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 :).

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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…

 

 

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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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A Mini Nimberwill Nomad At Jake’s Mountain

The Nimberwill Nomad is an incredible long distance hiker. He’s kind of like wonder lust personified, or maybe Odysseus if Odysseus had said “screw this getting home stuff, let’s just turn this thing into a magical mystery tour instead”. The Nomad’s treks are described as odysseys for a reason on his personal website (https://nimblewillnomad.com) because frankly, what this guy does isn’t really comparable to what the rest of us mean by “hike”. He hiked the Appalachian Trail of course, but he’s also walked Route 66, across the entire United States in a big loop, the Ice Age National Scenic Trail in Wisconsin, and basically anything that might be described as “epic”.

While he’s originally from up North, he retired to the Nimberwill area here in North Georgia. For those not versed in North Georgia’s many microcosms, Nimberwill is the area around Nimberwill Creek, Nimberwill Church, and in short, the area where Jake’s Mountain State Park lies. So one of the internet’s more insane hikers comes from here. Maybe hiking the goat here will inspire it to want to climb mountains too…

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One of the Nimberwill Nomad’s treks – Route 66

Is it goat approved? They let horses in here, so I am going with “yes probably”.

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 4.2 miles round trip out and back. The going is easy, with only two moderate uphills and down hills. There are three seperate fields starting at 1 mile in that would make good camping locations in the Fall and Winter. Summer the flies would be bad as we are near the lake *ahem* make that swamp with a drainage system and a dam.

Best season to do this hike: Fall, winter, and early spring. Summer the flies and mosquitoes will probably be bad.


Trails to Take

Starting off in the parking lot, (or well, unmowed field you left your truck in and hope you can get it back out of), you want to go back up the road to the trail kiosk. Behind the gate just beyond the kiosk is the “trail” though it will look more like a road at this point.

This is technically the Bull Mountain Connector Trail at this point. In about a quarter mile the road intersects with Jones Creek Connector Trail, (or again, at this point, road). Go right on this.

The road winds out through the woods, gradually becoming less and less defined. It crosses the first field at around a mile, and finally becomes a track instead of a two track. The trail winds down hill into a second field, then across the dam for the “lake”. The dam is humongous, but the lake it was meant to contain has either succumbed to the drought last summer or a lack of funding. The dam is holding back an underwhelming shallow water water mosquito breeding mud sucking swamp. With a rather expensive looking drainage set up.

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One of several camping fields
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The swamp at the bottom of what probably was meant to be a lake…

The trail continues across the dam amid late fall wildflowers, climbs a hill, and reaches another field. This one is probably the best camping spot – large, well drained, protected from high winds and far enough away from the swamp to thwart the worst of the insects. I will definitely back here for an overnight hike!

This little training jaunt ends at the fork of Jones Creek Dam Trail and Moss Creek Trail. A good 4 miler for a 3 month old kid, and a good leg stretch for a lazy human hiker.

 

TRAIL MAP

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BE WARNED

  1. Parking fills up fast in reasonable weather. Come early to get your pick of parking!
  2. Bull Mountain Parking Lot is a very…optimist…name. The field at the end of the road isn’t that great for parking. It is rutted, with bad traction, no mowing, and a general sense that you are going to get stuck. I got stuck in the Ranger. Bring 4 wheel drive if you have it…and if you don’t, be careful how you park.
  3. Bikers, runners, and to a lesser extent horseback riders all do big get togethers at this park. You may arrive at a free for all Jamboree that you were not invited to. But that’s cool – cause a goat is always in fashion!

In sum: 

I once read an interview with the Nimberwill Nomad during his trek of Route 66. He doesn’t carry much of anything – no extra food or a heavy pack. The answer to why he doesn’t I found kind of profound. In his words, every piece of gear you have is an expression of your fears. You bring a first aid kit because you are afraid of injury. Food because you are afraid to go hungry. Boots because you are afraid to twist your ankle. A tent because you are afraid to sleep outdoors. What must it be like, to walk alone and unafraid?

GEORGIA: Yonah Mountain

Yonah Mountain is a popular small park encompassing a single stony rise near Dahlonega, GA. The mountain stands by itself, visible from both the Appalachian Trail and distantly from the area of Dawsonville, providing an incredible view from the cliffs surrounding  the summit. A good location for spotting Atlantans out for the weekend, and a great hike for dogs, enthusiastic kids, and less enthusiastic spouses, this basic but beautiful jaunt makes an awesome opening to this winter’s hiking season.

Is it goat approved? The trail is heavily used, but sparsely maintained or patrolled by the powers that be. I would not recommend a goat because of the traffic level, but it could probably be gotten away with here.

How you get there: Google “Yonah Mountain Parking Lot”. On the satellite image Yonah Mountain Road appears to travel up to the summit – but this road is gated and inaccessible. The actual parking lot is at 34°38’14.6″N 83°43’36.1″W off Chamber’s Road. Come early! The parking lot is large but heavily traffic. However, if 8 am isn’t going to work with your three year old, there is fairly steady turnover of cars and you can get a spot later in the day.

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Parking is extensive, but it is not really extensive enough. Come early to get reasonable parking locations.

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is 4.4 miles round trip out and back. Expect a nearly relentless uphill the whole way to the summit.

Best season to do this hike: Year around. Wildflowers bloom throughout the summer, and primitive camping is allowed even on the summit throughout the year. However, be aware that the Army trains at the park, and the trail is closed on training days.


Trails to Take

The trail starts on the left hand side of the parking lot, about even with the pit toilets, (yes, that is the source of the  strange smell you are going to be wondering about). It climbs first slowly through a lowland  forest of unremarkable hardwoods. A short bridge crosses an unremarkable creek. Then, the trail comes up parallel to a steep incline, which develops into a wooded cliff. Boulders pop up, growing larger and larger, finally culminating into a rock scramble at one point.

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Boulder scramble

Beyond the rock scrabble a field pops up out of the trees, leading to the first view of the hike, looking northwest. The trail continues on the far side of the field, growing steeper and showing signs of extensive erosion.

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Wildflowers found on the trail

The trail comes up to a gravel road, turns right onto the road, and continues up to the Army training area. There are more pit toilets here. The trail splits at this point – if you want to go to the summit stay on the gravel trail to your left. This trail continues up a steady pace and begins to cross small rock faces. The number of wildflowers increases. The trail crosses a large rock face. At the far side of the rock face is another trail split. The right hand trail goes to a spectacular view at a primitive campsite. The left hand trail passes a small spring and continues, again at a steady climb, all the way up to the summit, which is around a quarter mile away at this point.

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Trail side spring
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Side trail at the rock face view

The summit itself is a bit of a let down for most people. The views are nonexistent, though side trails will take you out to the notoriously dangerous cliff faces where better, if stupidly dangerous views, exist. The main object of the summit is a large clearing surrounded by picturesquely stunted oak trees that pretty much screams “camp here”. Yeah, you can camp here. In fact, I plan to do so in the future.

Anyway, turn around and go back downhill to the car when you’re ready to go onto the more challenging stuff the winter hiking season has to offer!

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Field at the summit of Mount Yonah

 

TRAIL MAP

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Trail Map (courtesy of HikeTheSouth.com – my photo did not come out)

 

BE WARNED

  1. Parking fills up fast in reasonable weather. Come early to get your pick of parking!
  2. The US Army trains on the mountain, (they go rock climbing or something). When they are there you can’t be. Call 706-864-3367 to check on what days they are in residence.
  3. Reminder that Yonah Mountain Road doesn’t actually get the public to Yonah Mountain. The real parking is off Chamber’s Road nearby.
  4. The cliffs of this mountain have claimed many lives, including those of experienced hikers and backpackers. The views are not really good enough to die for, so stay back!
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The US Army closes the park on training days.

 

In sum: 

Always go the fun way. Life is too short to be boring.

GEORGIA: Hike in to the Hike Inn at Amicalola Falls

Every one who’s ever had a tree house understands the allure of living outside and up a tree. Len Foote Hike Inn is probably the closest you can get to a practical application of that. The structure stands about 12 ft off the ground on giant stilts, has hot water, HVAC, and food. Oh, and a pretty freaking spectacular view. Definitely worth a visit! This is also one of the few locations with protected, healthy Eastern Hemlocks on the property.

Is it goat approved? Nah. Too busy. Go and relax without a goat on this one.

How you get there: Park here: 34.567485, -84.244418 at the upper observation platform.

map

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is a little under 10 miles round trip out and back.  And yes, despite the confusion online, I have actually walked it, all the way, with a gps enabled mileage counter counting the distance. It’s 4.9 in and 4.9 out. Suck it forum pundits!

Best season to do this hike: Most seasons, but the Piedmont azaleas bloom in late April, the leaves start in late September, and the rhodendron are blooming at the start of May. Oh, and the road is closed in snowy/icy weather.


Trails to Take

Start off at the upper overlook parking lot. This is accessed by entering the park, driving up to the visitor’s center and the huge parking lot adjacent to it, then turning left and going up a very steep road.

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Amicalola Falls

At the top of the road make a sharp right into a small parking area. This is the upper falls overlook parking area. The top of the falls is directly ahead, just follow the creek.

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Stairs to the base of Amicalola Falls

The walk to the bottom of the falls, while long and strenuous, is well worth the look before you head out for the lodge. Keep an eye out for trilliums, foam flowers, and other blooming plant life as you climb down and back up the gazillion stairs.

The actual trail to the inn is on the other side of the creek that feeds Amicalola Falls. Cross over the falls on the wooden bridge, walk up shallow concrete stairs, and cross the next parking lot. The trail is across the parking lot left of where you enter the parking area.

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Hike Inn Overlook

The trail is blue and green blaze. Blue is the Appalachian Trail and green is the trail to the lodge. If you want to go to the official gateway/start of the Appalachian Trail you can take either blue or green blazes – it is about 8 miles both ways, and the blue and green blaze meet back up at the start.

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Check out the native wildflower garden at Hike Inn

The trail climbs out of the parking lot, crosses the road to the large drive up lodge for the park, and then re-enters the woods. Shortly thereafter the blue (Appalachian) and green (Hike Inn trail) blaze separate, with the green heading off to the right.

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The inn emerges from among a hemlock grove

The trail from here is easy to moderate, with occasional benches in good cellphone or viewing spots. It starts out flat going through the woods, then winds over dry ridge lines, climbing steadily upwards. The first noticeable down hill sends you down into a small saddle with a creek. There are several creek crossings, and as you enter this area the views will become better.

The creeks become more numerous, culminating in a boggy section with a wooden walk way over it, at which point you are about 3/4 of the way to the lodge. There are wooden posts with numbers  on them counting down along the trail…but they didn’t make much sense to me, so use at your own risk.

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Several buildings make up the compound

The trail approaches the lodge from a distance, passing a degraded wooden sign indicating some other small side trails in the vicinity. The lodge itself is surrounded by Eastern Hemlocks, making it an obvious blob of dark foliage in the predominately hardwood forest. The trail passes right by the great porch, whose adirondack chairs, swings, and informal pack storage make it the place to stop and wait out a downpour or cool off in the burning heat of summer. Guests and non-guests appear welcome both at the porch and at the overlook behind the lodge. Stop to check out the native plant garden, which has a variety of wildflowers on display on your way to the overlook!

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Relax to a killer view

The lodge itself has twenty odd rooms which are separated into a variety of buildings raised off the ground on stilts. They do hiker lunch boxes with a heads up, and of course, you can stay at the lodge with advanced notice and avoid that prolonged hike back out.

Once you’re done with the photo ops, go the 3 miles further to Springer Mountain and the start of the Appalachain Trail or turn around and trek the 4.9 mi back to the parking lot.

BE WARNED

  1. Parking fills up fast in reasonable weather. Come early to get your pick of parking!
  2. You MUST have advanced reservations for the Hike Inn if you want to stay (http://hike-inn.com) and the rooms are not cheap! Don’t plan on camping in the vicinity – any activities are by “permit only”.
  3. It is about 3 miles past the inn to the official start of the Appalachian Trail. So if you do that to you’re looking at 16 miles round trip in one day, and while the trail isn’t hard…that’s a hell of a lot of walking.
  4. There does not appear to be a front gate enforcing park hours, but be advised that regardless of what time you roll in, you need to pay an attendant or fill an envelope with $5 per car.
  5. The signs that say “Hike Inn” mean “Len Foote Hike Inn” even if they sound like “hike in” as in, to hike in to a campsite.

In sum: 

Lifetime Scavenger List item #24091 – Find the Piedmont Azalea in bloom completed.

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Native Piedmont Azalea

GEORGIA: Saving the Hemlocks at Angel Falls

The old adage you can’t just take, you have to give holds true for use of park service lands just like it does for warlords exploiting local villages. A warlord has to keep the peasants alive, and an avid hiker has to keep the forest alive.

Which is how I ended up treating hemlocks dying of wooly adelgid at Rabun Recreation Area Campground with Save Georgia’s Hemlocks (http://www.savegeorgiashemlocks.org/). Where I also found out about a nice, short waterfall hike at the campground that is worth a quick visit if you are at the rec area to begin with.

Is it goat approved? No. The Cradle of Forestry guy in the golf cart would probably run you over with righteous zeal for disturbing his domain (more about him in the “Beware” section).

How you get there: The trail head lies within the second loop of the campground, near site 53 (gps: 34.760750, -83.472252). The campground has a $5 day use fee for the trail and the beach. 

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is 1 mile out and back. Really only suitable as a side trip if you are there to hang out at the beach, see the ritzy lake houses, kayak or view some of the other sightseeing locations listed at the bottom of this review. Or if you are out treating hemlocks of course!

Best season to do this hike: Any time of the year.


Trails to Take

The trail starts off behind a kiosk at site 53 in campground loop 2 of Rabun Recreation Area Campground. It is pretty popular, and should be easy to spot. There is limited parking in the area, and more parking at the bathrooms in campground loop 1. You can use the access road at the back of the loop 1 area to take a 3 min walk into loop 2 to reach the trail head.

However you get there the trail follows the creek and crosses a small bridge. All the hemlocks in the campground and throughout this trail are treated and cared for by Save the Hemlocks – which is why most of them are still alive for us to enjoy!

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CCC camp spring box

The trail continues up, passing by a spring box built by the local CCC camp (Civilian Conservation Corps – a depression era “putting people back to work” program that built much of the park structures we use on the east coast). From there it continues to climb until at 0.5 miles you reach Panther Falls.

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Panther Falls

The trail switch backs, continues to climb, and begins to pass the hulks of hemlocks for whom help came to late. This area is hotter (no hemlocks for shade) and more erode (no hemlocks to hold the soil). At the very top is Angel Falls, a picturesque multi-cascade wedged among mountain laurel. The trail loops back on itself and then all you have to do is walk back down.

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Angel Falls
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Trail Map

OTHER PLACES YOU MUST CHECK OUT

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Nacoochee Dam

Nacoochee Dam Roadside Park (34.755796, -83.500819) – 1920s era dam with small power plant that impounds Lake Seed.

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Nacooche Indian Mound

Nacoochee Indian Mound (34.683690, -83.708985) – Indian mound that once held the Town House at the center of a large Cherokee town.

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Stovall Mill Covered Bridge

Stovall Mill Covered Bridge (34.711691, -83.657878) – covered bridge at a mostly eroded mill site. Has a great swimming hole popular with locals and picnic tables.

BE WARNED

  1. The parking is limited. You can park in loop 1 at the bath house if you need to, but be sure to display your day use permit.
  2. There is a $5 day use permit.
  3. In all honesty, the Cradle of Forestry guys who are in charge of this campground are a little…excessive. They will ticket your truck if you forget to display the permit. They will chase you in a golf cart. They will lay down the law with the all the bombastic force of someone who firmly believes they are cleaning up the riffraff. The only issue I have is they view “local people” and “riffraff” as synonyms. And by local, I mean all the people who lived here long before the Atlanta retirees came with their money, their lake houses, and their firm belief in their own superiority. Basically, if someone invites you to go to this campground and this hike, do it. But if you are a “local” or someone who lives like a “local” you may feel highly insulted dealing with these people and going to this place.
  4. Take time for the other places to visit! This area and the lake are beautiful and well worth spending a few days exploring. And the campground is well kept, if you can deal with the keepers.

In sum: 

If money moved mountains the whole world would be a mountain range.

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).

 

GEORGIA: Germany in Georgia

I once spent a very odd evening watching my husband play RISK (a board game of world domination) with his coworkers. The *ahem* winner *ahem* of this board game was a very nice and very german guy who choose to start out in:

A. Germany

B. Playing all the black pieces

C. Then proceeded to wage a nasty and bloody campaign of lightning destruction across the entire world map culminating in the unabashedly brutal subjugation of even his own wife while taunting the rest of the players for being inferior.

For a less…awkward…outing with your coworkers, check out Helen, GA – a rather embarrassing tribute to the only other things we Americans know about Germany – that it has fancy pastries, odd architecture, and lederhosen.

Oh, and outside this fake german town are some cool waterfalls.

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The German bakery in Helen, Georgia

Is it goat approved? I’d keep the goat at home for this one, unless you plan to teach it how to yodel.

How you get there: These hikes are all in the Helen diaspora. Google Helen,  then google Duke’s Creek Waterfall, its next door neighbor Raven Cliff Falls, and the famous Anna Ruby Falls north of Helen.

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Raven Cliff Falls Parking: 34.709535, -83.789066 (4.9 miles round trip out and back)

Duke’s Creek Falls Parking:  34.702030, -83.789232 (2.2 miles round trip out and back)

Anna Ruby Falls:  34.757196, -83.710484 (1 mile round trip)

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is 8 miles to go out and back to Duke’s Creek, Raven Cliff, and Anna Ruby Falls in total. Plus however much walking of the pseudo-german town of Helen, Georgia you are interested in.

Best season to do this hike: Spring or Fall. Avoid Oktoberfest because it raises the DUI rate and the traffic. Avoid summer because, well, where else are people going to go for a good time than a beer garden in Helen?


Trails to Take

RAVEN CLIFF FALLS

An easy trail winding along the river from the parking area to a final climb to the falls.

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Raven Cliff Falls

raven cliff


DUKE’S CREEK FALLS

A continuous downward run with several switch backs. The climb back out is not hard, but continuous.

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Duke’s Creek Falls

Duke's Creek


ANNA RUBY FALLS

An easy uphill culminating in a very busy end platform.

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Anna Ruby Falls

Anna Ruby Falls

 

BE WARNED

  1. Anna Ruby Falls is $3 a head to get in regardless of how you get in, (car, walking, etc.) and is very popular. Go during an unpopular time.
  2. Duke’s Creek Falls is $4 a car to park, (its self service pay though). Raven Cliff Falls, its next door neighbor is free however.
  3. Helen, GA requires a $5 fee to park, though if you park behind the Hofer’s Bakery and get a spot its free so long as you are on the premises.
  4. For those into wildflowers check out the trilliums on the Anna Ruby Falls Trail.
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Anna Ruby Falls Trail trilliums

In sum: 

RISK is a game of world domination that teaches you a lot about your coworkers and the countries they come from.

Never challenge anybody from Germany or Africa. Ever.

 

History in Motion: Train Trestle on the Silver Comet Rail Trail

What do you do when an unexpected on trail injury cancels the main event for your weekend at Panthertown? You go home, get lazy, and decide to go on the second in the series of lazy day hikes for lazy people on the Silver Comet Rail Trail.

*Note: if you like scenery and enjoyable hikes, skip this one. But if you are trying to complete the whole Silver Comet…well, grinding is boring, what were you expecting?

Is it goat approved? They allow horses, so goats should be okay.

How you get there: Go to Rambo Road Trail Head at 33.914894, -84.868738

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is 6.5 miles in a loop. About half of that is the unbelievably boring and flat Silver Comet and the other half is me getting impatient and doing some off trail walking.

Best season to do this hike: WINTER. The route is exposed to sun and would be ticky, sticky, and bitchy in warm weather.


Trails to Take

Get to the trail head. Go right. Walk…and walk…and walk…The train trestle is the bridge in the first picture – it doesn’t really look much like the historical trestle it was before the renovation.

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Spacious parking at the trail head and a water fountain? We’re lost in suburban hell again aren’t we…

This makes a good bomb proofing hike because it includes bikes, dogs, people, tunnels, cars, and off and on leash sections. As you go, watch for little blue signs on your left that say “Silver Comet Side Trails”. These are short (think a couple footballs fields in length) sections running parallel to the Silver Comet in the woods. When there aren’t a lot of mountain bikers around they are a great ways to add variety to the monotonous Silver Comet.

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The two tunnels on the route are good for bomb proofing goats to traffic. Without, you know, having to stand in the middle of the road.
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The powerline cut – a great way to go off leash and around private property

At the power line cut, I went right, walked down the dirt road through the cut to Willow Springs Rd, then turned right and went down Mt. Olivet Road back to the tunnel the Silver Comet takes under Mt. Olivet.

Then back to the truck.

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BE WARNED

  1. The website calls this a “remote” section of the Silver Comet. There ain’t noth’in remote about this place. Expect high traffic, high density subdivisions, and low quality scenery.
  2. If you really like train trestles the train trestle over which the Silver Comet travels on this hike no longer resembles a train track in anyway. Not worth walking out to if that’s what you came for.

In sum: 

Fortune cookie say “better to endure misfortune with your spouse, than to say something that will get you left in the woods by yourself”