Pinhoti Trail: Keown Falls Trail, Johns Mountain Trail, and Pilchers Pond, Calhoun, Georgia
The Valley and Ridge area of Northwest Georgia is not known for waterfalls, unlike almost every other mountainous section of the state. Most of the available hikes in this area simply follow low ridges like Horn Mountain, Johns Mountain, and Taylor Ridge that separate similar valleys. The Keown Falls Scenic Area is unique to the region, as it is home to the area's two only publicly-accessible waterfalls: South Keown Falls and Keown Falls. Both waterfalls are accessed easily by the Keown Falls Trail, but it's worth extending the hike along the Johns Mountain Trail, which has great winter views from Johns Mountain. There are some other opportunities to extend the hike, such as following the Pinhoti Trail along Johns Mountain Road and past Pilchers Pond - although hikers may not find that part of the trail particularly exciting. This hike occurred on Saturday, November 11th, 2017. My plan was to hike a loop with the Keown Falls Trail, Johns Mountain Trail, FS 208, and the Pinhoti Trail past Pilchers Pond, starting at the end of FS 702. Unfortunately, the quality of this longer loop hike was degraded by a rather ugly logged area on the north side of Johns Mountain Road.
R/T Length of Trail: 9.9 Miles
Duration of Hike: 4:20 plus 1:30 of stopping
Type of Hike: Loop
Difficulty Rating: 5 out of 10
Total Elevation Gain: 1693 Feet
Pros: Beautiful trail along Johns Mountain ridge and in the Keown Falls Scenic Area
Cons: Fairly long road-walk along FS 208 if you do the longer loop; ugly logged area along the Pinhoti Trail north of FS 208 near Pocket Road
Points of Interest: South Keown Falls - 4 stars during high flow; Keown Falls - 6 stars during high flow; Lower Johns Mountain Vista - 7 stars; Johns Mountain Summit Vista - 5 stars; Pilchers Pond
Trail Blaze Colors: Keown Falls Trail - Lime Green; Johns Mountain Trail - Lime Green; Pinhoti Trail - White/Turkey Foot
Best Seasons to Hike: Spring; Fall (during wet periods)
Beginning Point: End of FS 702 in Keown Falls Scenic Area
Directions from Calhoun, GA: From the intersection of GA 136 Connector and Court Street in downtown Calhoun, follow GA 136 Connector North for 5.6 miles, and then, turn left onto Lake Marvin Road. Drive 7 miles on Lake Marvin Road to a T-shaped intersection with Everett Springs Road (Pocket 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.
Click the link below to download a .GPX file with a track of this hike.
The small trail system at Keown Falls and Johns Mountain is one of the nicer hikes in Walker County. Unlike other parts of the Georgia mountains, there just isn't many hiking opportunities in the Valley & Ridge area due to the lack of points of interest. Keown Falls and South Keown Falls are exceptions in an otherwise waterfall-void area. The hike begins at the far end of the parking area at the end of FS 702. The trail splits into the Keown Falls Loop at 0.1 miles. If you do the smaller loop option, you'll hike both sides of the loop, but if you do the longer loop the way I did it past Pilchers Pond, I recommend going up the more scenic south side of the Keown Falls Loop to visit South Keown Falls too. Thus, stay left at the split and ascend the fairly steep slope of Johns Mountain via switchbacks. The trail eventually enters the Keown Falls Cove around 0.65 miles, with good views of the cliffs on the other side near Keown Falls. After making one last pair of switchbacks beside a small cliff, the trail reaches South Keown Falls at 0.75 miles.
Located on a tributary of the creek that forms Keown Falls, South Keown Falls usually has even lower flow than Keown Falls. Still, it's an intriguing waterfall. I like how the creek trickles over the cliff, forming a small area of lush vegetation and spray community plants at the foot of the cliff. The falls is about 25 feet high, entirely a free-fall. Past South Keown Falls, the trail follows the base of a scenic bluff line. The fall colors were stunning in the cove at the time of my hike. At 0.9 miles, the trail reaches Keown Falls. Keown Falls free-falls about 35 feet over the lip of an overhanging bluff. The waterfall is usually close to a trickle except after heavy rain. The most interesting feature of Keown Falls is the huge undercut grotto behind it. The trail passes behind the falls and climbs up to a junction a hundred feet past the falls. Straight ahead, the Keown Falls Loop continues back to the parking area, while the hike turns left onto the Johns Mountain Trail up a series of rock steps. At 0.95 miles, the trail reaches an observation deck with a view of Keown Falls from the top of the cliff. To the right, a distinct side trail leads 100 feet to the spectacular lower vista on Johns Mountain, which includes most of Keown Falls Cove, the Johns Creek valley with Lake Marvin in the distance, and Horn Mountain on the other side of the valley. If you're lucky to catch this area during peak fall colors, the color display in the Keown Falls Cove will be spectacular!
Continuing on the trail from the Keown Falls observation deck, you will reach a junction with the Johns Mountain Loop in a few feet. The south and west side of the loop is considerably more scenic, so stay left at the junction and cross a rickety footbridge just above Keown Falls. The trail then begins a slow ascent toward the Johns Mountain ridge, crossing the stream that forms South Keown Falls at 1.25 miles. Ignore any side trails that lead to the top of the cliffs as that is a dangerous area. After a slow ascent, the Johns Mountain Trail finally reaches the ridgecrest at 1.9 miles. From here on, as the trail follows the ridge, there are great winter views to the west. There are also several neat rock outcrops along the ridge. The trail is nearly level along the ridge, with occasional periods of gradual uphill. At 3.25 miles, the trail reaches the summit of Johns Mountain at the end of FS 208 after passing a small communications tower.
An observation deck in the clearing at the end of FS 208 provides a nice view of the Valley & Ridge area to the west, with Pigeon Mountain on the horizon. But even though this view is at a higher elevation than the first vista near Keown Falls, it actually feels lower due to the lack of a sheer drop-off. In general, I liked the first view better due to it also having a wider viewing range. Both views are worth seeing though. From the summit of Johns Mountain, you have the option of turning right and following the Johns Mountain Trail and Keown Falls Trail back to the parking area for a fairly short double loop of about four and a half miles. The hike described here is along a longer loop, although unfortunately, part of it is not very attractive due to logging operations north of FS 208.
To hike the longer loop, begin walking down FS 208 as it drops off Johns Mountain. In the winter, this road is gated, but during other times of the year, you may encounter a few vehicles. The Pinhoti Trail joins the road from the left at 4.0 miles. The road reaches the bottom of the valley at 4.9 miles, where it crosses the head of Johns Creek. A short uphill brings the road to a low ridge at 5.05 miles. Here, the Pinhoti Trail turns left onto an old logging road, leaving FS 208. Follow the Pinhoti Trail along the old road through a pine forest that will likely be harvested at some point in the future. There are some nice views of the much taller Johns Mountain to the left throughout this section. At 5.6 miles, the Pinhoti Trail descends off the ridge and into a low-lying area that was recently logged extensively at the time of my hike and looked very ugly. Keep following the blazes along various old logging roads - trying to walk through the ugly logged area as fast as possible - to a logging road junction at 6.35 miles near Pocket Road. The main logging road bears left and shortly reaches Pocket Road, while the Pinhoti Trail bears right on a narrower path and finally leaves the logged area. At 6.65 miles, the trail crosses Pocket Road. On the other side, the trail parallels the road at first - making an odd double curve at 6.8 miles - before gradually curving away. The Pinhoti Trail briefly follows another forest road at 6.7 miles before curving eastward into the Furnace Creek area. All of this part of the trail is in the valley, and thus, it remains relatively flat with only small hills. At 7.45 miles, the Pinhoti Trail crosses marshy-looking Furnace Creek, which should be a hop at average water levels. There are campsites on both sides of the crossing.
As the trail slowly climbs toward the foot of Horn Mountain, it passes an interesting rock wall. I suspect that the rock wall is from an old homestead, but I can't find any historical info about it. At 7.9 miles, the Pinhoti Trail reaches a signed junction. Here, the main route of the Pinhoti Trail turns left and ascends Horn Mountain before eventually reaching Highway 136 at Snake Creek Gap. Meanwhile, the connector trail to Pilchers Pond and FS 702 turns right. Thus, turn right onto the connector trail, which is also known as the hikers route of the Pinhoti Trail (via Keown Falls). The trail reaches Pilchers Pond at 8.4 miles. It is named after a Civil War soldier called Samuel Pilcher who is buried nearby. The trail crosses the dam of the small pond and then follows a forest road back toward Pocket Road. Passing a couple of wildlife clearings, the Pinhoti Trail reaches Pocket Road at 9.25 miles. The rest of the hike is a fairly short roadwalk. First, turn left onto Pocket Road and follow it for about 300 feet to the beginning of FS 702 on the right. Then, walk along FS 702 (which you drove in on) for 0.6 miles, initially climbing a small ridge. You will reach the Keown Falls Parking Area at 9.9 miles, concluding the hike.
0.0 - Keown Falls Parking Area
0.75 - South Keown Falls
0.9 - Keown Falls
0.95 - Lower Johns Mountain Vista
1.9 - Johns Mountain Ridge
3.25 - Johns Mountain Summit Vista
6.65 - Pocket Road
7.45 - Furnace Creek
7.9 - Pilchers Pond Junction
8.4 - Pilchers Pond
9.25 - Pocket Road
9.9 - Keown Falls Parking Area
Hike the Keown Falls/Johns Mountain Double Loop - 4.5 Miles
1/13/2018 04:02:25 pm
This is probably the best thing I have seen explaining this area
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Mark Oleg Ozboyd
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