Though the nearest mountain trails are at least a two-hour drive north of Middle Georgia, the area does boast a surprising number of mountain biking and hiking trails. Most are situated on or near creeks and drainages, which provide the wrinkles in the map that make for a good uphill and downhill riding or walking experience. Whether you want to journey back in time or just enjoy the great outdoors, Middle Georgians have plenty of options to get out and take a hike or ride a bike.
Where to hike
Ocmulgee National Monument: 1207 Emery Highway, Macon. The Ocmulgee National Monument takes visitors back thousands of years to a Mississippian settlement along the Ocmulgee River. The park features the Earthlodge, a reconstructed ceremonial building with the original 1,000-year-old clay floor, sites of a former village and trading post as well as temple and funeral mounds. The sites are connected by hiking trails, including the Opelota trail, which winds through wetlands near Walnut Creek. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily; closed Christmas Day and New Years Day. Free. www.nps.gov/ocmu/planyourvisit/hours.htm.
The Wesleyan College Arboretum: 4760 Forsyth Road, Macon. More than two miles of trails wind through Wesleyans ecological study area and wildlife refuge. Visitors can explore a variety of trees and shrubs while on the lookout for the many species of wildlife that live in the area, including turtles, salamanders, butterflies, fish, mammals and birds. Open sunrise to sunset daily. Free. www.pierce.wesleyancollege.edu/arb.
Riverside Cemetery: 1301 Riverside Drive, Macon. Civil War veterans, civic and business leaders, educators, religious leaders and members of many prominent Macon families are buried in Riverside Cemetery. Visitors can learn more about the history of the cemetery during the Spirits in October and Pathways to History programs. A map of the cemeterys various sections is available online. Office hours: 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday. www.riversidecemetery.com.
Dauset Trails: 360 Mount Vernon Church Road, Butts County. Three categories of trails, beginner, intermediate and advanced, entice all levels of hikers. Routes are marked with way points for each level, and a map is available on the parks website so a course can be plotted before hikers set out along the scenic trails. Biking and horseback riding are also welcome. The nature center is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday; trails are open sunrise-10 p.m.; closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Years Eve and New Years Day. Free. www.dausettrails.com.
High Falls State Park: 76 High Falls Park Drive, Monroe County. Located on the Towaliga River, the park boasts more than four miles of hiking trails. High Falls was the site of an industrial town in the 1800s, and visitors can hike through the woods to the remains of a hydroelectric power plant. Boating, camping and fishing also are available. Park hours: 7 a.m.-10 p.m. daily; office hours: 8 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. $5 parking, annual passes available. www.georgiastateparks.org/highfalls.
Where to bike
The Georgia Industrial Childrens Home: 4680 N. Mumford Road, Bibb County. Known by the locals as the Pig Trail for the feral pigs that used to hold court there, the Childrens Home trail is an approximately 8-mile loop. Much of the trail passes through planted pines belonging to the Childrens Home with a few notable sections that pass through mature sections of hardwoods. There isnt much elevation change or fear factor at the Pig, which makes it the No. 1 place to take new riders. Just know that the trail needs time after rain to return to a solid state.
LH Thomson Trail: 7800 NE Industrial Blvd., Bibb County. Driving to the Thomson trail for the first time, you may find it hard to believe that a decent off-road bike experience is hidden anywhere in the south Bibb County industrial area of which the LH Thomson Company is a part. As soon as you drop into the singletrack behind the factory, where both replacement aerospace parts and world famous bicycle components are made, your doubts will be put to rest. The Thomson Trail is about 5 miles long and the closest thing to a mountain bike playground in the area. Quick ups and downs, flowy sidehill sections and lots of roots make Thomson an excellent place for the rider looking for more challenge than the Childrens Home trail has to offer. The sandy soil there also makes Thomson a great trail to hit the day after a rain.
Arrowhead Park: Columbus Road, Bibb County. Arrowhead Park is one of a trio of parks on Lake Tobesofkee in western Bibb County. The riding there is defined by longer sustained climbing than on any other midstate trail. On the flip side, a few descents at Arrowhead last full minutes rather than seconds, as on other local trails. Roots and rocks arent much of a presence, but speed and flow at Arrowhead take some fitness. Arrowhead is the only local trail with an admission price, $3 at the park gate per car. Like the Childrens Home, give Arrowhead a day or two before riding after a good rain.
North Macon Park: 815 N. Macon Park Drive, Macon. North Macon Park is maintained by Bibb County Parks and Recreation. At only a mile and a half in length, North Macon Park might seem like an odd inclusion in a best of list. North Macon is distinguished, though, by being the only unpaved trail in the city that actually takes you somewhere. While all the other trails are recreational loops, North Macon takes you from the residential area near Wimbish Road and drops you behind the John Drew Tennis Center. From there, it is a short ride on sidewalks to the shopping areas on Tom Hill Senior Boulevard and Northside Drive. A couple of new sidehill runs and the technical challenges posed by the trail make it a really fun mile and half, too. Ride it in a larger dirt/road loop with the Amerson Waterworks Park on one end and the Childrens Home on the other and you have something of an intown epic ride.
Selma Irwin Trail: Ga. 112, Milledgeville. Near the campus of what was once Central State Hospital in Milledgeville is the Selma Irwin Nature Center. Once a bit of Georgia Forestry Commission Land, the trail is now a part of the larger Oconee River Greenway project. Like the trail at Arrowhead Park, Selma Irwin features a lot of elevation gain and loss per mile. Unlike Arrowhead, these climbs and descents can be technical. Steep, loose and peppered with roots and rocks, Selma Irwin is the best mountain analogue within an hour of Macon. In between the handful of outrageously steep climbs are some equally rocky and rooty sidehill runs to dance through as you ride. Be prepared to be humbled by your average speed here. Also be prepared for fun.