Georgia Trails: Hike the 7.2-Mile James E. Edmonds Backcountry Trail in Rabun County

Hike 7.2 miles (loop) on the moderate-to-strenuous James E. Edmonds Backcountry Trail in Rabun County, Georgia, to find good views, diverse flora, and primitive camping.

By Tim Homan

The beginning of this path makes an easy, then moderate, descent through a hardwood forest along the lower slopes of Black Rock Mountain. At 0.7 mile the treadway reaches the junction-marked by a double blaze-where its loop begins and ends. This description takes the advice of the sign and follows the loop to the right, counterclockwise. The trail continues easily uphill on an old road. At mile 1.1, where the road turns to the right, the loop turns left onto a path. After this change in direction, it drops sharply until it crosses a paved park road at mile 1.4. Orange paint on the road and a “Trail” sign on its other side clarify the route.

Across the pavement, the trail proceeds steadily downhill, passing through a hardwood cove before swinging parallel to Taylor Creek at mile 2.1. The loop ascends beside this lively, sliding stream before crossing it and a gravel road near Taylor Gap at mile 2.4. Here the path rises moderately by switchback for 0.5 mile to the top of Scruggs Knob. It then rides the ridge down the knob’s other side to mile 3.2, where it turns left onto an old road at Scruggs Gap. After following this nearly level walkway for 0.2 mile, the trail comes to an important junction. A sign marks the loop’s turn downhill and to the left onto another old road.

The road you were on before the junction continues straight ahead to an excellent view. Its moderate, upridge climb leads to a rock slab outcropping atop Lookoff Mountain, elevation 3,162 feet. The Little Tennessee River Valley is below; Smokehouse Knob is across the valley. Dillard and the US 441 corridor are to the right. The first backcountry campsite is located here at the overlook. (This blazed side trail to the overlook, 0.7 mile round-trip, is included in the 7.2 mileage given for this trail.)

After its left tum at the junction, the loop descends sharply, turns right onto another old road, then continues its descent along the lower slopes of Lookoff Mountain. At mile 5.2 the path crosses the gravel road again; 100 yards farther it crosses Taylor Creek again. Here the trail begins the ascent to the end of its loop at mile 6.5. The upgrade becomes progressively steeper after the Greasy Creek crossing at mile 6.1. (The second designated campsite is just beyond the Greasy Creek crossing.) The final 0.7 mile back up to the parking lot is the trail’s toughest climb.

Spring-blooming wildflowers are abundant along the backcountry trail. One of the wildflowers people most want to see-the pink lady’s slipper, or pink moccasin flower-is fairly common in Black Rock Mountain State Park. Look for colonies of these native, perennial orchids where the trailside forest is predominantly pine. These colonies should have individual plants in bloom from May 10 through May 25.

The pink lady’s slipper, which occurs occasionally on public land throughout the state’s mountain region, has been designated as “threatened” in Georgia. The plant received this listing because of exploitation – people picking them or digging them up. Please do not harm them; to do so is extremely selfish and against the law. These plants have a symbiotic relationship with mycorrhizal fungi. If you dig them up and take them away from their natural habitat, they will die. Fungi-independent varieties are commercially available. End of lecture. Enjoy their beauty.

Note: Camping on the Edmonds Backcountry Trail is allowed only at the two designated sites and only by reservation. This is strictly enforced. Once you have reserved a site, that site belongs to your party alone. There is a small fee per person per night. Before beginning your hike, check in at the visitor center to obtain a backcountry permit and a map, and to settle all other details.

Highlights

Mile 3.7: Lookoff Mountain overlook with a view of the Little Tennessee Valley.

Mile 6.1: Small cascade shortly after Greasy Creek crossing.

Directions

From Clayton, take us 441 North to Mountain City. In Mountain City, turn left onto Black Rock Mountain Road. A prominent sign marks the turn.

The Tennessee Rock Trail begins along the road that leads to the cottages. Two-tenths mile beyond the fork in the main park road (camping to the left, cottages to the right), turn right into the large day-use play area parking lot. There are signs for Tennessee Rock Trail and James E. Edmonds Backcountry Trail at the back of the gravel lot. The trail starts behind its sign at the back of the gravel lot.

Tim Homan

This hiking guide to the James E. Edmonds Backcountry Trail is adapted from The Hiking Trails of North Georgia by Tim Homan and is published in cooperation with the publisher Peachtree Publishers. With his meticulous attention to detail and accuracy, Homan has long been recognized as the authority on North Georgia hiking trail by serious hikers. His other books include Hiking Trails of Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock and Citico Creek Wilderness, Hiking the Shining Rock and Middle Prong Wilderness and others. For a complete inventory of his books see his Amazon Author Page.

For an inventory of Peachtree Publishers books including its Nature books for children, go to the Peachtree Publishers website.

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