Weekend Backpacker: Atlanta
Since Georgia is the largest state east of the Mississippi, you might assume that the state abounds with hiking opportunities. Sadly, you'd be wrong. While it's true that you can find dayhikes all over the state, backpacking, with a few exceptions, is limited to the North Georgia mountains. South of Atlanta, the land begins to fall away to the flat coastal plain in southeast Georgia and the rolling hills of southwest Georgia. But the end of the Blue Ridge in North Georgia offers an abundance of hikes for backpackers.
Lake Winfield Scott
Stretching across North Georgia, the Chattahoochee National Forest offers a multitude of recreational opportunities. The forest has more than 500 campsites, 400 miles of trails, 200 picnic tables, hundreds of miles of streams, and thousands of acres of lakes to fish.
Recommended trip: Lake Winfield Scott Recreation Area. Both the trails that lead away from this lake connect to the Appalachian Trail. The Jarrard Gap Trail heads 1.2 miles to the AT, while the Slaughter Creek Trail leads 2.7 miles to the AT a mile south of Blood Mountain. These two trails can be combined with a 2.1-mile section of the AT to form a six-mile loop hike that starts and ends at the lake. You can add two additional miles to the hike by climbing to the top of Blood Mountain (and back down again to Slaughter Gap) for a rewarding, but tough, eight-mile hike. Blood Mountain (elevation 4,458 feet) is one of the highest mountains in the state and boasts incredible vistas. Both trails pass through the Blood Mountain Wilderness.
Getting there: From Atlanta, take US 19 north from Interstate 285. Turn left on GA 180 just north of Neels Gap. It's about seven miles to the lake.
Permit information: You do not need a permit to hike or camp in the Chattahoochee, but you will have to pay a usage fee to park at the lake during the day or to camp at one of its 36 sites, which offer nearby flush toilets and showers. For more information, contact the Brasstown Ranger District at (706) 745-6928 in Blairsville, Georgia.
Maps: A map of the Chattahoochee National Forest is available from any district office, as well as at many outdoors stores in the Atlanta area.
Practical information: This is an easy-to-moderate hike; even the ascent of Blood Mountain is not too strenuous. This can be a low water area at times so make sure you carry enough for your needs or refill your canteens whenever possible. Boating and fishing are also available at Lake Winfield Scott.
Recommended guides: The Hiking Trails of North Georgia by Tim Homan (Peachtree) is an excellent reference for this hike and others in the Chattahoochee National Forest.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication