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.

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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.

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Lower Falls
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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.

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

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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!

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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!

 

 

 

 

 

MICHIGAN: Tahquamenon Falls

For a trip into a living picture postcard, grab your toboggan (that’s Southern speak for a knit hat) and your snowmobile (the Northern equivalent of a four wheeler) and take a trip to the Upper Penisula of Michigan’s most accessible falls – Tahquamenon Falls.

The “fall” is actually 2 falls in one, separated by either 4 miles of snowmobile-able road or snowshoe enabled trail. This is a great day trip to get out of the house with dogs, dependents, or dad when staying inside one more second isn’t an option. Oh, and if you’re lame you can drive to both falls too.

Is it goat approved? If the goat has snowshoes maybe.

How you get there: Lower falls parking is at 46.609447, -85.205915 and Upper Falls Parking is 4 miles north at 46.579444, -85.252585. Note that at the Upper Falls the rear two parking areas in heavy snow are reserved for snowmobile parking. There are HUGE signs for each of the falls.

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Really nice signage! You can’t miss the turns!

Time for hike: You can visit both falls in about 2 hours with photo-op time if you are with adults. With kids, plan on more like 4 hours. The lower falls is a 2.5 mi round trip out and back walk from the parking area, down the closed park road, and over to the overlook. The road is unrecognizable in snowy weather. The upper falls is a 2/3 a mile walk out and back to the overlooks.

Best season to do this hike: Come in winter for a winter wonderland worthy adventure.


Trails to Take

LOWER FALLS

The parking lot is to the right as you enter. There are no actual signs for the trail to the lower fall, it is behind the closed gate. The trail is groomed, and follows the road bed that you can drive down…if you come in the summer.

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Trail is behind the gate across the snow covered road

The view is picture postcard worthy, and the trail slopes gently down, eventually reaching the lower (closed) parking lot. The path goes through the main park area, and then off to the overlooks. The ice is not generally thick enough to go out to the island because the water is moving on the river, but the near side bank overlooks are pretty good.

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The trail has rails for some portions

The lower falls itself are underwhelming if you’re used to the Appalachian waterfalls, but the unusual color of the water makes a beautiful contrast with the snow. It’s not dirty – the dark color originates from the tannins left behind by decomposing hemlock and spruce needles. The foam at the base of the falls is from the softness of the water, rather than pollution!

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Lower Falls amid snow

If you brought your snowshoes you can go from the overlooks at the lower falls up to the upper falls. The hike is 4 mi one way. Otherwise, turn around and walk the 1.25 mi back to the car.


UPPER FALLS

The upper fall is the busier of the two falls, with the parking lot packed even in winter time. The brewery is to the right as you enter, and the car parking to the left. Don’t park with the snowmobiles (unless you are one)! Park with the cars. The trail head is readily visible, and goes past the bathrooms.

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The brewery

The trail branches, and either direction leads to overlooks of the upper fall, but the right hand, farthest over look has the best views. There are 90 something steps to the “brink” at this final and best overlook, as a forestry sign puts it, but the average person will find the trip decidedly less ominous.

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Trail
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Upper Falls

BE WARNED

  1. The lower falls is payment free if no one is in the kiosk in the winter. The upper falls has a self serve kiosk, and out of state cars are $9 a piece! Ouch. Anyway, plan ahead on how you want to deal with this. In the dead of winter no one seems to be checking if you paid or not…
  2. No four wheel drive? Not a problem so long as you don’t go during snow or right after snow has fallen. They plow the roads. We did this run in a two wheel drive Nissan.
  3. If you get hungry the brewery at the upper falls (http://www.tahquamenonfallsbrewery.com/) does do lunch and dinner, but its filled with snowmobilers and has a 15% add on charge for take out! Caveat emptor! But it is open year around. For more reasonably priced fare, go to nearby Paradise, MI.

In sum: 

A perch can survive being frozen inside ice so long as the fish itself doesn’t completely freeze before the ice thaws. Fish for the FTW.
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SOUTH CAROLINA: Pinnacle Mountain Trail at Table Rock State Park

Pinnacle Mountain Trail was the trail feared by all the kiddies that went on my mother’s obsessive camping trips when I was a kid. Table Rock Trail? Carrick’s Creek? That loop around the lake nobody ever finished? No big deal. Mention Pinnacle though, (and it was never the full name, like how Hitler is always just Hitler), and suddenly everyone wanted to make smores or go swimming.

Twenty years ago, (or however long its been…), Pinnacle Trail was a vertical hands and knees kind of trail that washed out even more every time it rained. Today, well, it ain’t downhill out and back because the Park Service hasn’t learned how to break the laws of physics, but it is a continued and mostly stable incline.  It is listed as strenuous, but won’t you accept a little strenuous for about a 1/4 the traffic that it’s twin trail, Table Rock Trail, gets?

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

How you get there: Google Table Rock Park. It’s off Highway 11 in South Carolina.

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Table Rock in the distance from Hwy 11

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is about 8.4 miles out and back. The going is up the whole way, and it is slightly longer than its twin, Table Rock Trail. There are a lot fewer stairs though. The overlook for the trail is at Bald Knob. The actual summit of Pinnacle Mountain is about a 1/4 mile straight up hill past the Knob. There is absolutely no overlook, the hike up to the summit is miserable, and therefore…we skipped summiting this trip. I have summited in the summer, and seen a profusion of Indian Pinks and Fire Pinks in bloom along the trail, making the hike worth it at this time of the year.

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Indian Pinks (background) and Fire Pink (foreground)

Best season to do this hike: Year around, but not in the dead of summer as the humidity and lack of a breeze make this hike extra special miserable.


Trails to Take

You start off at the trail head, which lies behind a nice ranger station…complete with rangers. They like you to register and be off the trail by 4:30pm. Seriously. They fine you if you don’t.

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Water along the start of the trail

Anyway, the trail starts across the boardwalk. Then it goes up a paved section, across a bridge, and just follow the signs. You start off on Carrick’s Creek Trail, and then turn on to Pinnacle Trail. The trail begins to head up hill, ascending up a prolonged ramp that runs along the sides of the mountain. Below you a creek runs, but it’s too far away to enjoy. A series of wooden bridges, a couple of small creek crossings, and the ascent becomes steeper.

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Rock overhangs – popular with kids

The trail goes on for quite a while through uninteresting woods on a steep-ish incline. Bring someone interesting to talk to. Eventually it passes under a series of stone ledges, some of which have water dripping from the top. This is a good spot to wait out rain, or eat lunch. Tends to be almost infuriatingly popular with kids, who would rather play on the rocks than finish the trail.

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Table Rock viewed from Pinnacle Mountain

Once you have dislodged your minions from the stones, the trail continues up, turns, and now the forest becomes burnt and blackened. There’s a stream crossing or two, the final crossing is a fairly large body of water. The trail turns right, and continues up, now passing among forest burnt hard enough the ground litter has been disturbed, and the white bones of the mountain show through strangely and in unexpected places. The burn is harsh enough that not a lot of plant life seems to be coming back, and the trail is fragile and eroded.

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Bald Knob view in early winter mid-morning with fog just beginning burn off

The last bit before the Bald Knob overlook is straight up a washed out trail among burnt trees. When you reach the top two main rock faces, one after the other, provide spectacular views of the Hwy 11 area. Thank Naturaland Trust and the Park Service for the view. No really. Donate here to Naturaland Trust:

http://www.naturalandtrust.org/donate/

Anyway, this open rock face area is Bald Knob. At the far end of the rock faces the trail turns and goes up really steeply for about a 1/4 of a mile to Pinnacle Mountain’s summit. Not worth the trip except in spring, when wildflowers may sometimes be viewed along the trail.

 

 

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Trail Map

BE WARNED

  1. Rangers will fine you for getting off the trail late (4:30pm or later) AND for hiking off the trail. For reals.
  2. There isn’t a lot of parking here, and only 2 bathrooms. For a lot of people.
  3. It costs $5 a head for adults and $3 per head for kids to get in. Plan accordingly. 
  4. Don’t go up to the summit, (past Bald Knob Overlook), in winter – no view, and the trip up is miserable.

 

In sum: 

Life gets you down. The mountains, by virtue of geography, get you up again.

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SOUTH CAROLINA: Table Rock Trail at Table Rock State Park

An uninsured deer hit my long suffering truck while a 1000lb round bale was strapped to the back. Therefore, there’s going to be a few more human only hikes until the goat mobile has been resurrected by the miracle working necromancers at the local auto body shop.

On the plus side, it means I get better pictures because I’m bringing the artistic husband along. Particularly on this on this trip, which if you don’t pass out from the never ending stairs, has great views from Table and Governor’s Rock.

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

How you get there: Google Table Rock Park. It’s off Highway 11 in South Carolina.

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Table Rock in the distance from Hwy 11

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is about 7.2 miles out and back. The going is up the whole way, along a series of soul sucking stone stairs. The last mile or so is across the ridge line, which is down hill-ish to a series of overlooks on top of Table Rock.

Best season to do this hike: Year around, but winter is lower traffic and easier parking.


Trails to Take

You start off at the trail head, which lies behind a nice ranger station…complete with rangers. They like you to register and be off the trail by 4:30pm. Seriously. They fine you if you don’t.

 

Anyway, the trail starts across the boardwalk. Then it goes up a paved section, across a bridge, and just follow the signs. You start off on Carrick’s Creek Trail, and then smoothly transition to Table Rock Trail. The trail begins to head up hill, crossing and following the creek as it climbs. Then the stairs start.And really they never stop till you get to the top. It just keeps going. The stairs go up and up and up, eventually devolving into rock cut foot holds chipped out of  boulders.

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Fire blackened forest near summit

The tops of the mountains here are fire blackened, and the forest is a graveyard of burned out mountain laurel and regrowing scrub. About 2/3rds of the way up the trail there used to be this gorgeous trail shelter with a roof and benches and about thirty years or more worth of pocket knife cut graffiti. Some of the young couples featured probably have kids in college now. Sadly, this romantically scarred shelter is no more, a victim of last summer’s hurricane by the looks of it. The stone platform remains, and is a good overlook. There is a rock face nearby too to stop for a snack if you want.

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Governor’s Rock

When the trail finally levels out you are nearing the overlooks. The first is an open rock face, which is NOT Table Rock. This is Governors Rock. They have a sign and everything, but people still think its Table Rock, turn around here, and miss the big Kahuna of an overlook further on.

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Table Rock

Keep going, the trail continues down hill, past several more overlooks. The actual end is across another open rock face, then downhill once more to a final massive stone monolith. Beneath you the stone drops away to the lake far below. To the right another towering rock face rises, and to the left, in the distance, a waterfall falls down, and is visible with binoculars. This is Table Rock.

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Trail Map

BE WARNED

  1. Rangers will fine you for getting off the trail late (4:30pm or later) AND for hiking off the trail. For reals.

  2. There isn’t a lot of parking here, and only 2 bathrooms. For a lot of people.

  3. It costs $5 a head for adults and $3 per head for kids to get in. Plan accordingly. 

  4. If you hate stairs you need to pick another trail.

 

In sum: 

Ye though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, over the crag of doom, wade the river of despair and scramble up a few rock faces of frustration, though art with me, so I know I will make to the overlook. Eventually

 

 

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

Indain Grave
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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SOUTH CAROLINA: Ashmore Heritage Preserve and the Old Camp Spearhead

The Ashmores Heritage Preserve lies off Hwy 11 in South Carolina, wedged between Mountain Bridge Wilderness and the remains of Camp Spearhead. The trail system is pretty simple – there’s the yellow blaze Mountain Bridge Passage Trail, Wattacoo Lake Loop, and a slew of logging trails. Not sounding super exciting? Well, that depends on what you like. If you’re into abandoned structures, mountain lakes, and most importantly peace and blessed quiet then this is a good place to spend a Saturday morning in October.

Is it goat approved? I don’t have official permission, but I would say this is a okay place to hike with a goat as it is low traffic and trails are predominately gravel or hard packed earth. There are signs that horses have been ridden on the property…though signage would suggest this is sort of not allowed.

How you get there: Park at 35.081871, -82.583914. Parking is off the side of the road and well marked.

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is around 4 miles round trip with a section that is out and back. It’s pretty easy going, but it requires above a level 0 navigation skill if you are doing the logging trails. The blazed trails are relatively easy to follow.

Best season to do this hike: Year around.


Trails to Take

I decided to go play out on the logging trails instead of jumping straight on the Mountain Bridge Passage Trail (orange blaze). If you aren’t into navigation and getting lost, to get on the Mountain Bridge Passage Trail walk uphill from the parking lot on Persimmon Road. The first gate on your right leads up a gravel road. About twenty feet past the gate on the gravel road the orange blaze will drop off into the woods on your right. Turn down it to continue on the less *ahem* interesting route.

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Artificial bat cave on the property

For more fun (and also probably getting lost a lot) keep going straight. You’ll reach a creek with an iron bridge across it and a second wading spot, probable for ATVs or horses nearby. Cross the bridge and go right on what looks like a large, normal trail. This logging road is unblazed. It first comes up to an intersection with three exits. The far left exit is a logging road running straight up hill…this one isn’t much fun and doesn’t seem to go anywhere interesting. The center trail runs along a hill side…and also seems to go nowhere interesting. The trail on your right continues along parallel with the road. You want this one.

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The pond at dawn

At the next intersection, go right. At the third go right, and at the fourth and final intersection go right. Finally, you’ll come up on an intersection with an old road showing signs of pavement, and you can see the pond off on your left. The pond is located around GPS 35.085252, -82.578693. It’s pretty cool, and may have some interesting rare plants around it depending on season.

From the pond you can go back out, take a left and continue along the logging road that runs parallel with Persimmon Road. This will eventually dump you on Wattacoo Lake Trail. Turn right on this flat, easy trail. It will take you down along a creek side, past an old home site, (look for the non-native yucca plant and the old tire), and along what was probably the original access road for the home site. The Wattacoo Lake Trail will dump you off at the Mountain Bridge Passage Trail a few minutes after leaving the creek behind.

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Storage building ruins

Now, here’s the part where I started kicking myself – this junction between Mountain Bridge Passage Trail and Wattacoo Lake Trail? It’s back up at Persimmon Ridge Road, and literally behind an orange gate downhill from the parking area by maybe 200 ft. So, if you want to wander logging trails, go up hill to the gate I went in. If you’d rather just go to the pond and the abandoned camp…walk down hill from the parking area about 200 ft, and walk around the orange gate on your left. You’ll be right at the trail junction.

Anyway, from here take Mountain Bridge Passage Trail. It winds you out through the mountains in a pretty stereotypical hike, but the final descent leaves you somewhere more interesting than the average dead end. When you pass the sign for Ashmore Heritage Preserve you are now technically on private property as I understand it. From here on in you are on the now defunct Camp Spearhead property, also referred to as the “civitan camp”. Camp Spearhead originally functioned as a summer camp for disabled kids and adults, but when the camp closed it was purchased by Naturaland Trust in 2006. Naturaland Trust has kept it as a conservation area, and thus we get to go exploring!

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Council Circle

The Mountain Bridge Passage Trail descends from the mountains to meet a bridge, a river, and the first of two large ruins on the site. The buildings themselves have weathered very well, and can be explored with minimal risk. The first building appears to be a storage or cooking area. The camp road in front of the ruin runs out to Hwy 11 (and additional parking for trail access) on the right and further into the camp on the left.

The camp includes a couple of picnic tables, open fields, sidewalks, overlooks, bridges, and decorative plantings that have long since gone feral. There are a number of gravel roads which I did not fully explore as well. I didn’t find any cabins, but I would assume some type of camper housing was there originally. Many buildings have been demolished (or burned down) since the camp’s closing.

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Intact screened auditorium

There is a large screened auditorium in amazingly good shape given that this camp closed in the early 2000s and next to it a grove containing a council circle of sorts for campers.

Once you’re done exploring the ruins, it’s just a short hike back uphill to the car.

 

TRAIL MAP

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Black trails are logging trails, orange line is Mountain Bridge Passage Trail, and the purple is the Wattacoo Lake Trail. Parking is the blue star near Persimmon Ridge Road

BE WARNED

  1. This is not a level 0 navigation trip. Plan accordingly.
  2. There are signs of drunk people activity at the old camp. Maybe don’t plan to come after dark on Friday or Saturday nights unless you are bringing enough beer to share.
  3. There are bears. Duh.

 

IN SUM:

I say “Husband, I have found some cool abandoned summer camp buildings”

Husband says “Did you find any abandoned summer campers?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In sum: 

Camp Spearhead used to be a summer camp for disabled kids. While the old camp is no longer, I hear they still do the camp down near Greenville. So don’t feel too bad enjoying the nice ruins!

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.