Hike 5.6 miles on the moderately difficult Wagon Train Trail in Georgia’s Towns and Union counties to see the state’s highest mountain, scenic views, and wilderness.
By Tim Homan
Winding generally north and south, this trail follows the abandoned bed of an old road constructed to become Highway 66. This highway – routed from Highway 180 over the top of Brasstown Bald, then down to US 76 at Young Harris – was built using convict labor starting in the late 1930s. Now the old roadbed is a wide, easily walked trail through the Brasstown Wilderness. The grades, for the most part easy, are never more difficult than moderate, and remain so only for a short distance.
Ridge-crest and upper-slope trails usually offer good winter views. Bare-tree views last for half the year, even longer at the highest elevations, along North Georgia’s major ridge systems. Wagon Train, because of its location (Brasstown Bald), the width of its treadway, and the steepness of its slopes, affords excellent winter views. As you begin your hike uphill from Young Harris, you can soon see your destination, the end of the trail on Brasstown Bald, looming high and far above you.
Starting where the road is gated at the wilderness boundary (2,700 feet), the trail rises easily on a ridge crest through a somewhat scrubby oak-pine forest. After a short distance the treadway angles off the ridge top, slabs south around the highpoint of Granny Knob, then passes through the lower south side of Carrol Gap. The path gradually ascends as it winds around the steep upper slopes of Yewell Cove.
Here in this west-facing cove the trees are much larger than on the beginning ridge and are predominantly hardwood. Near the trail, you will occasionally see large old chestnut oaks, passed by during the logging days.
At mile 1.3 the route crosses over Double Knob Ridge at 3,200 feet. Beyond the ridge, the trail follows the 3,200-foot contour for nearly 1.0 mile before climbing to cross Buck Ridge at mile 3.2 and 3,840 feet. North and south of Buck Ridge, a western-running spur off Chimney Top, the treadway skirts the upper slopes of a large bowl-shaped valley open to the west. The uppermost feeder streams of Brasstown Creek flow out of Peabottom, Big Bald, and Little Bald Coves.
Beyond Buck Ridge the trail straightens and heads almost due south. At mile 4.1 the route crosses a gap (4,100 feet), then leaves the ridgetop as it slabs around the high point of Little Bald Mountain on the western slope. The remainder of the route crosses back over the ridge at mile 4.9 and gains elevation on the upper eastern slope. Beyond the gate continue straight ahead at the pet grave.
The forest changes as the trail gains elevation on or near Brasstown Bald’s north-facing ridge. Pines become scarce, then disappear altogether. Sweet birch, Carolina silver bell, and Fraser magnolia become increasingly common above 3,000 feet. At the trail’s upper elevation end there is an orchard-like forest dominated by oaks, yellow birch, and American beech. Rock outcrops and rock-face cuts are fairly common along much of the trail.
The trail’s upper elevation end (4,420 feet) is its junction with the short, paved Summit Trail. To the left and down it is 135 yards on the Summit Trail to the Brasstown Bald parking area.
Except for a short distance at its upper elevation end, the Wagon Train Trail is within the 12,975-acre Brasstown Wilderness.
Mile 1.0: Overlook into Yewell Cove and the town of Young Harris from the north side of Double Knob Ridge.
Mile 1.3: Winter view of Brasstown Bald and the high ridge leading west toward Chimney Top and Blue Bluff.
Mile 3.4: Winter views to the right of Brasstown Bald and the rhododendron slick on its northern slope.
Mile 4.4: Rock outcrop view open to the west affording views into the forested cove below, the fields near the community of Jacksonville, and Gumlog Mountain to the northwest. To the west is Locust Log Ridge rising to Chimneytop Mountain (southwest). This is the ridge-top route of the Arkaquah Trail leading to Brasstown Bald.
To the lower elevation trailhead at Young Harris: (The trailhead is reached by a rutted, littered, mile-long dirt road that should not be attempted by regular two-wheel-drive vehicles.) From the US 76-GA 75 junction, travel US 76 West approximately 11.0 miles to the traffic light in Young Harris (where GA 66 heads north). Continue on US 76 0.2 mile past the light, then turn left onto Bald Mountain Road immediately beyond Sharp Memorial United Methodist Church. Proceed 0.2 mile on Bald Mountain Road to the fork behind Appleby Center. The gated fork to the right, which immediately becomes a rough and rutted dirt-gravel road, is the 1.0-mile route to the trailhead. Young Harris College has recently installed this gate; it is sometimes closed.
From the US 76-US 129 junction in Blairsville, travel US 76 East approximately 8.5 miles to the right turn onto Bald Mountain Road just before Sharp Memorial United Methodist Church in Young Harris.
To the upper elevation end at Brasstown Bald: Traveling on US 19-129, turn on GA 180 East. Continue 7.5 miles and turn onto the approach road (GA 180 Spur) to Brasstown Bald. Follow the signs to the parking lot (small parking fee) and look for the beginning of Summit Trail between the concession building and the gift shop cabin. Walk the short, paved Summit Trail for 135 yards, then turn right onto the intersecting road. This road is the trail.
This hiking guide to the Wagon Train 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.