Took a few family members on this hike that travels along the ridge of Brasstown Bald Mountain, between the cities of Hiawassee, GA and Helen, GA. Brasstown Bald Moutain, referred to as Enotah by the native Cherokee people, is the highest natural point in GA with a summit elevation of 4,784 feet above sea level. We went during the summer and this hike was full of scenery, interesting rock formations, occasional wildlife, and colorful flowers; however, this hike would be exceptionally ideal during the winter months, when the trees have lost their leaves, for unhampered scenic view of the surrounding Brasstown wilderness. This hike is mostly rated moderate, with some difficult, uphill portions near the final vista and on the return trip.
Directions to trailhead: From Helen, drive north on GA 17/75 for 12 miles to GA 180. Turn left on to GA 180 West and follow it for 5.3 miles to GA 180 Spur. Again, turn left and drive 2.4 miles to the Brasstown Bald Parking Area. There is an entry/parking fee for the park, so check the official website for more information:
You can pay with cash at the entry booth or pay with a credit/debit card at the visitor’s center (pick up a free map of the trail here if you want). There is also a clean restroom facility and water fountain located above the visitor’s center.
The Arkaquah Trail begins to the left of the parking area near the restrooms. The hike described in this post will only take you to the vista at Locust Log Ridge Lookout; yet, this trail goes all the way to Trackrock Gap in Union County, GA. If you would like to take the time to set up shuttle (dropping one car off at Trackrock Gap), it will reduce the length of your hike by approximately two miles; however, that process would take approximately 1.25 hours of extra driving. The total distance of this hike is 7.4 miles there-and-back (3.7 miles each way).
As you begin the trail you will slowly descend through a thicket of rhododendron and along a spring branch of water. The trail enters the Brasstown wilderness, heads west towards Chimneytop Mountain, and is well above 4,000 ft. for the majority of the hike. At 0.6 miles, the trail levels off in a gap on the westside of the mountain. As you travel through the low growing shrubbery and over patches of rock, look back the way you came for a glimpse of the viewing tower at the peak of Brasstown Bald at mile 1.2 (at this point you are on the east end of Chimneytop Mountain). This is a good spot to stop, hydrate, and take in the scenery.
Continuing along the trail will bring you to a series of switchbacks and eventually a narrow crack between two boulders (referred to as a “fatman’s squeeze”) at 1.4 miles. Just past this point is an interesting overhanging bluff of rock that makes for some interesting exploring.
As you move on, you will descend along the western end of Chimneytop Mountain and drop below the 4,000 ft mark. The ridge becomes craggy and exposed rock becomes more apparent.
At 2.1 miles the trail moves to the right of the ridgeline and dips below the face of rock known as Blue Bluff which extends 100+ feet above the trail.
At this point the trail begins a pronounced descent of the north ridge amongst rhododendron, and rocky outcroppings. You descend using switchbacks and eventually end up on the nose of the ridgeline. You have now reached Locust Log Ridge and are about to enter Low Gap at 2.6 miles and with an elevation of 3,505 feet.
The trail begins to ascend from Low Gap in one of the more difficult portions of the trip, albeit not as difficult as the ascent you will make on the return trip when you climb back up the ridge you just descended.
You will eventually travel over a knob and working your way down along a narrow ridge to reach Cove Gap at 3.3 miles.
From here you will again climb to the the second knob, the most western section of Locust Log Ridge. Slabs of rock will again appear as you climb the knob. At 3.7 miles you will reach a high point and a nice stone perch at Locust Log Ridge Lookout. Again, this is where this hike stops. Take time here to enjoy the view of the Brasstown Creek Valley. The view from here, while not quite as grandiose as the view from the top of Brasstown Bald, is pretty great based on the seclusion alone.
If you continued straight on the trail you would descend 1,000 feet, with no climbing, back to Brasstown Bald and eventually reach Track Rock Gap. As I mentioned earlier, this would add nearly 2 miles to your total journey (and be prepared for massive elevation gain on the way back). If you are turning around at Locust Log Ridge Lookout, you will climb a total of 800 feet on the way out (hope you saved some energy). However, there are some downhill reprieves on the return journey that grant much needed breaks.
All in all, this was a fantastic hike due to the scenic vistas and the seclusion. If you move quietly and have a keen eye, you will undoubtedly spot many of the smaller wildlife inhabitants of the mountain (black and yellow millipedes (Harpaphe haydeniana), various birds, harmless reptiles and maybe even an amphibian or two). There are black bears in this area as well, so take precaution. If you see one, do not try to approach it for pictures; maintain your distance and everything will be fine.
As always, I hope this reviews was helpful. Be safe, leave no trace, and enjoy the hike.