Blood Mountain to Cowrock Mountain: Backpacking the Appalachian Trail
Hike or backpack 13 miles on this Georgia stretch of the Appalachian Trail from Blood Mountain through Neels Gap to Wolf Laurel Top and Cowrock Mountain.
The Blood Mountain Wilderness is one of Georgia’s most popular destinations for outdoor adventure, offering awe-inspiring views from towering mountain summits and trails through beautiful Georgia forest dotted with rocky outcrops. This hike combines several of Blood Mountain’s most popular trails, trekking to the base of Blood Mountain on the Byron Reece Trail before hiking the Appalachian Trail eastbound through Neels Gap to stunning views from Cowrock Mountain.
This classic Georgia Appalachian Trail hike racks up 13 moderately difficult out-and-back trail miles and scales multiple view-packed mountain summits. It’s a fantastic, long day hike. And it’s an even better overnight backpacking trip, with many trailside camping options, including our favorite campsite at the Wolf Laurel Top summit. 13 miles not enough? Extend your backpacking journey and grab even more summit time on an optional three mile out-and back to the Blood Mountain summit.
The Hike: Blood Mountain to Cowrock Mountain
The hike begins at the Byron Reece trailhead (view trail maps & directions), following the blue-blazed trail through a creek-filled valley. The trail grabs elevation, ascending through a deciduous and rhododendron forest, following and crossing several small streams in a southwest-bound hike to the Appalachian Trail.
The Byron Reece Trail reaches the Appalachian Trail at .6 mile on Blood Mountain’s lower elevations at Flatrock Gap. From the junction, the hike turns left to trail eastbound toward Neels Gap, following the iconic, white rectangular blazes of the Appalachian Trail. (Or alternately, grab stunning views and visit the 1920s AT shelter at the Blood Mountain summit, turning right at Flatrock Gap to hike the Appalachian Trail westbound to Blood Mountain. This 1.5 mile out-and-back extension adds three miles to the total trip length, bagging 16 miles total.)
Departing the Byron Reece Trail at Flatrock Gap, the Appalachian Trail descends from Blood Mountain’s lower elevations eastbound toward Neels Gap. The hike passes a balanced stack of boulders on trail right at .75 mile.
The hike crosses the highway through Neels Gap at 1.6 miles, reaching the historic Walasi-Yi Center, now a AT hiking and backpacking outfitter, Mountain Crossings. Stop in to grab a Big Sur Bar before hiking the Appalachian Trail under a breezeway through the building.
The AT ascends steadily from the highway, leaving the buzz of civilization behind as it hikes eastbound towards Tesnatee Gap and enters the Raven Cliffs Wilderness. The trail continues its ascent, hiking through switchbacks and passing trailside campsites in a 700+ foot climb to Levelland Mountain. The AT crests at the Levelland Mountain summit at 3.15 miles, catching views of the nearby rolling summits.
The Appalachian Trail descends Levelland Mountain, switching back in a descent towards Swain Gap. The trail rolls elevation over Turkypen Mountain and Rock Spring Top, passing trailside campsites on both sides of the trail. The hike follows a rolling ridgeline under a shady forest canopy, passing through a grassy, fern- and wildflower-filled forest.
The trail begins a steady ascent to Wolf Laurel Top Mountain at 4.25 miles, reaching the Wolf Laurel Top summit at 5.1 miles. A side trail departs trail right, looping to a prime campsite at the mountain’s summit – one of our favorite on the Appalachian Trail in Georgia. The views from the Wolf Laurel Top campsite are stunning, especially at daybreak, when the sun rises from the far horizon in a stunning, colorful sunrise.
The hike departs Wolf Laurel Top, descending to Baggs Creek Gap at 5.75 miles. The AT departs the gap, grabbing elevation in a final climb to the Cowrock Mountain summit. The hike catches views from a rocky clearing alongside the Appalachian Trail at 6.2 miles before reaching the Cowrock summit at 6.5 miles.
The Cowrock Mountain summit offers stunning views of the surrounding mountainscape – notably more angular and pronounced than the rounded, rolling scene from Blood Mountain to the west.
From the summit, the Appalachian Trail hikes .85 miles to a paved trailhead at Tesnatee Gap. This hike turns from the Cowrock Mountain summit, retracing the Appalachian Trail westbound toward Neels Gap and Blood Mountain. The hike scales Wolf Laurel Top and Levelland Mountains before crossing Neels Gap to return to the Byron Reece Trail. The hike turns right on the Byron Reece Trail at Flatrock Gap, descending to the trailhead and completing the hike – or backpacking adventure – at 13 miles (or 16 miles, with the Blood Mountain summit extension).
Backpacking and Camping
This stretch of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia offers fantastic camping opportunities to backpackers willing to haul their gear over the hike’s many mountain ascents (free, first-come, first-camp). This hike’s prime campsite at the Wolf Laurel Top summit is our pick, and one of our favorite on the Appalachian Trial in Georgia. If that spot is taken, catch some dreams under the stars on the AT at one of the many other campsites on the trail – check out the trail map for campsite locations.
This hike treks both the Blood Mountain Wilderness and the Raven Cliff Wilderness. Both of these wilderness areas are heavily enjoyed by hikers and backpackers, and have seen increased black bear activity at campsites in recent years. Storing food in bear-resistant canisters is required March 1 – June 1, and strongly suggested year-round. And campfires are currently prohibited year-round in the Blood Mountain Wilderness.
34.741433, -83.922850 (N34 44.486 W83 55.371)
Blood Mountain Trail Driving Directions
Blood Mountain to Cowrock Mountain: Appalachian Trail Map
Blood Mountain to Cowrock Mountain via Neels Gap: Elevation Profile