Chattahoochee Gap: hiking the Appalachian Trail from Unicoi Gap in North Georgia

Chattahoochee Gap: hiking the Appalachian Trail from Unicoi Gap

Hike to Chattahoochee Gap on the Appalachian Trail from Unicoi Gap, visiting the North Georgia headwaters of the Chattahoochee River and the Blue Mountain AT shelter.

 

At first glance, it’s nothing more than a tiny, easy-to-miss, trickling spring – an unremarkable one of many near the Appalachian Trail in North Georgia. But the spring at this hike’s final destination is the official headwaters of the great, wide Chattahoochee River. It’s remarkable that this tiny, trickling spring, framed in mossy rock and fern, gains volume enough to fuel Atlanta’s major river downstream. And where else can you take a selfie with each foot on an opposite bank of the Chattahoochee River?

This classic Appalachian Trail hike departs from Unicoi Gap just north of Helen, climbing Blue Mountain to a rolling ridgeline. While views are limited on this heavily-forested stretch of the AT, the hike treks through a lush, green forest that blooms in abundant wildflowers during warm-weather months. The terrain is rocky and rugged, moss-covered and shady, and filled with tall fern. Numerous campsites flank the sides of the trail, and the Blue Mountain AT shelter sits just off-trail roughly halfway into the hike. And at nine miles, it’s a great, moderately-difficult Appalachian Trail day hike in Georgia.

Hike to this small spring, the headwaters of the mighty Chattahoochee River, just off the Appalachian Trail in Georgia.Above: this tiny, trickling spring marks the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River just north of Helen, Georgia

Appalachian Trail Unicoi Gap to Chattahoochee Gap: the hike

The hike departs the Unicoi Gap trailhead (view maps and driving directions), crossing the paved highway and diving into the forest. (The Appalachian Trail’s iconic, white rectangular blaze marks the trailhead.) The hike begins an immediate climb of Blue Mountain’s lower elevations, hiking southbound before switching back sharply and reversing direction. It’s a nearly unrelenting climb to the top of Blue Mountain, scrambling over lichen-covered boulders and climbing through a green, fern-filled forest.

Lush forest and abundant green fern flank the sides of the Appalachian Trail at Unicoi Gap in Georgia

Just before summiting, the Appalachian Trail passes a small campsite just off-trail at 1.15 miles. The trail summits Blue Mountain, tall wildflowers stretching to catch sunlight in the dense forest. The hike passes through a scattered grove of large rhododendron and passes a second campsite at 1.75 miles.

A side trail departs to the right at 2.15 miles, hiking a short trek to the Blue Mountain shelter. Large campsites and a large fire ring surround the shelter, a rustic overnight home to Appalachian Trail thru-hikers on their epic, 2,000+ mile journey from Georgia to Maine.

Hike the Appalachian Trail from Unicoi Gap to the Blue Mountain shelter near Chattahoochee Gap

Beyond the Blue Mountain shelter, the Appalachian Trail begins an extended descent toward Chattahoochee Gap, passing a small spring just off the trail at 2.2 miles. The hike descends through a dense tunnel of twisted mountain laurel at Henson Gap, trails through abundant fern and wildflowers, and passes a large campsite at 2.7 miles.

The Appalachian Trail meanders through a wildflower and fern-filled forest from Unicoi Gap to Chattahoochee Gap

The trail climbs rocky boulder beds, rolling elevation. A side trail departs steeply to the right at 2.8 miles, leading to a spring. The hike arcs northbound, passing a signed trail to a campsite at 3 miles before arcing to the west. The trail catches a through-the-trees view of Brasstown Bald, Georgia’s highest mountain summit, on a rocky stretch of trail at 3.2 miles. The Appalachian Trail continues its descent, trailing through mountain laurel to reach a campsite at Red Clay Gap at 3.7 miles.

Hike a wildflower and fern-filled stretch of the Appalachian Trail to the Chattahoochee River's beginning near Helen, Georgia

The hike passes large, lichen-crusted rock outcrops, climbing to reach Chattahoochee Gap at 4.3 miles. From here, the Appalachian Trail continues southwest, and the Jacks Gap Trail departs to the north, climbing to Brasstown Bald. This hike follows a blue-blazed side trail, meandering through switchbacks in a short descent.

The hike reaches a small spring at just under 4.5 miles, a tiny trickle that tunnels between several fern-covered rocks. Downriver, this small spring flows 430 miles south, growing considerably in volume to become the Chattahoochee River, one of Georgia’s major waterways and a water source for the city of Atlanta.

Departing the spring, the hike climbs back to Chattahoochee Gap and retraces its outbound trek on the Appalachian Trail. The trail reaches Unicoi Gap at 8.9 miles, completing the adventure.

More Unicoi Gap Appalachian Trail adventures

Have energy (and daylight) left to burn? Hike eastbound on the Appalachian Trail from Unicoi Gap to summit Rocky Mountain and catch some beautiful mountaintop views.

Appalachian Trail: Unicoi Gap to Chattahoochee Gap: Directions & Details

Parking

Free parking is available at the USFS Unicoi Gap trailhead.

Please Remember

Always leave no trace and follow these trail etiquette tips.

GPS Coordinates

34.802333, -83.743100     //     N34 48.140 W83 44.586

Driving Directions


Elevation Profile

Appalachian Trail: Unicoi Gap to Chattahoochee Gap Elevation Profile

Appalachian Trail: Unicoi Gap to Chattahoochee 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.

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