GEORGIA: The Cloudland Canyon 11 miler

I have been on a kick lately to learn to hike 20 miles in a single day. Unfortunately, I seem to be stuck somewhere around 11 mi at the moment, so I decided to at least make it a hard 11 miles if nothing else. To get 11 mi at Cloudland Canyon you need to take West Rim Loop Trail, Waterfalls Trail, Sitton’s Gulch Trail, Overlook Trail, and Case Trail. Each of these is pretty spectacular and will make you feel like you’ve stepped into the setting of a J.R.R. Tolkien novel, especially in winter.

Waterfalls Trail – features two huge waterfalls. Cherokee Falls is like something out of a tropical sunscreen commercial, with its huge collection pool at the base. Hemlock Falls is more J.R.R. Tolkien fantasy elf homeland style. 

Cherokee Falls

West Rim Loop Trail – If rock faces are your thing, this is your trail. It winds through rhododendrons then climbs through a series of well made switch backs to the rim of the spectacular canyon. The trail then runs over rock faces, through fields of huge boulders, and in general there’s a lot of limestone about. There are numerous overlooks of the canyon. The backside of the trail is equally beautiful as it passes through a fairly substantial forest meadow with a picturesque stream flowing through. 

Overlook on West Rim Loop Trail

Sitton’s Gulch Trail – This trail runs from the Waterfall’s Trail to a rear parking lot on the edge of the park. It is 3 MILES one way and 6 MILES out and back – the park website is confusing. All 3 miles run along the substantial and Middle Earth worthy river along a wide and obvious trail through boulder fields then flat forest flood plain. There are two side trails, Case Trail (which leads to a cave) and Wildflower Trail (which in season probably goes to some wildflowers). This is a great trail if you enjoy trail running as it undulates up and down and never really climbs hard enough to wear you out at a steady jog.

River side on Sitton’s Gulch Trail

Overlook Trail – Frankly, despite the name, this is the least interesting of all the trails I hiked. It is a paved 1 mile trail following the rim of the canyon near the main parking area. There is a nice view of a distant waterfall on the far side of the canyon, but nothing much else in terms of excitement. However, if you need that last bit of mileage before going back to the car, this will get you there.

Canyon from Overlook Trail

Is it goat approved: No. The stairs going down to the falls are the metal grill type – this is nearly impossible for most goats to handle going up and down because they freak out when asked to walk over grills due to how ruminates visually perceive depth.

How you get there: Google Cloudland Canyon State Park. It’s a very well known location.

Time for hike: The 11 mile round trip hike requires you to hike from the main parking area first down West Rim Loop Trail, then Waterfalls Trail, then Sitton’s Gulch Trail out to the parking lot. This is followed by Sittons Gulch back into the park, with a quick side trip on Case Trail to the cave, then continue on Sitton’s Gulch back up to the parking area on the insane stairs and around the Overlook Trail. With the stairs it took me about 5 hours to do the whole thing.

Best season to hike: Winter and probably spring for the wildflowers. The popularity of the park apparently sky rockets during the summer. In extremely snowy/icy weather the trails to the bottom of the canyon may be closed – I had some difficulty crossing ice on Waterfalls Trail at one point.


Trails to Take

The hike requires you to hike from the main parking area first down West Rim Loop Trail, then Waterfalls Trail, then Sitton’s Gulch Trail out to the parking lot. This is followed by Sittons Gulch back into the park, with a quick side trip on Case Trail to the cave, then continue on Sitton’s Gulch back up to the parking area on the insane stairs and around the Overlook Trail. The trails are extremely well marked with sign posts. The only trail I had issue with was West Rim Loop Trail as there are several side trails that go to the cabins, camping, and yurt areas. However, if you read the sign posts you won’t get turned around.


Trail Map


BEWARE SECTION

  1. It costs $5 a car to park in the park. I believe all the external parking areas are fee areas as well.
  2. The park is home to several caves. If you are going to go on a cave tour they have changing areas to allow you to change clothes and avoid spreading white nose disease, an extremely lethal disease that is causing bat population declines. Since bats eat bugs, save the bats!
  3. There are some really long stretches of stairs to go to the bottom of the canyon. Dogs can handle these stairs IF they are fairly large. If you are bringing a Chihuahua be prepared to carry it down and back up in your hands as the spacing on the stairs and the sheer number of them will probably be an issue.
  4. All camping within the park is reserved – if you want to back country camp you must reserve ahead of time.
  5. All caving in the park is by permit only – if you want to cave, plan ahead of time.
  6. If you want to take pictures of the canyon from West Rim Loop Trail come in the afternoon – in the morning the sunlight is angled in such a way that the far walls of the canyon are very hard to photograph.

In Sum

Definitely in the running for Best Park in Georgia!

GEORGIA: Southern Terminus of the Appalachian Trail

I couldn’t get up the southern/eastern side of the jacked up gravel road to Springer Mountain. Instead, I went from the western/northern end of the gravel road maze, drove 5 miles in to Blue Ridge WMA, parked at Three Forks Parking Area, and hiked in 10 mi round trip to the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail the hard way.

Well, it wasn’t actually all that hard…the terrain is moderately easy, and there is plenty to see in the area. Attractions include Long Creek Falls, the Benton MacKaye Memorial, the southern terminus of the Benton MacKaye trail, two amazing trail shelters, and lots of water to hike along during part of the hike. Plus the end point of the hike at the southern terminus of the Appalachain trail!


Is it goat approved: No. This section is placarded as “no pack stock”. So goat on a leash – maybe. Goat with a pack, forget about it!

No pack stock…

How you get there: Google Three Forks Trailhead or go to gps (34.663550, -84.183102). There isn’t real parking, just a wide spot in the road where people (in season LOTS of people) pull off. I recommend coming from the back side from Doublehead Gap Rd – not from the Nimberwill side – you will drive rough gravel roads for forever if you come from Nimberwill. If you come in from the north side it is a relatively good road that even a low ground clearance car can handle. You also only drive about 5 mi, down what is an absolutely beautiful stretch of road along a river. If you come after a major storm bring a chainsaw – these forestry service roads are cleared, but not always in a hurry and the hemlocks dying from wooly agelid fall on the road a lot. The drive itself is gorgeous, despite the dying hemlocks. There are nice free camping spots along the river, but camping in designated spots only is strictly enforced and spots are usually all taken on weekends. If you do camp – be kind – don’t damage the remaining hemlocks.

Ride in is beautiful

Time for hike: Total hike, from Long Creek Falls to the Southern Terminus and back to parking at Three Forks trail head is 11.25 mi round trip out and back.  From Three Forks parking area it is 1 mi out to Long Creek Falls (2 mi round trip). From Three Forks parking area it is about 1.2 mi to the Stover Creek Trail Shelter, 3.2 miles to Springer Mountain Parking Lot, and from Springer Mountain Parking lot it is about 1 to Benton MacKaye Memorial, Springer Mountain trail shelter, and the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.

Best season to hike: As always I highly recommend winter for the best views and lowest traffic, but if you are okay with high traffic any time of the year is fine. Rhododendron will bloom in the spring, and the yearly exodus of Appalachian trail hikers hits hard around April 1st or so. If you want to sleep in a trail shelter come in winter – the shelters stay packed in warmer weather.


Trails to Take

Starting off at Three Forks trail head, you want to go away from Long Creek Falls, and across the river on the other side of the road via a wooden foot bridge. The trail continues following water through thickets of rhododendron under overhanging dying hemlocks and pines. The trail is obvious, extremely well maintained, and beautiful. The Benton MacKaye Trail goes off to your left as you climb. This trail is built on one of the proposed routes for the AT in honor of Benton MacKaye, one of the original proposers of building the Appalachian Trail in the 1930s. Not surprisingly with this history, it often parallels, intersects, and sometimes runs on the same route as the AT. Benton MacKaye is marked with DIAMOND white blazes. The AT is marked with RECTANGULAR white blazes. So be careful about which one you are following!

Crossing the river at the start of the hike
Well maintained trail structures

You continue to climb along the Elysian Fields worthy river valley over several more bridges, then the trail sharply swings to the left. Google will tell you to go straight here on the wide old road bed, but that’s not the correct course. Follow the while rectangular blazes and go down to the creek, cross it, and climb up the other side. Shortly thereafter you will pass a side trail marked with a blue blaze and a “shelter” sign as is typical on the AT. This is Stover Creek Shelter, which is massive and has a bear box for food in the form of a Northern Tool and Equipment tool box. I have no idea how they got that thing out there, but it’s there for the spoiled AT thru hikers.

Past the shelter the trail leaves the river, climbing up on dry ridges and frankly, uninteresting forest land. The Benton MacKaye crosses the AT again, but the correct way is well marked. At no point does the climb become ardous, but it does meander for a while before finally reaching Springer Mountain Parking/Trailhead. This parking area is large, but doubtfully not large enough for everyone during the season. Cross the parking area and head up the AT on the other side.

Spinger Mountain Parking Lot with an impatient dog

From this point the trail becomes beautiful once more, climbing over rocks and under stunted oak trees as it traces the ridge line of the mountains. Views abound through the de-leaved trees. The Benton MacKaye comes back in to the AT, forming it’s personal southern terminus, and about half a football field down Benton MacKaye from the intersection is the Benton MacKaye memorial plaque, well marked and stuck on the side of a boulder.

Benton MacKaye Memorial
Southern terminus of the Benton MacKaye Trail

Past Benton MacKaye is another blue marked shelter trail to Springer Mountain Trail shelter, a beast of a double decker shelter with it’s own itinerant caretaker, surrounded by heavily used camping meadows. Recent signage indicates, however, that camping here would be ill advised – there have been serious bear issues in the area. The park service recommends not sleeping at Springer Mountain trail shelter at this time due to bears. There is another bear box/big metal tool box here, but do you really want to sleep somewhere with a 5 am wake up call from a black bear?

Springer Mountain Trail Shelter (it has a second floor inside)

Not far past the trail shelter is the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, set among a grove of stunted oaks overlooking the mountains. There are two plaques – one set in the rock face, and another set in a boulder amid the oak trees. Welcome, at last, to the start of the journey!

The southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail

When you get back down to the Three Forks trail head, cross the road and finish the day with an easy 2 mi out and back hike to Long Creek Falls, which is well worth the visit.

Long Creek Falls

Trail Map


BEWARE SECTION

  1. Don’t camp at Springer Mountain trail shelter if you don’t have to as of 1/19/19. The forest service has posted signage warning of bear issues at the trail shelter. Press on for Stover Mountain Shelter, which is about 3 miles away.
  2. Camping near the Three Forks Trail Head is at designated camping sites only – the park service does not have a sense of humor about this, and their stringent enforcement is why the area is still as pretty as it is.
  3. Watch out – Benton MacKaye is DIAMOND white blaze, the Appalachian Trail is RECTANGULAR white blaze. Don’t get confused!
  4. Trail shelters are marked by rectangular blue blaze trails – you may have to walk a ways down one of these to find the shelter, but the shelter does have privy’s and water sources for those who aren’t comfortable going to the bathroom in the great outdoors.
  5. Don’t expect to get a spot in the trail shelters on the weekend or on any day of the week in the summer. Always plan to be able to tent camp if needed – this area of the AT is extremely popular.
  6. The AT thru hikers generally start heading north about April 1st – if you want the serenity of a quiet forest, don’t hike this section during this time or during the rhododendron bloom.
  7. If you are visiting this area after a major storm, bring a chainsaw to clear the road of debris.

In Sum

The Journey Begins! Sounds like a movie tag line doesn’t it?

Bearden Falls at Jake’s Mountain

As my husband and the goat put it “Why exactly on a cold wet Sunday at 8 am are we going to watch the mundane magic of di-hydrogen mono-oxygen engaged in release of potential energy? You can watch water drip off the eves at the nice dry house instead…right?”

But really, where is the fun in that? 

This hike includes several mid-calf deep creek crossings, a lot of hemlocks (please be kind – these are threatened), and a lot of gorgeous water. It is an easy hike up until the last scramble to the base of the falls. 

Is it goat approved? Yes. I took a goat on this one and it went well. This trail *may* be popular during warm weather or trout season.

How you get there: Google it, or navigate to 34.588640, -84.192591. This will be a spot on the gravel road with a large off the road campsite to your right. Pull off the road as you can, and walk to the big off the road campsite. There is an obvious road going from the campsite into the woods, (NOT car passable), that crosses a stream with a log bridge. This is the trail head.

Time for hike: To the falls is about 3 mi out and back. 

Best season to do this hike: Winter – best view of the falls, fewest bugs, and fewest people. Fall would be nice, and spring when the rhododendron bloom would be good too. There are numerous mid calf deep water crossings, keep this in mind.


Trails to Take

From the road, head towards the large road side campsite (or park there if no one is using it). The trail head is the big road looking trail heading off from this area into the woods. It crosses a creek at the campsite area in a wide ford that when I visited had a log bridge. The trail/not car rated road goes off through a hemlock forest in the woods. It emerges at another river crossing, this one fairly deep. You want to cross the river here – there aren’t any better spots up or down stream and those hopeful little side trails lead nowhere. So suck it up buttercup.

Lots of creek crossings
Poplar forest
Goat and husband on the big rock at the base of the falls

The trail continues in an obvious, easy route along the river, crossing moderately deep water several more times as you climb up the narrowing valley. Eventually you cross one more creek, the main water course is to your right, and the trail seems to disappear. At this point, look for where people have scrambled up on the left hand side of the valley, and follow this path along the edge of the rhododendron. Climb up until you see the huge rock sitting mid stream near the base of the falls. Cross out to the huge rock and you will get a gorgeous straight up look at the falls.

Bearden Falls

TRAIL MAP

The trail follows the river more or less

BE WARNED

  1. The road in is a forestry service gravel road for the last 1.8mi. A low ground clearance car will not enjoy the ride. I had to maneuver a bit in a Honda Fit.
  2. The trail is semi unofficial, and there are side trails. Stay with the main river and you will eventually reach your destination.
  3. The trail does go past a roadside campsite.
  4. The last stretch to the bottom of the falls is a scramble, you may not want the 3 year old kid or the ancient dog for this last bit.
  5. There are numerous calf deep water crossings to reach the falls.
  6. Due to the general lack of care that Jake’s Mountain is treated to, if you see trash pick it up – no one else will.

In sum: 

Who says adults can’t play in the creek?

GEORGIA: Lance Creek Trail at Jake’s Mountain

I wanted to go to Springer Mountain while it was miserable outside to see the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. The Honda Fit actually made it within 1.8mi of the trail head…but it shouldn’t have. I got a lot of use out of those skid plates under the car and I still fully expect the bottom to fall out of the car on the way to work Monday. The roads at Jake’s Mountain aren’t meant for low ground clearance cars, so instead of continuing to commit automobile suicide an hours drive from any paved surface, I went to check out this trail instead.

Jake’s Mountain doesn’t have much water, and it has even fewer trails that run along water, however, Lance Creek Trail (223 A) does run along a substantial water course with lots of small rapids. The trail also passes possible still ruins and what looks like a covered hand dug well, suggesting there might be more house site ruins in the surrounding area. This particular hike goes slightly farther than the trail itself, ending at a less well known campsite beside the river.

Is it goat approved?Yes. I have done the bottom of this with a goat.

Parking on the side of the road in the campground

How you get there: Head for Jone’s Creek Campground at Jake’s Mountain (34.604849, -84.151070). The road in was passable (barely) by a Honda Fit. If you have a wide vehicle with low ground clearance you will not be able to drive down to the campground and I don’t recommend driving down Winding Stair Gap Rd either. This is the land of Jeeps and low taxes, so you kind of are expected to get there under your own power without maintained roads, cleaned out ditches, or filled in potholes.

You know, I’m willing to pay more taxes if they would maintain the road in return

Time for the hike: 5.45 mi round trip from the off trail campsite to the Jones Creek Campground.

Best season to do this hike: If you are camping come in the winter – the campground stays solidly full during the summer. Go all the way to the far end of the campground and get the site under the hemlock trees on the river. If you are not camping come whenever, but realize the start of the hike may be buggy as the area has lots of puddles and seeps.


Trails to Take

Park in the campground, or if you have the right vehicle, go past the campground, up the hill, and around the corner and park at the huge car ford. NOTE: The trail rapidly becomes non-car friendly on the far side of the ford, and the trail, though it looks like a road, has a car barrier a short way up it. So no jeep trails here!

River near the campground
Possible old still site?

However you park or camp, you want to pass through the campground towards a large open field, then over a bridge and past a campsite situated under surprisingly healthy hemlock trees. The road goes up a moderate hill, then turns a corner coming up alongside a large flowing river. Shortly thereafter a large ford presents itself to your left. Do not cross the ford, continue straight. You are now on 223A Lance Creek Trail.

Car Ford with a goat

The trail, looking much like an old road, travels through bottom land, passes a car barrier, and thereafter shortly passes what may be an old still site with rusted out metal barrels. After that watch for a pile of large rocks to the left of the trail which may be a covered hand dug well. Trail 223B Saddle Back Trail goes off to the right. If you want to bushwhack to the Appalachian Trail this trail will get you closer to the AT than 223A.

Possible covered hand dug well
Small Falls
The trail is pretty much an old roadbed

If you continue straight the trail gets closer to the water, culminating in a small off trail falls at 2 mi. Nearing 2.5 mi the trail crosses two streams, and then the main trail goes off to the left to continue the loop around on 223 Bull Mountain Trail. If you continue ahead on the still very visible old road bed you will come out of the dense mountain laurel to an open clearing where the road bed ends and the river cascades into a reasonable pool for soaking in hot weather. This area is an unofficial campsite that sees infrequent use. After some exploring, turn around and head back to the car!


TRAIL MAP

BE WARNED

  1. The drive in on Winding Stairs Gap Rd and on the road to the campground itself is GRAVEL. For those not from Georgia this means it’s a *@&!*( ride in a low ground clearance car. There will be potholes, rock faces, and the road will not be maintained. I made it to the campground in a Honda Fit, but I had a tough time and I had to stop at one point and dislodge a tree limb that hung between my tire and fender.
  2. If you were thinking of bushwhacking to the Appalachian Trail, it is about 1 mile from the end of this hike. That 1 mile is up a sheer wall of mountain laurel, loose soil, and drop offs into water. I turned around pretty quickly, but if you are gung ho, take 223B, it will get you a little closer, then be prepared to bushwhack up hill for a mile to reach the AT.

In sum: 

I had a good time. I cannot say the same for my car.

GEORGIA: Wagon Drivers Hidden Falls

Honestly, I saw the icon for this on Google and went “Wait. I’ve never heard of a waterfall at Brasstown. What gives?”. What gives is an easy hike on the less beaten of trails at Brasstown Bald. While Wagon Drivers Hidden Falls isn’t a spectacular plunge pool monstrosity, it is the only waterfall you’ll get on the Bald. It’s also about halfway down the 7 mi stretch of Wagon Train Trail from the Brasstown Bald parking lot to the back of the dorms at Young Harris. Most importantly, you walk the easy half of the trail to reach it from Brasstown Bald. If suffering is more your thing, you can come up to it from Young Harris too of course.

Is it goat approved? You could probably bring a goat up from Young Harris, but a goat at Brasstown Bald might result in you becoming an Internet meme.

How you get there: Park at Brasstown Bald. You will have to pay for parking here – $3 in winter and $5 in the summer. Per person.

Time for hike: Wagon Train trail and the mini falls is visible on Google. To the mini falls is about 2.65 miles one way, or about 5.3 miles round trip. 

Best season to do this hike: Winter – you can see more of the views with the leaves off the trees.


Trails to Take

Starting off at the Brasstown Bald parking lot, go up the paved trail past the bathroom as if you are heading for the top of the bald. About a football field length up this trail Wagon Train Trail crosses as an unpaved roadbed. There is a historical marker if you’re into that sort of thing.

Old blasting grooves cut into the rock face

The historical roadbed dates from the actual time of wagon based travel in mountains. Originally built by convict labor to allow local families to meet and mingle, during certain parts of the hike the original blasting bores used to turn vertical rock faces into horizontal road bed may be seen. The fact that it is an old roadbed means the trail is wide, obvious, and for much of its length proceeds downhill at a leisurely and unexpectedly easy pace. I was told by another hiker however that shortly after the mini falls, and particularly on the last 2 miles before reaching Young Harris, the trail drops steeply. The walk to the falls though will be filled with exciting overlooks (in winter) and a deceptively easy grade.

Turn right onto the road bed, and a short walk through dense rhododendron thickets will lead you to a clearing where the forest service dumps fallen trees, and afterwards a vehicle gate followed by a trail kiosk. Further travel takes you along a ridge line of moss covered boulders overlooking distant valleys and a sign announcing entrance to the Brasstown Bald Wilderness. As a wilderness area is camp-able in GA there are two campsites on the hike that are very nearly in the middle of the trail.

View from the trail in winter
Brasstown Bald Observation Tower is just barely visible on top of the mountains

The trail descends slowly and easily following the ridge line, with continued impressive views, including a very distant view of the observation tower on top of Brasstown Bald itself. Watch the mileage counter as you descend among the moss, rock faces, and boulders – the waterfall is truly hidden and you have to stop and look to find it.

Part of the very well hidden Wagon Drivers Waterfall

The trail starts to drop more steeply, rounds a bend past the second of to extant stone fire rings, and shortly thereafter the 2.3mi trip ends at an unassuming stream crossing the trail. If you look to the right, moving around the rhododendron in wet weather, a small but pleasant cascade is visible. Is it big? No. Is it spectacular? Hardly. But on a wet winter’s day after 2.3mi of overlooks, rock walls, and spectacular mossy boulder fields, it doesn’t need to be. It just needs to be the turning around point.


TRAIL MAP

BE WARNED

  1. You will have to pay to park at Brasstown Bald.
  2. Tends to be popular on the Brasstown Bald end. The middle of the trail is pretty quiet.
  3. The trail is an old road bed, but there are boulders, wet spots, and uneven terrain which may make it unsuitable for very small children or people with bad knees in places. In general though, a relatively in shape person with a reasonable sense of balance or a pair of hiking poles will not have a problem.

In sum: 

Everyone thinks the dog is some fancy expensive breed. It’s actually just an unpapered muddy Great Pyrenees with expensive tastes. 

GEORGIA: Desoto Falls

Desoto Falls is named after Hernando de Soto, one of the first Europeans to visit the Southeastern United States. While taking the grand, (and very bloody), tour of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina, and possibly Louisiana he apparently dropped a piece of armor near these falls, giving them their name. Whether you remember him as the guy who murdered and pillaged his way across a continent while spreading diseases that would wipe out the vast and complex Mississippian Culture or you remember him as that guy who really should have gotten a haircut before the official portrait, these are still pretty good falls to go check out.

Desoto

Is it goat approved? Nah. Busy, busy, busy.

How you get there: Google “DeSoto Falls, Georgia 30528”. The parking area is not very big (20 cars tops). It is possible this is a fee parking area, but I honestly can’t tell if the box is for campsites or for parking.

20180120_102022kl
Parking Area

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is about  mile out and back. At this time the upper falls are closed.

Best season to do this hike: Year around.


Trails to Take

Leave the parking lot in the direction of the campground area. Follow the signs, which lead through the campground area, over a bridge, annd then you can go left to the lower falls (1/2 mile) and right to the upper falls (3/4 mile). Except of course for right now when the trail to the upper falls is closed due to debris and storm damage. The lower falls is kind of small and underwhelming, but I hear the upper falls is better.

20180120_103011
Lower Falls

Untitled
Upper Falls (courtesy of wikipedia)

BE WARNED

  1. The upper falls trail is closed due to storm debris as of 12/2017
  2. The parking area only holds about 20 cars.

In sum: 

Seriously, what was he thinking? Hernando should have stopped at a barbershop on the way to the official expedition portraiture.

desoto2
Just a little off the sides and it wouldn’t be so shaggy man!

 

 

 

 

GEORGIA: Brasstown Bald and Track Rock Gap Archaeological Site

Brasstown Bald is the highest point in Georgia, which makes it a pretty good place to get a good view and possibly also struck by lightning. As humans generally like to be high up and also generally forget to consider the whole lightning thing till it’s too late, there is a really cool building you can stand on the roof of at the top of Brasstown Bald. Ideally not during a thunderstorm though. For those not in to being zapped, if it is raining you can go check out the nearby Track Rock Gap Archaeological Area, which is a petroglyph site at the bottom of Brasstown Bald.

Is it goat approved? Uh. I think you can answer that one on your own.

How you get there: Google it! Brasstown Bald is the highest point in Georgia…this shouldn’t be a hard one to find. The Track Rock Gap Archaeological Area is at 34.882316, -83.878733.

20180120_114530
Parking for Brasstown Bald

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is about mile out and back at Brasstown Bald and negligible wandering around at the archaeological site. The trail runs from the parking area to the summit, and while the grade is significant the trail is paved and probably rated from even the less well made baby stroller. For a less…lame…hike try the Arkaquah Trail that runs from the Track Rock Archaeological Site to the summit of Brasstown Bald at 5.5 miles one way. and 11 mi round trip. I will be doing that on a less icy day though as I hear it has a lot of rock drop offs and I prefer not to die.

Best season to do this hike: Year around, but in the winter payment is on the honor system. However, the buildings (and bathrooms) are also closed in the winter too.


Trails to Take

BRASSTOWN BALD

The trail starts at the large parking area, (no really, this thing is huge). The trail-head is between the bathrooms as the park store in the cabins. The only spruce I have ever seen in Georgia is right next to the trail head too. The trail itself is paved and ascends rapidly through rhododendron thickets. There are benches at each switch back. Halfway up the trail cross the Wagon Trail. The Wagon Trail is actually an old wagon road constructed by convict labor. Now, the sign says it was built in the 1950s, which is contemporary with the use of convicts for really crummy construction projects in the Southeastern US. However, the sign also says that local families got together in “wagon trains” to use the road to go visit other settlements. Okay, I know this is North Georgia and all, but seriously, they had something better than buckboards as recently as the 1950s right?

Anyway, I digress. The trail continues up, crosses the road to the summit, turns and corner, and wah lah! A really awesome forestry tower comes into view. During the winter these buildings are closed, but the staircase to the roof remains open, allowing visitors to take in the 360 degree viewing platform at the top. You can see Hiawassee and Yonah Mountain from up here!

20180120_114646

TRACK ROCK GAP ARCHEOLOGICAL AREA

The archaeological area is more popular as a place to park and access Arkaquah Trail than as an archaeological site it seems like. The tiny parking area only fits about 3 cars, so you may have to park on the side of the road to go see it. The trail starts behind the forestry service sign identifying the site. It’s very short and ends at a pile of unremarkable looking rocks identified with numbers. This is the archaeological site. The petroglyphs are best viewed in glancing light like you get at sunrise or sunset because they are cut into dark, worn rock unlike their more familiar Southwestern cousins.

The petroglyphs mostly consist of animal tracks, medicine wheel like designs, and human figures, many overlapping one another as several different carvers visited the site. One boulder has jagged notches in it, theorized to be from ritualized noise making. In general, the petroglyphs are not spectacular, and the site has seen historical vandalism (two petroglyphs have been removed from one boulder), however, the fact that petroglyphs exist at all in the rainy, erosion prone and heavily populated North Georgia mountains is pretty impressive. It makes you wonder if there aren’t other sites buried in leaves and slowly eroding away under our torrential thunderstorms  somewhere.

 

BE WARNED

  1. Brasstown Bald has an entrance fee, and is a popular tourist attraction. The winter is the best time to have it to yourself.
  2. The parking area at Trap Rock Gap Archeological area can just about hold 3 cars. As it is a popular place to park to hike Arkaquah Trail it can be difficult to get a spot.

In sum: 

The say the view from the top is lonely. I say the view from the top of Georgia is really freaking cold when the wind picks up!

 

 

GEORGIA: High Shoals Falls and Blue Hole Falls

 

I generally avoid washing my truck on the principle that paying a good $10 for what the rain will do for free is kind of a waste of hard earned money that could instead be wasted on goats. This has led to many an interesting detour to drive down the forestry road that will almost certainly lead to a car ford. There aren’t as many of those in Georgia as there are in New York, but the gravel road to High Shoals Scenic Area is one such spot. A quick disclaimer though: if you drive something short and two wheel drive, this may be a pretty harrowing crossing. But cross you must if you plan to go see these waterfalls!

Is it goat approved? Actually, I would take a goat on this one, I just happened to have the dog with me this time. It is busy, but it is sort of remote, unpatrolled, and in very cold weather likely to be pretty sparse on the traffic. Warm weather watch out though!

How you get there: The parking area is at 34.815687, -83.727172. Google has it mapped as “High Shoals Trail Head”. The falls themselves are around 34.815687, -83.727172 (High Shoals Falls) and 34.821386, -83.722687 (Blue Hole Falls).

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is about miles out and back. The trail is very steep, but there are lots of switch backs and the general grade is pretty okay. Old people and small children were doing it if that gives you a better idea.

Best season to do this hike: Year around, but in the event of snow/ice the road will likely be frozen over, and after really heavy rain the car ford will only be doable in Noah’s Ark.


Trails to Take

The trail is really easy. It starts behind the parking area, descending rapidly past a trail sign. There are a series of switchbacks, and the the trail finds the valley floor. It follows a significant creek, (High Shoals Creek), crossing some bridges, then descends again. At this point the sound of waterfalls is readily apparent. The trail switch backs and is relatively well maintained.

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High Shoals Falls

Blue Hole Falls is on a short side trail that comes off unexpectedly to the left. This is a small falls with a deep swimming hole in front of it. A viewing platform has been built here. High Shoals Falls is further down the trail, and can be seen from a viewing platform at the trail’s terminus. This is a significantly sized fall that collects a lot of ice in the winter!

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Blue Hole Falls

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Trail Map

BE WARNED

  1. Google will get you killed on this one. Google likes to drop people in very scary places in the North Georgia mountains and gun ownership is pretty much universal around here. So, when Google says “Go down Moody Rd”, don’t go down Moody Rd. This is a private road that dead ends and is nearly impossible to backup on. The local population isn’t too friendly either. The road you actually want is nearby, (within 0.5 of a mile). It’s a forestry service road with a sign that says “High Shoals” and other things about WMAs.
  2. The car ford was forded by cars, Jeeps, and one very worried Ford Ranger, but I saw a Mustang refuse it. Consider the value of your car and the last time it rained before you attempt the ford.
  3. The parking area is TINY. Come early, and park off the side of the road if the parking area is full.
  4. The road up runs through a lot of shade – if it iced recently try this hike on another day.

In sum: 

Never in my life have I had to have my truck pulled back out, but it’s comforting to know that North Georgia’s Jeep fraternity is always somewhere nearby with a handy winch for the day that “car ford” turns out to be rated for jacked up Jeeps only!

 

 

GEORGIA: Helton Creek Falls

 

Looking to spice up an otherwise ordinary day hike? If you’re near Blairsville, GA take a quick swing past the roadside Helton Creek Falls on your way to bigger fare like the Appalachian Trail and Vogel State Park.

Is it goat approved? Nope. Not a good option for goats…way too busy.

How you get there: GPS your way on over to these coordinates: 34.753684, -83.894221. You park on the side of the road, and the waterfall is literally on the side of the road beneath you. The road down from Hwy 19/129/11 is gravel, but it is in good shape.

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Roadside parking

Time for hike: Pretty much no time at all. However, you can combine it with a trip to Vogel State Park, the top of Blood Mountain, Desoto Falls, or any of the other fascinating spots in the area to make it a hike instead of just a photo op.

Best season to do this hike: Year around, but the middle of summer it fills up with swimmers.


Trails to Take

There isn’t really much of one. The trail is next to the parking area, drops immediately down to the base of the falls, then climbs up the side to a small viewing platform. A hole has been cut/hacked through the side of the park service viewing platform so you can climb down, do a great job eroding the bank, and go swimming beneath the falls. I am sure the park service just loves this.

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From the road

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Upper falls with winter ice

BE WARNED

  1. There is a gravel road. So, like that prize Mustang convertible? Probably not a good option.
  2. Roadside waterfalls tend to be popular. There isn’t a lot of parking. Do the math.

 

In sum: 

Re-hiking trails you have done before when you are almost out of buffer is pretty suicidal :D.

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The “ice line” on the mountains from Blood Mountain – indicates the lowest elevation where nearly frozen precipitation actually manages to freeze to trees!

 

 

 

 

 

Bull Mountain to Jone’s Creek Campground Shuttle Hike at Jake’s Mountain

So last week I found myself staring at the Jake’s Mountain trail map going “What now?”. At which point, my primal inner 3 year old was immediately drawn to one thing about half way up the center of the map. Booger Holler.

What can I say? I was intrigued.

Which begs the question – what the heck? I mean, really, that is up there on the bizarre names list and apparently it was famous enough that the Park Service actually felt compelled to include it on their official map? The internet is suspiciously silent on the subject of Booger Holler, only noting that it may once have been a moonshiner hideout. Given the seclusion of the area and the abundance of water sources it seems like a possibility. Keep an eye out for old stills, (and away from any active ones), on this easy shuttle hike through Jake’s Mountain.

Is it goat approved? They let horses wander around, so I am guessing goats are okay.

How you get there: Park here at Bull Mountain Parking Lot: 34.580633, -84.144667. The parking lot is not so much a lot as an overgrown, rutted field. I got stuck in a 2 wheel drive pickup in the rear of the field. Be careful where you park!

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is about 5 miles one way. The going is easy, but the pretty stuff is concentrated in one area near Jones Creek Campground.

Best season to do this hike: Fall and winter. The campground is fairly popular and the road will be heavily trafficked during warmer weather.


Trails to Take

Start off at Bull Mountain Parking, then head north on the blocked off road behind the trail kiosk. Continue straight until the road dead ends into a fork, then go left to get on trail 223D.

Now, 223D is going to wind off forever along the mountain side, staying mostly flat with the occasional minor incline. Easy hiking, but not so easy navigating. Three different roads veer off the trail, each one unmarked but partially blocked by a metal T. Ignore them all.

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Booger Hollar Hunt Camp Cabin located at 34.596362, -84.148022

At the final metal T the trail jumps off the now blocked old road bed and climbs into the woods becoming more trail like as it winds off through the forest. Shortly there after Booger Hollar hunt camp comes into a view. It’s a relatively nice wooden cabin with a deck contrasting with a porta-john style outhouse that has partially collapsed into the cesspit below. Essentially, it looks like every backwoods hunt camp you’ll ever find in North Georgia, but with a cabin instead of a busted down camper.

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I feel sorry for the guy using the outhouse…when it fell into the cesspit

The trail leaves the camp, circles a small decline, and then comes up on Trail 223C. Go right here and begin a steep, never ending descent to the creek. The trail switch backs several times, some of these are hard to see until you are almost passed them.

Eventually you get dumped out on, surprise, another unmarked road! The creek is now in sight, as is the car ford across it. In moderately rainy weather the ford is passable. On the far side of the creek trail 223A heads up stream, and the road bed heads off to the right. Below you and about 50 feet off the trail is a reasonably nice waterfall.

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Waterfall along one of the several large creeks in the area of the car ford

Following the road bed to the right takes you slightly up hill and then almost immediately down hill into Jones Creek Campground. Jones Creek is pretty popular, and camping with a goat could be annoying, (See Beware section). Campsites appear to be first come first serve, so if you arrive early and aren’t accompanied by hooved companions you may be able to snag a sweet spot on one of the several creeks that enter the area.

The road out of the campground (Jones Creek Rd) runs straight ahead, curving along through open woodland dotted occasionally with streams and struggling hemlock groves. The road passes over a creek, then shortly later passes through a wildlife clearing (again, no camping here), and finally meets up with Winding Stair Gap Road, the heavily trafficked gravel road you took on your way into Bull Mountain parking.

It’s at this junction that my long suffering husband gave a certain fat goat a ride back :).

map

 

BE WARNED

  1. Jones Creek Campground in VERY cold weather might be suitable for goats, however, most of the time it has a few too many yuppies to be fun. The banks of the creek, as well as all large clearings off Jones Creek Rd are marked as “no camping”. So, what to do if you actually want to camp? Camp out in the woods away from the campground, camp at the unfilled lake near Bulls Mountain Parking, or you can actually camp at the Bull Mountain Parking area if you want to talk to people a lot.
  2. Jones Creek Rd is not very small car friendly. The road to Bull Mountain Parking is okay though.

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Goat transport unit – 1 cheap plastic Walmart box and a long suffering husband’s car

 

In sum: 

When you take the fat goat for a hike, its better to underestimate his hiking ability. Or you end up with a shuttle hike instead of an out and back with camping…