Nestled deep in the Armuchee ridges of Northwest Georgia, a series of waterfalls and streams creates a beautiful scene, and the short hike up to it, and farther up to Johns Mountain Overlook, is worth it, as the views are spectacular. I find it weird that for a trail of very high popularity, there is a small to moderate sized parking lot. The other amenities are picnic tables and restrooms. I hiked this trail on Saturday, February 22nd, 2014. My plans were to take the right branch of the Keown Falls Loop Trail up to Keown Falls Overlook, then take the right branch of the Johns Mountain Trail to the Johns Mountain Overlook, and finish it by hiking down the left sides of both loops.
R/T Length of Trail: 4.5 Miles
Duration of Hike: 2:30
Type of Hike: Loop
Difficulty Rating: 2 out of 10
Pros: Well-built trail
Cons: Keown Falls is best after periods of rain
Points of Interest: Keown Falls - 3 stars; Falls on tributary of Keown Branch - 3 stars; Keown Falls Overlook - 2 stars; Johns Mountain Overlook - 5 stars
Trail Blaze Color(s): None
Best Season(s) to Hike: Winter; Spring
Beginning Point: Keown Falls Trailhead
Directions: From Calhoun, GA: Drive on GA State Route 136 Connector north for 5.3 miles, and then, turn left onto Pocket Road. Drive 7 miles on Pocket Road to a T-shaped intersection with Everett Springs Road, and take a right. Drive another 2.5 miles to Forest Service Road 702 and sign for Keown Falls, on your left. Drive the final 0.6 miles on the gravel Forest Service Road 702 to the trailhead and parking lot. The gravel road is well maintained, so any vehicle can probably drive on it.
Once you are at the trailhead, unless you are heading for a picnic, ignore the trails to the left and right of the parking lot. Head up the main trail next to the information board, and for the purpose of this trail description, take a right at the fork, following the sign that says "Overlook ---->". This trail goes to business right away. It starts as a gradual climb up the stream valley, heading towards Keown Creek. Approximately a quarter mile from the fork, you will reach a crossing of Keown Creek. Here, there is no bridge, but there is a lot of rocks. They can be slippery or may be loose, so be careful, and watch your step here. Once you cross the creek, there will be a switchback. At the switchback, you will have a good view of a minor waterfall on the creek. Also, the harder part of the first loop starts here. After the switchback, you will follow the contours of the hillside, and will have a decent view to your south and east. Another switchback will follow, and you will keep following the rim, and then you'll reach the rocky areas. A series of stone steps leads up to the first major trail intersection.. There are no information signs at this junction. If you continue forward, you will reach Keown Falls. My plan was to take this route on the way back. Meanwhile, the trail that went up the stairs to the right is the one that is the short connector to the Johns Mountain Loop and the Keown Falls Overlook. I decided to do this first, so to complete the whole ascent in the first part of the hike.
Once you reach the top of stairs in about 0.1 miles, you will reach the observation deck for Keown Falls. Here, you will have a good view of the falls from above, as well as more views to the south and east. I stayed here for a little bit, inhaling the sights and sounds of the stream and the overlook. Once I finished in taking the views, I kept going on the trail and immediately reached another trail junction, marked this time. If you take a left, you will start a slow accent up Johns Mountain and the ridge, However, the faster, and steeper, way is if you take a right. So far, I would have estimated that I hiked 0.75 miles, and there are about another 0.75 miles to the Johns Mountain Overlook. If you are looking for an easier ascent, you will need to take a left, but I decided to get rid of the ascent right away, and I took the right fork. From now on, the trail looks like an old forest road, as it climbs up the hillside. And then all of a sudden, you pop out onto Forest Service Road 208. Woohoo! You made it to the top! The road ends here, and there is a small parking lot and an observation deck for Johns Mountain Overlook. Beautiful views. You can see ridge after ridge of mountains in the distance, a set of the Armuchee Ridges. Way in the distance, you can see some higher mountains, probably the Cumberland Mountains, which are north and west of US Route 27.
Now what? There are several options from the top. I could head back down the way I came, I could go along the Johns Mountain Trail along the ridge southwestward, or I could follow Forest Service Road 208 down to Everett Springs Road and then walk back to the trailhead. I usually try to hike the longest trails, so I would not come the way back, and going back down by roads would be uninteresting, so I decided to go for the Johns Mountain Loop Trail, that continues along the ridgeline of Johns Mountain. I would say that it goes about a mile along the ridgeline, providing decent winter views both to the east and west. Then, the trail makes a sharp turn to the northeast, beginning a descent back to Keown Falls. The path is in pretty good shape, with just a few rocks littering it. When I was almost at the end of the upper loop, I crossed two streams, one on a log and one on a small footbridge, and I reached the intersection of the upper loop. Now, I went back down the stairs past the observation deck to the first unmarked junction. I came down from the left, but in order to see the falls, I took a right, and right away I could see Keown Creek dropping down the cliff. I stopped for a few minutes, took some pictures, and passed behind the falls. This part of the Keown Falls Loop is kinda the hardest, because it crosses many small creeks, with only the advantage of slippery rocks. Finally, after passing a second waterfall and crossing the last creek by means of rocks, the trail dried out and began heading steeply downhill. There were a few switchbacks, and pretty quickly, I was back at the trailhead, after hiking a full 4.5 miles.
In summary, this trail is not too hard, and works for a good leg-stretcher. Children can be brought too, well at least to the right hand side of the Keown Falls Loop. I would recommend this hike to anyone in the area, as it is one of the best in areas northwest of I-75 and north of I-20 in Georgia.
Just the Keown Falls Loop - 2.25 Miles
Check out the nearby Arrowhead Wildlife Management Area for a short nature trail past an old fish hatchery.
Mark Oleg Ozboyd
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