North Georgia’s 47 & 51 mile mixed-surface Toccoa Swinging Bridge routes cross the Toccoa river twice, first an antique steel bridge in the quaint town of Aska and again on a cable suspended bridge which really does swing. Both feature quiet country roads through broad valleys framed by mountain peaks, lakes, rivers, pristine forests and sustained gravel climbs. The longer option will test your skill on the blistering “High House” descent. Either option will likely be one of the prettiest routes you will ever ride.
47.2 miles/4145 feet
51.4 Miles/4695 Feet
The first 20 miles of the Swinging Bridge route are almost all pavement. Gorgeous country settings and quaint villages punctuate the miles leading to the town of Aska as the route meanders through back roads, up and down a few punchy gravel hills and past horse corrals. Dial Rd runs along the bank of the Toccoa River and Doublehead Gap Rd runs through a broad valley. Both are paved and come with views of the surrounding mountains. Both will rank among the nicest roads you will ever ride.
The only stores come early. Gourmands will note pecan pie at the Iron Bridge Cafe while Van Zandt’s Grill & Grocery is known for their biscuits (before 11:00 AM). Located at miles 10 and 15 respectively, these are your only chances for a bottle refill apart from filtering. Van Zandt’s is just off Dial Rd and worth the stop for the front porch views alone. Check the map for exact locations.
Mile 20 marks the start of gravel and there’s as much as you want, interrupted only by a photo or two as you walk across the swinging bridge. The gravel approach road to the swinging bridge is well used by motorists who can sometimes be spotted smashing passenger cars through its minefield of pot holes. There will be a short section of hike-a-bike to get to the north end of the bridge itself. At the south end of the bridge, conditions on the ground don’t make the route back to the road 100% clear so bring your GPS and trust it. A small creek crossing indicates that you are going in the right direction.
Bear left at the Shady Grove Baptist Church (mile 25.6) for a wonderful loop through the woods. Lower Frozen Branch Rd ends a couple of hundred yards from where it started. Skipping it will shorten the routes by about six miles but it really shouldn’t be missed. Shelf roads, impressively large Poplar trees and views of peaks above and roads below highlight an already beautiful route.
Climbing starts after the the loop and gets steeper as you go up, followed by a traversal of the ridge where the road parallels the Appalachian Trail. Both route options cross the AT three times and those on the longer version can chat with hikers at the parking area near the trail’s southern terminus before the switchbacks on the High House descent. Those opting for the shorter route will enjoy a slightly more casual descent along Noontoola Creek for close to seven miles.
Deciding between the 47 and 51 mile routes can be put off until late in the route if you load both options onto your GPS. Seasoned legs can continue along the ridge from Winding Stair Gap (mile 39.5) and enjoy a few hundred feet more climbing. The shorter 47 mile route heads downhill from the gap but you will need to choose your downhill wisely. The correct road for the shorter route descends north. Incorrectly dropping off the ridge to the south means climbing back up Winding Stair Gap Rd and its 17% grades! Either way, plan on getting a little turned around at the gap’s five way intersection. Which road to take isn’t clear so you may have to backtrack a little if you make a mistake. Just don’t go too far without checking your GPS.
The Toccoa Swinging Bridge routes represent the absolute best of an area which epitomizes north Georgia gravel. The route would make an amazing auto tour completely apart from cycling. If you are reading this and don’t yet have a gravel bike then this route is your excuse for N+1. It’s that good.
- Water is abundant on the route except during times of drought. Consider filtering before climbing or traversing a ridge.
- There may be significant automobile traffic at trailheads for the Appalachian Trail, especially at Springer Mountain (mile 42 on the long route).
- The short section of singletrack from the parking area to the Swinging Bridge is part of the Benton MacKaye hiking trail where bike riding is prohibited. As a very practical matter, you can expect families with small children on the footpath, especially during weekends in summer. Please be respectful and walk your bike from the parking area to the bridge.
- You will have weak or no cell signal throughout much of the route.
- Parking for the route is at the Fellowship Primitive Baptist Church on Doublehead Gap Rd. You may have to park at a convenient place further along the road on the first and third Sunday of each month.
- There are no facilities at the start.
- The Iron Bridge Cafe is in Aska at about mile 10. Van Zandt’s grill is indicated on the map. Both are early on the route and there are no other services apart from a few pit toilets at campgrounds along the way so plan accordingly.
- The nearest towns with services are Elijay approximately 10 miles to the west, Dahlonega approximately 15 miles to the southeast and Blue Ridge approximately 18 miles to the northwest. Getting to these towns will take significantly longer than expected due to the winding nature of mountain roads.