The highest mountain in Georgia is Brasstown Bald, just shy of 4800 feet. The mountain is surrounded by the Brasstown Wilderness, which has some animal and plant species not found anywhere further south. Brasstown Bald is accessible by several trails, and a road. The views from the top are 360 degrees, and you can see miles... but not on days like this day. This hike occurred on Saturday, May 31st, 2014. My plan was to take the Jack's Knob Trail from the parking at the beginning of GA State Route 180-Spur, and follow the trail all the way to the Brasstown Bald parking lot. From there, I would follow the Summit Trail to the tower at the top, and then, retrace my steps. However, I didn't quite mean for a heavy thunderstorm to be included in this plan.
R/T Length of Trail: 4.5 Miles
Duration of Hike: 4 Hours
Type of Hike: Out-and-Back
Difficulty Rating: 7 out of 10; very good trail condition, but steep ascent that seems to last longer than it actually is
Beginning Point: Small parking pullout on the corner of GA State Route 180 and GA State Route 180-Spur
'Tis a warm and sunny Saturday morning. Wispy clouds are drifting across blue skies. You'd think there wouldn't be rain on a day like this, right? Well you're wrong. I didn't have much time for hiking this weekend, but I figured I would fit in a few hours for a short hike somewhere. Obviously, I couldn't go farther than the Chattahoochee National Forest, and I decided that I could try to check out Brasstown Bald, since I haven't been there since last November. So far, I had ascended Brasstown Bald twice via the Arkaquah Trail (Over 12 miles roundtrip) from the west side. The second trail that leads to Brasstown Bald, and the shortest (if you don't count parking at the upper parking lot and just hiking up and down the paved path or taking the shuttle), is the Jack's Knob Trail. The Jack's Knob Trail technically starts from the upper parking lot just below the Brasstown Bald summit. From there, it follows Wolfpen Ridge to the south, before steeply descending to GA State Route 180, where there is another trailhead. From there, the trail goes deep into the Mark Trail Wilderness, and ends at the Appalachian Trail at Chattahoochee Gap. Chattahoochee Gap is where the spring that gives birth to the Chattahoochee River is located. Today, I didn't have time to hike the whole trail, which is 9 miles roundtrip, but I figured that i had just enough time to hike from GA State Route 180 to the Brasstown Bald summit and back. This is also a good way to escape the $3 fee, if you park near the top. As I was driving north on GA State Route 400, the cumulonimbus clouds kept building... and building... and building. By the time I crossed over the Appalachian Trail divide on US Route 129, the horizon revealed itself in a mass of dark gray, and the Brasstown Bald summit was shrouded in dark clouds. Uh-oh. I try to hike every weekend, whether it is rain or shine, but I wasn't totally prepared for this unexpected weather change. Just as I reached the trailhead, it started raining. And it became a downpour fast. I waited for the first round of rain (and thunder) to pass, and when it lightened up, I started on the trail. I took an umbrella with me, because the sky was definitely saying that there was going to be more rain soon.
The parking lot for the trail here is pretty small. There's space for maybe 8 cars at most, although on the day I came, there were only 2 others. I am pretty sure this lot is filled on good weekends, as there's quite a few people who'd want to save money, even if it is only $3. Once you have parked, you need to walk a little bit up the road to the trailhead kiosk, which talks about the $3 fee, and has some information regarding the area. This kiosk had me thinking that I needed to pay the fee here too, but I never found where to pay, so I figured it meant for anyone parked inside of the gate on GA State Route 180-Spur. The trail immediately entered the woods, and there was a weird sign saying the trail is closed to mountain bikers, horses, and "pack stock". Who in the world would bring pack stock on a trail? This was the first time I ever saw anything like that on a warning sign. Anyway, the trail paralleled the road for about 0.1 miles. However, the trail quickly crossed an old and gated road, and started the ascent. While this trail was easier than the one I did last week, it was mainly easier due to length. It would probably have been harder, if the length was the same. The trail did have some switchbacks as it ascended, but they weren't helping much, as they were short. The first part wasn't very steep yet, as the trail kept crossing "steps" on the ascent, and there were brief flat sections due to that. However, the final steep climb started around 0.6 miles from the start. This climb had switchbacks, but like I mentioned before, they didn't help much. It seemed longer than it actually was. Closer to the 1 mile mark, the rain started again. And it was heavy. Somehow I got drenched even with the umbrella. The conclusion of my ascent was greeted with a loud thunder clap. The top of Wolfpen Ridge was partially in the clouds and fog. Along the ridgetop trail there were several blooming rhododendron bushes. At 1.3 miles, the trail reached a campsite, and there was a small overlook on the right. All I could see was fog though. Fog, fog, and fog. What happened to the blue skies at home? At the overlook, the trail turned left and started descending. The descent was without switchbacks but short. At 1.6 miles from the start, the trail emptied itself into the Brasstown Bald Summit Trail Parking Lot, and there was a trailside kiosk at the end of the Jack's Knob Trail.
From the end of the Jack's Knob Trail, you have to cross the huge parking lot to the visitor center. Here, a paved path starts. There is a sign that the Brasstown Bald Summit is 0.6 miles away. The paved path, although with switchbacks, seems like the steepest part of the hike to me. The trail reaches the Wagon Train Trail at 0.1 miles. The trail goes to the right into the Brasstown Bald Wilderness to reach the Young Harris College eventually. That was a hike for another day. The Summit Trail then passes through some rhododendron tunnels, which are beautiful in spring, and passes some benches for those who are too tired. The trail crosses the Summit Shuttle Road at 0.5 miles, and then makes the final push to the summit. When I was at the big parking lot a little lower, I could see that Brasstown Bald was gone in the clouds. Now that i finished the ascent, I could see nothing outside of the summit. There was some mountain laurel and more rhododendron at the summit, but the mountain laurel wasn't fully blooming yet. I ascended the steps to the fire tower, and looked around. I knew how the view looks like, because I was here in November, but today it was completely different. It looked like an abyss, as everything was shrouded in fog. Not a whole lot to look at. I stayed for a bit ,but nothing changed. On my way back down the Jack's Knob Trail, the rain started again. It wasn't as heavy as before, but it was still enough to get me wet further. Oh well, I didn't need to care by now. The descent in the rain seemed endless, but eventually it ended.
In summary, this is a hard but relatively short hike for those who want to save some money. Most people, ho are in fair shape can probably do it, but make sure to take your time. It isn't as easy as it seems. Below are my pictures.
Mark Oleg Ozboyd
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