We explored a new trail a couple weeks ago in an effort to get an extra couple of miles in on our weekend long run. We were already up at Bowman’s Island near the Lake Lanier Dam and had never explored Laurel Ridge Trail.
There are lots of places to start any adventure on Laurel Ridge Trail. We started at the River basin. There are parking lots there for the Chattahoochee National Recreation Area for Bowman’s Island and a parking lot for the Army Corps of Engineers with a boat launch. There are several parking lots and restrooms right off of Buford Dam Rd. as well.
The trail is approximately 3.9 mi long according to AllTrails and has lots of ups and downs. The average grade is approximately 5% and there are several sets of stairs to give you an idea of the maximum grade. The trail is relatively well maintained and most of it is shady. There are a couple of road crossings and the trail goes around several parking lots near Buford Dam Rd. Sometimes there are lots of people along the trail because access is so easy.
The scenery is beautiful and would make a lovely hiking trail, but I’ll pass next time if I’m looking to do some trail running. Bowman’s Island, across the river, is much more pleasant for a trail run if that’s what you’re looking for.
Last weekend we took a trip to a new location: Sawnee Mountain Preserve in Forsyth County. This area has a visitor’s center and two other parking lots with amenities and playgrounds. There’s plenty of parking and really good signage for (and on) the trails. There isn’t any parking fee and the website looks like it has lots of opportunities for fun and educational activities. Unfortunately there are no dogs allowed on any of the trails, but it’s still a great place for a hike or a challenging trail run.
There are essentially two loops in the Preserve. Check out a map of the trails here. The more northern of the loops is about 3.5 miles and leads up to the top of the mountain to a natural rock feature called the Indian Seats. From here you can see the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance.
The southern loop is about 5.5 miles, depending on which trails you actually take. This section of the preserve has more climbs (both gentle and severe) and the trails have a bit more loose rock and uneven terrain. If you run clockwise, good luck with the connector part of the Mountain Trail that has a consistent 15-16% grade, or if you run counter-clockwise there’s a section with a 28% grade on the Mountain Trail. TrailRunProject ranks both the northern and southern loops at intermediate running trails, so we knew what we were getting into.
The trails were challenging, but the views and terrain made our 9.5 mile trek absolutely wonderful. Compared to many of the forested trails we normally run, Sawnee has more rock formations, more open tree canopies (especially towards the top of the Indian Seats trail), and bright green palmettos right near the trail to brighten the winter scenery. It was lovely! Highly recommend!