Hike GA’s Pigeon Mountain, Including the 1-Mile Rocktown and 9-Mile Pocket Trails

pigeon mountain hiking
Fantastic rock formations in Rocktown on Pigeon Mountain

Fantastic formations of the Rocktown environment on Pigeon Mountain in Northwest Georgia draw serious rock climbers as well as casual hikers to Pigeon Mountain hiking trails.

Pigeon Mountain and Lookout Mountain form a V, like the thumb and index finger of a person’s left hand held palm down, with Lookout being the index finger and Pigeon being the thumb. Nestled in the V shape is the Chickamauga Valley’s lovely McLemore Cove, a National Historic District. The northern tip of Pigeon Mountain lies about 3 miles west of LaFayette and stretches southwest for 10 miles, where it joins with Lookout Mountain. The mountain was named for the passenger pigeon, now extinct, which in the 1800s roosted there by the thousands. In the 1920s and 1930s some 30 families lived on Pigeon Mountain, working small farms and perhaps making moonshine liquor. Their names have stayed behind as part of the landscape, as in Rape Gap, Ellison’s Cave, and Pettijohn’s Cave. The 1930s saw a lowering of the water table on the mountain, causing all the wells to dry up and the families to abandon their homes. The water table has yet to return to its former level.

Map of Pigeon Mountain and Lookout Mountain

The locations of Pigeon Mountain Hiking Trails, the trailhead to Rocktown, Lookout Mountain, and McLemore Cove are shown on this Interactive Map.

This is an area with many natural features of exceptional value for wildlife, recreation, and historical, archeological, and educational purposes. For years it has been studied by scientists, who are still finding new and exciting plants, animals, and natural environments. Some 21 rare plants and several rare salamanders are found here. The area was leased by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources in 1969. Since that time, the state has purchased more than 13,000 acres of the mountain. The land is managed as the Crockford-Pigeon Mountain Wildlife Management Area, primarily for wildlife and the protection and enhancement of the mountain’s many natural features.

Activities: Pigeon Mountain Hiking Trails, caving, rock climbing, hang gliding, all-terrain bike riding, horseback riding, primitive camping, hunting, and fishing.

Caves of Pigeon Mountain

Like Lookout Mountain, Pigeon Mountain is laced with caves that wind all through the limestone rock. There are many cave entrances on the mountain, and it is an important location for cavers throughout the Southeast. Ellison’s Cave contains two exceptionally deep pits – Fantastic Pit at 586 feet and Incredible Dome Pit at 440 feet. About 13 miles of Ellison’s Cave have been explored and mapped. In fact, it is likely that Pigeon Mountain is a vast system of underground caverns and stream channels. Pettijohn’s Cave was first described in 1837. Approximately 6 miles of passageways in this cave have been mapped, and new passages are still being discovered. This cave has seen much more use than Ellison’s and has sustained more

damage to its mineral formations. It should be emphasized also that the underground can be an extremely dangerous area to explore for individuals unfamiliar with the skills required in caving. Caves should be explored only in the company of well-equipped, experienced cavers.

For more information: Because of the danger of caving and the fragile nature of caves, directions are not provided. For information on the sport of caving, contact the National Speleological Society, 2813 Cave Avenue, Huntsville, AL 35810-4431. Phone (205) 852-1300. Fax (205) 851-9241. E-mail nss@caves.org.

Pigeon Mountain Sites

  • WATERFALL BRANCH A small stream containing a scenic waterfall. Several rare plants have been recorded on the east-and northeast-facing slopes in the vicinity of this stream, including the hairy mock orange, hedge nettle, Alabama snow-wreath, wild hyacinth, nodding spurge, celandine poppy, and state-protected twinleaf.
  • BLUE HOLE This is a large spring located at the base of the eastern slope of Pigeon Mountain. The unusual bluish color of its waters, its constant 56-degree Fahrenheit temperature, and the fact that it represents a hydrological discharge of the extensive Ellison’s Cave system make this a significant feature. It is accessible by vehicle. No camping is allowed within 100 feet of the spring.
  • MCWHORTER GULF, DICKSON GULF, AND HARRISBURG GULF These gulfs contain the important and rare Pigeon Mountain salamander, a species known from only four sites, all located along the eastern slope of Pigeon Mountain. The green salamander has also been collected from this area. Collecting is prohibited except by specific permit.
  • SAGPONDS These are water-filled depressions formed when underlying limestone strata are dissolved by groundwater and “slumping” occurs. Many of these sagponds serve as important groundwater recharge areas, slowly adding water to underground reserves. Several natural sagponds are found atop Pigeon Mountain. Some of these have been valuable to scientists who drilled through deep layers of peat, which accumulates in sagponds, and found ancient pollen samples, which enabled documentation of the vegetation that covered the area during the Ice Age.

Pigeon Mountain Hiking Trails

ROCKTOWN TRAIL 1 mile one-way Pigeon Mountain Hiking Trail. Exploration of the massive boulders within the 150 acres of Rocktown can easily consume the better part of a day. The biggest mistake visitors can make is not to allow enough time to inspect this unusual site. Some of the boulders are as large as three-story office buildings; a narrow pedestal supporting a caprock resembles a 25-foot-tall champagne glass; and deep inside a narrow, dark crevice it is cool enough for hikers to see their breath even though the outside temperature may be close to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The reddish rocks of this ancient river delta that hikers see along the trail or imbedded in the sandstone formations of Rocktown are iron ore deposits. At one time there were 10 iron mines on the mountain. These deposits add a special visual interest to the Rocktown environment, because the softer sandstone erodes around them. Rocktown is easy to reach and would be a suitable hike for those of almost any age or physical condition. Children could, however, accidentally stray from the trail. The trail is marked with pink blazes.

Directions to this Pigeon Mountain Hiking Trail: From US 27 in LaFayette, go west 2.8 miles on GA 193 to Chamberlain Road; turn left and go 3.4 miles; turn right (marked by a wooden sign for Crockford-Pigeon Mountain WMA). Pass the Department of Natural Resources’ check station and continue straight on the gravel road. Where the road forks, 4.2 miles from the check station, continue on the right fork. Past some cleared fields on the left, there is a good gravel road to the left 1.3 miles after the fork. Turn left there and go .7 mile to a clearing near the trailhead.

THE POCKET TRAIL This Pigeon Mountain Hiking Trail is a loop trail about 9.5 miles long. This steep trail climbs Pigeon Mountain and follows the ridgeline for 2.3 miles. The view to the northwest looks down on McLemore Cove, a valley of farmland between Pigeon and Lookout mountains, and across to Lookout Mountain itself. Here the hiker has an excellent opportunity to observe and carefully climb on the unusual rock formations typical of this portion of the Cumberland Plateau. The fractured sandstone has been weathered and eroded over thousands of years into spires and teetering boulders that are most dramatic, particularly when perched – as many of them are – on the edge of the mountain. Several rare or uncommon plant species have been recorded here, making it one of the most remarkable botanical areas in northwest Georgia. There are at least 11 significant species, found almost nowhere else in Georgia, present in the small patch of mesic hardwood forest below the wet-weather falls. These include celandine poppy, Ohio buckeye, bent trillium, nodding spurge, lanceleaf trillium, wild hyacinth, log fern, harbinger of spring, Virginia bluebells, hairy mock orange, and blue ash. When the plants are in bloom, the forest below the waterfall near the start of the trail is truly remarkable, with some species occurring in quite thick beds. The rocky slopes above The Pocket contain an unusual open forest community dominated by red cedar and chinquapin oak. The forest also includes the smoketree, a rarity in Georgia. Hedge nettle, another new occurrence for the state, was first observed on slopes above the open meadow.

Directions to this Pigeon Mountain Hiking Trail: From LaFayette, take GA 193 west 8 miles to Davis Crossroads. Turn left on Hog Jowl Road and go about 2.7 miles. When the road forks, take the left fork and pass Mt. Hermon Baptist Church on the left. At the top of the hill, just past the church, a paved road turns left. Turn there and follow the road (it is paved only for about .5 mile) into The Pocket. The road winds 1.6 miles past several fields to a parking area at a gate. From there the trail continues up the narrow mountain track for .3 mile past falls on the right. In dry months the falls dries up completely. Just above the falls on the right is the beginning of the South Pocket Loop; straight ahead is the beginning of the North Pocket Loop. Begin the hike at either trailhead.

McLemore Cove in Chickamauga Valley

Before leaving this area, the reader may wish to visit nearby McLemore Cove, located in the Chickamauga Valley.

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