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.
The 43 mile Rock Creek route starts in the craft brewery and arts focused town of Blue Ridge and travels to the edge of the Chattahoochee National Forest. Along the way you will climb among million dollar mountaintop homes, meander along rushing creeks and enjoy postcard views of the North Georgia mountains. This mixed surface route is a visual delight with lots of variety and surprises around just about every corner.
Accessible from the Chief Ladiga and Silver Comet Rail Trails, the playful and rolling Duggar Mountain gravel routes are available in 41, 52 and 68 mile lengths. All three traverse ridges and climb the sometimes punchy hills in the pine glades of the Talladega National Forest near Piedmont, Alabama.
The adventurous and steep Cherohala Bald Buster route is set in the rugged Unicoi Mountains on the NC/TN border. This 36 mile mixed surface route visits mountaintop balds and descends 3000 feet on the paved Cherohala Skyway. The last mile will likely be hike-a-bike. Unique ecosystems, panoramic vistas and the opportunity to ride in a true alpine environment are some of the rewards for those willing to make the effort.
The Fried Green 27/42/50 routes explore the extensive network of gravel roads in and around the Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge near Juliette, Ga. Located little more than an hour south of Atlanta, three lengths provide options for riders of all abilities. All feature pristine pine glades and hardwood forests, rolling and sometimes playful terrain, a few creek crossings and postcard perfect gravel.
The Heintooga Ridge route climbs from the banks of the Oconaluftee River near Cherokee NC to over a mile high. The route passes through two of the Blue Ridge Parkway's iconic tunnels before turning into the woods and entering Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A 17 mile descent on a one-way gravel road features shelf roads and long sections along rolling whitewater. This 47 mile mixed-surface route is unforgettable and worth the drive from anywhere in the South.
The Coopers Creek route is set in the heart of North Georgia's Blue Ridge Mountains. The 58 mile loop contains long stretches of gravel along pristine trout streams, impressive views of the mountains and a seven mile descent to the finish. The area is a mecca for road and gravel cycling. If you only do one gravel ride in North Georgia, the Coopers Creek route should be on your list.
Water defines the 66 mile mixed surface Rainbow Springs route in Western North Carolina. The route is an out & back along the banks of the Nantahala River and a significant portion of the route features crashing whitewater within river's gorge. A spin along the lake and views of 5000 foot peaks will have you reaching for your camera. A fast finish will have you grinning like a little kid.
The 100 mile Alabama Skyway route starts along the Chief Ladiga rail trail in the city of Piedmont, Alabama. 41% of the route is on gravel roads through the Talladega National Forest and along the edge of the federally protected Duggar Mountain Wilderness. Much of the route follows the Skyway Motorway which runs the crest of the Talladega Mountains and includes a paved climb to the highest point in Alabama at Cheaha Mountain State Park. The route is well suited to a two day bikepacking trip if 11,000 feet of climbing is too much for one day.
The 33 mile Little Crusher gravel route is the lite version of the full Conasauga Crusher. Set 35 miles east of Chattanooga TN in the Cohutta Mountains, the route is as rugged and remote as it is beautiful but with 10 fewer miles and 1300 feet less climbing than the full Crusher version.
Paved start and finish sectors bookend one continuous stretch of gravel fun near Reliance, Tennessee. The Jenkins Grave Gap routes are classic Southern Appalachian gravel - steep, rough, and incredibly beautiful. 36 and 46 mile options cross a 450 foot long cable suspended bridge over the Hiwassee River and includes many ridge traversals and shelf roads, some of which are unmaintained.
The 53 mile mixed-surface Cades Cove route enters Great Smoky Mountains National Park via a seldom used gravel road over Rich Mountain. Cades Cove is one of the most visited locations in the entire national park system and simply too beautiful to ride fast. The 11 mile paved loop road and gravel roads within the cove are sometimes closed to motor vehicles to allow car free access to cyclists.
The 45 mile mixed-surface Talking Rock Gravel route is an absolute blast. Portions beg to be hammered and lots of climbing adds spice. The route starts one hour north of Atlanta and features impressive views of Rich and Burnt Mountains, meadows, orchards and genteel countryside. For those so inclined there's even mid-ride charcuterie and tasting available at a winery right on the route.
Congress authorized the Foothills Parkway as a scenic drive to provide magnificent views into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Located in East Tennessee, 31 miles of the roadway are open as of 2020. The Foothills Parkway route is 63 miles and 8100 feet of climbing if ridden end to end as an out-and-back. Climbers will love it but even if you don't have the legs for the whole route then at least do the newly constructed eastern section for its stunning views.