A Trail for All Seasons: Scouting the Best Bike Paths and Bites

written by TIFFANY WILLARD; photos courtesy of PATH FOUNDATION; BARRY CANTRELL; SHANNAH SMITH; TRUCK & TAP; TIFFANY WILLARD; ADOBE STOCK

Remember how it felt to be 13, with the freedom to hop on your bike and explore? To visit friends, catch a movie, or buy candy and a soda at the neighborhood store? Your bike brought you to a world of liberty and independence without parents.

Then you turned 16 and that car grabbed your attention. While you moved on, your bike gathered dust in the garage, tires deflated, longing to be your favorite mode of transportation again.

If you haven’t regained your youth and purchased a bike for your adult years, then I highly recommend you head out right now and buy one. Atlanta is fast becoming a biking town, with certain neighborhoods further along in the process than others. Yes, the road traffic is scary. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get in long, safe rides that not only benefit your health, but also your state of mind. With so many bike-friendly, car-free pathways popping up around town, there’s no excuse not to hop on two wheels and explore.

Atlanta’s weather is well suited for year-round biking, compliments of shady, tree-lined greenways that offer respite from the summer sun and beautiful views of golden leaves in the fall. Many paths offer opportunities to stop for a meal, or do some window shopping, all while burning off the extra calories.

My favorite days typically total about 20 miles on my bike, with a stop for lunch along the way. Prefer a shorter ride? I’ve got some options for that, too. Beginners are welcome, and novice or not, don’t forget your helmet.

SPRING

FOR A LONG RIDE: Freedom Parkway Trail, Atlanta BeltLine’s Eastside Trail and Piedmont Park
Approximately 12 to 15 Miles Round Trip

If you’ve just spent the winter in a spin class to nowhere, it’s time to get mobile and get outside. The Freedom Parkway Trail, developed by the PATH Foundation, is one of my favorite treelined, car-free rides and can be easily combined with multiple places to break for food, shopping and history lessons, making this a full-day ride.

Start at The Carter Center, where parking is free and convenient, although situated midway along the route. A left will take you to Ponce de Leon Avenue and the northernmost point of the path. Retrace your steps and bike all the way to Boulevard at the opposite end. Its view of the Atlanta skyline might stop you in your tracks, and its close proximity to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site makes for a good reason to catch your breath. The free visitors center by the National Park Service includes many moving displays of the Civil Rights Movement and across the street, MLK, Jr.’s gravesite is a peaceful respite in the middle of our bustling city. Bikes aren’t allowed at the gravesite, so make sure to lock yours up before visiting the outdoor memorial.

On your journey back in the direction you originated, you’ll discover plenty of restaurants beckoning you to stop for a bite. The sweet potato biscuits at Highland Bakery always seem to scream my name. From The Freedom Parkway Trail, a short path will connect you with the Eastside portion of the BeltLine, one of Atlanta’s newest and trendiest places to pedal.

A right turn will take you to Ponce City Market where a bike valet will take care of your wheels while you shop or have a drink. Continue on to Piedmont Park and its many winding routes around the lake, by the Botanical Gardens and past the volleyball fields. Return to the BeltLine and backtrack to the opposite end, where Hop City inside Krog Street Market insists you have a pint and relax from all the riding you’ve done with one of their 60 craft beers on tap. | freedompark.org; nps.gov/malu; beltline.org

FOR A QUICK SPIN: Woodstock’s Town to Creek Trail/ Noonday Creek Trail
3.2 Miles Round Trip

Starting in downtown Woodstock, just off Main Street, is the Town to Creek Trail. After winding through the trees for .6 miles, you’ll find yourself on the Noonday Creek Trail. An easy ride along Noonday Creek ends at Highway 92 where you can turn around and head back.

Make sure to plan extra time for lunch in historic Woodstock at Truck & Tap. This open-air craft beer spot partners with a different food truck every day to provide unique food and drink options. | woodstockga.gov; truckandtap.com

SUMMER

FOR A LONG RIDE: Big Creek Greenway in Roswell/Alpharetta
17.2 Miles Round Trip

Summers in Atlanta can be brutal for outdoor activities, but this flat course — a combo of concrete and boardwalk — hugs Big Creek, offering a constant glimpse of cooling waters and draping you in shade to escape the sweltering heat. Start at the Roswell Big Creek Park entrance off Old Alabama Road (near Holcomb Bridge Road) and ride 8.6 miles, paralleling North Point Parkway, to the end at Marconi Drive near Windward Parkway. Along the way, several side paths lead to parking lots and restaurant options.

Don’t have a bike? No problem. Alpharetta has that covered for you. Download the Zagster app and rent one for the day. The first 3 hours are completely free. After that, each additional hour is $3. Bikes can be found at four different locations and dropped off at any of them. | awesomealpharetta.com; zagster.com

FOR A QUICK SPIN: Riverwalk in Roswell
7 Miles Round Trip

This 3.5-mile passage runs along the Chattahoochee River from the Chattahoochee Nature Center to Don White Memorial Park. Mostly flat and shady, the Riverwalk transitions from boardwalk, to concrete, to asphalt and finally, packed gravel. Pack a picnic lunch and stop at one of the several playgrounds you’ll pass to refuel. The new boardwalk section near the Nature Center is a great place to view the river and the birds that call the wetlands area home. | chattnaturecenter.org; visitroswellga.com

FALL

FOR A LONG RIDE: Silver Comet Trail
25 to 30 Miles Round Trip

With a grand total of 61 miles running from Smyrna to the Alabama state line, the Silver Comet Trail is another outdoor haven, thanks to the PATH Foundation, with plenty of options to ride. The first 38 miles are mostly tree-lined, so any starting point will afford you views of autumn foliage. From the Mavell Road Trailhead, ride approximately 10 miles over flat terrain to Linear Park, where you’ll find a playground and restrooms.

From here, a left leads to the town of Powder Springs and multiple restaurant choices to fuel your ride back. Bike rentals are available at Smyrna Bicycles near the Mavell Road Trailhead and Silver Comet Depot at the Floyd Road Trailhead.

The most scenic section of the Silver Comet Trail starts at the Rambo Road Trailhead, at mile marker 22. From Rambo Road, ride west over the Pumpkinvine Trestle Bridge, rising 126 feet over Pumpkinvine Creek. Several tunnels add interest to this ride, which is mostly shady and flat. Continuing on to Rockmart, 15 miles from Rambo Road, you can stop for a filling meal and hydrate at your choice of restaurants in this historic old town that was once a railroad depot catering to the slate industry. Load up on carbs because you’ve got 15 miles back to your car. | symrynabicycles.com; silvercometcycles.com

FOR A QUICK SPIN: Suwanee Creek Greenway
8 to 10 Miles Round Trip

Starting at Suwanee Creek Park off Buford Highway, this 4-mile trail begins with a few hills, winding through a disc golf course nearly hidden by trees, but soon transitions to flat terrain surrounded by autumn-colored woods when the calendar flips past September.

Near the end, follow the signs up the bridge at Suwanee Dam Road and through a residential development leading to Suwanee Town Center. Have lunch at an outdoor table at Brown Bag Deli & Café or a picnic on the town green. This ride can be extended an additional mile by crossing Buford Highway on the west side of the park and proceeding through the pedestrian tunnel under the railroad track. Follow the bike trail to the Play Town playground and on to Brushy Creek Greenway, which ends at Suwanee Dam Road where you can retrace your tracks back to Suwanee Creek Park. There’s a Zagster bike rental station at Suwanee Creek Park for those without their own wheels. | suwanee.com

WINTER

FOR A LONG RIDE: Arabia Mountain Trail in Conyers
14.6 Miles Round Trip

When the weather turns cold, your bike starts to get lonely in the garage, and if you’re not careful, the pounds start adding to your weight. The Arabia Mountain Trail, created by — you guessed it — the PATH Foundation, is the perfect way to get your heart pumping and increase your body heat on cold days.

Park at the trailhead in front of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit. Be prepared to start with some steep downhills, but what goes down must go up, and that saying holds true for this challenging ride. Ride 7 miles over curving, winding hills to Alexander Lake at Panola Mountain State Park, a perfect spot for a picnic stop and restroom break. You could continue through Panola Mountain State Park and all the way to Stonecrest Mall, 33 miles from your starting point if you’re feeling really ambitious. But don’t forget those hills are waiting for you on the return.

After the ride, make time to visit the monastery. You can tour the church, meander through a unique bonsai collection and grab a snack in the café. Don’t miss the well-stocked gift shop, where you can purchase goods baked by the more than 40 Trappist monks who call this monastery home. | arabiaalliance.org; trappist.net

FOR A QUICK SPIN: Stone Mountain Park
6 Miles Round Trip

This ride starts in Stone Mountain Village, just outside the park, since bike riders can enter Stone Mountain Park for free. Parking is available near the old train station in the village, where you can ride less than half a mile to the park’s entrance. Once inside, the hilly terrain makes a 5-mile loop around the park. This ride is in a bike lane, not a dedicated path, but the extremely low speed limit in the park makes this a bike-friendly route.

Any ride with “mountain” in the name is sure to be a challenge, and this one is no exception. With your thighs burning, head back to Stone Mountain Village and reward yourself with some heavy German food and beer at The Village Corner German Restaurant & Bakery. You’ve earned it! | stonemountainpark.com; germanrestaurant.com

I’ve still got two more rides on my radar, and can’t wait to load up my bike and check them out. Peachtree City boasts more than 90 miles of multi-use thoroughfares traversing through town, with plenty of restaurants and shops to keep you busy for days.

But topping my list is the Rico Starr Loop. Starting in the community of Serenbe, this 21-mile loop winds through rural countryside past barns, lakes and meadows. All I need is a day off and a little sunshine.