Mill Creek is one of the most scenic small streams in the Cohutta Mountains of Northwest Georgia. In a little more than a half-mile, the creek comes over four waterfalls and many smaller cascades, and an easy unofficial trail follows the creek with access to all of the gorgeous scenery. The third and largest waterfall, in particular, is a beautiful steep slide that drops over 30 feet into a sparkling pool. The last part of the trail is a steep scramble to the base of the third falls, but it still definitely is doable to most folks and well worth the effort. This hike occurred on Saturday, September 16th, 2017. My plan was to hike the Mill Creek Trail out and back from Hickey Gap Campground past the 1st Falls and 2nd Falls to the 3rd Falls on Mill Creek. I would also make a short creek scramble to the 4th Falls from the 3rd Falls.
Few mountains in Georgia are landmarks as prominent as Yonah Mountain. Situated between the towns of Helen and Cleveland, Yonah Mountain's shape and spectacular sheer cliffs can be recognized from nearly every direction. In recent years, the trail to the top of Yonah Mountain has also become one of the most popular hikes in Georgia and for good reason: the incredible panoramic views atop Yonah's cliffs are easily among Georgia's most breathtaking. Even though the trail involves a fairly steep ascent, it does not stop up to hundreds of people from visiting the cliffs on good weekends. Unfortunately, the crowds can be a drawback of this hike, but the views are so spectacular that it's still worth it, and if you hike very early in the morning or late in the day, you might encounter relatively few people. This hike occurred on Monday, September 4th, 2017. My plan was to hike the Yonah Mountain Trail out and back to the top of Yonah Mountain, where I would make a small loop visiting all four main vistas. On my way back, I would make a slight detour to see an enormous boulder known simply as "The Boulder".
Nantahala National Forest: Waterfalls of the Upper Whitewater River (including Sculpted Falls & Exit Falls) and Hornet Falls on Democrat Creek, Cashiers, North Carolina
The Whitewater River is one of the most spectacular rivers in the Southeastern US. In its 15-mile length, the river plummets over two of the region's tallest and most breathtaking waterfalls, through a rare narrow slot canyon, and over nearly a dozen smaller waterfalls. Most folks familiar with the Whitewater River only know about Upper & Lower Whitewater Falls. This report focuses on the area immediately upstream, known as the Upper Whitewater River area, which is one of the most rugged, pristine, and gorgeous stretches of river that I've hiked. The Upper Whitewater Slot Canyon is a particularly unique location, where the mighty Whitewater River squeezes into a narrow canyon about 300 feet long and only a feet wide, lined by sheer cliffs rising dozens of feet. The river even crashes over two significant waterfalls - Sculpted Falls & Little Canyon Falls - in the canyon, as well as two others - Entrance Falls and Exit Falls - at both ends of it. While the waterfalls around the canyon are this hike's biggest highlight, many other photogenic waterfalls such as 55 MPH Falls lie between the canyon and Route 281, and the scenic Hornet Falls on Democrat Creek, a Whitewater River tributary, is a great bonus too. Seeing all of the waterfalls along the Upper Whitewater River requires a cross-country trek about as challenging as any in the North Carolina mountains, although access to a few selected waterfalls by themselves is easier. This hike occurred on Saturday, September 9th, 2017. Placing one car at NC 281 and another on Heady Mountain Road, my plan was to follow the easiest route downstream along the Whitewater River between the two parking areas, making sure to visit all waterfalls on the river as well as Hornet Falls on Democrat Creek.
The beauty of the Conasauga River's rushing waters attracts many hikers and campers to the west side of the Cohutta Wilderness. Every single trail in this part of the wilderness crosses and follows the Conasauga at some point, but no other trail is as notable as the Conasauga River Trail. This trail follows its namesake river for nearly a dozen miles, as it gradually grows from a small rivulet at the headwaters area near Betty Gap to a wide boulder-strewn river lined by cliffs and full of swift rapids below the confluences of Rough Creek, Thomas Creek, and Hickory Creek. A whopping 38 fords of the Conasauga River - some of which are up to waist-deep - make this a fairly challenging aqua-hike, but those who choose to shuttle the full trail will be rewarded by countless scenic cascades and small waterfalls. An out-and-back hike from either end of the trail is worthwhile as well, as beautiful water features are scattered evenly throughout the river. This hike occurred on Saturday, September 2nd, 2017. My plan was to hike the Conasauga River Trail from its southern trailhead at Betty Gap on FS 64 to its northern trailhead at FS 17B. I arranged to have two cars for this point-to-point hike: one at FS 64 and the other at FS 17B.
Chattahoochee National Forest: South Fork Jacks River Loop via Benton Mackaye Trail/South Fork Trail to Shadow Falls & Flat Top Mountain and Pinhoti Trail, Blue Ridge, Georgia
The Jacks River is known best for its spectacular huge waterfall Jacks River Falls, but much further upstream is another waterfall that is much smaller and less-known but still quite scenic: Shadow Falls. Located on the South Fork of the Jacks River, 20-foot Shadow Falls is easily accessible via the South Fork Trail. The waterfall is situated between two knobs near Jacks River Fields Campground in an area of the Jacks River watershed that otherwise has only gradual elevation loss along the course of the river. If you choose to turn the short waterfall hike into a much longer day hike or overnight, a few historic features around Flat Top Mountain await. In addition, you'll find plenty of solitude on the little-used trails on this hike, perhaps with an exception around Shadow Falls and Jacks River Fields. This hike occurred on Saturday, August 26th, 2017. My plan was to hike the South Fork Trail from the trailhead near Elliot Road, shortly joining the Benton Mackaye Trail, south to Shadow Falls and the small lower waterfall. From there, I'd hike the Benton Mackaye Trail to Flat Top Mountain, where there is a historic homestead and the foundations of an old fire tower. I would also make a side trip to the historic Dyer Cemetery along the way. I would then return along the BMT to FS Road 64 and follow FS 64 West past Jacks River Fields Campground to Buddy Cove Gap. I would conclude the hike by following the Pinhoti Trail northward back to South Fork Trail and Elliot Road.
Miller Trek is one of Northeast Georgia's most underrated trails. Starting out from Brasstown Valley Resort near Young Harris, Miller Trek makes a loop on the slopes of Rocky Knob at the north end of a ridge extending from Brasstown Bald, Georgia's tallest peak. Besides the peace that this remote trail offers, it also passes a little-known spur trail to a bluff on the south side of Rocky Knob with a breathtaking 270-degree view that encompasses much of Brasstown Valley as well as Lake Chatuge, the towns of Hiawassee and Young Harris, and even the west end of Southern Nantahala Wilderness including Eagle Mountain. Adventurous hikers can continue along the ridge to tall cliffs on Cedar Knob, where more views to the west into Brasstown Valley await. This hike occurred on Monday, August 21st, 2017. My plan was to hike the Miller Trek Loop and Keys Branch Loop counter-clockwise. Along the way, I would make a side trip to Rocky Knob Bluff, where I would watch the Great American Total Solar Eclipse of 2017, and I would also continue to the clifftop views on Cedar Knob.
The Pinhoti Trail is a long-distance trail that runs for over 300 miles across Alabama and Georgia. Portions of it are still in the development stage, particularly in West Georgia where little public land is available. The northernmost part of the PT is in the Cohutta Mountains, where the trail is remote and little-traveled due to an overall lack of significant features. The section of the Pinhoti between Mulberry Gap Road and Highway 52 is on the southern fringe of the Cohutta Mountains is a well-constructed trail that is great for a mostly relaxing walk with good exercise. Even though this segment of the trail is a bit more popular due to its proximity to two roadways, you will still find it mostly peaceful except where it approaches Highway 52. As a bonus, a very short road-walk from the end of the segment will lead you to a grassy clearing with panoramic views of the Cohutta Mountains. This hike occurred on Saturday, August 19th, 2017. My plan was to hike out and back along the Pinhoti Trail from Mulberry Gap Road to Highway 52 and to Cohutta Overlook.
Overflow Creek in extreme northeast Rabun County is well known for its spectacular kayaking opportunities due to the creek's numerous powerful rapids and cascades. Overflow Creek has few major tributaries until it ties into the West Fork Chattooga River at Three Forks. The largest Georgia tributary is Clear Creek, a sizable stream on its own that flows from an adjacent North Carolina valley. Between the point where it enters Georgia and where it joins Overflow Creek, Clear Creek drops down two large waterfalls - the second of which is perhaps the most unique waterfall in the state. Accurately named Big Thunder Falls, this waterfall consists of a 35-foot drop hidden in an extremely narrow canyon, and while you may hear the waterfall long before you get to the canyon, you will find it very difficult to get any decent view of the falls itself. But even if you can't put your eye on Big Thunder Falls proper, the destination - an incredible very rare slot canyon in a pristine setting - is well worth the effort required to get there. The hike to Big Thunder Falls is absolutely not for beginners, as it consists of a long cross-country trek without the benefit of trails, but experienced waterfall enthusiasts and hikers seeking adventure will enjoy it immensely. This hike occurred on Friday, August 18th, 2017. My plan was to hike along a very overgrown gated forest road from the end of Billingsley Creek Road (FS 86B) to the vicinity of Clear Creek, where I would find a way to travel upstream to Big Thunder Falls. I would also make a brief detour to see Put-In Falls on Overflow Creek near the trailhead.
Chattahoochee National Forest: Currahee Mountain Trail and Upper Frady Branch Trail System to Big Leatherwood Falls and Latham-Edmonds Cemetery, Toccoa, Georgia
The northeast sector of Lake Russell Wildlife Management Area is home to the Toccoa's area best-known peak: Currahee Mountain. Even though this prominent mountain has a relatively low elevation of 1740 feet above sea level, it still is situated well above the surrounding valleys and provides commanding long-range views to the north, east, and south. A steep trail used mostly by rock climbers leads from Highway 184 to the cliffs and views atop Currahee Mountain, from where one can reach the Frady Branch Trail System with some roadwalk. Even though much of the Upper Frady Branch Trail System follows broad forest roads, it has a surprising amount of points of interest, including three historic homesites, a small quarry, an ancient cemetery, and perhaps most importantly: a 50-foot waterfall in the headwaters of Big Leatherwood Creek. Even though Big Leatherwood Falls is less than a quarter-mile from an official trail, it is a very little-known waterfall in a gorgeous pristine setting, and getting to it can be tricky due to the lack of a good path. This hike occurred on Saturday, August 12th, 2017. My plan was to hike the Currahee Mountain Trail to the summit of Currahee Mountain. There, I would follow Currahee Mountain Road to the Latham Cemetery Trailhead. I would then make a loop along the upper portions of the Frady Branch Trail System, making side trips to four historic sites and BIg Leatherwood Falls. I would retrace my earlier steps once I re-emerged on Currahee Mountain Road.
Chattahoochee National Forest: Tabor Falls (Waterfall on Unnamed Tributary of Middle Fork Broad River), Cornelia, Georgia
The Lake Russell Wildlife Management Area covers the southeastern extremity of Chattahoochee National Forest. This low-elevation sector of the forest is not known for pleasant hiking trails and spectacular waterfalls/overlooks to the extent that other parts of the forest are. But despite its low elevation, the Lake Russell area is home to a number of waterfalls, most of which have slipped under the radar of hikers and waterfall enthusiasts for years. One of the most spectacular waterfalls is a 50-foot sheer drop - historically referenced to as Tabor Falls - that is located well up an unnamed tributary of the Middle Fork Broad River. Even though a distinct path leads almost to the base of Tabor Falls, the waterfall is largely unknown to the outdoors community, and you're unlikely to see other people in this remote corner of Lake Russell WMA - although there may be exceptions during hunting season. This hike occurred on Saturday, August 12th, 2017. My plan was to find the easiest route from Sellers Road to a waterfall that I discovered on terrain and satellite imagery on an unnamed tributary of the Middle Fork Broad River, learning after my hike that the waterfall's historical name is Tabor Falls. I was surprised to find an unofficial trail in great condition leading almost to the base of the waterfall with only a short off-trail scramble at the end.
Nestled near the west Florida coastline between Sarasota and Venice, the underrated Oscar Scherer State Park is a haven for folks looking for a peaceful day hike in this part of southwest Florida. The park is known best as the home of the last remaining scrub jay habitat in southwest Florida, but it also has a superb color-coded trail system that introduces hikers to South Creek and its hammocks as well as the scrub and flatwoods nearby. In particular, the diverse Yellow Trail - part of the park's North Trail System - passes through a large range of ecosystems, crossing South Creek twice, passing a beautiful lake known as Big Lake, and travelling through a large section of the scrub. Hikers will even be able to see an old railroad trestle across South Creek. Thanks to its range of scenery and points of interest, the Yellow Trail at Oscar Scherer State Park has quickly turned into one of my favorite hikes in Southwest Florida. This hike occurred on Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017. My plan was to hike the Yellow Loop Trail counter-clockwise with a short detour to the Big Lake observation platform.
Withlacoochee State Forest (Citrus Tract): Dames Cave and Lizzie Hart Sink via Citrus Loop D from Road 18, Brooksville, Florida
The Citrus Tract of Withlacoochee State Forest is home to some of Central Florida's most rugged terrain. Several major sinkholes and numerous caves are spread throughout the hilly Citrus Tract. The Citrus Trail, one of Florida's longest and most popular backpacking trails, is a 42-mile loop trail that passes near the perimeter of the Citrus Tract. Numerous forest roads crisscross the tract with many different starting points possible. For the convenience of day hikers, three cross-trails intersect the loop, providing shorter hiking opportunities. The southernmost loop of the Citrus Trail - Loop D - accesses one of the area's most unique sights: Dames Cave, a limestone cave with two chambers, a large open one and a smaller closed one. In addition to traversing dozens of rolling sandhills, Loop D of the Citrus Trail also passes through a bizarre rocky landscape in the vicinity of a broad sink known as Lizzie Hart Sink. This hike occurred on Saturday, July 29th, 2017. My plan was to hike Loop D of the Citrus Trail counter-clockwise from the Road 18 crossing. I would take the side trail to Dames Cave along the way.
Emerson Point Preserve: Portavant Mound Trail, South Restoration Trail, Terra Ceia Trail, Tower Trail, and North Restoration Trail, Palmetto, Florida
Emerson Point Preserve is one of several beautiful Manatee County coastline preserves. This preserve on Snead Island is rich with history, as there are several historic Indian mounds scattered throughout the park. The preserve's diverse trail system traverses both the Tampa Bay and Manatee River sides of the island, with several views of both, as well as an observation tower that provides a bird's-eye panorama of the preserve and Tampa Bay, with the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in the distance. Also, the park's primary trail system provides access to the Portavant Temple Mound - the biggest mound of all in the preserve. This hike occurred on Wednesday, July 26th, 2017. My plan was to hike the Portavant Mound Trail from the Ranger Station, making a side trip to the Manatee River view. Then, I would make a clockwise loop with the South Restoration Trail, Terra Ceia Trail, Tower Trail, and North Restoration Trail, making side trips to each of the three Tampa Bay views as well as the observation tower. I would conclude the hike by following a connector back to the Ranger Station.
A 50-foot waterfall that spouts water from all sides of a jagged sheer cliff, accessible by a steep and tricky yet short path from the Blue Ridge Parkway: that's the matching description for English Falls. Located in Northwest North Carolina not far from the quaint town of Spruce Pine, English Falls possesses charm of a level that few other of the state's waterfalls seem to reach. The setting of the waterfall is magical, due to the lush greenery that peppers the cliffs and boulders at and around the falls. A small drawback of English Falls is that it is on a small unnamed stream, so the flow can be low during parts of the year. Nevertheless, if you visit English Falls at the right time, you will find it to be one of the most scenic and photogenic waterfalls that you've seen. This hike occurred on Tuesday, July 11th, 2017. My plan was to hike out and back to English Falls via the access path from the Blue Ridge Parkway. This hike was the tenth and final of ten hikes that I did during a seven-day trip to the mountains of northwest North Carolina.
Grandfather Mountain State Park: Cragway Trail, Daniel Boone Scout Trail, and Grandfather Crest Trail to Swinging Bridge from Boone Fork Trailhead, Blowing Rock, North Carolina
Anyone who lives in the Southeastern United States must have a hike along the crest of Grandfather Mountain on their bucket list. No words or pictures can accurately describe or convey the rugged splendor of the Grandfather Crest. Part of Grandfather Mountain is still operated as a private attraction that does allow public access under a hefty fee and a number of restrictions, but most of the mountain is land owned by the state of North Carolina in the form of Grandfather Mountain State Park. One of the secondary trailheads for Grandfather Mountain is actually off the Blue Ridge Parkway, from which several trails lead to Calloway Peak - the highest point on Grandfather Mountain. From there, the Grandfather Trail makes a very rugged traverse over two other peaks - Attic Window Peak and MacRae Peak - with many technical rock scrambles, cable sections, ladders, and of course, outstanding views. The 360-degree vistas on Attic Window Peak and MacRae Peak are of the type that you would find in Montana or Colorado rather than North Carolina. Eventually, the Grandfather Trail descends into the mountain's private section, reaching Linville Peak (where additional views await) and one of North Carolina's best-known tourist attractions: the Mile-High Swinging Bridge. This hike occurred on Monday, July 10th, 2017. My plan was to hike the Tanawha Trail, Nuwati Trail, Cragway Trail, and Daniel Boone Scout Trail to the summit of Calloway Peak, passing Top Crag View, Flat Rock View, Lynn Cove Viaduct View, and an old plane crash. Then, I would follow the Grandfather Trail over Attic Window Peak and MacRae Peak to Linville Peak and the Swinging Bridge, making side trips to Watauga View and Indian House Cave along the way. My return route would be similar, but I would use the Underwood Trail to bypass MacRae Peak, and I would use only the Daniel Boone Scout Trail instead of the Cragway Trail and Nuwati Trail for a slightly easier descent back to the trailhead from Calloway Peak. This hike was the ninth of ten hikes that I did during a seven-day trip to the mountains of northwest North Carolina.
Year 1: 540.0 Miles
Year 2: 552.3 Miles
Year 3: 518.4 Miles
Year 4: 299.3 Miles