Georgia Wilderness Sampler
- Day hike amongst beautiful fall foliage in a trio of wilderness areas
- Enjoy numerous waterfalls, including Horsetrough Falls, the headwaters of the mighty Chattahoochee River
- Visit the Track Rock archaeological site and its petroglyphs of unknown origin
- All meals from dinner on the first day to breakfast on the last day, including a restaurant meal on the layover day
- Camping at a private conservation resort
- All parking and admission fees required for hiking
|Dates||Oct 19–25, 2014|
Since the passage of the Wilderness Act fifty years ago, Congress has designated special areas throughout northern Georgia that deserve protection and visitation. These wilderness areas are nestled in the rugged southern-most part of the Appalachian mountain range. Split apart only by a few roads, these areas encompass almost 37,100 acres. The peaks exceed 4,000 feet, featuring wide-open vistas in all directions. During our daily treks, we will visit some of Georgia’s highest mountains, Brasstown Bald and Blood Mountain, both granite-topped peaks. We will hike along the Appalachian Trail, getting a taste of the adventure that the AT's thru-hiker would experience.
The United States Congress designated the Brasstown Wilderness in 1986, which has nearly 13,000 acres. The Brasstown Wilderness is found in northern Georgia and is managed by the U.S. Forest Service. This steeply rugged area drapes across the northern and southwestern flanks of 4,784-foot Brasstown Bald Mountain, the highest point in Georgia. A visitor center located on top of the mountain (outside of the Wilderness) provides a 360-degree view of the wilderness. With boulder fields, rock formations, and streams traversing gorges, Brasstown Wilderness contains many waterfalls. Second-growth hardwoods dominate the forest floor. In the spring and summer one can find a variety of wildflowers. Animal species found in the area include deer, squirrels, ruffed grouse, southeastern shrew, and pygmy shrew. Black bears are common in the area and hikers should be “bear aware."
In 1991, Congress designated the area the Blood Mountain Wilderness, which encompasses some 7,800 acres. Again, the U.S. Forest Service manages this wilderness. Legends of battles between the Creek and Cherokee Indians atop the 4,458-foot-high Blood Mountain may have provided the name for the highest peak in this wilderness. The scenery includes rugged mountain peaks, rocky outcroppings, waterfalls, and streams (mostly found in the Chestatee Wildlife Management Area -– managed by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources). Vegetation is mostly second-growth upland and cove hardwood trees. Along with the deer, ruffed grouse, and wild turkey, we may encounter black bear. Hunters frequent this area in the fall, so we may need to recognize and prepare for such encounters.
Since the 1940s, the syndicated comic strips Mark Trail popularized the natural beauty of being outdoors and combined it with an ethos of respect and protection for nature via the visual medium of the Sunday and daily comic strips. Ed Dodd, the creator of the Mark Trail character, and Jack Elrod have published Mark Trail in a variety of newspapers, comic books, cookbooks, and trail guides, as well as a radio show. Georgians and the US Congress named this 16,400-acre area in recognition of Mark Trail in 1991. The logging roads that once ran along streams, waterfalls, and rocky outcroppings are returning to their natural state. The mountains (Horsetrough being the highest at 4,045 feet) are covered with second-growth upland and cove hardwoods that exceed 60 years in age. For those interested in aquatic fauna, trout fishing is prized by the abundant rainbow, brook, and brown trout in some of the headwater streams of the Chattahoochee River (one of the main water resources for Atlanta). Again, similar species of land-based animals predominate this Mark Trail Wilderness, including deer, black bear, raccoon, grouse, and woodcocks.
Established by Congress in 1986, the Raven Cliffs Wilderness contains a number of high peaks, a variety of natural communities, and commanding vistas. Dodd Creek, with its numerous waterfalls, is the most beautiful of several outstanding streams in the area. Within this 9,100 acre wilderness designation, one can find the meandering Dodd and Dukes Creek, a number of cascades, and a few waterfalls. Fraser magnolia, sweet birch, and other riverine trees help the hiker enjoy the beauty of the cliffs found along the trail. The Logan Turnpike follows a historic route in Union County, Georgia. In 1821 the Union Turnpike Company received a state charter to construct a toll road to join existing roads north and south of Tesnatee Gap. By 1840, the turnpike was completed (and more than 100 years later became US Highway 129).
Day 1: We will meet at our camping site, Enota Mountain Retreat, on October 19 in the mid- to late-afternoon. After setting up camp, we may stroll around the grounds, perhaps visiting the resort’s organic garden. We will have a orientation meeting and dinner before retiring under starry skies. Our daily hikes may vary due to the weather, and the group’s ability and desires. Most trails will require a carpool to trailheads and possibly shuttles to ease the day’s journeys.
Day 2: We will start the week by walking the six-mile Jarrard Gap Loop Trail. This trail is rated moderate and should be a good introduction to the Blood Mountain Wilderness area.
Day 3: Today will be a strenuous day of hiking the uphill route of Arkaquah Trail to Brasstown Bald, starting at the Track Rock archaeological site. Expect an elevation gain of 2,500 feet over six miles. We will park the cars at the top of the trail.
Day 4: An easier day of shorter hikes in the nearby recreation areas will be followed by a dinner out. A short hike to Horsetrough Falls will enliven our memories. We may opt for two short hikes in the Raven Cliffs Wilderness areas. Those wishing to stay around camp may wish to indulge in the massage services or hot tub at the camping resort or strike out to do some fishing in nearby trout streams.
Day 5: We will hike the Freeman Trail Loop (about seven miles with an elevation gain of over 1,000 feet), visiting the unique Bird Gap area filled with boulder gardens and large slabs of granite. We will hike up Blood Mountain (4,300 feet elevation), adding interest to our day in the Blood Mountain wilderness.
Day 6: We will hike the Wagon Train Trail in the Brasstown Bald Wilderness; a moderate hike (11.6 miles down and back, with 1,700 feet descent and ascent). Starting near the summit of Brasstown Bald, we will descend along a wagon road built by convict labor in the 1930s, passing from hardwood forests into pines. The bottom of the trail, before turning around, ends about a mile from the town of Young Harris.
Day 7: After breakfast, we will break camp to leave the wilderness areas as we have found them.
Our campground is about a 2.5-hour drive north of the Atlanta metropolitan area. We encourage carpooling to the area.
Accommodations and Food
We will be staying at a small family-owned conservation resort, the Enota Mountain Retreat. Our group campsite is beside a creek, and our tents are a short walk from bathhouses. Participants may enjoy amenities, such as a massage or the hot tub (additional costs to individuals). Our meals will be varied, be vegetarian friendly, and feature fresh produce. The meals will be prepared by participants under leader guidance. All food stuffs and commissary equipment are provided by Sierra Club. One evening we will eat at a local restaurant to provide variety to the outing experience. Each participant will get a goodie bag for snacking along the trail.
The trails are rated moderate to strenuous. An experienced hiker will better appreciate the rocky terrain and rough trail sections. We will be hiking along ridges, up steep grades, and on slippery areas near waterfalls. Participants in good physical shape will enjoy the hikes. You will need comfortable, well-broken-in, ankle-high hiking boots; we recommend the use of one (or two) hiking sticks.
Equipment and Clothing
Please review the base camp equipment in preparation for this trip. For the meal out, please bring casual wear and a light sweater or jacket.
You need to bring all your personal gear, day pack, water bottles (two liters total), rain gear, waterproof tent, ground cloth, sleeping bag and pad, flashlight, and eating utensils. Layered clothing is important because temperatures can range from the 40s at night to the 70s during the day. Good hiking boots, at least rated for long dayhiking, are necessary. An extra pair of shoes is advisable in case of rainy weather. Effective rain gear is absolutely essential. Optional items include a camera, binoculars, or flower/bird book.
- Homan, Tim, The Hiking Trails of North Georgia. 1997.
- Brown, Fred and Nell Jones, The Georgia Conservancy’s Guide to the North Georgia Mountains. 1990.
- Trails of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests, U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, 1998.
Why protect wild areas? In the United States, the practice of setting aside selected lands to remain in a primitive, undeveloped condition dates back more than a century. It has been long been recognized that wildlands provide some important benefits for people. Yet, how does one measure the joy of exploring old-growth forests to see how nature works over time? How do we value the experience of fishing for native brook trout in a pristine river, knowing there are no sources of pollution upstream? Or what about the serenity of camping in the woods with the sights, smells, and sounds of the forest as one’s companions for the evening?
Because large tracts of undisturbed forests are difficult to find on private lands, the public (through our local, state, and federal government) has to use lands set aside as wilderness to be able to visit, to explore, to enjoy, and to protect these special places we call wilderness. In celebration of the 50-year anniversary of the Wilderness Act, we invite you to visit a sampling of Georgia’s Wilderness areas.
Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from the Chattahoochee-Ocenee National Forest.