50 Hikes In the North Georgia Mountains
Book Excerpt Below
This book details 50 hikes that take place in the North Georgia Mountains, from Cloudland Canyon near the Alabama state line to the Chattooga River on the South Carolina border and throughout the mountains between. Specific emphasis was placed on the most scenic destinations and unique places that make the North Georgia Mountains so special, places like Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the master path of the East, the Appalachian Trail. Many hikes in this book take place on the AT. Other hikes take place in the 10 designated wildernesses within the mountains, from the famed Cohutta and to the lesser visited Southern Nantahala Wilderness. Hikes of varied lengths and difficulties are included.
Falls on Dodd Creek
This book will help you make every step count, whether you are leading the family on a brief day hike or undertaking a challenging backpack into the reaches. With your precious time and the knowledge imparted to you, your outdoor experience will be realized to its fullest.
Rabun Bald and Flat Top Mountain via Bartram Trail
Total Distance: 9.0 miles there and back
Hiking Time: 6:30
Vertical Rise: 1300 feet
Maps: USGS 7.5’ Rabun Bald, Chattahoochee National Forest map
This is an isolated and forgotten part of the Bartram Trail (BT) that travels to two of my favorite vista spots in the Southern Appalachians. A long gravel road drive leads to Wilson Gap and the hike’s starting point. From here, the Bartram Trail travels north to a view of the rock face of Flat Top Mountain, where you will be standing and looking south. From there, the hike has some ups and down, eventually leading to the final up and Rabun Bald, where a stone tower awaits with 360 degree views, and superior to none for backcountry vistas in the Peach State. Campsites with water along the way make this a great one-night backpack. Be apprised that the drive to the trailhead includes an auto ford of Sarahs Creek that is best suited for high clearance vehicles.
If you want to day hike this trek, and not backpack, consider car camping down at Sarahs Creek Campground, which you pass along the way. It has some attractive sites with lots of privacy and is located along the pretty and crystalline trout stream of Sarahs Creek. The hike leaves north from Forest Road 155 on a single-track path in gorgeous woods. It has just the right mix of tree species and brush that it could only be landscaped by Mother Nature. Doubletop stands off to your right. Begin moderately climbing around the west side of Double Top with far reaching views to the north and west. Below lays Ramey Field. Look for previously logged forests of different ages, growing at different heights. Ramey Creek has cut a deep valley allowing you to see the rock face of Flat Top Mountain, where the Bartram Trail soon leads. That is what makes this hike so special, from my point of view, along the way you can view from where you will be viewing later on. And the view from Flat Top is a good one.
The trail continues to circle around the headwaters of Ramey Creek, keeping north below Wilson Knob. The BT passes over some small rock slabs that are a preview of things to come. At mile 1.2, reach a gap between Wilson Knob and Flat Top. This dry gap has a horizontal rock slab that makes for a clearing open to the sky and a decent spot to take a break. Here, the BT switchbacks uphill from the gap. At the eighth switchback, stop for a moment, catch your breath and enjoy a view to the south, of mountains fading into the Piedmont, looking into South Carolina on a clear day. Beyond the switchbacks, at mile 1.6, look left for a side trail leading left to a fantastic view from a rock face. Here, the horizon stretches southward from east to west. This is one of my favorite views anywhere. I used a picture from this point for the cover of my book, Long Trails of the Southeast. The wide and long rock slab opens the world before you. Craggy pines hang on to the margins and provide a green frame for the vista. The two knobs of Doubletop and the point from where you came are quite evident. Below, the valley of Ramey Creek opens the mountains to the south and west. Flat Top is a great place to view fall colors and is simply one of those special out-of-the-way places that will remain less visited no matter how much publicity it receives.
Beyond the vista, the BT comes alongside a trickling branch. This spring creek runs beneath laurel and rhododendron with an overstory of squat oaks. A small but mostly level campsite lies on the far side of the spring creek. The path begins ascending the south slope of Flat Top Mountain, passing through a prescribed burn area. The young trees are regenerating – chestnut oak and pine. In summer they grow closely to the trail, crowding the foot bed, along with briars and brush. Some views open between the uncanopied spots as the trail switchbacks up. Better views open when the trail levels off, along the east slope of Flat Top. A spur trail leads right to a spring here.
Flat Top Mountain runs out of mountain, so the Bartram Trail descends off it to reach Saltrock Gap. Saltrock Gap got its name from the practice of leaving slat licks for cattle that would graze high in the mountains during summer. Often times farmer would hollow out a log or, in this case, use a natural depression in a rock, to leave salt for cattle. These cattle are part of what kept Rabun Bald an open grassy peak. The forest has regenerated after the grazing ceased. Continue through the wide gap to a split in the trail at mile 2.8 miles. At Saltrock Gap, the Bartram Trail leaves sharply right, and an obvious roadbed keeps forward into a rhododendron thicket. If you continue forward on the old roadbed it reaches a small brook. The Bartram Trail switchbacks uphill, where a tiny spring crosses the trail at mile 3.3. Keep ascending to reach Flint Gap and trail junction at mile 3.7. An inscribed boulder marks the spot. To the left, a blue-blazed trail leads toward Flint Gap.
The BT keeps forward, then turns right and begins switchback after switchback. The trail is working up the west side of Rabun Bald through low-slung mountain laurel, oak and birch. Just when you think the mountain has no top you make the knife edge crest of the ridge, reaching the top of Rabun Bald and an inscribed rock at mile 4.5. Uphill to the right is the stone viewing tower, elevation 4,696 feet, Georgia’s second highest peak. Steps lead to the top of the tower and a wooden platform. Here is a 360-degree view and what I believe to be the best vista in Georgia. Part of this rating is based on the effort needed to get here, as opposed to the .6 mile trek up to the state’s highest point, Brasstown Bald, that also has an auto shuttle leading to the top. To the north are stone-faced mountains, like Flat Top Mountain you passed, forming a rampart in the Tar Heel State, North Carolina. The Little Tennessee River Valley is dotted with small communities to your west. To the east are the Cherokee Foothills of South Carolina and the Piedmont beyond. To the south are the North Georgia Mountains and the Piedmont fading into the sky. The Three Forks Trail mentioned on the inscribed rock is now called the Rabun Bald Trail, also described in this book, and leaves right 2.9 steep miles to Hale Ridge Cemetery Road. From this point, the Bartram Trail soon enters North Carolina and makes its way to meet the Appalachian Trail at Cheoah Bald.
How to Get There
From just north of the junction of US 76 west and US 441 in Clayton, head east on Warwoman Road and follow it for 9 miles to Sarahs Creek Road. Sarahs Creek Road is on a downhill right curve and is easily missed. Turn left onto Sarahs Creek Road, Forest Road 156, and follow it for 2 miles Sarah’s Creek campground. There is an auto ford at this point. Just beyond the auto ford, turn left onto Forest Road 155, and follow FR 155 for 7 miles to the Bartram Trail, which leaves north from the forest road. Look for the yellow blaze markers on the trees at the gap leaving right, into the woods and away from the road. The trail will be on your right, and marked with an inscribed boulder indicating the Bartram Trail. If you go too far, there will be an inscribed stone to the left of the road at Wilson Gap, .5 mile (The BT follows FR 155 for .5 mile at this juncture) beyond the correct portion of the BT for this hike.