The Montaluce Winery in Dahlonega, GA serves as the picturesque backdrop for the Southern Cross gravel grinder event. What makes this race stand out is the perfect blend of mountainous terrains dominated by gravel and a last-half-mile grassy stretch to the finish line on two course options. The main route features a blend of sustained climbs, high-speed descents, and a total elevation gain of around 6,200 feet over a course of 50 miles ensures that participants, whether seasoned gravel cyclists or newcomers, get a fair taste of adrenaline and beauty. The event is produced by Mountain Goat Adventures and is one that our team considers to be one of the Best Gravel Cycling Events in the Southeast. Due to the race’s popularity, it’s recommended to register early, given that last year’s entries sold out within two weeks.
Event & Course Info
In the main 50 Mile Course, riders start from the Montaluce Winery at 10am, and embark on a journey that comprises approximately 3 miles on pavement before transitioning to gravel roads. The course covers mostly gravel paths, some portions of pavement, and even includes pasture/trails on the Montaluce Property as riders race to the finish line. Strategically placed aid stations at Mile 12 and Mile 32 ensure riders remain hydrated and energized. The overall elevation gain stands at a whopping 6200 feet, with two major climbs and thrilling descents (the interactive course map below is not official, but gives you an idea).
The 30 Mile course, designed exclusively for junior riders, revolves around the “Winding Stair Loop” and has an approximate distance of 30 miles, kicking off at 10:25am. This route ensures the junior participants experience the thrill of the main event but over a shorter and slightly less challenging terrain. The aid station for this course is positioned at Mile 12. Given the remote nature of this route, a parent or coach can accompany the junior as a non-participant chaperone, ensuring their safety.
The beauty of Southern Cross lies in its versatility. Participants can choose either a gravel/cyclocross bike or a mountain bike. For those gunning for the best finish times and confident in their handling skills, a gravel bike is recommended. However, if comfort and enjoyment rank higher, the mountain bike promises a smoother ride, especially on the climbs.
A single aid station will cater to participants twice, equipped with water, Torq Energy Drink, Torq Gels, bananas, pre-packaged snacks, basic first aid supplies, and mechanical support. For personalized needs, riders can use up to two gallon-sized drop bags at the aid station. Nimblewheels Bicycles in downtown Dahlonega is the nearest bike shop, providing mechanical assistance both pre-event and during the race at the Winding Stair Gap Aid Station.
All Southern Cross participants should finish by 5:30 pm to get an official finish time, and a cut-off at the Mile 12 aid station at 1:30 pm is in place to ensure safety. After the race, post-race meals are served and a lucrative payout awaits the top performers with $250/$200/$150/$100/$100 for the top 5 Overall Open Men and Women. The first place in each of the “Non-Money” 50-mile categories gets $100. Other podium finishers receive awards and prizes from the race sponsors. Check out the 2023 Racer Guide to get a flavor of all of the nitty gritty details of this great event.
Area Accommodations & Things to Do
Dahlonega, Georgia, the host city, is a charming town located in the heart of the North Georgia mountains. Known for its rich history, Dahlonega was the site of the first major gold rush in the United States in 1828. Today, the town maintains its historic charm and is a popular tourist destination. The area is renowned for its scenic beauty, with vast forests, cascading waterfalls, and panoramic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Cyclists visiting for the Fool’s Gold Mountain Bike Race can take advantage of the area’s extensive network of trails, ranging from beginner-friendly routes to challenging backcountry adventures. Visitors to Dahlonega can explore the town’s quaint shops, dine at local restaurants, and learn about its gold mining heritage at the Dahlonega Gold Museum. The surrounding region offers ample opportunities for outdoor activities, including hiking, fishing, and, of course, mountain biking.
While there is no official hotel partner for Southern Cross, however some options in Dahlonega include the Mountain Top Lodge, Comfort Inn & Suites, the Dahlonega Square Hotel & Villas, as well as the Smith House. There are four villas available for rent on the Montaluce Property for larger groups, Dahlonega Hideaway Havens offers five nearby cabin rental options, and Mulberry Gap is an adventure basecamp with lodging. If you prefer a more home-like experience, there are also vacation rentals in the area to suit a variety of needs, from treehouses to townhouses. For those who enjoy camping, Foothills Campground or unique one-of-a-kind private camping locations in the area are worth checking out. However, there is free, onsite primitive camping available at Montaluce Winery and the closest campground with amenities is Etowah River Campground and is 2 miles from the race venue on quiet, back roads. There is also free primitive camping within the National Forest.
Dahlonega, GA, boasts a rich culinary tapestry, melding Southern traditions with modern twists, where quaint eateries and wineries offer a delightful blend of local flavors amidst the town’s historic charm. From farm-to-table establishments to cozy vineyard tastings, this gold-rush town serves a gastronomic experience as golden as its history. Some local favorites include Picnic Cafe and Dessertery, Bourbon Street Grill, and Farmhouse Produce.
Other towns in the broader area that are worth checking out include Dawsonville, Cleveland, Gainesville, and Blairsville.
Nestled in the foothills of the North Georgia Mountains, Dahlonega has long been an attraction for those drawn to its rich gold-rush history. But beyond the allure of gold, this charming town boasts a plethora of outdoor activities perfect for athletes and adventurers, particularly in the crisp, clear days of late September. With its cooling temperatures and the first hints of fall foliage, is an ideal time for hiking in Dahlonega. One of the most renowned trails is the Appalachian Approach Trail, which leads to the majestic Amicalola Falls – the tallest cascading waterfall in the Southeast. This 8.5-mile trek is moderately challenging and rewards hikers with breathtaking views of the waterfall and the surrounding forest canopy.
For mountain biking aficionados, the Yahoola Creek Reservoir Trails are a must-ride destination. Offering over 7 miles of trails, this system, nestled around the reservoir, provides diverse routes catering to both novices and experienced riders. The trails wind through mixed hardwood forests, occasionally offering glimpses of the shimmering reservoir. For those looking for an adrenaline rush, there are sections with challenging climbs and rapid descents.
Lastly, kayaking or paddling down the Chestatee River is another great activity this time of year, as the the river winds through picturesque landscapes, bordered by lush forests and rolling hills, providing paddlers and tubers a tranquil escape from the bustle of everyday life. Various outfitters in Dahlonega offer rentals and shuttle services, ensuring a hassle-free experience.
Southern Cross is produced by Mountain Goat Adventures, a premier Southeast event operator that specializes in organizing and hosting a range of outdoor adventure races and endurance events. With a focus on promoting active lifestyles and fostering a sense of community, Mountain Goat Adventures designs and executes various challenging and exhilarating races in natural environments, such as mountains, forests, and rugged terrains. Their events cater to a wide range of participants, from seasoned athletes looking for intense competition to recreational enthusiasts seeking a fun and rewarding experience. Mountain Goat Adventures offers a diverse selection of races, including trail runs, mountain biking competitions, adventure relays, and obstacle course races. Mountain Goat also produces Fool’s Gold, rated by Strambecco as one of the Best Mountain Bike Events in the Southeast.
For the multi-sport athletes out there, the Six Gap Century takes place in the same area as the Southern Cross event while the Tour of Georgia Gran Fondo is another popular cycling event that is part of the Gran Fondo National Series – both are considered to be some of the Best Road Cycling Events in the Southeast. Keep your eyes out for other Best rated trail running, mountain biking, gravel and road cycling events taking place in Georgia!