Hike the moderate-to-strenuous 6.2-mile Hemp Top Trail in the Cohutta Mountains of Fannin County, Georgia, and Polk County, Tennessee, to see wilderness, Big Frog Mountain, and good winter views.
By Tim Homan
This trail and the mountain it climbs over are named for a local crop that was once important for both the Cherokee and European settlers. Cherokee women wove their hemp into rope, fishnets, and cloth. Hemp, the kind made into rope, was listed as one of Fannin County’s major cash crops in 1860.
Hemp Top is primarily an upper slope and ridge trail, which makes it a good winter view walk. The old Hemp Top, which was 2.1 miles long, began at the former trailhead atop Hemp Top Mountain. The Georgia Wilderness Bill of 1986 added 2,940 acres to the Cohutta Wilderness, all within the Chattahoochee National Forest. This addition extended the Cohutta to the northeast, from Dally Gap along FS 22 to the Tennessee line. The new Hemp Top Trail’s first 4.1 miles follow the wide, level treadway and easy grades of former FS 73, from Dally Gap to Hemp Top.
Beyond the Penitentiary Branch junction, Hemp Top becomes the least traveled trail in the Cohutta Wilderness. Walked alone during the week, Hemp Top’s woods can become big and lonely. Bear and boar spoor are common.
Starting at Dally Gap (2,578 feet), Hemp Top heads north through a second-growth oak-pine forest along the Blue Ridge and the Tennessee Valley Divide. Section 10 of the Benton MacKaye Trail, marked with white diamonds, ties into Hemp Top at 0.9 mile. The two trails share the same treadway to Big Frog Mountain in Tennessee. Hemp Top continues to gain elevation on easy grades to its signed junction with Penitentiary Branch Trail, which drops down and to the left, at mile 2.3.
The forest becomes increasingly hardwood, dominated by the oaks as usual, as the trail gains elevation. Shagbark hickories are relatively common here. At mile 4.1 the route arrives at the former trailhead and former fire tower site – the crown of Hemp Top Mountain (3,580 feet). Atop the mountain the trail turns left and down onto a path that quickly descends to an old woods road. Except for three uphill grades along the way – two short and easy, the other longer and moderate – the treadway steadily descends to Double Spring Gap (3,220 feet) at mile 5.4.
Double Spring Gap is located at the intersection of an east-west running political boundary and a north-south running geographical boundary. The political border separates states, national forests, counties, and wildernesses. The geographical boundary is the Tennessee Valley Divide, which separates major watersheds.
Less than 100 yards above Double Spring Gap, a sign welcomes you to Tennessee and the Cherokee National Forest. Beyond that sign, Hemp Top serves as the boundary between Tennessee’s 8,082-acre Big Frog Wilderness on the right and the Cohutta Wilderness on the left. It is also beyond that sign that Hemp Top begins its strenuous, uninterrupted climb up Big Frog Mountain. There are no switchbacks to decrease exertion; the old road ascends straight up – and up.
Hemp Top meets Licklog Trail (4,040 feet) at a right angle along the Cohutta-Big Frog Wilderness boundary. If you turn left (northwest) onto Licklog Trail toward the high point of Big Frog Mountain, you will come to a seasonal spring after 0.4 mile. Licklog Trail ends at its junction with Wolf Ridge and Big Frog Trails atop Big Frog Mountain (4,200 feet) slightly more than 0.1 mile beyond the spring.
- Throughout: Winter views.
- Mile 6.2: Big Frog Mountain, the highest peak (4,200 feet) in the combined Cohutta-Big Frog Wilderness.
- Mile 6.2: Dark orange-red flame azalea display that peaks in June atop Big Frog Mountain.
From the US 76-GA 5 intersection just north of Blue Ridge, travel north on GA 5 toward McCaysville for 3.7 miles. Turn left onto Old GA 2 at the “Old State Route 2” sign and small Watson Gap sign. Continue on this road for approximately 10.5 miles (the pavement ends at mile 9.0) to the major Forest Service intersection at Watson Gap. Turn hard right at the gap onto FS 22 (one lane) and drive approximately 3.6 miles to the trailhead at Dally Gap. Standing in the gap, Hemp Top Trail is up and to the right, behind its locked gate and sign. (Jacks River Trail is down and to the left.)
This hiking guide to the Hemp Top 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.