The Great Waterfall Hunt at Warwoman WMA and Warwoman Dell

I heard there were waterfalls in Warwoman WMA, but no one knew where they were, (or at least, they weren’t telling). So I did the only logical thing there was to do – pack the goat and the backpack and go find them for myself!

Along the way I found some cool ruins. CCC trout ponds long abandoned. Remnants of the Blue Ridge Railway – a never completed pipe dream that also gave us Stumphouse Tunnel, the original source of Clemson blue cheese and stories about bears popping out of the shrubbery from my mother. Overall, there’s a lot more out there than waterfalls, but I can also confidently claim to have found at least 4 falls: Warwoman Dell Waterfall, Becky Branch Falls, an unnamed small fall, and Martin’s Falls.

Bu-yah useless internet. I can find stuff the hard way if I want to!

Is it goat approved? Dunno. But I wouldn’t bring a goat to Warwoman Dell in the summer…it looks very peopled

How you get there: Google Warwoman Dell – its a nice little picnic area off Warwoman Road just above Clayton, GA. That is the parking location (or you can park on the paved pull off in the turn just before the picnic area on Warwoman Road). There is a brown and white forestry sign just before the turn if you are coming from Clayton.

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is 5 miles round trip out and back to Martin’s Creek Falls.

Best season to do this hike: WINTER. The Dell and the area waterfalls see a lot of traffic in the summer months, especially this close to Clayton. I went on a day forecasted for snow and had the place nearly to myself. Then of course it snowed and I had to worry about getting back home…


Trails to Take

Start off in the first pull over once you enter Warwoman Dell. Cross the wooden bridge and take a right at the ridiculously massive picnic shelter. The stone steps will take you up onto the old railroad grade for the Blue Ridge Railroad, which was never completed. Stone ruins remain however, to remind us of John C. Calhoun’s ambitious project that was cut short by an even more ambitious project of his – succeeding from the Union. Had this section of the Blue Ridge been completed it would have joined up with the unfinished Stumphouse Tunnel, a fascinating ruin above Wahalla, SC that was actually used to make Clemson blue cheese at one point.

mapstairs
Stairs to railroad grade

Past the railroad ruins the trail runs to the upper parking lot and more of those really ritzy picnic shelters. A rock marker for the Bartram Trail (yellow blaze) will crop up just before the picnic shelter, but first, a quick waterfall break. Walk through the fancy shelter and head towards the stream beyond it. At the end of this short trail is a small waterfall, and the trail turns and returns to the upper parking area.

mapdell
Warwoman Dell Waterfall in drought

So ends the busiest portion of the hike. To continue on the Bartram Trail go back to the stone marker, then walk down the gravel access road. You will see the yellow blazes start up and then Bartram will peel off to your left. But before you leave the small children swarms behind, walk down to the trail kiosk right past where Bartram heads off. A small side trail at this kiosk takes you out to some nice concrete trout ponds built by the CCC, now long abandoned, but still interesting in their own right.

map28
CCC Trout Pond

The Bartram Trail climbs towards Warwoman Road in a series of tight switch backs. At the road it passes a historical marker about, no shock here, Bartram Trail and the naturalist who first made the trek that became the 37 mile trail.

mapbecky
Becky Branch Falls

The trail crosses Warwoman and ascends steeply past an old pump house up to Becky Branch Falls. If the yellow blaze Bartram is crowded don’t take the goats up it – this trail is really narrow! Instead, about 50 feet away from the yellow blaze on Warwoman Road is a green blaze – This trail ascends towards Becky Branch Falls but allows you to bypass the falls and get on Bartram without all the drama.

map99
Not impressed with the trail difficulty…not at all. Where are the rocks they say…

Whichever route you take  Bartram heads off away from Clayton along the ridge line paralleling Warwoman Road down below for a while before moving off. It’s quiet, in the sun, and has a nice mix of pine and mountain laurel. It’s almost completely flat too. You’ll cross a gravel road which may in deer season host a check station…with the associated boys in green. If the forestry service is not who you want to meet, plan ahead.

map882
Creek along Bartram Trail

The trail eventually descends down towards a low flow creek, crosses it on a bridge, parallels for a while, then wanders back off into the woods. A gravel road will be visible in winter at this point down hill from the trail. Bartram runs up to a sizable creek and turns left onto what looks like it used to be another trail – an access trail coming up from the aforementioned gravel road. However, fallen trees have blocked easy access from the gravel road and Bartram travels on alone up the creek.

map82
What you can see of the small waterfall when goats are in the way

The first waterfall is small, but worth walking down to for the Watkin’s Glen like potholes cut into the rock by the water.

From here it gets better. The trail continues following the creek, which at first stops looking promising at all. The land levels out, and its clear this is a popular location for camping along the placid banks of what you thinking is going to be a thoroughly disappointing stretch of water.

map88
Martin’s Creek Falls

However, after you enter a large clearing with evidence of camping the trail turns, comes up along the creek and ascends to the best waterfall of the hike in my opinon – Martin’s Falls. There is a big wooden boardwalk for this waterfall (it must be popular in warm weather). You have to walk through the boardwalk to continue on Bartram, which heads back to the big clearing, then turns sharply and ascends up the hill headed back towards the creek. It will eventually reach the creek once more, but unfortunately at this point snow-maggedon began and I realized my truck was parked in a thoroughly in appropriate location for frozen precipitation….so I had to head back. In the future I will try to hike the rest of this potentially waterfall rich stretch…

map90
From Becky’s Branch to Martin Falls
map
Warwoman Dell Map

BE WARNED

  1. Martin’s Falls and Becky Branch Falls have loop trails that allow you to go up to the falls and then take a different route back. This is a sure sign that they are insanely popular in the summer. However, if you find yourself being pursued by some selfie stick toting wannabes who are dying for a picture with a pack goat, remember you have an escape route!
  2. You’ll cross a gravel road which may in deer season host a check station…with the associated boys in green. If the forestry service is not who you want to meet, plan ahead.

In sum: 

Hiking should be relaxing…not 2.5 miles worth of trail run to beat the snow back to the pickup…

Hike It Alone on the Chattanooga River & Bartram Trail

 

Sometimes you need to get some alone time, and there’s nowhere more alone than the lightly traveled section of Bartram Trail running along the Chattanooga from Russel Bridge to the Willis Knob Horse Camp. Unless maybe its the bottom of a well where even Lassie won’t find you.

Is it goat approved? Dunno. But it goes through the horse area…which is pretty hoofed critter friendly and nobody complained about the goat that I ran into.

How you get there: Google 34°55’12.3″N 83°10’09.5″W. That’s the general parking area. The trail head is just on the Georgia side of the bridge, marked with yellow blazes. Parking is available at the Russel home site and a gravel road pull off on the South Carolina side and at a main trail head parking area and a paved pull off on the Georgia side.

tractor8
Barn at the fascinating Russel home site a short 1/2 mile down the road from Russel Bridge. Lots of ruined outbuildings and a spring house to check out, plus some signage on the history.

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is around 7 miles one way to the horse camp from Russel Bridge on Bartram Trail.

Best season to do this hike: Most times of the year this trail is good to go. It doesn’t get a lot of traffic except for right at Russel Bridge where the fly fishermen and tubers hang out. However, the horse camp DOES get a lot of traffic in the warmer months. If you want to camp there go in winter.


Trails to Take

Get on Bartram (yellow blazes) next to Russel Bridge on the Georgia side. You’ll be following the river, first past the ruins of an old bridge, then across a modern steel bridge over a Chattanooga tributary. The trail heads left after the bridge, paralleling the river, where abundant fly fisherman may be seen in season.

tractor9
Chattanooga tributary

The trail dips and dives over small streams and heavily overgrown understory, eventually flattening out and widening as it reaches the boat ramp on Hwy 28. From here the trail begins to leave the river, climbing along the flood plain. What looks like an old road comes up on your right, leading to what was once a productive hay field now planted over with pine. The remains of haying equipment are rusting to one side of the trail, and to the other the stacked stone chimney of the long decayed residence is visible through the brush. It can be reached by a side trail.

From here the trail continues at an easy pace, ever rising, till it intersects with a wide, flat trail that is the horse trail running down to Adline Ford. If you want, you can turn left here and go down to Adline Ford, then continue along the horse trail and the river till you reach the road to Willis Knob Horse Camp. However, this will make the trip 10 miles one way instead of 7.

tractor4.jpg
Bridge + goat on Bartram Trail

To continue on Bartram cross the horse trail and follow the yellow blazes. From here the trail climbs at an easy pace, dipping occasionally down to small streams crossed by foot bridges. However, while the river remains in ear shot, even in winter it is generally invisible from the Bartram Trail.

Bartram Trail will top a rise and intersect with an unnamed blue blazed trail that frankly, looks weird. This is actually an old vehicle path. The GPS coordinates are 34.890708, -83.216680. I know this because this is the only spot on the whole trail where you can get good cell service. Follow this clearly visible but poorly marked trail uphill and you’ll reach the Willis Knob Horse Trail area’s gravel road – Gold Mine Road.

tractor7
Hell trail to the horse camp
tractor5
But paradise when you get to Willis Knob Horse Camp

The camp is about 1.5 miles from where you come in on the gravel road. 1 mile of that will be on the gravel road after you turn left off the poorly marked blue trail. This is all down hill. Which will let you rest for when you reach the wooden sign pointing out a nasty, muddy horse trail that leads to the horse camp. The nasty muddy trail is about 0.5 miles long, but improves greatly after the initial mud slinging climb.

The final location is heaven. The horse camp has water and toilet facilities, but has some particular rules about beasts of burden – see below. There are only a few campsites and in warm weather these may be taken. The park service does not like people camping outside of the campsites…but it was pretty empty and low key during the winter when I went. And the next day…you can hike back out!

tractor19
A rough map of the trip – does not show all the horse trails at Willis Knob!

 

BE WARNED

  1. Note: Bartram spends very little of this 7 mile hike near the river. If that ain’t what you signed up for, get off Bartram at the first junction with a horse trail, go down to Adline Ford, then follow the horse trail along the river. It will eventually take you to the road and you can walk a short distance up the road to the trail that leads to the campground. However, from Russel Bridge to Willis Knob Horse Camp on this route is about 10 miles. You will have a longer walk.
  2. For those new to the Chattanooga, don’t be fooled by its placid appearance. This baby likes to get log jams during heavy rains…and then flood the hell out its banks. Don’t sleep on the river in a rain storm or you may be swimming.
  3.  Fly fishers LOVE the parking area at Russel’s bridge, especially in January and February. They also get there very early, so you won’t beat them, but there are several parking areas before Russel’s bridge and after it. You may have to hunt for a spot.
  4. There is a lot of coyote scat and signs in the old field over planted with pine. This may not be a great place to camp with goats!
  5. Forage and water are amply available for goats on the trail, but so is the goat nemesis mountain laurel and its relative rhododendron. Consider bringing chaffe hay or similar if you end up camping amid the poisonous shrubbery.
  6. If camping at Willis Knob Horse Camp the camp requires that livestock be tethered between the large posts and not in the campsites. If you have a really clinging goat you may have to sleep at the posts with the critter…amid the leftover horse manure.
  7. In warm weather the horse camp will be packed. Goats spook horses…so plan on camping elsewhere than the horse camp because it’ll be a headache. Plus you probably won’t be able to get a campsite anyway.
  8. There is an armadillo that lives at the horse camp. He freaked Bakri out all night long…I don’t think the goat slept once…
tractor6
The goat spooking armadillo at Willis Knob Horse Camp

In sum: 

I hike alone, yeah
With nobody else
I hike alone, yeah
With nobody else
Yeah, you know when I hike alone
I prefer to be by myself
Now every morning just before breakfast
I don’t want no coffee or tea
Just me and good buddy Camelbak
That’s all I ever need
‘Cause I hike alone, yeah
With nobody else
Yeah, you know when I hike alone
I prefer to be by myself
Yeah, the other night I laid sleeping
And I woke from a terrible dream
So I caught up my pal Bakri
And his partner Cherry
And we hike alone, yeah
With nobody else
Yeah, you know when I hike alone
I prefer to be by myself
Yeah, the other day I got invited to a party
But I stayed on the trail instead
Just me and my pal Bakri
And his brother Fugly instead
And we hike alone, yeah
With nobody else
Yeah,
(The funny part is I did have a holiday party this weekend I totally flaked out on…to go hiking)

The View To Nowhere at Rabun Bald

There is one glaring downside to hiking Rabun Bald in the winter. In the summer, you get a gorgeous 360 degree view of the north Georgia mountains. In the winter if you are unlucky you get a cloud bank and wind so strong it makes all the goat’s hair stick out in the wrong direction like a bad blow dry job.

Still makes a fun short hike for the days when you don’t feel like committing to the real thing and/or want to bomb proof the four hoofed minion against dogs, people, backpackers, and general mayhem.

Is it goat approved? Dunno. I would however not suggest taking a goat during warm weather on the route I took because it looks like it is very busy in more comfortable climates. Coming up from Three Forks instead of from this parking area would probably be quieter, but the last bit of the trail coming from that direction is a serious climb.

How you get there: Google. The parking area is around 34.979000, -83.303067 . It’s not really parking so much as sticking yourself in one of the few spots that won’t block all the driveways or the forest service road. The last major turn before you get there is marked with a standard Georgia forest service sign in brown and gold that says Rabun Bald TRHD and Bartrum Trail.

silk
Parking – it is not plentiful!

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is around 3.2 miles round trip out and back to the lookout tower.

Best season to do this hike: WINTER. Otherwise you won’t be able to park, you won’t be able to move on the trail, and in general it will be a hassle. The only downside is you may not be able to see the view.


Trails to Take

From the parking area you want to walk up the gravel road. A sign and green blaze will show where the trail up to Rabun Bald separates from the forest service road. The forest service road will continue below you until it disappears around a bend.

Bartram Trail, (yellow blaze), will come in on your left, and now your big, wide trail will be yellow blaze instead of green. The trail winds up the mountain side, first through open woods, then through mountain laurel which provides superb protection from driving winter winds. However, it also provides the perfect microclimate for ice, which is abundant as you enter the mountain laurel.

silk0
Mountain laurel keeps the wind down

There is a campsite half way to the look out, and the trail continues onwards through a pair of boulders.

The trail levels out shortly before the summit, though it was never a real climb to begin with anyway, and you will come up to a fork with two carved stone trail markers and a wooden sign in front of a campsite. Bartram continues to your right down to War Woman Gap. The look out tower  and summit is to your left.

silk99
Not much of an overlook with fog…

The view is supposed to be spectacular, but even in winter the fog bank can be pretty cool. After you’re done enjoying the ridiculous view and pondering who exactly (and how exactly) got those massive carved stone trail markers up here, time to head back down hill to the car.

silk28
“It is too damn cold. Can we go back now?”
rabun
Rabun Bald Map

BE WARNED

  1. Get there early, the parking is very limited!
  2. If it is sleeting, snowing, or in general seriously icy weather it will be annoying going up this trail as it accumulates ice easily. Also, the viewing tower at the top might not be climbable.

In sum: When I look out from an overlook into thick mountain fog I always wonder, just for a second, if the rest of the world has vanished and all that remains of the vast history of the human race is me, fading away on a slowly disappearing mountain top.