a few minutes.
- Parking at the Jake Mountain trailhead on Nimblewill Church Rd is free. A sign indicates that the lot is day use but the gate never seems to be shut.
- The start location is popular with equestrians who maintain many of the local trails and have set up a porta-pottie in the parking lot. Consider a donation to help defray costs. Information is on the inside of the door.
- There is one store stop on the route at mile 46.5. The selection is very basic.
- The Overhang restaurant at Camp Merrill is a great place to stop for a burger after the ride. The base is located at mile 7 on the route.
- The closest town with services is Dahlonega, eight miles to the east of the route start.