Pick the Mountain Bike Capital of Georgia

May 2, 2022

Georgia is a peach, but there are a couple of other reasons to PICK Ellijay, the northern corner of the state. It’s prime apple orchard country and Georgia’s mountain bike capital. Here, the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains extend into the Chattahoochee National Forest to create perfect rolling terrain for 500 acres of orchards and 100-miles of singletrack. We showed up at Mulberry Gap Adventure Basecamp to start our visit. Each day we explored miles of trails with stops for lunches that included homemade sandwiches and a Honey Crisp apple.

 It’s a 12-hour road trip from West Michigan, but the mountain views and the riding experience are worth the drive. In an attempt to get our “Mulberry Legs” right out of the gate, we chose an initial ride on Pinhoti 3 to the Cohutta Overlook. After throwing our luggage in our cabin, we rode out the front gate and started churning up the P3 trailhead. As a flatlander, my legs were burning after mile one. There were brief ridgeline flat sections, but the grade continued up along with some tight switchbacks to test my mettle. Josh and I huddled three miles in to determine we could survive the last mile for a 360-degree panoramic vista.

Finally, standing on the stone structure, gaping at the purple and hazy blue layers of peaks highlighted by the afternoon sun, I momentarily forgot about the lactic acid in my thighs. The best part of mountain biking… you go up, you’re rewarded on the way down. True that, P3 was a fun extended ripper that had us grinning under our helmets. I was already thinking about dinner, a cold beer, and a hot tub. We sat on our porch, sipped a beer, and agreed how excited we were… the next two days, we were booked on the shuttle!

Mulberry Gap is like a mountain bike summer camp for adults with super friendly counselors to guide your stay. Just the talent show isn’t on stage; it’s on the trails. This adventure retreat caters to bikers, hikers, and gravel grinders as the surrounding terrain has plenty of dirt roads and techy wilderness cross-country trails. Trust me, there’s no shame in shuttling, and don’t think your cheating by skipping the initial climb. The Gap has rustic cabins or campsites, and the on-site Barn is the communal gathering area for meals and beverages. There are also several hot tubs dotted in between cabins and the two bathhouses.

Perhaps the best amenity is the home-cooked meals. Another tip, mealtimes are sharp, so don’t be late. 8:30 am for breakfast and 6 pm for dinner. When the grub is ready, the head chef will announce the meal, and a line forms. Don’t dally: bikers are a hungry sort, and climbing requires a bunch of calories.

We were well fed, and the meals leaned gourmet. For example, Friday was classical French, featuring a Coq au Vin (Chicken in mushroom and wine sauce), whipped potatoes, and a cucumber mint salad. The dessert was a delightful baked custard with fresh raspberries. I made a commitment to be early for all meals! And, breakfast, some say, is the most important meal of the day. I would agree, especially if it includes bacon. It’s a popular treat, especially for ever-hungry bikers. As a result, Mulberry Gap breakfasts include “bacon administration,” aka Jackie, an office staffer who doubles as the bacon provider. She smiles and thoughtfully places two crispy strips on your plate for round one, with a reminder, you can come up for seconds!

The food was top-notch, as was the company — we met several couples who became fast friends. We’ve all agreed to stay in touch, traded digits, and are now the 21st century equivalent to pen pals. Though be aware the on-site wi-fi is unreliable at best, but honestly, it’s part of the allure of the place. It’s good to get off the grid. At mealtimes, I looked around, and a remarkable thing was happening…People talked to each other, made eye contact, and traded trail stories!

We took advantage of the MG shuttle again for the classic Bearhoti Loop, which includes crossing Bear Creek to a forested downhill (giant rhododendron everywhere), then to P2 and P1 for more climbing, roots, and rocks, followed by plenty of descending. I was equal parts exhilarated and exhausted.

We also stayed in a Blue Sky cottage rental near Ellijay on the Cartecay River for two nights. The cottage had a stunning and steep staircase down to the river, where a patio area had lounge chairs and a riverside hammock. It was idyllic and a much-needed respite after another pedal on the local River Loop, the area’s original mountain bike trail. During our stay, Dondi at the Cartecay Bike Shop gave us suggestions for other local rides and pointed us out back to their on-site bike park.

Downtown Ellijay was quaint and chocked full of locally-owned restaurants, boutiques, and tasting rooms. Our gourmet adventure continued with spicy tuna Poke bowls at The Shack and dinner at LaCatrina for scrumptious tacos and stuffed chili relleno peppers. We’d also suggest The Roof for dining with a downtown view and The Cantaberry for classic soups and homemade sandwiches.

We wound down our trip with a Tasting Tuesday, plus it rained part of the day, so we thankfully rested our legs. We restocked apples at R & A Orchards and added in some pies, hellfire pickles, and cider for good measure. We also added olive oils and a white balsamic to our loot from Blue Ridge Olive Oil. Cartacay Wine & Craft also had two seats open at the bar. Josh and I selected a flight of four local beers and sipped our way into the afternoon. I sipped and slipped into thoughts of trail riding, Appalachian views, and a plot to return.

There’s plenty to PICK in Ellijay….choose your own apples and trails when you visit.

Feature photo and Mulberry Gap mountain bike photos courtesy of Outlive Creative.

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