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.

 

This Georgia Appalachian Trail segment doesn’t climb to a stunning, wide, take-your-breath-away summit view. Nor does it visit a waterfall (or any semblance of running water for that matter). And while it’s not exceptionally difficult, the Appalachian Trail rolls elevation over several small knobs and through several gaps before climbing significant elevation to the top of Sassafrass Mountain and dipping down to Cooper Gap – a moderately difficult hike.

Hike the Appalachian Trail from Hightower Gap to Cooper Gap through rolling North Georgia forest

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 trail cairn marks the Appalachian Trail on this Georgia hike from Hightower Gap to Cooper Gap

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.

Wildflowers dot the sides of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia near Cooper Gap and Sassafrass Mountain

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 Appalachian Trail climbs from Horse Gap to Sassafrass Mountain, passing several large rock outcrops

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.

 

Appalachian Trail Hightower Gap to Cooper Gap: Directions & Details

Parking

Free. The USFS Hightower Gap trailhead is accessed via gravel Forest Service roads.

Please Remember

Always leave no trace and follow these trail etiquette tips.

GPS Coordinates

34.663650, -84.129667     //     N34 39.819 W84 07.780

Driving Directions


Elevation Profile

Appalachian Trail Hightower Gap to Cooper Gap Elevation Profile

Appalachian Trail Hightower Gap to Cooper Gap Map

Trail data and photos © Summit19 Studio LLC. This map is not a substitute for official trail maps or topographic maps.
 
Eric Champlin is a writer and photographer who loves to hike, run, backpack, kayak and cycle the southeast. He’s the editor and founder of Atlanta Trails and Asheville Trails, online magazines that cover the South’s best outdoor adventures. His mission? To inspire others to get fit outdoors and explore the South’s incredible scenic beauty.