Appalachian Trail: Hightower Gap to Cooper Gap
Hike this 7 mile day hike on the Appalachian Trail in Georgia, rolling elevation from Hightower Gap to Horse Gap, over Sassafrass Mountain and down to Cooper Gap.
Okay, so why bother? While this AT stretch from Hightower Gap to Cooper Gap isn’t especially noteworthy, it’s a moderately challenging hike through classically beautiful North Georgia forest. Flowering trees and wildflowers dot the trail’s sides in warmer months, and breaks in the trail’s dense tree cover offer limited views of the surrounding rolling Appalachians. It’s a great 7 mile out-and-back day hike or trail run, and an equally a great extension to a hike on the Appalachian Trail from Three Forks to the Hawk Mountain Shelter. And, of course, it’s a must-hike for AT thru-hikers, or backpackers section hiking the Appalachian Trail in Georgia.
A word about water on the trail: there’s nary a trickle of creek or stream on the Appalachian Trail from Hightower to Cooper Gap. While the trail is mostly shaded by tree cover in summer, this stretch is one of the lowest-elevation sections of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia – so, unlike loftier sections like Blood Mountain, Tray Mountain or Rocky Mountain, this section of trail often sees some warm weather in the summer. Be sure to pack plenty of water – or if you’re backpacking through, filter and fill at the Gooch Mountain Shelter or Hawk Mountain Shelter before hitting this stretch.
Appalachian Trail, Hightower Gap to Cooper Gap: the hike
The hike departs from the intersection of the Appalachian Trail and two gravel roads (FS69 and FS42) at Hightower Gap (view maps and driving directions), hiking the AT eastbound.
The trail rises elevation from the gap, passing several campsites in the first .3 mile. The forest is shady, occasionally rocky and lushly green. Vines climb to the forest canopy, clinging to trees as they chase toward sunlight. A side trail departs the Appalachian Trail at .4 mile, hiking to a rocky outcrop with limited, through-the-trees views.
Departing the overlook, the AT rolls elevation, passing a third campsite at .8 mile and a large, old-growth oak at 1.5 mile. The trail begins a sharp descent, crossing through Horse Gap at 1.8 mile. The Appalachian Trail rises from Horse Gap, beginning a nearly unrelenting climb of Sassafrass Mountain in the next mile. The hike passes several towering rock outcrops as it winds through sharp switchbacks, climbing Sassafrass.
The hike passes a campsite at 2.45 miles, and reaches another camp at 2.8 miles near the Sassafrass Mountain summit. The summit is densely tree-covered, and the warm-weather views are disappointingly nonexistent in this mostly-deciduous forest.
The Appalachian Trail departs Sassafrass, descending 440 feet over the next mile to reach Cooper Gap. The trail reaches Cooper Gap at 3.5 miles, reaching the gravel-paved FS42. From here, the Appalachian Trail continues an eastbound trek, rolling over Justis Mountain to reach the Gooch Mountain Shelter, 3.2 miles from Cooper Gap. This hike turns, retracing its outbound steps on the AT, climbing Sassafrass and rolling elevation to reach Hightower Gap at 6.9 miles, completing the hike.