The Silver Comet and Chief Ladiga Trail: Everything you need to know before you go
An in-depth FAQ-style resource for Silver Comet and the Chief Ladiga Trail users
Before lacing up your biking, running or walking shoes — or maybe even your rollerblades — you may have a question or two about northwest Georgia’s Silver Comet Trail and the conjoining Chief Ladiga Trail in northeast Alabama.
In this article, I answer many of the obvious — and not-so-obvious — questions that those who are planning to utilize the trails may have. Here’s the lowdown, along with a few handy hints and other insights, to help you get to know the path better before you start your adventure.
How long is the Silver Comet Trail?
It’s 60.6 miles from the original mile marker “0” found at the Mavell Road Trailhead to the Georgia/Alabama state line. When you combine the Silver Comet Trail and the Cumberland Connector on the east side of mile marker “0,” the total distance is 65.35 miles of continuous path in Georgia.
How long is the Chief Ladiga Trail?
It’s 32.7 miles from the state line to the spot where the Chief Ladiga Trail ends at the Michael Tucker Park on the northern edge of the Anniston city limits.
When you combine the Cumberland Connector, the Silver Comet Trail, and the Chief Ladiga Trail, the total length of continuous path is 98 miles. That’s a heckuva lotta path begging to be explored.
Good news! Extending the Chief Ladiga Trail all the way to downtown Anniston is in the works, so the total should be 105 miles perhaps by about 2025-27.
Where do you park to access the Silver Comet and Chief Ladiga Trail? Where are the trailheads found?
This article is the third of three parts of my trail trip-planner. For a larger version of the map, an indepth look at the trailheads and more photos, go to part 1: Biking the Silver Comet Trail and the Chief Ladiga Trail.
For details about hotels, rental cabins and campgrounds near the trail, see part 2: The best hotel options near the Silver Comet Trail for long-distance cyclists.
Which trailheads are the best?
The distance you plan to ride should help determine which trailhead you choose. My bicycling buddies and I usually base our starting point on where our out-and-back rides will take us, and if there are places to easily buy water and snacks near the turn-around point or along the way.
The best segments of trail are in beautiful wooded areas like those found in the Talladega National Forest and the Paulding Forest WMA. Personally, being able to ride through those scenic parts is one of the most important factors when choosing where to start. In addition, I hate to deal with the Atlanta-style traffic that you must endure to get to the trailheads east of Hiram.
Above: A scene from the east side of Piedmont, Alabama
Other factors to consider:
- Trailheads with restrooms allow you to change clothes before and after your bicycle ride, half-marathon, etc.
- Shaded parking can make a big difference on scorching summer days.
- Good restaurants near the trailhead make post-adventure meal choices easy.
All trailheads offer some perks, but with the five factors above in mind, the following trailheads are tops:
- Rockmart Silver Comet Trailhead
- Cedartown Welcome Center/Depot
- Eubanks Welcome Center in Piedmont, AL
- Tara Drummond Trailhead in Dallas, GA
- Germania Springs Park in Jacksonville, AL
- Michael Tucker Park in Anniston, AL
All five of those trailheads rate high on at least four of the five factors. Other than three or four good fast-food restaurants, Piedmont doesn’t have many post-ride meal options, so you may prefer to wait and dine on your way home. Michael Tucker Park, which is where the Alabama trail terminus is found, is further from either of the scenic forests than the other four trailheads.
What other trails connect to the Silver Comet Trail?
There are a few connecting trails and spurs in Georgia worth mentioning. New paths that run alongside some busy streets now connect suburban neighborhoods to the Silver Comet, and more mileage is under construction.
The 6.5-plus mile Mountain to River Trail currently runs from the west side of Dobbins Air Reserve Base, just south of Marietta, through Smyrna, and to the Cumberland Transfer Center. You can connect to the Silver Comet Cumberland Connector at that bus station. (Map)
The 3.5-mile long Concord Road Trail, which is a very wide sidewalk for most of its span, runs alongside the street while passing through several Smyrna neighborhoods. It connects to the Silver Comet just north of the Concord Covered Bridge in a lovely wooded setting. (Map)
Also found in a nice wooded setting, the Wildhorse Trail in Powder Springs is a path of about 1.5 miles in length that follows a creek for most of its distance. It links neighborhoods and a big park complex to the Carter Road Silver Comet trailhead. (Map)
Also in Powder Springs, the Lucille Creek Trail provides almost 0.8 of a mile of connecting path north of the Silver Comet, and about one mile of path south of the Silver Comet. The latter is a widened sidewalk that allows for riding to and from the lovely Powder Springs downtown area. (Map)
Is the Silver Comet Trail hilly?
Typically, the terrain in northwest Georgia is quite hilly. But, since the Silver Comet Trail is a rail-trail, most of it’s on an old railroad track bed, so most of the path is rather flat. A 16-mile section between the south side of Rockmart and the west side of Cedartown isn’t on the railroad bed, so it’s not as flat.
You will find two pretty big hills and a few smaller ones within that 16-mile section. The big hills are adjacent to the Grady Road landfill. It’s the only place along the entire 94-mile path that has categorized climbs.
When you’re riding to the west, this hilly section featuring two category-5 climbs will take you through the landfill area. The grade is in the 7-8 percent range in the steepest spots, and each climb is only about 0.3 miles in length. The elevation change is more gradual when you are traveling east — gradual enough to not have categorized climbs in that direction.
Interestingly, the section of the Chief Ladiga Trail between Piedmont, AL, and the state line rises a little over 300 feet in elevation — from 680 feet above sea level near Piedmont to 1,000 feet above sea level near the state line, yet most cyclists would consider it flat. That’s because the elevation gain is spread out over about 9 miles!
Can I ride either a mountain bike or a road bike on the trail?
You can ride any kind of bicycle. The 10-foot wide Silver Comet Trail is suitable for bike tires of any size. In Alabama, the Chief Ladiga Trail is an asphalt path of 7 or 8 feet in width, with a few exceptions. You see mostly road bikes, but mountain bikes, hybrid and cruiser bikes are also common.
You’ll also sometimes see people skating, skateboarding or walking their dogs.
There are a few signs in Georgia that refer to horseback riding, but in 13 years of using the Silver Comet Trail, I haven’t seen any horses.
Is the trail in the woods?
In Alabama, approximately 80 percent of the trail is found in wooded areas. Of the Chief Ladiga Trail’s 32.7 miles, 25 of them are at least partially covered by a canopy of trees. Approximately 57 of the Silver Comet Trail’s 61 miles are at least under a partial canopy. That’s a remarkable 93 percent of tree cover for the Georgia trail.
In total, 82 of the 94 miles is either in the woods or a partial shade. My biking buddies and I have actually planned rides on the trail on many gusty days due to how the trees can block or diffuse the wind.
In Alabama, the Chief Ladiga Trail passes through part of the Talladega National Forest. In Georgia, a section of the Silver Comet runs through the Paulding Forest. Those sections are also the most scenic.
You should also look forward to enjoying some nice pastoral scenery in some spots when you’re not in the woods. You can also expect to see wildlife. Woodland birds, squirrels and rabbits are a sure thing. Trail users will also sometimes encounter other animals that are common to this part of the country including whitetail deer, armadillos, racoons, chipmunks, snakes, foxes, bobcats and coyotes.
Is the Silver Comet Trail crowded?
When the weather is fair, there are a few places that can be somewhat crowded on Saturdays and holidays. You will be sharing the trail with more people between Dallas and Smyrna, GA, than anywhere else along the 94-mile path. But, the further you get from densely populated areas and popular trailheads, the fewer people you will see on the trail.
Dallas, Hiram, Powder Springs and Smyrna are part of the Atlanta Metro. There has been tremendous growth in that area and many subdivisions and apartment complexes have their own paths connecting them to the Silver Comet. In Alabama, you will usually see more people using the Chief Ladiga Trail in the area near Jacksonville State University than any other area, but it would not often be considered crowded.
Above: The Pumpkinvine Trestle near Dallas
The epic trail passes through five counties. Cobb and Paulding counties (GA) have a combined population of about 940,000. In contrast, the combined population of Calhoun and Cleburne counties (AL) is only about 133,000. The county in the middle, Polk County, GA, is home to about 41,000 people.
What time does the Silver Comet Trail open and close?
While the hours vary regarding restrooms and other facilities found at the various trailheads, the trail and trailhead parking lots are open to walkers, joggers and cyclists from dawn to dusk.
Dusk to dawn are also the hours for the Chief Ladiga Trail.
Above: A Silver Comet Trail scene in downtown Rockmart
Which cities does the Silver Comet and Chief Ladiga Trail pass through?
As the train once did, the trail passes through several small cities. The Atlanta suburbs are found on the east end. Anniston, AL, is on the west end. The Silver Comet passes a few thousand feet north of downtown Powder Springs, and well to the south of downtown Dallas, but then it runs right through downtown Rockmart and downtown Cedartown.
In Alabama, the Chief Ladiga Trail passes just two blocks from the heart of Piedmont, and 10 miles away in Jacksonville, it runs about a mile north of that city’s downtown.
What points-of-interest are found along the Silver Comet Trail and Chief Ladiga Trail
In Georgia, the top points of interest include:
- The 700-foot long Pumpkinvine Trestle
- The Paulding Forest Wildlife Managment Area (WMA)
- The 800-plus foot long Brushy Mountain Tunnel
- Historic downtown Rockmart
- Historic downtown Cedartown
Alabama’s top points-of-interest include:
- The Talladega National Forest
- Historic downtown Piedmont
- Jacksonville State University
Other notable landmarks in Georgia include the Rambo Nursery near Dallas, the scenic Mt. Trashmore/Landfill Hill area between Rockmart and Cedartown, and Coots Lake Beach just east of Rockmart.
In Alabama, the Talladega National Forest has points-of-interest of its own including Dugger Mountain and Terrapin Creek, which runs alongside the Chief Ladiga Trail in some areas. The creek crosses underneath the path three times within the national forest so the bridges at those spots provide some great waterscapes.
In regard to scenery, many folks consider the span that includes the Paulding Forest WMA and the Brushy Mountain Tunnel to be the best part of the Silver Comet Trail. Likewise, the national forest is easily the most loveable section in Alabama.
Are the Silver Comet Trail and Chief Ladiga Trail smooth?
Georgia’s Silver Comet Trail consists of a hard, relatively smooth concrete surface. On some portions of the trail, the concrete has a slight texture that can feel a little rough while helping provide traction under all conditions. Other portions are more like the smooth surfaces found on most concrete driveways.
Above: A Silver Comet Trail scene at Dry Creek in Cedartown
Alabama’s Chief Ladiga Trail is constructed almost entirely of asphalt. It’s narrower and a little smoother than Georgia’s trail especially on some portions that were resurfaced in 2017-18.
Unfortunately, some of Alabama’s trail has been damaged by tree roots since it was resurfaced, especially in spots where big trees are very close to the trail. They have smoothed the cracks by grinding them down. Presently, the roots impact only about 10-12 miles of the 32.7-mile path, and do not prevent thousands of people from enjoying the trail every week.
The concrete in Georgia seems to be mostly root-proof. You will not find much evidence of that type of damage.
This is a good place to mention tree debris. Since most of the path in both states travels underneath trees, you should expect to encounter sticks, leaves, pine needles and cones, nuts including large walnuts, limbs and even entire fallen trees. And, rock slides are sometimes seen in places where they cut through the hills many years ago to lay down the old railroad track.
Are there any bike shops near the Silver Comet and Chief Ladiga Trail?
Naturally, there are several bike shops in the Atlanta Metro area near to the eastern end of the trail. Most notably, these two shops are directly along the path:
- Comet Trail Cycles sits adjacent to the path at the Floyd Road Trailhead in the Mableton/Smyrna area
- Boneshaker Bikes is only a few yards from the Florence Road Trailhead in Powder Springs
Both shops offer bike rental.
Not far to the west, Cycology Bike Shop is located about a half mile from the Hiram Trailhead.
Currently, there are no bike shops in the 80-mile span between Hiram and Anniston. Wigs Wheels is located in downtown Anniston about 6 miles from the Chief Ladiga Trail.
Further south, Fun Wheel Inc of Oxford is about 10 miles from the trail.
A brief history of the two Rail-Trail Hall of Fame trails
The name Silver Comet comes from the passenger train service that connected New York, Washington, Richmond, Raleigh, Atlanta and Birmingham between 1947 and 1969.
Chief Ladiga was the native American chief who signed the Treaty of Cusseta in 1832. He lived in the area that is now Jacksonville, Alabama.
Other rail companies used the track that connected Atlanta to Birmingham during the 1970s and 1980s. In 1989, CSX abandoned most of the rail right-of-way between Atlanta and Anniston and talk of using it as a multi-use rail-trail began in earnest. Construction of the trails we now enjoy starting by 1998, and the two were finally connected in 2008.
Mileage markers signs
The Silver Comet and Chief Ladiga Trail each feature mileage-marker signs every half mile. In Georgia, info signs are also found at many trail entrance points. Unfortunately, numskulls sometimes decide to vandalize or steal the signs for souvenir purposes. Some are missing due to normal wear and tear.
SAG is easy thanks to parallel highways
For bicycle group rides, SAG stands for support and gear. A SAG vehicle will sometimes carry bike mechanic tools, spare parts, food and drinks. While SAG vehicles cannot follow behind cyclists on the Silver Comet and Chief Ladiga Trail, the highways that run parallel to the trails make it easy for them to stay near and meet cyclists at trailheads or other spots.
In Georgia, U.S. Hwy. 278 is never very far from the trail. In Alabama, it’s U.S. Hwy. 278 from the state line to Piedmont, and then Alabama Hwy. 21 from Piedmont to Anniston.
Is the Silver Comet Trail safe?
The trail is very safe for people who are exercising because there are no motorized vehicles. For cyclists, it offers a good break from sharing roads with drivers who only look up from their phone screens every four or five seconds, and those who seem to get angry when they see men and women riding bikes on the road.
Trail users should consider all the road crossings to be dangerous intersections. You should stop at all intersections, and then proceed only after looking both ways. Unfortunately, a few cyclists have been struck and killed through the years.
All the intersections are well marked with stop signs unless vandals have taken the placards.
Just be sure to use your head for something other than a place to keep your bike helmet.
There are a good number of overpasses and tunnels that reduce the danger, especially at busier roads, and especially as you get closer to Atlanta. In addition, a few of the intersections require motorists to yield to trail users. It ends up being a four way stop because you don’t know they are yielding to you. Most of the motorists politely motion for you to pass while they wait.
Should I worry about crime on Silver Comet Trail?
Sometimes the safety questions are asked in regard to crime.
You should be aware that, statistically, crime is considered to be unusual on the trail. But, there have been some notable crimes through the years including armed robberies, assaults and even one high-profile murder. Most of the victims have been jogging or cycling alone.
In some portions of the trail that could be considered outer Atlanta suburbs, law enforcement officers patrol the trail in the daytime, and there are security cameras in a few key locations.
Paths like the Silver Comet Trail and Chief Ladiga Trail have many benefits, and I am very grateful to the counties and cities that help maintain this wonderful path. In the west Atlanta area, the trail is used by more and more people every year. From one end of the trail to the other, the trails are a great asset.
The trails have turned many non-cyclists who happen to live near one into avid cyclists. And many people have chosen to relocate near the trails in order to enjoy usings them during their retirement years.
Being able to utilize all, or part, of a 98-mile path is great on its on. Throw in the magic of riding through some incredible forest areas and you’ve got an amazing place to do anything from walking a couple of miles with your dog to taking the longest bike ride of your life.
See my historic-places articles featuring cities along the trail
My top 3 excuses for visiting Rockmart’s historic downtown
The historic Main Street business district steals the show in Cedartown
Piedmont’s historic downtown in pictures
Jacksonville is a college town with plenty of historic places to enjoy
Exploring Anniston’s surprisingly large inventory of historic places