Hike 4.1 miles on the easy-to-moderate Broad River Trail in Stephens County, Georgia, to see stream and forest.
By Tim Homan
Originally built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1939, the Broad River Trail was reopened by the Youth Conservation Corps in 1980. It is located in the middle of the Lake Russell Wildlife Management Area and exemplifies the rolling topography of the upper Piedmont.
This trail has either-end access on Guard Camp Road. Once the trail begins to follow the Middle Fork of the Broad River downstream, its general direction of travel is north to south. Although it is not difficult to walk in either direction, the trail is noticeably easier from north to south, downstream and downhill.
The first mile of the path parallels Dicks Creek – quick and clear, and cascading like a mountain stream – before it meanders through the coves and hillsides along the Middle Fork of the Broad River. The canopy of mixed, mature hardwoods near the river thins out on the hillsides, giving way just out of sight to stands of eastern white pine. The trail, river corridor, and coves remain a ribbon of wildness in the midst of managed forest.
Fairly level throughout, the trail’s elevation ranges between 920 and 1,200 feet. Covered in mountain laurel, the river bank is beautiful in May when the clusters of tiny cup-shaped pink and white blooms open. After the first 1.4 miles, the treadway climbs away from the river, traversing hardwood coves dominated by oaks – chestnut, white, black, southern and northern red – as well as tuliptree, blackgum, red maple, sweetgum, and pignut hickory. Along the trail, you’ll also see sassafras. You can identify this tree by its four distinct leaf shapes (the left-handed mitten, the right-handed mitten, the turkey foot, and the unlobed blade); the leaves turn bright red, yellow, or orange in the fall. Mature American beeches occupy the crotches of seeps, which are easy to walk across or are spanned by foot logs and bridges.
In early fall black-eyed Susans and other members of the aster family, purple lobelia, and strawberry bush add color to the hike. Also called hearts-a-bustin’, strawberry bush is a shrub whose inconspicuous greenish-purple flowers bloom in April and May. But the species is known for its rough-surfaced, crimson, half-inch fruit that opens in late September and October to display shiny orange-red seeds pendant between each of the three to five lobes. Partridgeberry and spotted wintergreen are also common on the forest floor along the trail, as is little brown jug, or heart-leaf, whose small, jug-like calyxes appear under thick, arrow-shaped leaves in April and May.
Mile 0.6: Waterfall on Dicks Creek. The creek drops 10 feet through a narrow crevice then spreads over sandstone shelves forming a cascade. Mile 1.0: Flat rock shoals spanning the 30-foot Broad River just below its confluence with Dicks Creek.
Travel US 441-GA 365 North from Cornelia. Approximately 4.5 miles beyond where GA 365 ties into US 441, turn right at the Clarkesville exit (GA 197). At the stop sign turn right onto Old Highway 197. Continue approximately 2.5 miles on Old Highway 197, then turn left onto Dicks Hill Parkway toward Toccoa. Proceed slightly more than 8.5 miles (pass the first Ayersville Road and Fern Springs Picnic Area) before turning right onto Ayersville Road at the Milliken and Patterson industrial signs.
After turning onto Ayersville Road, continue 0.8 mile, then turn left onto FS 87, Guard Camp Road. If you want to hike north to south (upstream to downstream), travel 2.2 miles from the turnoff at Ayersville Road. The trailhead is on your right. Look for a big brown trail sign about 50 feet down the road bank. You will know you’re getting close to the trailhead at mile 2.1 when you pass over a culvert marked with reflectors. Drive 0.1 mile beyond the culvert then look for the northern trailhead on foot.
To reach the southern trailhead, continue on FS 87 another 3.0 miles.
It is located 0.1 mile past a single-lane bridge and just before FS 92 forks off FS 87. This trailhead is also marked with a big sign, located about 80 feet off the right side of the road. The trail begins at a sturdy wooden bridge spanning Kimbell Creek.
Guard Camp Road is the only Lake Russell Wildlife Management Area access that remains open throughout the year. However, this dirt and gravel road is subject to closure during and after bad winter weather.
This hiking guide to the Broad River 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.