5 Georgia Hikes With Great Views

As the summer creeps on and the heat sets in, I like to gain some elevation or hike a canyon rim where I might catch a breeze. Following are five Georgia trails where you can enjoy spectacular views of canyons, cityscapes, waterfalls and rolling ridges.

Cloudland-001

Cloudland Canyon State Park: Overlook and West Rim Trails (about 5 miles)

A thousand feet deep, Cloudland Canyon is a truly impressive gorge with great walls of vertical rock and a floor of lively streams and high waterfalls. While I love the trails that lead to waterfalls in the canyon, equally impressive is the West Rim Loop Trail, which hugs the lip of the gorge. At times the path crosses wide rock outcrops free of any railings, and you can enjoy stunning views of cliffs opposite the gaping canyon. One of my favorite spots is a little rock outcrop that lies several yards away from trail where you can sit on the white stone and have a completely unobstructed view looking north down the canyon. Farther down, another overlook lies to the right, down a steep, rooted slope. Here you are closer to the northern end of the canyon and Lookout Valley, and the broad sweep and scope of the scene below is reminiscent of a western U.S. landscape.

Getting there

From Atlanta take Interstate 75 north to Tennessee and merge onto Interstate 24 west at Exit 2, going toward Chattanooga/Nashville. Travel 17.1 miles and take Interstate 59 south at Exit 167. Travel south on I-59 8.3 miles and take Exit 11 for GA Highway 136, toward Trenton. Turn right onto GA 136 and travel east. Go 4.3 miles and turn into the Cloudland Canyon State Park entrance on the left. Travel 0.1 mile and bear right after the guard shack to go to the ranger station. Or, proceed past the guard shack and go 1.3 miles to the day-use parking lot on the right. From the parking lot, facing the canyon, the trailhead is to the left of the main canyon overlook. For information, visit www.gastateparks.org/CloudlandCanyon


Ft. Mountain-001

Fort Mountain State Park: Stone Wall, Tower, & West Overlook Trails (1.6 miles)

It’s quite the mystery. Archaeologists and historians aren’t really sure who built the curious stone wall that sits atop Fort Mountain, a towering peak in the southern Appalachians. This series of short paths on the crest of Stone Mountain takes you to the ancient stone wall, the impressive West Overlook, and a stone observation tower built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. If you’re looking for a great lunch spot, I’d recommend the West Overlook, where a platform boasts a remarkable, sweeping view of the north Georgia mountains where a succession of ridges and valleys extend to the horizon.

Getting there

From Atlanta take Interstate 75 north to Interstate 575. Take I-575 to GA Highway 5 north and continue to East Ellijay. Turn left on U.S. Highway 76/GA Highway 2, go 0.1 mile and turn left onto GA 2/52. Go 0.9 mile to a roundabout, and take the second exit onto GA 2/52. Travel west on GA 2/52 17.3 miles to the entrance for Fort Mountain State Park on the right. Take the park road north toward the “Old Fort” area, and continue to the loop road at the Old Fort Picnic Area. For information, visit gastateparks.org/FortMountain


Tallulah-001

Tallulah Gorge State Park: North Rim, Hurricane Falls, & South Rim Trails (2.1 miles)

Two miles long and almost 1000 feet deep, Tallulah Gorge is one of the most fantastic natural features in the Southeast. It has attracted visitors since the 1800s, when settlers would venture to see its steep granite walls and spectacular waterfalls, one plunging nearly 100 feet. Beginning of the North Rim Trail, you have views of Oceana Falls and Bridal Veil Falls to the southeast as well as L’Eau d’Or (French for “water of gold”) Falls to the northwest. Depending on your physical fitness, you have some options to reach the South Rim Trail. For an easy walk, go west and cross the dam to access the South Rim Trail. Or, if you’re in good shape, descend the Hurricane Falls staircase and cross the suspension bridge. The Hurricane Falls Trail then climbs steeply to the South Rim. Walking along the edge of this side of the canyon you can see the beautiful Hawthorne Pool, Hurricane Falls, Tempesta Falls, Oceana Falls, and the Caledonia Cascade. Signs along the way point out exactly what you’re viewing, and the many overlook points are marked and numbered on the park trail map.

Getting there

From Atlanta take Interstate 85 north to Interstate 985. Continue on I-985 to the junction with U.S. Highway 23/441. Take U.S. 23/441 north to Tallulah Falls. Pass over the dam, and when the road bends to the right, look for the park entrance on the right. Take Jane Hurt Yarn Drive to the Interpretive Center. For information, visit gastateparks.org/TallulahGorge


Yonah

Yonah Mountain (4.2 miles)

Near the center of White Country lies massive Yonah Mountain, a 3,156-foot peak with a great brow of exposed granite stretching across its upper face. That sea of granite has made climbing the primary activity on Yonah, though improved access has attracted more hikers. A unique aspect of Yonah is that it serves as a training site for the U.S. Army Ranger 5th Battalion. The Mountain Phase of Ranger School includes climbing instruction, so the rangers have established bolted routes that are ideal for beginner or intermediate climbers and are open to the public when not in use by the school. Less than a mile in, a grassy clearing offers views of a placid valley, and higher on the mountain, exposed granite faces make a great perch to look out over rolling forested ridges and the lowlands to the south.

Getting there

From Atlanta take Interstate 85 north to Interstate 985. Take I-985 to Exit 24 for GA Highway 369. Turn left onto GA 369 west, go 0.6 mile, and turn right onto U.S. Highway 129 north. Take U.S. 129 to Cleveland. From the town square in Cleveland go 0.4 mile and turn right onto GA Highway 75. Travel 3.6 miles on GA 75 and turn right on Tom Bell Road. Go 0.1 mile on Tom Bell Road and turn left onto Chambers Road. Travel 0.8 mile on Chambers Road and turn left onto a gravel road. Travel 0.4 mile to the parking area.


Lookoff Mtn.2-002

Black Rock Mountain State Park: James E. Edmonds Backcountry Trail (7.2 miles)

Sitting at an altitude of 3,640 feet, Black Rock Mountain State Park is the highest state park in Georgia. And its premier path, the James E. Edmonds Backcountry Trail, provides awesome views of the Appalachian Mountains. The must-see spot along the trail is the summit of Lookoff Mountain (3,162 feet) where you can gaze across the pastoral Wolffork Valley to ridges that run for dozens of miles. Suitable for a day hike or an overnight backpacking trip, the trail not only has lofty views but also explores a rich forest that blossoms into a wildflower garden in spring, from bright orange flame azaleas to dwarf irises that form purple bouquets beside the path.

Getting there

From Atlanta take Interstate 85 north to Interstate 985 toward Gainesville. Take I-985 to GA Highway 365, north and travel north to where GA 365 connects with U.S. Highway 32/U.S. Highway 441. Take U.S. 441 north to Mountain City, follow signs to Black Rock Mountain Parkway, and turn left onto Black Rock Mountain Parkway. Go approximately 2.5 miles to reach the trailhead parking on the right at a horseshoe bend in the road. Continue on the road to reach the park office. For information, visit gastateparks.org/BlackRockMountain


Kennesaw View

Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park (2 miles)

In June 1864, Confederate and Union soldiers clashed at Kennesaw Mountain as General William T. Sherman tried to flank the Confederate line and capture the Western and Atlanta Railroad, a critical supply line in Marietta. On this 2,888-acre battlefield there are more than 17 miles of trails, but you can access great views with a short 1-mile hike up Kennesaw Mountain. From the south side of the visitors center, a wide dirt path winds up the mountain, and about a half mile up you can sit in shade on a bench and enjoy a clear view of Atlanta on the horizon. For a broader and more impressive view, continue to the parking lot and overlook at 0.8 miles. If you cross the parking area, you can walk up to a second, higher overlook, and then take an asphalt path to the crest of the mountain. At an elevation of 1,808 feet there are cannons, plus interpretive signs explaining the fall of Atlanta in the war.

Getting there

From Atlanta take Interstate 75 to Exit 269 (Barrett Parkway), and at the light go west onto Barrett Parkway. Go 3 miles and turn left onto Old Highway 41. At the next light turn right onto Stilesboro Road. The visitors center is on the left. For information, visit www.nps.gov/kemo/index.htm

You’ll find more great Georgia Trails in my book Afoot & Afield: Atlanta

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