Welcome to Paria's “Hike of the Week” series. Each week, we hope to inspire you to get out there and explore the best hikes the planet has to offer. For us, just reading about a great trail is enough to make us want to go out there and see it for ourselves!
This week's highlight takes us to the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest in Georgia to the Bartram Trail.
Featured Photo: Rabun Bald (photo by Cody Wellons)
Why This Hike?
Named after the 18th-century botanist, William Bartram, this 115-mile long trail (which also travels through North Carolina) follows the path this pioneering naturalist took in the area in the 1770s. With plenty of picturesque waterfalls, creeks, knobs, and scenic gaps to please you along the way, you're sure to enjoy this secluded section of Georgia wilderness.
- The Georgia section of the Bartram Trail is 35-miles point-to-point
- Rated as moderate
- It is easier going from north to south. You will gain around 1,500ft in the first 4 miles to Rabun Bald, but you'll be hiking downhill after that with much smaller inclines along the way.
- Best time to go: Fall
- The trail is well-marked and dog-friendly.
- The Bartram Trail was previously “voted by readers of Backpacker Magazine to be the No.1 U.S. long-distance trail for solitude”.
- The Georgia section takes you from the state's second-highest point, Rabun Bald (4,700ft), down to the scenic Chattooga River.
- Campsites are plentiful along the route as well as seasonal water sources.
- The trail includes numerous streams and waterfalls, arguably the best of which are Becky Branch and Martin Creek Falls), rainforest-like woods, dells, and great lookout points over the southern Appalachians.
- The fire lookout tower on Rabun Bald can't be beat for really awesome views, plus there are plenty of campsites to choose from around the summit.
- Don't miss out on the 2-mile side trip to Pinnacle Knob and the 1/2-mile side trip to Dick's Creek Falls.
- Fun fact: When William Bartram traveled the area, he recorded over 100 previously undiscovered species of flora and fauna.
Before you pack your bags, keep the following in mind:
- You will need to arrange a shuttle for this hike. Fortunately, it is close to the Appalachian Trail, so you should be able to find one of their shuttle services to use. (Link in the “Resources” section.)
- Some water sources may be low or completely dry at certain times of year.
- Don't forget to pack your bear bag or canister!
How Do I Get There?
Asheville Regional Airport is the closest major airport to the northern trailhead. From there, turn right onto NC-280 W. Continue for 15.4 miles. Continue onto US-276 S/US-64 W, heading southwest for about 40 miles. After making a few short jogs right on Flat Mt. Road, left on Hicks Rd, and left onto Franklin Rd, turn right on NC-106 E and proceed 7.3 more miles. Turn left onto Hale Ridge Rd, making a slight left to stay on this road a little over 2 miles in, and continue another mile before reaching the trailhead parking area.
The following map outlines our recommended route. For more detailed mapping, including being able to print a copy for yourself, we recommend opening the map in CalTopo.
- Day 1-Hale Ridge Road to Rabun Bald (4 miles)
- Day 2-Rabun Bald to Martin Creek Falls (10.8 miles)
- Day 3-Martin Creek Falls to Dick's Creek (11 miles)
- Day 4-Dick's Creek to Russell Bridge Trailhead (9 miles)
Beginning from the Hale Ridge Road trailhead, you'll head downhill in a southwesterly direction. Enjoy the easy beginning as you pass over plenty of streams along the first couple of miles as well as the great views from the ridgetop. Begin your ascent (which can be described as more of a scramble) to Rabun Bald around 3 miles in. A mile later and you'll find the short spur trail that leads to the fire lookout tower atop the bald. Several campsites are in the area, including a platform on the tower itself, so take your pick for a picturesque evening on the mountain!
Once you pull yourself away from the amazing views from Rabun Bald, continue on your southwesterly course. Lots of ups and downs await you, but they are gradual enough to not feel too taxing. Needless to say, you'll pass over numerous knobs and through several gaps with Wilson Knob providing some of the best views along this section. If you have the time, don't miss out on the 2-mile side trip to Pinnacle Knob around the 13.5-mile point either. The closer you get to Warwoman Dell, the more waterfalls you'll hear (and perhaps explore?) in the area. After the somewhat steep descent from Courthouse Gap, you will again find several campsites near Martin Creek, so if the large one we've recommended here doesn't suit you, simply continue pass the lovely Martin Creek Falls to find even more near the slot canyon that follows.
Enjoy another one of the highlighted waterfalls of this hike, Becky Branch Falls, early on your third-day hike as you near Warwoman Dell. Take a food break at one of the picnic tables in the dell or near one of the smaller waterfalls. The trail levels out more past this point, which will be enjoyable after the steep switchbacks leading into the area. Traveling towards Dick's Creek will mostly take you through dense forest. Be sure to take the short side trail to Dick's Creek Falls, which tumbles an impressive 60ft into the Chattooga River, before you leave the nearby campsite for good.
If you're in no hurry to get back, you should be able to enjoy a leisurely pace for your last day. The 9 miles to the southern trailhead at Russell Bridge take you through gently rolling hills near the Chattooga River. You can extend your hike a bit by taking a side trail to Adeline Ford or continue on to the leveling terrain as you near Russell Bridge, ending your 35-mile journey through the scenic southern Appalachian Mountains of Georgia.
What Will I Need?
Spring and fall are the best time to hike the Bartram Trail to avoid the summer humidity and rainy winter. Average highs range between 55 and 87°F and average lows from 33 to 64°F during these seasons. With that being said, you may want to take a sleeping bag with a comfort rating down to at least 30°F (if not lower) during the colder times and a lightweight, summer bag during the warmer months. Of course, your sleep system works even better when you have a quality sleeping pad to help insulate you from the ground as well.
The ultralight and airy Breeze Mesh Bivy is the perfect shelter for the warm, humid summers on the Bartram Trail.
Although there are plenty of seasonal water sources, as we've mentioned, it's still always wise to have a water filter of some kind on hand, whether it be the compact straw-like filters or larger, hanging gravity filters.
Although the hike itself is rated between easy and moderate, you may still want to take trekking poles to rig your mesh tent at night.
For a comprehensive list of items to pack on your trip, check out our Ultimate Backpacker's Packing List, complete with a free, printable checklist!
Do I Need a Permit?
No backcountry permits or campsite reservations are required.
If you're looking for some wooded seclusion and beautiful scenery, you can't beat the Bartram Trail in the southeast U.S. Have you done this trail or any other lesser-known long-distance trails in the area? We'd love to hear about them in the comments!