No other part of Georgia captures the imagination quite like the undeveloped peaks, gaps, and coves of the north Georgia mountains. Perched on the edge of the sprawling bustle of metro Atlanta, 4,000-plus foot peaks and tall waterfalls are cool respite from the steamy Piedmont summers, and when the temperature drops in winter, the region can quickly become a wonderland. Crisscrossed by hundreds of trails and dotted with campsites, north Georgia is home to enough adventure to last a lifetime. Here are ten hikes to get you thinking about your next day trip.
At nearly 4,500 feet, Blood Mountain is the tallest peak on the Appalachian Trail (AT) in Georgia and sports a commanding view from its rocky summit into Blood Mountain Wilderness and beyond. Sure, summer and fall weekends can be busy, but you’ll still find a quiet spot to sit. The ominously named mountain can be tackled by hikers of any experience level, but don’t expect a simple walk in the park. Pick up the white-blazed AT from Neels Gap for an approximately 4.25 mile round trip to the summit where you’ll also find a stone shelter constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.
From the historic fire observation platform on Rabun Bald, Georgia’s second tallest peak, the mountains of Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina unfold into the distance. Park at the Beegum Trailhead in Sky Valley, home to Georgia’s now-defunct Sky Valley Ski Resort. Follow the trail as it switchbacks 1.5 miles up to the Bartram Trail and then to the summit. Winter explorers will enjoy searching the flanks of Rabun Bald for the towering, frozen waterfalls that only come with consistently cold temperatures.
Pine Mountain (Cartersville)
Get a little perspective of Lake Allatoona on the summit of nearby Pine Mountain. Although small in comparison to other mountain summits on this list, Pine Mountain’s 1,562-foot pinnacle is a workout with a huge payoff. Start the 3-mile hike on the east side of Pine Mountain Recreation Area near the lake on the East Loop Trail. Halfway through the hike, peel off onto the Summit Overlook Trail to a rocky viewpoint of the lake and other nearby hills.
Springer Mountain can be busy and doesn’t have the same commanding views from its almost wooded summit. So why go? Springer Mountain is the southern terminus of the famed Appalachian Trail. Take the short way, just 1 mile from FS Road 42 to the summit, where you’ll find a historic plaque and small ledge for views. Go on spring day and get inspired by the many new thru-hikers from across the world beginning their 2,000-plus mile journey by foot to Maine.
It’s not easy to get to Grassy Mountain, but the views are worth every minute in the car. Think of the long gravel Forest Service roads as a part of your adventure. Once you get to the trailhead at Lake Conasauga by the Ball Field Dispersed Camping Area, head onto the Lake Conasauga Songbird Trail for a mile. Then veer left onto the Grassy Mountain Tower Trail and follow it approximately 1.5 miles to a fire tower with views south into the Piedmont and north in the Cohutta Wilderness, the largest wilderness area on the east coast.
Tunneling through the dark thickets of rhododendron and mountain laurel that blanket the slopes of Georgia’s mountains, the Appalachian Trail from Dick’s Creek Gap to Powell Mountain leads to a quiet ledge. From the top take in the chain of mountain lakes that include the popular Lake Burton, Lake Seed, and Lake Rabun. Throughout the warm months, the 2.6-mile climb is just as spectacular as the summit thanks to the cool, north-facing coves filled with wildflowers.
Keown Falls and Johns Mountain
On the quiet side of Chattahoochee National Forest, just north of Rome, Georgia, the ridges and valleys hold dozens of off-the-beaten path hikes. Keown Falls is a short 1.7-mile loop with an observation platform for the falls and a view back to the east. For some added mileage, continue up to Johns Mountain for a 3.25-mile, one-way hike. The long ridge has great winter views, and you’ll eventually reaching another observation platform at nearly 2,000 feet.
Before you head to ever-popular Lake Lanier for a summer day filled with swimming, boating, and lounging, stop by Sawnee Mountain Preserve for a quick, heart-pounding climb of Sawnee Mountain. With views north and west, the summit gives hikers a great view of the Blue Ridge Mountains rising out of the Piedmont just 30 minutes further north. The approximately 4-mile hike starts from Spot Road using Laurel Spur Trail and a loop of the Indian Seats Trail. Don’t forget your binoculars to enjoy great views of raptors circling in the winds off the summit.
Toccoa River Swinging Bridge
Bring a picnic and your swim trunks for this one. The .5-mile round trip hike from Forest Service Road 816 is perfect for a midsummer afternoon. The forest here is filled with pines and hemlocks, making for a nice cool stroll. Once at the bridge, stand in the middle of the 270-foot span and enjoy cool breeze and wide river views. Find a spot on shore to set up a picnic, explore upstream and down on the rocks, then take a load off until the sun starts setting.
No list would be complete without the highest peak in Georgia, 4,784-foot Brasstown Bald. Drive to the top and hike the 1-mile summit trail to the visitor center and impressive observation tower. Or set out from the bottom on the Arkaquah Trail, a 5.5-mile, one-way route with multiple viewpoints and a Cherokee petroglyph site. Whether you choose the long way or the short way, you won’t be disappointed with the views.