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: 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.
Chattahoochee National Forest: Upper Canada Creek Loop to Fourth Falls and Third Falls on Canada Creek, Suches, Georgia
Canada Creek is one of my favorite mountain streams in North Georgia, due to a perfect combination of beauty, remoteness, and ease of access at each of the creek's four scenic waterfalls. A network of unofficial trails used by fishers and hunters weave around Canada Creek and provide fairly easy access to each of its waterfalls. The hikes to each particular waterfall aren't too long, but seeing all of the waterfalls together will take a good part of the day. A topographic map and compass are recommended for hikers who venture into the Canada Creek area, because many disorienting trail junctions are found throughout the trail system, and some of the paths are faint. This hike occurred on Saturday, July 1st, 2017. My original plan was to hike out and back to Fourth Falls on Canada Creek from the Upper Canada Creek Trailhead. After seeing the roaring state of the Fourth Falls though, I decided to use a connector to access Third Falls on Canada Creek and then loop back using a couple of roads.
A tributary of Soapstone Creek, Sorrels Branch sports a pair of scenic waterfalls near Georgia Highway 180 and the former location of CCC Camp Soapstone. Access to both waterfalls is not difficult thanks to an unofficial trail along an old logging road that passes by them. The 50-foot sheer lower falls is more scenic than the small 25-foot upper slide, but the historical aspect of the Sorrels Branch waterfalls may be the most fascinating part of this hike. Perched precariously in the middle of the creek at the brink of the lower falls and near the base of the upper falls is a mysterious stone structure. The forest service, history books, and even the internet provide little clue to the origin of these ancient ruins, but you'll have fun coming up with your own guesses when you visit. This hike occurred on Saturday, July 1st, 2017. My plan was to hike out and back to Lower and Upper Sorrels Branch Falls from Highway 180.
High Shoals Creek is home to two of Georgia's most popular waterfalls: High Shoals Falls and Blue Hole Falls. Very few people who hike to those waterfalls know that the same watershed is home to a remote waterfall no less impressive. Rogers Branch Falls is a tiered 80-foot waterfall on a tributary of High Shoals Creek, with additional small waterfalls above and below the main drop. Even though local residents are aware of the waterfall as evidenced by the well-used path to it, it is not publicized well at all and clearly off the radar for most hikers and waterfall hunters. The routes to the base of Rogers Branch Falls are not quite for everyone due to their steepness, but those who reach the viewing area at the base will be rewarded by a breathtaking sight. This hike occurred on Saturday, July 1st, 2017. My plan was to hike out and back to the base of Rogers Branch Falls from a popular camping area off Indian Grave Gap Road.
Buckeye Cove Falls is one of a handful of waterfalls in the Swallow Creek Wildlife Management Area near Hiawassee. About 80 feet high, this picturesque stairstep waterfall is easy to reach via a short hike, but it is located far enough in the middle of nowhere that you're not likely to find someone else at the waterfall. The lush green setting of Buckeye Cove Falls makes it appealing to waterfall enthusiasts and photographers during the warmer months. The falls is located in a very small watershed though, so it is best to visit during late spring or early summer. This hike occurred on Saturday, June 24th, 2017. My plan was to hike the unofficial path from the end of Swallow Creek Road out and back to Buckeye Cove Falls.
Mill Creek Falls is the name used collectively for a pair of waterfalls in the highest reaches of Swallow Creek Wildlife Management Area. Oddly, only one of the waterfalls is on Mill Creek itself, and the more picturesque of the two is on a tributary known as Ground Hog Branch. Visited together, these two waterfalls in the Mill Creek headwaters area make for a fairly easy and beautiful afternoon outing. A trail leads to both falls, although it is steep and slippery in places. This hike occurred on Saturday, June 24th, 2017. My plan was to hike out and back from Mill Creek Road to the upper and lower waterfall at Mill Creek Falls, with the former being on Ground Hog Branch and the latter being on Mill Creek itself just below its confluence with Groundhog Branch..
Chattahoochee National Forest: Lower & Upper Chinquapin Falls and Hickory Knob Falls, Helen, Georgia
Chinquapin Branch is one of the streams that drain the Tray Mountain area near Helen. Beginning high in the Tray Mountain Wilderness, Chinquapin Branch passes over a tall cliff, crosses Tray Mountain Road, and then forms several more waterfalls. Cascading 200 feet partially out of sight, Lower Chinquapin Falls is the biggest waterfall of them all. Seeing the lower and middle waterfalls on Chinquapin Branch necessitates significant scrambling on an unmaintained trail, but intrepid hikers who hike the entire route will be rewarded with two pristine waterfalls on Chinquapin Branch and a third one on a tributary. This hike occurred on Saturday, June 24th, 2017. My plan was to follow an abandoned trail along Chinquapin Branch to Lower and Upper Chinquapin Falls, although I would only be able to view part of the Lower Falls. Along the way, I would make a side trip to Hickory Knob Falls on an unnamed tributary of Chinquapin Branch. Rather than returning the same way, I decided to hike off-trail to Tray Mountain Road from Upper Chinquapin Falls and then return along the road.
Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area: Fall Creek Waterfalls and Rocky Ford Falls via Wildcat Creek Loop, Dawsonville, Georgia
The mountains in the vicinity of Jasper are known more for their private residential communities and vacation homes than for their secluded hiking trails. It's not surprising, as most of the Mount Oglethorpe vicinity is developed heavily. There is an exception though: on the east side of Mount Oglethorpe is a 4500-acre tract of land that is part of Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area and is owned by the state. Known as the Wildcat Tract, it is home to at least five waterfalls that are up to 80 feet high. A superb trail system with two trailheads was developed throughout the Wildcat Tract, facilitating access to the waterfalls and providing a number of options for day hikes/loops with various lengths. This hike occurred on Saturday, June 17th, 2017. My plan was to hike the outer Wildcat Creek Loop counter-clockwise from the Wildcat Campground. First, I would hike the Wildcat Creek Trail and Fall Creek Trail, taking side trails to four waterfalls on Fall Creek. At the end of the Fall Creek Trail, I would follow the Tobacco Pouch Trail and then Rocky Ford Trail back into the valley, visiting Rocky Ford Falls along the way. I would conclude the hike along the Turner Trail.
Located in Georgia's Pickens County, 3288-foot Mount Oglethorpe is a point of historical significance: it is the former southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. It is no longer the AT terminus though, because in the 1950s, the area around Mount Oglethorpe became heavily developed and easy road access to Mount Oglethorpe led to vandalism. That is why the Appalachian Trail terminus was moved to Springer Mountain, which is known as a much more remote location that is not susceptible to development. Mount Oglethorpe is also known for the Oglethorpe Monument, a marble obelisk that was 38 feet high. The monument is now in downtown Jasper though, because it was relocated from the summit of Mount Oglethorpe in 1999 after it was heavily damaged by lightning. The summit of Mount Oglethorpe was off-limits for a long time, but today, a public park named Eagle's Rest Park makes visitor access quite easy. Eagle's Rest Park is home to several short hiking trails and a few observation decks with views in different directions. This hike occurred on Saturday, June 17th, 2017. My plan was to hike the Oglethorpe Mountain Trail in a clockwise direction, passing the North View and East View. I would also hike a section of the Eagle's Rest Trail to visit the West View and South View.
Southern Nantahala Wilderness: Beech Creek Loop to Bull Cove Falls, High Falls, and Big Scaly Mountain Overlook, Tate City, Georgia
A classic Southern Appalachian wilderness hike, the Beech Creek Loop is a 'must-do' for all classes of hikers alike. I'll add that the Beech Creek Loop is among the top hikes that I have ever done, in Georgia or elsewhere. Over its eight-mile course, the loop visits two spectacular waterfalls - one of which is about 100 feet high - and passes a lengthy but worthwhile side trail to a breathtaking 180-degree view from Big Scaly Mountain into the Tallulah River Valley. In addition, the trail provides a perfect wilderness experience, full of solitude all throughout the Beech Creek gorge and on the slopes of Big Scaly Mountain. A short stretch of roadwalk is necessary to close the loop, but even walking along Tallulah River Road is nice, as you will get several views of the Tallulah River and its cascades. This hike occurred on Saturday, June 10th, 2017. My plan was to hike the Beech Creek Loop counter-clockwise, although I would use two cars to eliminate the 1.2-mile roadwalk. Along the way, I would take short side trips to Bull Cove Falls and High Falls and a much longer side trip to the vista on Big Scaly Mountain. Note that if you do the Beech Creek Loop, you must by all means take the time to go to the overlook as well.
Year 1: 540.0 Miles
Year 2: 552.3 Miles
Year 3: 518.4 Miles
Year 4: 293.7 Miles