“A great trail set on the iconic site of the 1996 Olympic mountain bike race course.
— Kevin Hall
Open during daylight. Directional (counter-clockwise) every day.
The GIHP mountain bike trail was built for the 1996 Olympics but remains a fantastic mountain bike destination for non-Olympians. The system consists of two loops, the horse park side and the granite side, with the large parking area between them. Each loop has its own personality and makes up for relatively short lengths (~6 miles for the Horse Park Side and 3.7 miles for the Granite Side) with fast descents, leg-burning climbs, granite slickrock, and a good amount of natural, technical obstacles.
Need to Know
Don't let the name fool you - these are bike-only trails. While the Georgia International Horse Park is obviously an equestrian-focused area, the mountain bike trails are dedicated bike trails only. The trails do cross dedicated horse trails, where standard trail etiquette should be followed, but there are no places where equestrians and mountain bikers share trails. Enjoy!
There are two sections to this ride, the horse park side and the granite side and the parking lot sits between them The route is extremely easy to follow and is clearly marked with signs depicting a white arrow on a green background.
Park at the large gravel lot along Centennial Olympic Parkway, directly across the road from the Hawthorne Suites hotel. Ride southeast along Centennial Olympic Parkway for 0.3 miles. There is a wide dirt path along the road so you don't have to share the pavement with cars. At the bike/pedestrian crosswalk, cross the road and start the granite side .
The loop begins with granite slickrock that is marked by both painted arrows and an obvious "wear" line that is nearly white compared to the surrounding gray rock. The loop is to be ridden counterclockwise only, regardless of the day of the week.
Once on the granite, the trail will fork. Take the right fork to begin the counterclockwise loop. After 0.4 miles of slickrock climbing the trail crosses a paved road (Costley Mill Rd.). Watch for traffic (cars have right of way) and continue across to the trail.
Be ready for some steep slickrock descents and tough slickrock climbs! The trail will flow down and up several large granite faces for about a half mile. All the climbs are rideable, as the granite offers nearly unlimited traction, even when damp.
After the slickrock, the trail turns to dirt and becomes typical Georgia singletrack for the next 1.5 miles -- tight, twisty, rooty, and rocky with several stream crossings and a few short ladder bridges. There are several short but steep climbs -- including one of the toughest technical climbs in the Atlanta area -- and fast, flowy descents. The trail crosses the equestrian and hiking trails several times but each intersection is clearly marked with a white arrow on a green background.
As you approach the road crossing again, the trail alternates slickrock and dirt, crossing the road, and finishing with a bumpy, 0.4 mile slickrock descent back to the trailhead. Wave to the golfers as they give you the "who the heck rides a bike on solid rock like that?" look and return to the bike/pedestrian crossing at Centennial Olympic Drive. Pedal 0.3 miles back to the parking lot and the start of the horse park side.
This loop starts at the large sign reading "Welcome to the 1996 Olympic Mountain Bike Course" at the edge of a massive grass field. Start your counterclockwise loop by going right and following the thin strip of singletrack worn into the grass field, slowly climbing towards the woods.
After about 0.4 miles, you'll enter the woods and are treated to some excellent, flowy, fast singletrack with short climbs, descents, and tight turns for about 3.5 miles. Pretend to be Bart Brentjens or Paola Pezzo (1996 Men's and Women's Olympic Mountain Bike Gold Medalists) as you pass by the remaining wooden camera stands that broadcast the event live across the globe.
The singletrack crosses a large, open greenspace several times as it winds through the woods but it is very easy to pick up the trail again on the other side.
At the 7.2 mile mark, things get a bit tougher. Two steep climbs greet you, one consisting of rocky singletrack and the last skirting the edge of the open space and climbing straight up the contours.
Crossing the open space one last time, there is another 0.5 miles of rooty, rocky trail with some fun, small drop-offs (less than a foot and easily avoided if desired). You end up back at the large, open field that is adjacent to the parking area -- but you're not done yet. The trail takes a quick 0.2 mile jaunt back into the woods for some more twists and turns before dumping you out onto the field. Ride the worn, narrow groove in the grass along the perimeter of the field back to the parking lot.
Collect your medal and sing along with your national anthem!
History & Background
Site of the first ever Olympic Mountain Bike Race in 1996. The Netherlands' Bart Brentjens won gold for the men and Italy's Paola Pezzo won gold for the women. The top US finisher was Susan DeMattei who took the bronze in the women's race.
This area also hosts the Atlanta Spartan Race (Aroo!) and the Southeast Bike Expo. The latter is a fantastic opportunity to demo the latest mountain bikes on these excellent trails.
Just down the road from the mountain bike area is a massive equestrian competition complex which hosted several Olympic events and still attracts equestrian competitors of all levels.