I took Friday off work and the night before, I got the bicycle outfitted for a weekend of camping. Ever since going to Dawson Forest a few weeks ago on my way to Vogel State Park I’ve wanted to go back and explore this area more. So early on Friday morning I headed out for the mountains.
This is pretty-much the route I followed, not counting substantial differences inside the perimeter of Atlanta and a few offshoots I took.
View Dawson Forest Camping in a larger map
The ride to Dawson Forest was pleasant. My heart was aloft when I left the North Springs MARTA station at 7 a.m. I’ve been looking forward to exploring the Forest since I was here a few weeks ago. I was just passing through heading to Vogel State Park and didn’t have time then.
I stopped at the information center for trail info when I got here around noon. Turns out, it is unattended but had maps that you can take and has a fee box for cyclists or horseback riders to pay $7 for a trail permit. That’s good by me of course.
I studied the map for a bit and then decided to take the blue trail. That heads to Etowah River, which seems like a good area to camp. I like the sound of moving water, especially when it’s a gentle flow that I can go to sleep to and wake up to.
I took the blue trail towards Etowah River. The topography is varied. This is a mountain back trail. Riding it on my touring bike was easy in places like this, where the trail is pretty much like a dirt road.
Other places, the trail is narrower and softer. This is more challenging on my touring setup and tires, but not too bad. The feeling of getting more and more remote from civilization is nice and the views are very pretty. There are some steep sections where I had to walk the bike but they’re only a few hundred feet in a few places.
I got lost a couple times, where I found myself off the trail and had to backtrack. Ultimately I found my way without going more than a mile out of the way. But while I was lost I got off on the pink trail (I ultimately discovered), when I arrived at where an old bridge used to cross the river in the past.
Once I got back on the trail I could see that I had missed a marker that was reasonably placed.
Continuing down the blue trail, I finally got to where it crosses the river. On the map, the blue trail crosses the Etowah with no fanfare. I had heard there are no bridges around here. But I was hopeful of a surprise. It would be great to cross, and go to Amicalola River that way. The blue trail is a “horse/bike” trail. But I can see now that the horses cross the river without too much trouble (assuming a rider ready to get wet). But a bicycle? No way!
I found a place to camp for the night near an old abandoned railroad bridge.
Waking Saturday morning, I’m having trouble with my stove. Last trip, I let my oatmeal boil over and it fouled the burner. I was able to clear it after a little while and make coffee and then oatmeal.
It’s almost 6 a.m. now. The sky is starting to get light. I’ve turned off my lights and enjoying the sound of the Forest waking up around me. It’s so nice here with coffee in hand, food in my belly, and peaceful sights and sounds as the sun slowly rises.
Leaving the forest, I’m following the forest road out. This is a nice ride. This morning riding on the road, what took two hours on the blue trail yesterday is a 20 minute ride this morning.
I stopped in Dawsonville and picked up a foot-long at Subway. That will be most of my lunch and dinner today.
Heading towards Amicalola River I see this outfitter. I’ll have to keep this in mind for the future. It looks like riding a raft or canoe down the Etowah would be pure fun. There’s a few very light rapids in spots. But mostly it’s just a peaceful float. I’ve never done it mind you, but I’ve seen a bunch of the river and fun being had in rafts.
About seven miles from Dawsonville, I come to the Amicalola River. I’m hoping to find a place near the river to camp tonight.
I stopped for some snacks and gatoraid at the “Handy Corner” convenience store. I bought some cookies and some gatoraid and then asked where I could find a water tap to fill my water bottles. The rather unpleasant woman running the place, curtly informed me that “there might be a tap outside the building”. I asked if there’s a men’s room and got “we used to let people use the bathroom but they were too trashy”. Checking outside, there’s no knob on the spigot. I was told the next nearest place would be 5 miles west. I set off, promising myself that I won’t buy stuff until I know I can get water there.
I did manage to stock up on water at the IGA. Then I headed north on Steve Tate road, which proved to be a beautiful road with pretty rolling hills. Then I veered back to the east a few miles and got back onto Amicalola Church Road, which is gravel at this point where I find another river access.
Amicalola Church Road is an easy ride on well packed gravel and proves to be a quiet ride for several miles with only a couple cars along the way.
More pretty views of the river.
I hooked up with Steel Bridge Road, also gravel. Guess where it led me?
To the steel bridge! There’s river access here. This area is popular with the party crowd, judging from the beer cans and the few people I see around. The opportunity to camp on the river here is appealing to me. But my better judgement steps in because I don’t want a lot of party action into the night, and that looks like a clear risk here.
I went up the hill just a few hundred yards and found this spot where I ate my subway. This is a very unique place where the river makes a sudden 90 degree turn while moving at a pretty good clip. Over the eons the river has formed a deep and high cliff right here. I remember going to this cliff a long time ago. It must have been 25 years past. I used to jump off of this and down into the water. Now that seems like somebody else. I could not imagine. You can’t tell much from the photo, but this is quite a drop into the water.
Heading up the road another 1/2 mile or so, the sun is beating down on me as I climb the gravel road up from the river. I decided to stealth-camp here, where I found a quiet place in the woods right off the road and covered by lot’s of brush to hide my location.
I unloaded my gear and hung out in the shade with a nice cool breeze through the trees to enjoy. I setup my hammock on a hillside not far from my cycle and supplies.
The next morning I start for home, heading south on Amicalola Church Road. The morning is splendid, and so are the views off this pretty road.
I took a return route to Atlanta that goes down the west side of the forest. This, I found to be quieter than coming up the east side on Friday. I followed Cowart Road, Yellow Creek Road, and highway 372 most of the way to Alpharetta. Very nice and pretty ride with low traffic and wide shoulders.
Crossing 285, I look down at my map case and see my phone is missing! I curse myself, having lost the phone by not securing the flap on the case in the past. I panic at this point. I keep my whole life on this phone! I had not looked down at it in a while. So I turned around to retrace my steps, not knowing how far back to search. Then while starting back across the bridge I heard “turn around when possible” (a familiar instruction from TomTom). Oh, my pulse settled down as I realized I had stuck my phone in a side pocket so it would not overheat in the sun. Back on course, I’m saved from this disappointing turn of events!
I took the MARTA train down to the Lindberg Station while taking a rest break. Then back on the cycle, I road to Piedmont Park where I stopped to enjoy the jazz festival for a while. I continued on to the Yacht Club in Little Five Points where I had a couple beers, chatted with friends, and then continued on home. A great weekend! I caught just the edge of a thundershower as I headed for the house – enough to remind me that I really lucked out on the nice weather