Tugaloo Short Cut
My dad told me stories of how, growing up, you could ride dirt bikes and four-wheelers from Hiawassee all the way to Seneca, SC without ever touching a paved road. They’d load the four-wheelers with extra fuel and camping gear and disappear for the weekend. Remembering these stories, I started reading maps in order to see if it was still possible to take on this adventure by bicycle. Sadly, many of the roads involved are now paved. But not all.
This route was part of an exploration into his stories. I grew up in this area and had explored many of the roads before taking this task. This adventure still surprised me into how much beauty you can find.
I started out from the Turnerville Post Office, turning down Thacker Rd. A right onto Turnerville Cir starts the gravel. This takes you between forest and pasture, connecting to Roger Vanhook Rd. Taking a right at the dead end brings you onto Hal Cough and onto your first creek crossing. BEWARE! This may be the first, but it’s certainly not the last. I honestly lost count on the number of creek crossings you’ll have to complete. Many are deep, 2-3 feet.
You will continue straight until meeting Historic 441 and hang a right for a short distance. Then, it’s a left onto this route’s namesake: Tugaloo Short-Cut Rd. I’ve been down this road so many times growing up to either visit Tallulah Falls or to go hunting with my dad in the Chattahoochee National Forest.
When Tugaloo Short-Cut ends, you’ll swing right down Tugaloo Village until you reach FS 182. Now time for the fun stuff. After a quick descent, you are met with a gate. Seeing this route contains a few long segments of abandoned Forestry Service roads, expect wash outs and bigger, chunkier gravel ahead.
Past the gate is by far one of the hardest gravel climbs I have ever taken on. It’s punchy, baby-head strewn, and steep! When you reach the top you are greeted by an amazing view along the power line cut.
You ride along the ridge for a bit before plunging down into the Panther Creek valley. It gets fast quick down this segment. Watch for tree branches and wash-out as you scream down the hill.
Once you reach the bottom, hang a right onto Panther Creek Rd. Along the creek are plenty of swimming holes to cool off after that descent. Once you’ve dried off, it’s onward and upward. You’ll cross Panther Creek either at the road gate at the end or you can choose to walk across the hiking bridge shared with Panther Creek Falls trail.
From there, you’ll hang a left to stay on the gravel. This segment is for non-motorized vehicles. You may pass an occasional hiker avoiding the crowds on Panther Creek, as Davidson Creek is as beautiful as anything you’ll see on the other side of the ridge. Just be prepared for those creek crossings I mentioned earlier. You’ll cross Davidson Creek multiple times.
It’s a slow and steady uphill the whole way up the creek valley. There’s a brief respite when you reach the City of Toccoa’s water pumping station. Stop, enjoy the view, and carb up as you’ve still got climbing to do. You’ll climb Pumping Station Rd until to reach the gate and hang left to stay on Pumping Station Rd. CAUTION: couple of dogs live across the road from the gate and can be aggressive. The gravel ends as you hang a right onto Black Mountain Rd.
Unfortunately, the next segment is onto Highway 17 for a bit. Luckily, you’re on there for less than a mile as you turn onto Chopped Oak Rd. Hang right onto Chopped Oak Church Rd, which becomes gravel. Watch for the fork in the road and hang left to stay on Chopped Oak Church Rd. This is a quick rough and rowdy descent to Lawson Lake. You’ll want to take the right before the lake dam to take the ancient FS road along the creek. It becomes little more than a ATV trail at some point. Follow along until you cross the creek back onto proper grav-grav.
This is the last big climb of the day. Hope there’s still some in the tank at this point. Once you reach the top of the hill, you’ll be rewarded with some great pasture views as you ride along. At the 4-way stop, you’ll continue straight onto the paved road. Cross 441 toward the gas station, then hang right onto Historic 441 to finish up back at the post office.