Silver Comet Trail – a biking perspective
June 17, 2019
The Silver Comet Trail, a biking and hiking trail in Georgia, has a charm that sneaks up on you.
The 61-mile shared-use trail is car-free and predominantly flat. These are easy wins from a cyclist’s perspective.
There is no fee to use the trail. Another bonus.
The subtle allure? It’s a toss-up between low-key scenery and the Southern hospitality you will experience along the way.
- Trail History
- Why bike tour on the Silver Comet Trail?
- Trail Description
- Trail Culture
- Silver Comet Trail Services
- Economic and Tourism Impacts
- Business Opportunities
- Silver Comet Trail – related websites
According to the pathfoundation.org and the paulding.gov websites, the trail was originally a railroad used by the Silver Comet passenger train. This was a luxury train that included sleeper cars, dining cars, and an observation car. In 1969, the train service stopped. Cars and airlines had become the preferred method of travel.
In 1998, the Silver Comet trail construction began. Coordination between the Path foundation, three counties, multiple towns, and private individuals resulted in the completion of the trail in 2008.
As of early 2019, there is an initiative underway to connect the Silver Comet Trail to the Atlanta Beltline Trail.
Why bike tour on the Silver Comet Trail?
There are the obvious reasons to bike tour on the Silver Comet Trail. The long-distance. The well maintained pavement. The pleasure of no distracted drivers.
The not so obvious reasons for a bike tour include the subtle scenic spots and the southern hospitality of small towns.
Points of Interest
Scenic photos stops and historical sites on or near the trail include:
- Heritage Park Trail (wetland walks and Concord Covered Bridge)
- 700-foot long Pumpkinvine Trestle
- 800-foot long Brushy Mountain Tunnel
- Historic downtown area of Rockmart
- Pickett’s Mill civil war battlefield outside of Dallas
- Cedartown Welcome Depot – a replica of an original train depot
- Trail of Tears, Cherokee Removal Camp, Cedartown
- Arch at the Georgia/Alabama state line
The southern hospitality is best experienced, not described. The southern drawl combined with the “I got all day to tell you this” speech pattern is guaranteed to make you slow down and enjoy the ride.
A few examples from our tour:
- Assistance from the hotel staff finding overnight parking
- Early check-in to hotels when the staff realized we were cycling and seeking a place to warm up
- Servers in restaurants recommending our next eating stop further up the trail
- Locals along the trail giving us trail conditions and suggestions on “what not to miss”
The trail runs from Smyrna, Georgia to the Alabama state line just past Esom Hill, Georgia.
The 10 foot wide pavement is well-maintained. There was significant debris on the trail (leaves, mud, branches) during our trip but that isn’t the norm. The area had experienced inches of rain in a 48-hour period the day before we started our bike tour. Thus the debris fields during our ride.
Like many bike pathways, there are low point sections that have standing water after heavy rainfall. One area, east of Rockmart, looks susceptible to localized flooding and may require a short detour onto the road when the river is high.
Near Smyrna and other major trailheads, the trail is heavily used by pedestrians and cyclists. The noise from nearby highways can be heard.
Other sections of the trail, especially through the Paulding Forest Wildlife Management Area, are rural. There the scenery consists of cows, goats and few humans.
The trail is mostly flat and straight. A small section near mile marker 45 has a steep hill (Surprise Hill, aka Mount Trashmore) followed by a series of rolling hills and a few sharp curves.
Even though the trail is car-free, there are roads to cross. Cars, not cyclists, have the right of way at the intersections. Some of the busier intersections have push-buttons at the crosswalk to turn the lights red for cars.
The culture of the trail is a bike highway, not a meandering greenway. Posted signs advise staying right unless passing. Very few cyclists give any verbal warning as they pass you. Most fly by without a sound. This seems to expected as pedestrians kept to the right and did not want a verbal warning as cyclists passed by.
Cyclists and pedestrians who were stopped along the trail demonstrated the typical southern hospitality – willing to share advice on where to eat, what you’ll see, and ask about your touring plans.
The true charm of the trail lies in embracing the local stops. The trail travels through three counties – Cobb, Paudling and Polk. Small towns along the trail offer historical gems and opportunities to support local economies.
Silver Comet Trail Services
Leaving the trail to ride into a town or a service plaza was doable.
Driver attitudes towards cyclists vary once you are off the trail. Most were respectful of cyclists. Only once did we reluctantly ride on the sidewalk to reach our destination as the drivers were aggressive towards cyclists.
There are 20 trailheads and many intersections along the path. The distance between trailheads is not evenly distributed.
All trailheads were well-maintained and clean.
The amenities at each trailhead varied. Some have restrooms. Some advertise off-trail services with small signs (food/drink this way). Other trailheads have no facilities other than a small parking lot.
There are few, if any, wayfinding signs along the way. Have a plan ahead of time of where you will find services such as food/water and lodging.
The services are in rural towns. So expect the place you are looking for may be out of business or has a new name.
Make sure your bike is in working order and you have repair kits/tools with you. Bicycle repair shops are not prevalent on or near the trail.
Bike Shops available (as of November 2018):
- Smyrna Cycles – near the start of the trail in Smyrna.
- Boneshaker Cycles – Powder Springs.
- Local guy – Cedartown (ask for his name and phone number at the Cedartown Welcome Depot Center)
- Two other bike shops on the trail appeared to be either closed for the season (November) or out of business.
Camping opportunities are sparse. There is a first-come, first served primitive camping at Camp Comet around mile marker 45. There are some references to campsites off trail but we did not actually visit these campgrounds.
We stayed in hotels. Hotels exist at various points along the trail. Have your locations and potential vacancies researched ahead of time. Ragsdale Inn, a bed-and-breakfast in Dallas, targets cyclists.
Airbnb may be an option. The challenge with Airbnb is the exact address is not given until you book the location. Asking the hosts how far they are from the trail, results in a generic answer “10-15 minutes away per Google maps”. Mileage and actual ride-ability of the route to the airbnb would be more useful.
We did not investigate options available via other lodging sites such as warmshowers.org or hipcamp.com.
If you are taking an overnight bike tour, be sure to have a plan for overnight parking before riding the trail. Designated overnight public parking is non-existent near Smyrna.
We called three county departments and one bike shop seeking guidance on overnight parking. The county response was a version of “I don’t think it exists. Let me transfer you.” The bike shop said some people park at the Publix in the Highland Station but you risk being towed.
We parked at our starting point hotel in Smyrna (at our own risk but they let us do it as a courtesy) and rode 2 miles on side roads to the Silver Comet Cumberland Connector trail.
Safety concerns were minimal. Like most trails, there have been a few media-worthy incidents on the trail. These are tragic events and in no way are we minimizing those incidents based on our experience.
We followed basic safety practices – not riding alone, no ear-buds, and maintained an awareness of our surroundings.
Cobb County patrols their section with limited resources. There are some emergency phones installed in the Cobb County section. During 2019, more emergency locator markers will be installed along Cobb County’s section.
Mileage signs, through all three counties, exist on a regular basis. One-half mile was approximately the farthest distance between signs – so you always know your location.
Near the starting point in Smyrna and again west of Cedartown, there were pockets of homeless groups milling about. We were neither approached nor harassed by loiters in these areas.
We rode in November and had a less than ideal weather week. Temperatures were 20 degrees cooler than normal. A few trees had brilliant red leaves, but most of the trees were bare.
On a future trip, I would try for either late spring to avoid the summer heat or an early fall ride timed with fall foliage.
Economic and Tourism Impacts
According to a 2013 study commissioned by the Northwest Georgia Regional Planning Commission:
- out-of-state visitors represent about 400,000 out of the 1.9 million current uses of the Silver Comet Trail
- out-of-state visitors to the current Silver Comet Trail are responsible for an additional $20 million per year within the State
Combining time on the bike while supporting small town economies is rewarding.
From a bike tour perspective, there are a few business opportunities for the local communities to consider. Opportunities that would enhance a bike tour on the trail:
- Overnight parking near Smyrna
- Shuttle service for those not wanting to ride out-and-back
- More camping services
- Roving mechanic or a pickup-service from local bike shops
- Updated list of services (lodging, food, amenities) – including location and hours
- Wayfinding signs
- More engagement from local communities and local tourism boards with cyclists
Silver Comet Trail – related websites
If you are planning a bike tour on the Silver Comet Trail, check out these websites.
- Our Silver Comet Trail bike tour itinerary
- Interactive details of each county and traiheads
- Rails-to-trails Conservancy Description
- Path Foundation‘s description of the trail including a chart indicating mileage between trailheads
- Bike Silver Comet – interactive trip planner
Our recommendation is if you are in the vicinity of a Silver Comet Trail trailhead, make the effort to ride all or part of the trail. If you are looking to take a self-supported overnight or multi-day tour, Silver Comet Trail is worth considering. It is an easy path to use for a paved, mostly flat tour that has nearby amenities.