Hike 5.6 miles on the moderate-to-strenuous Arkaquah Trail in Union County, Georgia, to see wilderness, Georgia’s highest mountain, excellent late spring wildflower displays and good views.
By Tim Homan
This steep mountain trail through the Brasstown Wilderness features a point of interest at each end-Brasstown Bald at the eastern trailhead and Track Rock Gap Archeological Area at the western one. Since the trail is accessible by road at either end, you can choose to walk the trail uphill or downhill according to your physical condition. Walk down from Brasstown Bald for a moderate day hike, or climb from the Track Rock Gap trailhead for a workout. If you take the uphill route, you’ll gain 2,504 feet in elevation from the gap to the summit of Brasstown Bald, which requires an extra 0.5 mile hike from the Brasstown Bald parking lot. The elevation change from gap to bald is greater than that of any other trail or combination of trails of equal or shorter length in North Georgia. Either way, during cool weather, you’ll want to be prepared for strong winds on the trail’s unprotected ridges.
The lower elevation end of this trail has been rerouted in the past and, according to the Forest Service, will likely be rerouted again soon. Starting from Track Rock Gap (2,280 feet), the trail ascends easily on an old roadbed through a largely deciduous forest. The grades become increasingly sharp as the treadway makes switchbacks up the mountainside until it curls onto Buzzard Roost Ridge at mile 1.7. Often open, narrow, and dotted with boulders, the ridge is especially beautiful in late spring when Catawba rhododendron, flame azalea, and mountain laurel bloom, frequently at least two of them flowering side by side.
The path remains atop the ridge for the next 1.6 miles. This segment of the ridge crest is a series of waves and troughs. After the first uphill stretch, the path is level or descending for nearly 0.2 mile. At mile 2.3, you ascend Locust Log Ridge, alternating switchbacks with level passages. The pattern repeats itself until mile 3.0, where you climb steadily along easy-to-moderate grades to Blue Bluff Overlook.
At mile 3.3 the trail slants off the ridge top and winds below its crest through an area of rock outcrops and moist, fern-draped slopes. Look for splotches of yellow lichen that decorate the eaves of the tallest outcrop,
The hard hiking is over once the path regains the ridge top at mile 3.5. For most of the next mile the trail rises to the crest of Chimneytop Mountain-actually just a named high point on the ridge. The remainder of the trail, following the short descent from Chimney top, is predominantly easy uphill or level to its end at the Brasstown Bald parking area (4,360 feet). The footpath’s uppermost elevations are dominated by heath thickets and almost pure stands of short, low-branching oaks.
Brasstown Bald’s uppermost elevations provide habitat for at least two tree species-yellow birch and American mountain ash-that are much more abundant in states further north. These two trees are at the southern limit of their range on the highest peaks in northernmost Georgia.
Arkaquah is an excellent trail for springtime botanizing. Fertile soil and abundant rainfall support a rich variety of wildflowers and shrubs. In May, wildflowers, including four trillium and two orchid species, are numerous.
With the exception of approximately 0.1 mile at either end, the Arkaquah Trail traverses the 12,975-acre Brasstown Wilderness.
Near the lower elevation trailhead: One-tenth mile from the Arkaquah trailhead (but not on the trail) is the Track Rock Gap Archaeological Area. This area consists of three large micaceous soapstone boulders inscribed with ancient drawings-petroglyphs-suggesting bird and animal tracks. Though obscured by weathering and protected by a metal cage, they have given this gap its name and can still be discerned. The Cherokee also recognized their import, calling the gap degayelunha-« “printed (or branded) place. II
Mile 3.1: Blue Bluff Overlook
Mile 4.1: Chimneytop Mountain, elevation 4,296 feet, provides winter views. To the north, you can see Peppercorn Cove, the location of the Jacksonville and Young Harris communities; the southwest vista encompasses Rocky Knob.
Mile 5.6: Brasstown Bald-Georgia’s highest point at 4,784 feet offers a 360-degree view from the observation platform. You’ll have to walk an extra 0.5 mile from the trail’s end to reach the summit.
To the upper elevation, Brasstown Bald trailhead: The Brasstown Bald approach road, GA 180 Spur, heads north from GA 180. This spur is located on the segment of GA 180 between its junction with GA 75 to the east and its junction with US 19-129 to the west.
From its US 19-129 junction, travel GA 180 East 7.5 miles to GA 180 Spur (or from its GA 75 junction, travel GA 180 West 5.0 miles to the approach road). Follow the signs to the Brasstown Bald parking lot.
The Brasstown Bald Visitor Information Center is open seasonally; a small parking fee is charged at the large Brasstown Bald lot. The steep GA 180 Spur is closed during bad winter weather.
The sign-posted path enters the forest to the left of the paved walkway leading to the restrooms, which are near the concession building.
To the lower elevation, Track Rock Gap trailhead: Take US 19-129 North slightly more than 2.5 miles past Vogel State Park, then turn right onto GA 180 East toward Brasstown Bald. Continue on GA 180 for approximately 2.5 miles before turning left onto Town Creek School Road at the sign for Track Rock Gap Archeological Area. Proceed approximately 5.3 miles on this paved road to a church and cemetery on the left, then turn right onto Track Rock Gap Road.
Travel approximately 3.8 miles to the parking area on the left side of the road. The trailhead is 35 yards beyond and across the road from the parking area. The “track rocks” are just beyond the parking area, farther up the hill.
This hiking guide to the Arkaquah 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.