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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- The spring at the Cheese Factory does go dry in the summer sometimes.
- Get your campsite at the Cheese Factory early.
- 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.
- 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.
- This is bear country. I use a bear canister, but many people also hang their food here to make sure your breakfast “hangs” around.
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).