The days of riding power line trails, abandoned railroad beds, or the big empty fields that once checker-boarded across our neighborhoods are long gone, especially here in the northeast. Sadly, most of that vacant land where many of us grew up, spending countless hours riding dirt bikes has been chopped up, sold and developed into strip malls and overpriced houses that we struggle to pay for each month. Although paying to ride may be painful to some folks, it's quickly turning into a pay to play world. Fortunately, there are some outstanding privately owned off road parks that allow us to spend time doing what we enjoy most; riding our dirt bikes with family and friend. Highland Park Resort, located about an hour west of Atlanta, Georgia is one of those outstanding parks and although it's a long drive, especially from the northeast states, the trip is well worth the time and money.The Trails
There are currently 29 trails with roughly 70 miles of varied terrain offering something for every rider from beginner to advanced, with new trails added regularly. The trails are rated using a diamond system, with one diamond being the easiest and five diamonds being the most difficult. The one, two and three diamond trails are shared by dirt bikes and ATV's; the most difficult four and five diamond trails are reserved for dirt bikes (and brave souls!).The one diamond perimeter trail is wide, mostly flat, and interspersed with great little single jumps that even beginners can jump (or roll over) creating some great photo-ops for the kids. The two diamond trails are fairly easy in general, having gradual elevation changes, a few shallow ruts, and minor off camber sections. The three diamond trails raise the bar a bit with more mud and ruts, shorter, steeper elevation changes, more (and steeper) off camber sections, some rocks, and a healthy dose of everyone's favorite obstacle - tree roots! The four and five diamond trails are tight and even tighter single track with roots, hills, ruts and just a general collection of excellent impediments and obstacles designed to challenge even the most advanced riders. All the secondary trails branch off the main perimeter trail, and are very well sign posted at each trail's entrance so even the most navigationally challenged person won't get lost.Bike Rentals
If you need to rent a bike, Highland Park's rental fleet offers an excellent selection of late model KTM's and Hondas enabling you to orchestrate your own bike shootout. It's not cheap, but if you're in the market for a new bike, renting for a day or two might help you decide which bike is best in actual trail conditions. It may be an expensive test drive but when you're dropping $6000 or more on a new bike you want to be sure it suits your needs and riding style. Riding a dirt bike around a dealer's blacktop parking lot tells very little of how it will handle in tight woods. Other advantages of renting are: no wear and tear on your own bike, you don't have to wash the bike when you're done (think sticky red Georgia clay), you can try out a four stroke if you're a two stroke fan and vice versa, and finally, riding an unfamiliar bike on unfamiliar trails is a great way to sharpen your riding skills. The cost of the park pass and a tank of gas are included in the rental. Highland Park also offers free in-house schools throughout the year.Food and Lodging
Five rental cabins are available on site at Highland Park; three have queen beds and a sleep loft, one has a twin over a full bunk with a loft, and one has two twins and a loft. None have bathrooms but the newly built bathhouse is close by. All cabins have a small refrigerator, microwave and air conditioner unit. The cost is $59.00 per night plus $10.00 for an additional person with a maximum charge of $79.00. If you have a need for more creature comforts, your best bet is Cedartown, a ten minute drive from Highland Park. The Country Hearth Inn (770-749-9951) and Holiday Inn Express (770-749-0006) are the two main hotel options in town and are a stone's throw from each other at the intersection of Route 27 and John Hand Road. The guys at Highland Park said the Holiday Inn offers a discount to riders and Country Hearth offers a AAA discount, so be sure to ask what's available when booking your reservation.Route 27 is the main commercial strip and is where you'll find all the necessities such as Wal-Mart, Home Depot, a CVS pharmacy, a car wash, an auto parts store, plus all the typical fast food options. Since you can get a Big Mac anywhere in the world, consider some of the local eateries instead. Kacey's Home Cooking is hidden between McDonald's and Wendy's on Route 27, and Los Arcos, an excellent Mexican restaurant, is tucked in the corner of the Wal-Mart on the north end of town. There are also a couple of southern barbecue eateries on the south end of town. You definitely won't go hungry.Miscellaneous
Helmet, eye protection, shirt, and over the ankle leather boots are the minimum required safety equipment. Most safety gear is available for rent and they have a good selection of gear and apparel for sale in their well stocked pro shop. Highland Park is also home to KTM World (www.ktmworld.com), which is the largest KTM facility in the world, and has been the number one KTM dealer in America 27 times.Cell service is hit or miss out on the trails. The guys at the front desk said Verizon has the best chance of getting a signal but you may have to move to a higher elevation to connect. Dial 911 for emergencies and the number to the office is on the trail map you'll get when you sign in. It can get surprisingly cold in north Georgia so if you're headed down in January or February be sure to check the weather beforehand and pack accordingly. Exercise some caution the first day on the trails until you get used to the tractability of the soil; that red Georgia clay can be mighty slippery and takes a bit of getting used to. When damp it's awesome, when dry it's like concrete and when wet it's a grease pit. If it starts raining while you're riding, it's best to slow down.Is It Worth The Trip?
Although a trip to Georgia is expensive, the cost is less painful if we know we'll be getting a good return on our investment, and there's no better investment than spending time with family and friends creating memories that will last forever. It was great to be able to ye-hah down a wide open section of trails and get away from the rocks, mud and conspiracy of tree roots that define our northeastern trails. Whether you need a break from the cold, want to get a jump on ride fitness for the upcoming race season, or just need to get a fix for your riding addiction any time of the year, Highland Park is a great place to go. It's run by dedicated people who love the sport. Y'all come down now - you won't regret it!Be sure to check Highland Park's website (www.highlandparkresort.com) for current information about trail conditions, special offers, rental pricing and accommodations.Chris Carragher