“Dawson Forest offers some secluded singletrack close to Atlanta on some land with an unusual history.”
— Lost Justpastnowhere
Dawson Forest is closed to mountain bikers and equestrians the first week in August and the trails are closed at during seasonal hunting times.
Dawson Forest offers some good singletrack in a heavy forest along the Etowah River. It's less than 30 minutes from the northern suburbs of Atlanta but it offers a more natural and secluded riding experience (e.g. like Bull Mountain
or Pinhoti/Bear Creek) compared to the "in town" trail systems (e.g. Blankets Creek or Chicopee Woods).
This featured ride covers most of the trails on the south side of the Dawson Forest.
Need to Know
- Bring $7 for the daily biking fee, or you can buy an annual pass for $70.
- The trail network is very popular with equestrians, so it might be better to avoid the weekends if possible. Also, the area is managed as a Wildlife Management Area, so hunters will have priority during hunting season.
- In theory, there are a few places where the Etowah River can be forded (e.g. near mile 12.4 and 18.3) to access the Blue Trail (North) Trail(North) and Yellow Trail on the north side of the river (not part of this featured ride), but the river can easily be waist deep or higher with fast currents. So maybe wait for a warm day after a dry spell to try it.
Start by riding east from the parking lot on the Red Trail
. The Red Trail
features a couple of short difficult climbs, but each climb is paired with a fun singletrack descent. Part of the trail parallels a creek and there are a couple of creek crossings. Lots of roots, rocks, and fallen trees will keep you busy. There is some recent logging that has occurred between about 1 and 1.5 miles, but the trail is recovering. Afterward, return to the parking lot and follow the Orange Trail
to the north.
When the Blue Trail (South)
and Orange Trail
branch at about the nine-mile mark, continue straight at the three-way intersection and then take a right on the Pink Trail
for a fun singletrack descent down to the Etowah River. Watch for the usual ruts and dips. Turn left when you reach the forest road in the Etowah River valley.
When you reach a four-way trail intersection, turn left for a short difficult climb up the Purple Trail
singletrack. At the end after 0.3 miles, turn left onto the Blue Trail (South)
for a second fun singletrack descent down to the Etowah River. Again turn left onto the same forest road as before at the bottom but continue straight onto the paved Railroad Road
at the four-way trail intersection.
At the top, the fun Orange Trail
awaits. You'll have two miles of fun singletrack that twists gently up and down through the woods. The trail becomes a forest road for about a half mile and then there is a fun singletrack descent down to the Etowah River again. This section gets less traffic than the other trails so there will be more obstacles to jump over and/or avoid and possibly a fallen tree.
After a couple of creek crossings, you'll have a very difficult climb at about 16.5 miles. Again the trail becomes a forest road for a short distance and then you'll turn left onto the Green Trail
. The Green Trail
descends down to the Etowah River on a narrow, fun singletrack with a couple of switchbacks. There is a beautiful waterfall at the bottom on a tributary creek to the Etowah River. Then climb back up to the Orange Trail
on a forest road. At the top, turn left to run the fun Orange Trail
singletrack section again back to the parking lot.
Hopefully, that warm glow you have at the end of the ride is from the adrenaline and endorphins you've released and not caused by something left over from earlier experiments on the site!
History & Background
You read that right, Dawson Forest used to be Air Force Plant #67, otherwise known as the Georgia Nuclear Aircraft Laboratory. It stemmed from an effort in the 1950's by the Air Force and Lockheed Martin to develop nuclear powered aircraft. Several concrete pads from former buildings now form the main parking lot and there is a large, heavily fenced off building just to the north of the parking lot.
Later it was purchased by the city of Atlanta for a second airport, but as it turns out the site is pretty hilly for an airport so that never took off. It's also been proposed as the site of a drinking water reservoir, but that idea hasn't held water either. For now, enjoy some close in riding before they find some alternative use for it and/or it gets consumed by the ever-encroaching north Atlanta suburbs.