Atlanta to Stone Mountain Park
Atlanta can be a tough town for cycling. In-town riding is accessible and convenient, but big roads and long distances often preclude comfortable trips beyond the city. However, the Stone Mountain Trail provides a nearly seamless connection from the inner neighborhoods to the state's most-visited park.
Start of the off-road path from Decatur to Stone Mountain.
During the last weekend in March three events converged for me: a random Monday off from work, the opening weekend of primitive camping at Stone Mountain Park, and the one-month mark before our new baby's due date. With an expecting wife, a long tour was out of the question, but a quick 20-mile overnighter seemed just the ticket -- out after Saturday morning chores and back by Sunday lunch. Plus, if anything unexpected happened, I could be home in about an hour.
An overnighter is a great trip for poor planning. The only prep was shoving a change of clothes, sleeping bag, cellphone, and toothbrush into my commuter bike's grocery panniers. Plus, a long languishing book and a tent lashed to my front rack, and I was out the door in under an hour.
City bike loaded up for an overnighter.
The route followed my regular morning commute from my southside neighborhood through downtown Atlanta, then turned eastward toward the city of Decatur. Nearing the city, I picked up the Stone Mountain Trail, which is located adjacent to the old Georgia Railroad (now CSX) corridor. Decatur provided opportunities for two quick stops -- one for a cafe lunch and another at the Dekalb Farmer's Market for dinner supplies.
Lunch in Decatur.
Beyond the market, the trail cuts through several small towns and lots of sprawling neighborhoods in eastern Dekalb County. Many signs are missing from the trail, making travel confusing at times, but the corridor provides the great benefit of avoiding the area’s large arterial roadways. I followed the trail through the touristy Stone Mountain Village and entered the park through the small western entrance, avoiding the consistent RV traffic along the main road.
Thanks, citizens of Georgia!
The roadways in the park were generally low speed and easy to navigate, except for a short stretch on the main parkway. The park is quite hilly, and a wrong turn cost me a long, slow climb back to the campsite area. The park was busy but not particularly crowded; however, due to spring break “holiday” prices, the cost came with a significant upcharge for a lakeside tent site.
View of Stone Mountain from camp.
Despite the higher prices, the campsite was comfortable and convenient. The park's primitive sites are well situated, with dirt tent pads, good drainage, decent views, and tables nearby. I had my tent up within a few minutes and was able to catch up on some long-overdue reading time. Dinner was a different story, however, as I had grabbed the wrong fuel for my stove (poor planning!). Thankfully, enough pine limbs had accumulated nearby that I was able to start a fire and get my pasta boiling with only a few extra minutes of work. During holidays like this, and in the summer months, the park hosts a fantastic laser-light show, so I was lulled to sleep by blaring pop-country hits and a fireworks extravaganza.
The next morning I broke camp quickly and settled for a quick peanut butter sandwich breakfast. I hustled to get out early to beat the regular car traffic in the park and the foot traffic on the trail. By the time I was halfway back home, the trail had become very busy with recreational cyclists and walkers getting exercise in before an unseasonably hot spring day.
One of the great aspects of a local overnighter is that I can count on seeing at least a few cycling friends en route. Sure enough, as I was leaving the park I bumped into local pedi-cab owner Mike, who had just arrived (by bike) for a short ten-mile jog around the mountain. Later, back in town, I caught up with Intown Bikes owner (also) Mike, who was heading over to open the shop.
Overnighters can mean catching up with friends on the ride home.
And, finally, the best reason for a long morning bike ride is a big breakfast. My wife was out for morning errands as I neared home, so we met for brunch at one of our favorite local spots. In only 28 miles and 22 hours I managed to get a great break from my regular routine and was still home in time to finish the weekend's chores.
Overnighters mean not missing Sunday brunch with my sweetie.
Tip for this adventure: The trail starts near Decatur, which is a great spot for lunch and supplies. The Stone Mountain Trail has poor wayfinding signs in many spots, but a paper map is available from the PATH Foundation at many bike shops locally. The park is hilly, so make sure not to miss a turn or backtracking will be tough.