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.

use0
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.

use78
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.

use99
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.

USE
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.

useme99
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.

IMGP0177
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!

Advertisements

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.

cheese2
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.

spring
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.

IMGP0169
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.

IMGP0177
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.

IMGP0197
Sunset after a day of photography

overlook

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.

rabun
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.

rabun6
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.

rabun5
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.

rabun4

rabun2
The cemetery
rabun3
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.

rabun77

 

 

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.