The origin of the name Blood Mountain is lost to time. Some say it comes from a bloody battle between the Cherokee and Creek Indians in the nearby aptly named Slaughter Gap. Others that the reddish color of the plant life on the mountain inspired the name. But personally, I suspect it actually derives from the first poor soul who tried to climb this peak and all the blood, sweat, and tears left clawing their way up through the boulder fields to the spectacular views at the summit.
Is it goat approved? I wouldn’t take one here, even if there’s snow on the ground. The trail is extremely popular with day hikers and thru hikers. However, if the apocalypse comes, or a mass pandemic and the vast number of people migrating to Atlanta ceases…the goats would really love this one.
How you get there: Park at Byron Herbert Reece Access Trail. GPS 34.742001, -83.922440. The parking is limited, regulated, and very popular, but with a decent turnaround as day hikers go up and come back down. The turn is well marked for the parking area, and it’s just past Mountain Crossings, where the Appalachian Trail (AT) crosses the road.
Time for hike: The distance for this hike is 4.2 miles round trip out and back. The going is strenuous the first 2/3rds, climbing rock stairs and significant grades. The last third levels out and crosses a series of GORGEOUS rock faces with incredible views, culminating at the imposing TWO ROOM trail shelter. Seriously, this is an awesome hike.
Best season to do this hike: Fall, winter, and early spring are best. Summer, starting about mid-April, many AT thru hikers are coming through, and it will be busier and less fun.
Trails to Take
Start off in the parking lot, and the trail kiosk should be visible on the loop. Trail’s behind the kiosk.
We were racing the autumn fog this morning, and if you too are looking for spectacular cloud photos at the crack of dawn, the first stage of the hike will climb up through fog. On the left a creek tumbles down, crossing the trail at one point.
The trail gains steepness as it ascends and dries, reaching a saddle where a confusing trail junction occurs. The access trail from Herbert Byron Reece Parking Lot is meeting the Appalachian Trail at this point. You want to go right and uphill to go to Blood Mountain. If you go left you’ll just descend to the road and Mountain Crossings Store.
The trail becomes rockier and rockier, and a series of depressing stone stairs ascends among large boulders jutting out from sassafras trees. The hemlocks at the parking area and near the creek peter out and are overtaken by stunted buckeyes and maples. The trail winds up a series of switch backs in a serious climb, then levels.
The trail goes along the edge of the mountain now, level and easy going, until you reach your first rock face and the first spectacular view of the morning. If you’ve made it before the burn off starts, but after the air has cleared (before 10 am at the latest!) beneath your rocky aerie lies an ocean of perfect cloud cover.
A series of rock faces lead up the face of the mountain, the crevasses and boulders becoming larger and more spectacular, until finally a well camouflaged rock shelter emerges from among the wind blown buckeyes and weather trimmed mountain laurel. This is Blood Mountain Shelter, the only two room shelter with a fireplace I have ever seen. It is frankly spectacular, well maintained, and fascinating in construction. Sadly the old fireplace has been blocked in as fires are no longer allowed on this section of the trail due to the threat of forest fire.
Large rocks surrounding the shelter offer further perches and views, then it’s time to go back to the parking lot.
- Bear canisters are required in this part of the trail if you are camping. The recent explosion in the black bear population in North Georgia is probably the reason why.
- No fires. No seriously, they are terrified of fire up here – we survived some bad ones a few years ago that almost came down the mountains for the rest of Georgia. Pack the gas burner if you want smores instead.
- Parking is, as usual, busy and over worked. Plan accordingly.
- If you want fog, get up to the rocks by 9:30, or at the latest 10 in October. If you want the view, come on a sunny day around lunch.
Nearby Historical Stuff: The Indian Princess’s Grave
The giant pile of stones in the middle of the intersection of US 19 and US 60 in Stonepile Gap, GA is an interesting bit of history lodged literally in the middle of the modern world.
The pile of stones is over the grave of Trahlyta, a Cherokee princess whose tribe lived on Cedar Mountain nearby. The tribe had achieved immortality by drinking from magic springs shown to them by the Witch of Cedar Mountain. Okay, so this sounds a bit bizarre, but let me tell you for some reason there are A LOT of legends of immortal tribes/people in this neck of the woods. The Cherokee refer to them as the Nunnehei, (The People Who Live Anywhere), and consider them a race of Spirit People. Supposedly they had a large townhouse on Blood Mountain and other settlements in the surrounding area. Who knows, maybe the fount of eternal youth is in Georgia and not Florida…
Anyway, I digress. The legend goes that Trahlyta jilted a potential suitor, and that suitor decided to let his testosterone do the thinking. So he kidnapped her and dragged her away from the springs that were the source of her eternal youth. Predictably, she died. The suitor, while being an idiot in terms of logic, was apparently slightly better at geography, and took her remains back near her home place for burial as she requested.
Later travelers began the custom of throwing a stone as they passed onto the pile, and over time the marker became so large even the highway department couldn’t pave over it.
When you take pictures where it looks like you’re above the cloud layer you can tell people you climbed to whatever elevation you want and they’ll believe you. By the way, Blood Mountain is stumpy even by Appalachian standards – it rises a mere 4,459 ft and is only the 6th tallest in Georgia.