GEORGIA: Blood Mountain on the Appalachian Trail

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.

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Lower Trail Fog

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.

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The upper fog is gone…leaving a spectacular sea of clouds stretching to the horizon and Blood Mountain a lone rocky point rising out of the fog.

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.

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The clouds are pretty awesome!

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.

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The Blood Mountain two room chalet of a shelter!

Large rocks surrounding the shelter offer further perches and views, then it’s time to go back to the parking lot.

Trail Map

Map

 

BE WARNED

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Parking is, as usual, busy and over worked. Plan accordingly.
  4. 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

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The grave of Trahlyta

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.

 


In sum: 

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.

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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.

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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!

Taking Cherry to the Cheese Factory on the Appalachian Trail

No, they don’t still make cheese on the Appalachian Trail, but one of the best shady and soft grounded camping areas in GA is named for a long vanished dairy operation. The original cheese factory was started by an eccentric New Englander in the 1800s, and those familiar with historical agricultural will agree he must have been very eccentric. The site was 15 miles from the nearest farmhouse in the 1800s, it is rocky, rugged, lacking in water, and not highly productive pasturage. While other Georgians sold their government allotted parcels to speculators in the 1830s, this crazy New England dairyman apparently tamed the rugged mountain sides, installed some cows, and went at it. He managed to run a successful dairy and even produced cheese that actually won awards.

This is a great hike for landscape photography and for getting that goat out for a quick trip on an otherwise crowded weekend.

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

How you get there: Park here: 34.791716, -83.706993. Be warned the road in up Tray Mountain  Road is pretty rough, but not impassable. It will take you about 30 minutes to reach this point from Hwy 75.

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is 6 miles out and back. Budget some extra time for photography at the overlooks.

Best season to do this hike: NOT SUMMER. You won’t be able to get a campsite. 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.


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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Cheese Factory Campground

Anyway, the trail goes up some wooden stairs, though 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. The blue blaze trail leads down and across the road to a small spring, (this may be dry in summer!). There are further campsites in the rhododendron. Personally, set up your tent here early in the day…so you have a spot when you get back.

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Peach blossoms bloom at the first overlook

The trail climbs out of the Cheese Factory, then along a ridge line to the first small overlook at ~0.5 miles. This picturesque spot is also a campsite and has significantly more goat forage than the Cheese Factory.

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At the second (and biggest) overlook with a yearling trainee

Shortly after leaving this overlook the trail crosses a road near a giant pit dug into the road by jeep traffic for some reason. It then climbs a relentless series of switch backs, culminating in a gorgeous summit and overlook at 1.5 miles. This is the best spot on the hike for photography.

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Storm clouds roll in over the Appalachians at the second overlook

The trail descends from the summit and travels another 1/2 mile to the trail shelter, (off to the left on a blue blaze trail). There is also another spring here. There is an overlook area that is worth visiting down the blue blaze trail before you reach the shelter. The hike continues another mile down hill to complete 3 miles out. Then turn around and head back for your second chance at photographic bliss at each of the three overlooks.

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Sunset after a day of photography

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BE WARNED

  1. The spring at the Cheese Factory does go dry in the summer sometimes.
  2. Get your campsite at the Cheese Factory early.
  3. The Cheese Factory is heavily camped – while goats were tolerated, expect to tether them and provide some type of food to them. Despite being described as “grassy” it is not a good spot to let them loose to forage and there isn’t much goat safe forage in the area. The campsite at the first overlook has significantly more forage if you need it or carrying chaff hay.
  4. There is a trail shelter on this hike. Don’t camp there. It’s generally full of young-ish males comparing their gear and bicep muscles.
  5. This is bear country. I use a bear canister, but many people also hang their food here to make sure your breakfast “hangs” around.

 

In sum: 

Appalachian is the fourth oldest surviving place name in America. The Spanish came up with it when they first arrived in Florida around 1528 to describe the territory of the Appalachee Indians they encountered (and subsequently enslaved/slaughtered/ converted/sickened).

 

On the Appalachian Trail in Blue Ridge WMA

 

Really, the title says it all. I’ve been trying to get a goat on the Appalachian Trail for forever!

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. Also, be prepared for AT (Appalachian Trail) thru hikers who are not happy about dogs or goats. Fortunately, when you are far enough into the woods…no one can hear you scream.

How you get there: Google it! You want the Three Forks Trailhead for the Appalachian Trail in Blue Ridge WMA near Long Creek Falls. If you don’t like driving down forest service roads come up from the south on the road instead of from the north. Coming from the north is the usual route Google will try to take you on, so beware. If you do come from the north, the turn for the forest service road occurs after Doublehead Gap dwindles to gravel and just after you pass the Fellowship Primitive Baptist Church and its small graveyard.

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On road parking

Time for hike: About 4 miles round trip after you drop by the graveyard. Nothing to get serious about, but a good bomb proofing shake down cruise for a newbie or oldie who hasn’t been out in a while.

Best season to do this hike: Winter only. Weekdays preferable. The walk up to the waterfall PLUS the Appalachian Trail? You’re going to be swamped unless there is a forest fire or the apocalypse.


Trails to Take

This one is easy-peasy. If for any reason you get turned around, just follow the throngs of people running between Long Creek Waterfall and the Three Forks Trail Head.

You will need to park on the side of the road. You will know you are at the parking area if you: A. See a lot of cars, no matter the time of year or day; and or B. See a wooden foot bridge crossing a creek to one side of the road way. Most likely you will notice A before reaching B.

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Long Creek Falls

The trail to the falls is on the opposite side of the road from the wooden foot bridge. It is very clear, and a very easy wide open hike. There are some small falls just off the trail before you reach the  main one, but if you’re  bustling through the crowd with a goat you probably want to stick with just heading to the main falls.

Long Creek Falls is down a very short side trail at the junction between the Appalachian Trail and the Ben MacKaye Trail. It is marked with a sign, as is the trail junction. The waterfall itself comes into view within half a minute of walking.

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AT and forest road junction near the cemetery

After visiting the waterfall you can go back to the AT and continue along it. After a while the AT will come up on a wildlife opening, (read: big open unkempt field). It will then cross a gravel road where a homemade wooden sign will direct you to “cemetery and shed” down the road to your left. This takes you to the Hickory Flat Cemetery, a small cemetery with a campsite, a picnic shelter, a unique type of merry-go-round, and some bathrooms which are pretty much always locked. On the way to the cemetery there is a small gravel headstone in memory not of a person, but of a school. However, remains of the school, and of the church that planted the cemetery have eroded away with time.

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The cemetery
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The unusual merry-go-round. It looks like a seesaw but it actually goes around in a circle.

After lunch at the picnic shelter its an easy goat-who-is-recovering-from-knee-surgery walk back to the car, entirely downhill.

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BE WARNED

  1. This is a super popular trail with everyone who goes on foot – AT thru hiker trail snobs. AT thru hiker’s who haven’t washed in three days and have beards suitable for hiding a whole box of crackers in. Small children. Random city dwellers. Princesses even maybe. Great for bomb proofing…but not for relaxing!
  2. Mountain laurel is abundant on the trail…which is poisonous to goats.
  3. This hike is really short. But you can walk out to Hawk Mountain Shelter or something to make it less boring. Or climb up Ben MacKaye Trail.
  4. This is a hunting WMA. But on this trail you probably don’t have to worry about it.
  5. Honestly, the only thing you have to worry about that is unique on this trail is AT thru hikers. To understand AT thru hikers imagine yourself at a party. You find yourself standing, beer in hand, in an unfamiliar group of people, who while they drink the same beer you do discuss how great their knowledge of the beer is and how much better they are at drinking it. Sound annoying? Avoid the AT thru hikers.
  6. If you plan to camp, know ahead of time that camping is restricted along the Forest Service Road and there are only about 6 or so campsites that are very likely to be filled. You would be better off planning to camp up Ben MacKaye or farther out on the AT away from Long Creek Falls or any of the AT shelters.

In sum: The greatest moment of life is watching a goat commit an epic fail  and eat mud. It’s even better than a cat epic fail video because the goat is more embarrassed.