Long before I was old enough to appreciate the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, my dad and I had crossed this national treasure many times while searching for trout in the North Georgia Mountains. Though quite rugged in many places, “The Trail” is always a thing of beauty.
For those hardy souls who attempt the more than 2,100 mile journey along the crest of the Appalachian Mountains, they normally begin at Springer Mountain near Jasper, Georgia. From that point, their sojourn will take them through fourteen eastern states before ending at Katahdin in Maine.
Georgia’s part of the Appalachian Trail winds some eighty miles along ridge tops and through rather primitive areas of the Chattahoochee National Forest. The average altitude is around 3,000 feet, but the trail reaches above 4,400 feet in places. The climb and descent can often be steep, and each section of this trail offers a variety of challenges to hikers. Nevertheless, one is constantly rewarded by breathtaking vistas from high rocky outcrops or open summits.
The Appalachian Trail was built and is maintained by volunteers from each of those fourteen states for the enjoyment of everyone. It is well-marked throughout its length with rectangular white blazes. Side trails or trails to water have blue blazes, and turns in the trail are marked with double blazes as a caution to hikers. Signs are placed at road crossings, shelters, or other important intersections.
Georgia’s part of the trail has eleven shelters, and all but one are three-sided with open-fronts. Each has a floor, and spring water is readily available. The one exception is a stone, two-room structure at the top of Blood Mountain. It has four sides, a fireplace, windows, a sleeping platform, but no water close by.
TheAppalachian Trail in Georgia can be reached from six major highways, which the trail crosses at their highest point. An 8.5 mile approach trail is located on Highway 52 at Amicalola Falls State Park, which is fifteen miles northwest of Dawsonville. The trail crosses Woody Gap on Highway 60 fifteen miles north of Dahlonega, but just twenty-two miles north of Dahlonega on Highway 129/19, is the most interesting spot to join the trail. Neels Gap is below the summit of Blood Mountain, and has one of the most complete hiking and backpacking stores in the eastern U.S. It also features books on every aspect of the Appalachian Mountains or “The Trail”, and offers a wide array of souvenirs.
Other places to intercept the Appalachian Trail in Georgia are at Tesnatee Gap and Hog Pen Gap on Highway 348 (Richard Russell Scenic Highway) twelve miles northwest of Helen, Unicoi Gap on Highway 75 ten miles north of Helen, or Dicks Creek Gap on Highway 76 eighteen miles west of Clayton. Short day trips from any of these convenient crossings of the trail can be very invigorating and educational. The real beauty of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, however, is the constantly changing, but magnificent, bounty of nature that is revealed to those who take the time to traverse this phenomenal wilderness path. No classroom or TV show can compare with the sights and sounds of this natural, living panorama. Therefore, youngsters always leave with an indelible memory of even a short hike along this historical path.