Longstreet Highroad Guide to the North Georgia Mountains
The Appalachian National Scenic Trail is a wilderness footpath that winds over 2,100 miles along the crest of the Appalachian Mountains. It runs through 14 eastern states, stretching from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. The "AT," as it is called, is known throughout the world, each year attracting hikers from many different countries.
The trail began over 70 years ago with a "grand vision" articulated in 1921 by Benton MacKayeforester, regional planner, and conservationist. MacKaye, now known as the "Father of the Appalachian Trail," proposed a "long trail over the full length of the Appalachian skyline, from the highest peak in the North to the highest peak in the South." His proposal, not just a detailed trail plan, envisioned the long trail as an escape for people in the crowded cities of the eastern seaboard, a place for regeneration of the human spirit through what he termed "harmony with primeval influences." The work on the trail was to be done primarily by volunteers. Trail enthusiasts, some of whom had also suggested a "grand trunk" trail along the Appalachian ridges, were galvanized into action by MacKaye and his inspiring article. The establishment of the Appalachian Trail was to be the culmination of many years of their hopes and dreams. Early hiking clubs in New England and New York had laid the foundations for this new trail; parts of their existing trails were used to form the first sections of the AT. In 1925 the Appalachian Trail Conference was formed as a confederation of clubs that would build and maintain the trail.
In the South little was known of the mountain areas, and a trail route was chosen largely from maps. In 1929 Roy Ozmer, a Georgian and accomplished woodsman, was chosen to scout the entire trail from Virginia through Georgia. Once a route was decided upon, volunteers were recruited, maintenance clubs were formed, and, with the help of U.S. Forest Service and Civilian Conservation Corps crews in some places, the trail was built. The last section to be completed was in Maine in 1937.
The trail in Georgia was completed in 1931 through the combined efforts of members of the newly organized Georgia Appalachian Trail Club and the U.S. Forest Service. The original southern terminus of the trail was Mt. Oglethorpe, near Tate, but development and chicken farming on private land between Amicalola Falls and Mt. Oglethorpe intruded on the wilderness experience of hikers, forcing the terminus to be moved in 1958 to Springer Mountain.
In 1968 Congress authorized the AT as the first National Scenic Trail; in 1978 Congress appropriated funds to acquire lands along the route to protect the trail from encroaching development. Maintenance of the trail rests with the Appalachian Trail Conference (ATC). In 1984, the secretary of interior signed a delegation agreement with the ATC assigning to it unprecedented responsibilities for operation, development, monitoring, and maintenance of the trail. Volunteers in AT clubs carry out these duties.
The Georgia portion of the AT [Fig. 55] extends some 75.6 miles through primitive areas of the Chattahoochee National Forest. Although rising at times to elevations of over 4,400 feet, the trail is mostly along ridges at elevations around 3,000 feet. Ascents and descents are sometimes steep but often reward hikers with grand views from rocky outcrops and open summits.
Most of the AT goes through deciduous hardwood forestlargely hickory, oak, and poplar. Rainfall is heavy and frequent, especially in the spring; ridges are often snow-capped or ice-covered in the winter. Mid-April through mid-May is the peak wildflower season. Flowers found along the trail include trillium, bloodroot, mayapple, bluets, wild azalea, and sometimes pink and yellow lady slippers. In June many sections are covered with flowering rhododendron and mountain laurel. The heavy rains ensure lush vegetation during the summer months; ferns are found in abundance all along the trail. The last two weeks of October are usually the best time to find autumn colors at their height. In winter when the leaves are off the trees, the trail offers ever-present scenic vistas of the surrounding countryside and of the mountains to the north and west.
The Georgia portion of the trail is managed and maintained by the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club, through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Forest Service, Chattahoochee National Forest. Members of the club may be found on the trail almost every weekend cutting weeds, clearing blowdowns, painting blazes, repairing shelters, reconstructing portions of the trail, or participating in recreational hikes.
The trail's southern terminus is located atop Springer Mountain, near FS 42. Since this area is difficult to reach by automobile, an 8.1-mile approach trail begins at Amicalola Falls State Park on GA 52. Mountains along the trail with outstanding scenic views include Big Cedar, Blood, Cowrock, Rocky, and Tray. One of the many side trails leads from Chattahoochee Gap to the highest point in Georgia, Brasstown Bald. The trail passes through five of Georgia's wilderness areas: Raven Cliffs Wilderness between Neel's Gap and Tesnatee Gap; Tray Mountain Wilderness between Tray Gap and Addis Gap; the Southern Nantahala Wilderness north of Blue Ridge Gap; Mark Trail Wilderness between Unicoi Gap and Hogpen Gap; and Blood Mountain Wilderness from Neel's Gap to Woody Gap. Bly Gap on the Georgia/North Carolina border is the northern end of the AT in Georgia.
The trail is marked throughout its length with rectangular white blazes and is generally easy to follow. Double blazes indicate caution, usually meaning a turn in the trail. Side trails and trails to water are blue-blazed; signs are placed at road crossings, shelters, and other important intersections. There are 11 shelters on the Georgia AT, placed more or less at intervals permitting easy day hikes. All but one of these shelters are three-sided, open-front types with floors. Springs are reasonably close by. The exception is the stone, two-room structure atop Blood Mountain. It has four sides, a fireplace, windows, and a sleeping platform. There is no water on top of Blood Mountain.
There is no public transportation to the AT in Georgia. The trail can be reached via the six main highways that traverse the mountains; usually the trail crosses at the highway's highest point, where a large hiking trail sign should be visible. Ample parking is available.
Approximate distances from the nearest town and distance by trail to the next paved road crossing:
AMICALOLA FALLS STATE PARK APPROACH TRAIL ON GA 52. 15 miles west of Dahlonega, 15 miles northwest of Dawsonville, 20 miles east of Ellijay; 28.8 miles by AT to Woody Gap.
WOODY GAP ON GA 60. 15 miles north of Dahlonega; 11.3 miles by AT to Neel's Gap.
NEEL'S GAP ON US 129/19. 15 miles south of Blairsville, 19 miles northwest of Cleveland, 22 miles north of Dahlonega; 5.7 miles by AT to Tesnatee Gap, 6.6 miles to Hog Pen Gap.
TESNATEE GAP AND HOG PEN GAP ON GA 348. (Richard Russell Scenic Highway). 12 miles northwest of Helen, 15 miles southeast of Blairsville; 14.9 miles by AT from Tesnatee Gap to Unicoi Gap, 14 miles from Hog Pen Gap to Unicoi Gap.
UNICOI GAP ON GA 75. 10 miles north of Helen, 14 miles south of Hiawassee; 16.6 miles by AT to Dick's Creek Gap.
DICK'S CREEK GAP ON US 76. 11 miles east of Hiawassee, 18 miles west of Clayton; 8.7 miles by AT to Bly Gap on North Carolina border (no road access).
NOTE: The approach to Springer Mountain by automobile involves traveling on rough, unpaved Forest Service roads. One such road, FS 42, which runs from the town of Suches (enter from GA 60 next to Tritt's Store, 1.6 miles north on the highway from Woody Gap), provides access to several points along the trail, passing through Gooch Gap, Cooper Gap, Hightower Gap, and Springer Mountain. It also connects with FS 58 to Three Forks. An approach from GA 52 is through the Nimblewill community on FS 2811 and FS 77 across Winding Stair Gap and then on FS 58 down to the AT at Three Forks.
SPRINGER MOUNTAINTHREE FORKS AREA. Highlights are views from a rocky outcrop atop Springer Mountain, southern terminus of the AT; the magnificent stand of virgin hemlock along Stover Creek; and three beautiful mountain streams that converge at Three Forks. From Springer Mountain, both the AT and the Benton MacKaye Trail (marked by diamond-shaped white blazes) lead by different routes to Three Forks, intersecting twice to form either two 5-mile loop trails or one 10-mile, figure-eight loop trail. Access to Springer Mountain is on unpaved FS 42 and to Three Forks, on unpaved FS 58. Both are moderate climbs.
BIG CEDAR MOUNTAIN. Views from rocky overlook; 2-mile round-trip hike north on AT from Woody Gap.
BLOOD MOUNTAIN. Grand views from rocky summit and rock outcrops below summit; 4.2-mile round-trip to top; south on AT from Neel's Gap; 1,300-foot climb.
LAKE WINFIELD SCOTT LOOP. Blue-blazed trail leads from the west side of the camping area, 1 mile to Jarrard Gap on the AT, and, from the east side, 2.2 miles to Slaughter Gap on the AT. By following the AT between Jarrard and Slaughter Gaps, one can make a loop hike. An additional 2.2-mile round-trip hike can be made from Slaughter Gap to the summit of Blood Mountain.
NEEL'S GAP TO TESNATEE GAP. 5.7 miles one-way or 11.4 miles round-trip along ridge trail, with viewpoints from Levelland, Turkey Pen, and Cowrock mountains. At Neel's Gap the trail passes through the archway between two buildings at Walasi-Yi Inn, a hiking/craft store; moderate climbs.
WILDCAT MOUNTAIN. Viewpoints on summit and on top of ridge out blue-blazed side trail. One-mile round-trip to summit plus 1-mile round-trip on blue-blazed trail; south on AT from Hog Pen Gap; easy to moderate climb.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN LOOP. Six-mile loop or 3-mile round-trip to summit; north on trail from Unicoi Gap. Fine views lie southward along the summit trail. For loop hike, continue along summit on AT; descend 1.3 miles to Indian Grave Gap; turn left (north) on forest road following blue blaze for approximately 1 mile; turn left off road into woods and follow blue blaze back to junction with AT (approximately 1 mile); 1,200-foot climb.
TRAY MOUNTAIN. Views from an open, rocky summit. A 10.8-mile round-trip north on the trail from Unicoi Gap; or a 1-mile round-trip north on the trail from Tray Gap on FS 79 (access from GA 75, 2 miles north of Helen or 2 miles north of Unicoi Gap).
APPROACH: AMICALOLA FALLS STATE PARK. From visitor center, trail goes 8.1 miles north to summit of Springer Mountain. Frosty Mountain at mile 4.8 of approach trail; Nimblewill Gap at mile 6.2 of approach trail.
0 MILE. Springer Mountain (3,782 feet). Southern terminus of the AT. Plaque on rock, mailbox with register under summit plaque. Mount Katahdin in Maine is 2,100 miles north via the white-blazed trail.
.2 MILE. Springer Mountain shelter with seasonal spring. Located down side trail to right of AT, 2.5 miles. Stover Creek shelter with all-season stream nearby. Located to left of AT, down old logging road.
5 MILES. Long Creek Falls.
7.7 MILES. Hawk Mountain shelter; water from nearby stream.
8.2 MILES. Hightower Gap (gravel FS 42).
16.7 MILES. Gooch Gap shelter to right; good spring .2 mile south on AT.
20.3 MILES. Woody Gap (paved GA 60); parking.
21.3 MILES. Big Cedar Mountain; good rock ledges and views.
29.5 MILES. Blood Mountain (4,461 feet); highest point on the Georgia AT. Fine views are afforded on clear days. Blood Mountain shelter is located on the summit. Closest water is in Slaughter Gap, 1 mile and 660-foot descent south on AT.
31.6 MILES. Neel's Gap (paved US 19); parking at Byron Reece, north on highway.
32.9 MILES. Levelland Mountain; views to right and left.
35.2 MILES. Wolf Laurel Top; views to right in clearing.
36.5 MILES. Cowrock Mountain; views on rocks via side trail to right.
37.3 MILES. Tesnatee Gap on GA 348, Russell Scenic Hwy.; parking.
38 MILES. Wildcat Mountain; views. Side trail leads right 1.1 miles to Whitley Gap shelter with dependable spring.
38.2 MILES. Hog Pen Gap on GA 348; parking.
42.6 MILES. Low Gap shelter, right via side trail into cove; spring and stream nearby.
47.6 MILES. Chattahoochee Gap with spring, right via side trail, being the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River.
49.4 miles. Site of former Rocky Knob shelter, recently torn down. New shelter .5 mile north on trail; spring downhill below old shelter site.
50 MILES. Blue Mountain shelter via side trail to left; spring on AT just before turnoff to shelter.
52.2 MILES. Unicoi Gap (paved GA 75); parking.
57.6 MILES. Tray Mountain (4,430 feet); outstanding views from summit. On descent going north, obscure trail to right leads out an arm to pinnacle.
58.1 MILES. Tray Mountain shelter left via side trail; good spring behind and down from shelter.
63.3 MILES. Deep Gap shelter to right, .3 mile down via side trail. Spring and stream nearby.
63.8 MILES. Dick's Creek Gap (paved US 76); picnic tables; seasonal stream.
73.1 MILES. Plum Orchard Gap shelter located to the right of the gap down side trail. Spring near shelter, but better spring down ravine to left of AT.
77.5 MILES. Bly Gap; the Georgia/North Carolina state line. There is no road access to this gap except by four-wheel-drive vehicles. The gap is often missed by hikers because as one comes from the south, the gap is climbed into instead of descended into. Hikers know they have arrived when there is a gnarled tree to the right and a sweeping vista to the left.
80.7 MILES. Muskrat shelter in North Carolina to right; stream and privy next to shelter.
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