Brasstown Bald and Wilderness Area, located in the heart of North Georgia’s mountainous Chattahoochee National Forest is the highest mountain range point in North Georgia, and considered a virtual stairway to the heavens for visitors to the high country. Its mountain summit reaches 4,784-feet above sea level with breathtaking vistas reaching into the four states of the southern Blue Ridge Mountains. What’s exceptional about this site is that it is accessible by a paved roadway to the top.
Located next to the Visitors’ Center near the summit of Brasstown Bald is a large paved parking area. The Visitors Center access to the summit is by way of a steep roughly half-mile trailhead that follows through a thick forest containing mountain laurels, rhododendrons, seasonal wildflowers and dwarfed trees. Also conveniently located near the summit’s trailhead is a shuttle bus that will take visitors to the top viewing area and return trip for a modest fee. Shuttle service is available daily from Memorial Day to the end of October.
Located along Towns County’s western border and surrounded by the 12,975-acre Brasstown Bald Wilderness, Brasstown Bald is considered the crown jewel of North Georgia’s mountaintops. Balds exist mainly on the tallest mountaintops of the Blue Ridge Smoky Mountains and are mostly void of any tall trees. These balds are normally covered in low shrubs, dwarf trees or tall grasses and are considered a mystery in their making. Both geologist and Cherokee folklore have their own separate ideas regarding the characteristics of balds and how they were formed.
On a clear day from its circular 360-degree stone observation deck at the mountain summit, visitors can gaze upon Georgia’s mountainous high country and the neighboring mountains along the Eastern Tennessee border to the west and eastward into the distance-mountains of Up Country South Carolina. To the north, stand the towering mountains of Western North Carolina lining the northern horizon and the northern shoreline of Lake Chatuge in the valley below. Standing watch over the observation deck is an old circular wooden fire-lookout-tower that adds a personal sense of character to the balds’ summit; this structure is closed to the public.
Also located along the observation deck is a must see museum with excellent exhibits displaying the lives of early settlers, a narrow gage locomotive, Native American cultural legends and myths along with displays of local wildlife. There is also a small theater featuring a film of the natural geological history of this local mountainous region.
Other features located near the Visitor Center are three hiking trails plus the trail that leads to the summit, a nearby boulder field surrounding most of the bald that is accessible from the trails, and a flourishing amount of mountain laurels and rhododendrons that are native to these mountains.
On occasions, the Visitor Center host special events that are quite an experience to enjoy since these festivities take place on an actual mountaintop. Information for these past and future events can be obtained at the local forest rangers district office.
There’s two ways one can reach the upper summit of Brasstown Bald, you can either take a comfortable shuttle trip to the top when the shuttle is operating from Memorial Day thru the end of October, or you can hike the better than half-mile trail to the top. The shuttle trip does require a modest fee.
Accessible from the summit parking area at Brasstown Bald, this 5.6-mile trail follows along a wide path that was originally intended to be a part of GA 66. The trail is a little tricky to find, to reach the trailhead hikers will need to follow the Brasstown Bald Summit Trail for about 100-yards. The Wagon Train Trail is located on the right marked by a plaque.
The stress rating for this trail is moderate to strenuous depending on if your going up or down the mountain. The trail either finishes or begins in the valley below just 2 miles south of the town of Young Harris GA.
Even though the trail offers a grade suitable for a roadway I would recommend hiking the trail from top to bottom for a more enjoyable experience providing you have an extra vehicle waiting for you at the trails end. The trail offers great views especially in early spring or late autumn when views are less obstructed by leaves. The trail also follows past cliff formations and through upper boulder fields featuring rock tripe, lichens, club moss, reindeer moss and old man’s beard.
Season wildflowers such as mountain buttercups, white and purple violets and four varieties of trillium to mention just a few, line the forest trail.
The Wagon Train Trail was originally used for excursions by residents from the valley below to the mountain summit; it was a means of holding onto the past for the hardy descendents of the mountain pioneers. This quest to the mountaintop offered a sense of community spirit that stills echoes along the trail.
This 5.5-mile trail descends westward along a ridge top to the valley below and is either accessible from the back end of the summit parking area atop Brasstown Bald, or across the road from the Track Rock Archeological Area along Track Rock Road just off US 76 in the valley below.
Hikers along the trail will pass through a northern hardwood forest while viewing scenic outbreaks through the trees, wildflowers and various herbs on their way to the Blue Bluff Overlook.
Along the way hikers will pass Chimney Top Mountain and be able to view Rocky Knob to the south. The stress rating for the trail is moderate to strenuous and not recommend for casual hikers. For most hikers that choose to take on the trail, I personally recommend the descent from the Brasstown Bald mountaintop parking area to the Track Rock Valley below providing you have someone pick you up at the bottom of the trail or drop you off at the top of the trail, or have a parked vehicle awaiting you for your return trip.
The GPS location to the trailhead on this App is at the top of Brasstown Bald parking area near the Visitors Center.
This 4.5-mile trail is accessible from Brasstown Bald parking area at the top of the mountain or at the entrance to the Brasstown Bald Wilderness Area next to GA180.
The trip up to the top from the lower entrance is only half the distance since the trail crosses GA180 before continuing on to where it connects to the Appalachian Trail. The upper trailhead is located directly across the parking area from the Welcome Center Cabin as you enter the parking area. The ideal hike would be to bring two vehicles leaving one at the entrance parking area and begin your journey from the top down.
Jack’s Knob Trail was originally constructed in the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, and then reconstructed by the Chattahoochee Forest Service in the 1980’s. The trail is rated moderate to strenuous as it follows southward along a ridgeline dividing the boundary between Towns and Union County. The trail continues along the ridge just west of and parallel to the ascending paved roadway to the summit of Brasstown Bald. The trail crosses GA 180 at Jack’s Gap then continues on to the Chattahoochee Gap where it accesses the Appalachian Trail.