Hike 0.5 miles on the moderately difficult Summit Trail in Georgia’s Towns and Union Counties to see Georgia’s highest mountain, scenic views, and interpretive signs.
By Tim Homan
Paved and usually sign-posted, this trail originates between the concession building and the Chattahoochee-Oconee Heritage Association’s gift shop cabin. The walkway climbs the final 424 feet to the top of Georgia’s highest mountain. Perched on the crown at 4,784 feet is the Brasstown Bald Visitor Information Center with an observation tower affording an outstanding 360-degree view of nearby mountains such as Blood, Slaughter, and Yonah.
The name Brasstown Bald comes from the confusion of the Cherokee word itse-yi meaning “new green place” with the word untsaiyi meaning “brass.” A bald is a mountaintop that uncharacteristically lacks the trees of most of our Southern Appalachian mountains. In some instances balds were created when mountaintops were cleared and used as pasture; sometimes the balds occur naturally. Brasstown is not a natural bald.
Mountain laurel, Catawba and rosebay rhododendron, eastern hemlock, and stunted, wind-swept oaks make up the bulk of trees and shrubs along the trail. The Chattahoochee-Oconee Heritage Association has placed interpretive signs along the trail. In late May and early June, the Catawba rhododendron blooms on the upper slopes of Brasstown Bald, primarily above 4,000 feet.
Bird-watching is usually good in the area around and above the parking lot at the bald. There are two main reasons. The first is simple: the birds are easy to see. As the elevation climbs above 4,000 feet on the high mountaintops across North Georgia, the trees, mostly oaks, are increasingly shorter and lower-branched. So even if a bird is singing from the uppermost canopy, it is still often only 10 to 15 feet above your binoculars.
The second reason is more complex. The summer ranges of many songbirds finger down the cool Southern Appalachians only as far south as the mountains of northernmost Georgia. And even within the mountain region, there are birds (such as the Canada warbler, the veery, the dark-eyed junco, and the common raven) that require habitats at the very highest elevations. These disjunct habitats are found only on the upper slopes and tops of North Georgia’s highest mountains. Two of our most brightly colored high-country birds – the chestnut-sided warbler and the rose-breasted grosbeak – are often seen on Brasstown Bald in June.
Mile 0.5: From the top of the observation tower there is a 360-degree view. On clear days you can see into four states and as far south as Atlanta. The bald, at 4,784 feet above sea level, is Georgia’s highest peak.
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 trailhead is located between the concession building and the Chattahoochee-Oconee Heritage Association’s gift shop cabin.
This hiking guide to the Summit 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.