I guess if I decided to start a GRAVEL HAPPENS Bucket List, this route would be on it. The climbing is never ending, the terrain is perfect, and the views are about as good as it gets. If you have the opportunity, I'd recommend renting a cabin around the area... if not the "will travel for gravel" phrase definitely applies.
Either way, you're going to start this route at Mulberry Gap Mountain Bike Getaway and if it's their off season there's a small parking field (hit me up if this isn't a public place to park!) up the hill from Mulberry Gap. I highly suggest trying to ride this route when they're open. It's a few bucks for secure parking, wifi, and toilets. Not to mention the cooler full of craft beers and snacks for after you've conquered the ride.
The route starts mellow and quickly starts to crank the elevation. So settle in and prepare for a 6 mile continuous climb as you enter into the Cohutta Wildlife Management Area. If you're riding with buddies you'll probably take turns leading the climb and deciding when to rest.
Approaching mile 4, you'll hear rushing water and come up on the Barnes Creek picnic area. This is a great place to stop and enjoy the sites. Hell, just about any point on the route is a nice place to stop. Running water's not hard to come by either if you need a refill.
The next spot to really take in some vibes is just two switchbacks away. You can't miss it, the unobstructed view is one to really sit back and pray to whatever you believe that you found the time to get out of the day to day and go ride.
Take as long as you want and when you're ready, you'll get back on to fishing the last 2 miles of the first climb. If you're anything like me, you'll be blown away as you approach the ridge line and see several old houses. Questioning everything about the existence of these houses and the fact that you've reached the top of a 6 mile climb, it's appropriate to take a moment to slurp down whatever sticky power gels you brought... or maybe you were smart enough to pick up an extra chicken biscuit.
Saddling back up, the next thing to hit is the first short descent that'll lead you into the next climb. After this climb you'll wanna grip tight and bomb down the descent. Pay attention though, this descent goes straight down into the Lake Conasauga Recreation Area... so if you're not interested in the optional 6.9 miles to the fire tower at the top of Grassy Mountain, you'll want to take a right at mile 10.2.
Hopefully you decided to take the optional journey to the top of Grassy Mountain. After entering the area you'll start a climb at around mile 11.5 that'll have you winding your way to the fire tower. Maybe you'll get lucky and the trees will be coated with ice for a magical experience.
The firetower will get you up and over the trees. If you're lucky, it'll be a clear view for miles... for us it was an icey blue silhouette of the closest mountains, totally worth it in my book.
Alternatively, in an attempt to stay warm, you can watch your friend double up his wool socks and wrap a potato chip bag around one set of toes. Only to later realize he’s cutting the circulation off to his toes stuffed in his canvas vans.
After you make it back down to the main loop you'll descend for the better part of 10 miles. You pass another great lookout that's worth stopping. These miles can get sketchy with downed trees, scattered limbs, and random holes. You'll also likely come head on with a couple trucks or mountain bikers coming up to enjoy their own time. So while enjoying the views and sounds of Mill Creek rushing down the hill with you, stay alert!
Mile 29 will bring you the first asphalt your tires have seen. After the hand numbing descent, this is welcomed... but keep an eye out for loose dogs. The paved roads this route takes aren't that busy and roll past open farmland for the most part. Around mile 29-30, if the skies are clear, you'll see Grassy Mountain to the left and the fire tower you came from... this'll be a rad feeling, a "Holy Shit" moment.
Pedal on the next 6'ish miles until you hit gravel. Don't celebrate too quick though, while you'll think you're almost finished, only 4.5 miles to go... you'll be wrong. Well, right in one way, it's 4.5 miles. Reality is, these are some soul crushing miles you'll have to crank out.
You'll eventually see an old mountain truck and come up on Mulberry Gap again. Do yourself a favor, either grab a beer from Mulberry Gap or enjoy whatever you brought while you laugh about how that kicked your ass. You'll be happy you did it, stating how it'd be difficult to talk you into doing it again (don't worry, you'll be back).