Yonah in the Distance at Unicoi Gap on the Appalachian Trail

Why is it every winter I forget how hot it gets in the summer? Till of course that agonizing day where the morning starts out at 50F and quickly becomes 80F by 1 pm. Seriously mother nature, go easy on us mere mortals with the temperature swings!

At least she installed a pretty awesome view from this trail to make up for it…

Is it goat approved? Dunno, but the thru hikers were pretty chill about the goat.

How you get there: Park here: 34°48’05.5″N 83°44’35.1″W. There is a HUGE gravel pull over on the side of Hwy 75. But it does get full on good weekends. Also, beware of hitch hiking thru hikers who want to pile in the truck to go to Hiawassee at this spot.

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is a little under 9 miles out and back.  Yes, I know what the map says, but Google doesn’t know about all the switch backs. Budget some extra time for photography at the overlooks.

Best season to do this hike: Most seasons, though the rocks at the Yonah Overlook section are probably going to ice a lot in winter. Also this area is very close to the start/end of the Appalachian Trail. This means the traffic is very heavy in early spring (start of the hiking season) and fall (end of the hiking season). However, the wildflowers won’t be in bloom unless you go after April 1st, (the trilliums were beginning on April 1st).


Trails to Take

You must take the “trail” as the thru hikers refer to the Appalachian Trail. They speak as if it were the only one in existence, or perhaps that it is both a physical and metaphysical journey that they have undertaken to prove to themselves…whatever it is they decided to spend 6 months of their lives proving.

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Boulder Field

The trail starts in the parking lot, climbing up in a long arc through a boulder field then bast a stream. It intersects with Rocky Mountain Trail at about 0.5 miles.

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Yonah Mountain view (its the weird prominence in the distance)

At 1 mile you will see several campsites, including 2 official ones behind the “camping” wooden sign post that are particularly fancy. The trail makes its way for the next 0.5 mile or so along rock face amid stunted and windblown oak trees. Views of Yonah Mountain and general foresty/mountain goodness abound.

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Stairs from hell section

The trail descends steeply, reaching a saddle with a large boulder in the bottom, the makes a short climb…followed by the downward stairs from hell. They just keep going and going and going. You will feel like you’re on a stair master at the gym, and worse yet, it is annoying to let people around the goat through this section because you have to step off the stairs to provide room for hiking poles. Expect to be delayed here.

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The rhododendrons

The trail reaches Indian Grave Gap Road where a trail to a campground peels off to your left (blue blaze). It crosses, then climbs through some particularly pretty rhododendrons, back out into the open, and back into rhododendrons again. The hike is not particularly difficult in this stretch.

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Trillium on the trail

The trail comes up on Tray Mountain Road, where it crosses and ascends a set of wooden stairs. It passes through a stand of rhododendron, past a not very appealing campsite and then into an open area that is clearly heavily camped, backed by rhododendron. This is the Cheese Factory. The “trail” runs right through it and ascends on the other side.

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Final overlook under storm clouds

 

Another 0.5 miles or so brings you up on a small overlook and another campsite, followed shortly thereafter by a meet up once again with Tray Mountain Road. There is a large “Jeep pit” in the road that fills with water and some Jeepies may be playing in the mud. Around the 1st of April every year some boy scouts do trail magic (pancakes and sausage and eggs!) at this crossing. Cross the road, climb a stretch of switch backs, and you will reach your final destination – a major overlook.

From here, turn around and head back.

Map
Map of hike

BE WARNED

  1. The Cheese Factory is heavily camped – most campers show up in the late evening.
  2. The stair section is tight and you may be delayed there allowing others to pass.
  3. The last overlook is very popular – go early (before 9 am) or late (after 4pm) to have the place to yourself for photography.
  4. This is bear country. Bears eat goats. Be aware of the tasty hamburger on leg’s vulnerability.
  5. Parking can be full during the summer and wildflower season – this place is popular.
  6. The section with views of Yonah Mountain gets a lot of sun exposure and gets extremely hot late in the day making it a challenging stretch for a tired goat and human on the way back.
  7. Don’t be surprised if hitch hiking thru hikers want you to give them a ride to town. This is perfectly normal.

In sum: 

Keep an eye out for “trail magic” at the parking area and other road crossings. If they have extras they feed even stray day hikers. Thumbs up on the sausage boy scout troop!

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