Take a hike: four North Georgia gems to try this weekend
It’s Fall, ya’ll—time to trade in the sweltering heat and humidity for the fresh, crisp air and the great outdoors. Our Georgia mountains are full of winding trails that lead to adventure, and they’re practically in your back yard. So, drop the TV remote, grab your hiking gear, and let’s GO!
Whether you’re living life in Atlanta or settling down in suburbia, you could be hiking up a mountain in no time. Here are four of our favorite five-star trails, all within an hour or two of the city:
1. Blood Mountain summit is the highest point of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia and one of the most popular hiking destinations in North Georgia. At 4459 feet, it towers above the peaks of the surrounding southern Appalachians and delivers far and wide views that are simply spectacular.
Blood Mountain is a 4.3-mile view-packed hike that follows the Appalachian Trail to the summit. It begins on the scenic Byron Reece Trail at Neels Gap, leads southwest, and meets the Appalachian Trail at Flatrock Gap. At the trail intersection, the hike heads west and gradually intensifies. Overall, the relatively steep climb is a heart-pounding workout to the summit.
The route’s business season is Fall, mostly because the North Georgia hardwoods explode in color, making the views even more beautiful. Our advice is to grab a cup of coffee and hit the trail early on weekends and during peak season.
2. Ravens Cliff Falls Trail is one of the most beautiful hiking trails in North Georgia. Located in the Chattahoochee National Forest, it boasts the Raven Cliff Falls, 400 feet of cascading water that slices a massive, towering cliff in half.
The 4.9-mile hike through the waterfall-filled valley begins at a gravel trailhead near Helen, Georgia. It gradually gains elevation along a short incline, levels at about .25 mile, and then descends toward Dodd Creek. The moss and wildflower-lined trail leads over the creek via a wooden bridge, through the hemlock forest, and over several small tributaries.
At the two-mile mark, the hike climbs as you quickly approach a blocky cliff. At the base, you’ll see the creek cascading through the walls of the fractured granite slab, creating the beautiful Ravens Cliff waterfall.
Generally, this hike is appropriate for all skill levels, although it gets slightly steeper at the end. There are lots of areas along the trail to rest, relax, and enjoy the scenery. It’s a popular destination too, so get an early start.
3. Sawnee Mountain Indian Seats Trail leads to the summit of Sawnee Mountain, one of the best views in North Georiga. It hikes over and around the sheer face of Sawnee Mountain, offering breathtaking long-range views of the distant Blue Ridge Mountains. The trail is part of the 5+ mile network of running, walking, and hiking trails at the Sawnee Mountain Preserve.
The hike begins at the park’s visitor center on Spot Road in Cumming. You’ll start on a short trail that quickly meets the Indian Seats Loop. Turn left, and the counterclockwise, gradually elevating trail will take you through 1.9 miles of evergreen and deciduous forest, swinging south of the mountain’s summit. It follows a well-marked and well-maintained side trail as it takes you past a gated gold mine entrance that’s carved into the rock outcrop at just over the 1-mile mark. At the summit, there are several natural depressions in the rock, which are said to have been used by local tribes as seats for meditation and lookout centuries ago.
The expansive views of the valley below are incredible, and the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains on the distant horizon is breathtaking. You can linger as long as you like and will often see people reading, writing, or enjoy the view.
Indian Seats is an easy, fun hike and just 40 miles north of Atlanta. It’s great for the entire family.
4. Panther Creek Falls is one of North Georgia’s favorite waterfall hikes. The 7-mile campsite-studded trail leads through the Chattahoochee National Forest, past several smaller cascading falls, to arrive at the famed Panther Creek Falls. This group of broad, multi-tiered waterfalls cascades into a deep pool on a sandy flat below, creating a view that can only be described as hypnotic.
The trail begins at Chattahoochee National Forest near Tallulah Gorge on the opposite side of Historic 441. It follows the waterway downstream and ventures deep into the forest. Once the trail crosses a small tributary creek at .5 mile, it begins to climb before it reaches a massive rock overhang. The hike crosses over a large wooden bridge at 1.5 miles. At the second bridge, the hike continues to climb along extremely narrow paths and includes some sudden, unexpected drops. You’ll scramble over some chiseled rock outcrops and a few more tributary crossings before you reach the Panther Creek Falls at 3.4 miles. At the base, large boulders line the sandy shoreline, which is an ideal spot for soaking up the beauty of the rushing water…and, of course, resting.
The trail is very popular with day hikers, backpackers, and campers, especially in the summer months when they can spend time relaxing on the warm, sandy beach. It will still be busy in the fall, especially when the leaves are changing, so plan ahead.