If you spend your week sitting in a cubicle, desk, truck seat, behind a counter, entrapped in telephone cords, or other confined space permit requiring work area you may feel that you aren’t getting enough exercise. After these hikes, I guarantee you’ll be happy to see that desk again on Monday.
This day trip includes visits first to Burnt Mountain Preserve, a small patch of mountain side with three trails totaling only about 3.5 miles if you walk them all. Then there are two pull overs with nice overlooks of the mountains. Finally, the day ends with strenuous hell hikes back out from the waterfalls at Dawson WMA.
Is it goat approved? Sort of. As in, no one actually stopped us and it is a WMA where things tend to be a bit more relaxed. However, since it is a Wildlife Management Area…cover the critter that looks like a deer with orange unless you want to have some exciting new bullet holes through your expensive goat.
How you get there: Get on Hwy 136 near Dawsonville. As you drive down Hwy 136 towards Highway 575 you will pass 3 things in succession: 1. A brown sign with white hikers and white lettering on the left that says “Hike Pickens” at Monument Road, (just before Sequoyah Lake); 2. A pair of overlooks that you can pull over to and take pictures; and 3. just past the last overlook with the chain link fence is a small trail head to the left. The trails you want are at the small trail head (this is Burnt Mountain Preserve). The trail head for the Dawson WMA is at the brown sign with the hikers. You will need to go down Monument Road about 2 miles, (this goes to the Wildcat Track of the WMA). You know you are getting close to the Dawson WMA access point when the road degrades in quality and becomes single lane.
Time for hike: The distance for the hike at Dawson WMA is about 5 miles round trip, dropping down 900 feet for 2 miles without a rest and then climbing steeply back up it later over 3 miles. The distance at Burnt Mountain Preserve is 2 miles round trip dropping and then climbing back up 800 feet of elevation, with the descent and climb each only covering about 1/4 of a mile. Both hikes are a loop and are very steep.
Best season to do this hike: Autumn is gorgeous. However, if you are really into waterfalls then you want to save this hike for Spring when the maximum amount of water will be coming down the falls at Dawson WMA. Avoid deer season, (i.e. winter), if you plan to go early in the morning when hunters will be most active. I would also avoid summer as these climbs are brutal enough in cold weather.
Trails to Take
BURNT MOUNTAIN PRESERVE
Starting in the parking lot right off Hwy 136 you want to walk towards the yellow gate baring an old access road. Just past the gate the trail goes up a set of wooden stairs, (you will see orange, white, and yellow blazes here). Follow the trail until Champion Creek Trail goes off the right. The trail will descend. And descend. And descend even more. Eventually it will come out next to Champion Creek and parallel this decidedly dry and un-Champion-esque water body for a while.
In time Champion Creek Trail will intersect with Preserve Trail (orange blaze). Go right, endure more brutal climbing, and you’ll come up along Hwy 136. This will take you back to the parking area for a total of 2 peaceful miles of climbing and sliding down hill.
DAWSON WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT AREA WILDCAT TRACK
Starting at the trail head off Monument Road follow the gravel road down hill. At the junction between Fall Creek Trail and Tobacco Pouch, follow the blue blazes right to stay on Tobacco Trail. You will pass around a black gate blocking vehicular traffic. What follows is an unrelenting 2 mile steep descent on a gravel road that dwindles to a washed out track.
The red blaze trail will peel off to your right as if desperate to get out of the never ending descent almost as much as you are. About a half mile further on the blue trail dead ends into the grey blaze trail, which is Fall Creek Trail. Go left to continue on the loop.
At first this trail is flat and easy. You meander along the creek, beginning to climb just as your anxiety about how hard it will be to get back to the truck gets really bad. There are numerous small and medium waterfalls on the very obviously named Fall Creek. The two I found were one just before the big creek crossing with the large gravel bar and Fall Creek Falls, the only fall on the creek that has a marker sign. To find the one near the creek crossing, when you reach the crossing, walk back the way you came about 50 feet and listen for falling water. When you hear it, climb down to your left and you’ll be at the top of the falls in about 20 feet.
After crossing at the previously mentioned large gravel bar the trail wanders through river cane, and you will come up on a marked side trail to Fall Creek Falls. This is worth the side trip and seems to be the largest waterfall on the trail!
After Fall Creek Falls the trail begins to ascend very steeply, requiring you to walk on your toes in some parts. About the time you and the goat are completely demoralized the trail will dump out on the gravel road from earlier. However, from here it is still at least 0.3 of a mile up to the intersection with the blue and red blaze trails. Once you crawl your way up to the intersection it is a short, easy climb back up the remaining feet of gravel road to the truck.
- This is a lot of climbing. If you thought the stair master in the gym was brutal, just wait…
- Mountain laurel is abundant on the trail…which is poisonous to goats.
- People may be abundant near the waterfalls in the WMA…which is poisonous to introverts with goats.
- The usual thing about only let the water fall off the top of the waterfall and not you, your dog, or your sucker eating dependents.
- The parking area is small at both locations, but especially at the Monument Road WMA access. If the WMA access looks full, you can drive down the gravel road into the forest to find a place to park. However, the road is rough – and not recommend for your 1985 Buick Le Sabre with the transmission issue.
- Wear orange in hunting season or wear red very briefly.
- Mountain biking is popular at the Burnt Mountain Preserve. Bike + Goat = Pissy Bikers. Be prepared for patience!
- If you have bad knees or are just lazy like me, bringing hiking sticks to make the descents less annoying.
- The WMA has a black bear harvest. This means there are bears. If we can eat goats, bears can eat goats. With maybe the goat owner for dessert!
In sum: Giant hamster balls are not a safe way to make steep mountainous trails more fun.