Appalachian Trail: Woody Gap to Preachers Rock at Big Cedar Mountain & Jarrard Gap
Hike the Appalachian Trail from Woody Gap to Preachers Rock at Big Cedar Mountain and Jarrard Gap, trailing 11.6 miles in Georgia's beautiful Blood Mountain Wilderness.
This 11.6 mile out-and-back hike departs Woody Gap, located just North of Dahlonega, following one of the most popular – and most beautiful – Georgia Appalachian Trail segments. The hike trails to beautiful summit views on Preachers Rock at Big Cedar Mountain, through rolling mountain ascents on meandering trail switchbacks, and through wildflower and fern-filled mountain gaps in the Blood Mountain Wilderness.
And the Woody Gap trailhead is one of the most easily accessed on the Appalachian Trail in Georgia, adding to this hike’s popularity. The trail departs Woody Gap from a paved, just-off-highway parking area: it’s one of Georgia’s few AT trailheads with direct highway access and paved parking. (Leaving this same trailhead, the Appalachian Trail hikes west from Woody Gap to Ramrock Mountain, Gooch Gap and the Gooch Mountain shelter.)
Appalachian Trail, Woody Gap to Jarrard Gap: the hike
The hike departs from Woody Gap (view maps and driving directions), catching views of the nearby rolling Appalachians from the trailhead’s overlook south of Highway 60. After pausing to take in the view, the hike follows the Appalachian Trail north from the gap, meandering past trailside campsites and diving into a fern-filled deciduous forest, steadily gaining elevation over a series of switchbacks at .8 miles.
The trail crests near the Big Cedar Mountain summit at 1.25 miles, catching stunning long-range views from the summit’s wide, exposed expanse of rock, commonly called ‘Preachers Rock’. The views from Big Cedar Mountain summit at Preachers Rock are superb, only rivaled in the Blood Mountain Wilderness by the nearby Blood Mountain summit.
For many hikers, the hike turns from the Big Cedar Mountain summit to return to the Woody Gap trailhead – a short 2.5 mile hike with a fantastic summit view. But the AT treks beautiful forest north of Big Cedar Mountain, worth a deeper hike into the wilderness. This hike departs the summit, following the iconic, white rectangular blazes of the Appalachian Trail and trailing northbound toward Blood Mountain. The trail descends elevation after passing a campsite at 1.45 miles, diving through a fern-filled, shady forest.
The AT loops in a wide arc through Augerhole Gap at 1.75 miles, trailing through sharp switchbacks. Rolling mountain views emerge through the treeline in a rocky, ferny deciduous forest before the trail crosses a trickling stream at 2.3 miles. The Appalachian Trail begins a descent at 2.6 miles, passing two large campsites. The AT passes a junction with the Dockery Lake Trail on trail right and a large campsite on trail left at 3 miles. The AT levels elevation, crossing Lance Creek at 3.35 miles via a wooden bridge in a beautiful foliage-filled creek valley. Level tent pads offer fantastic creekside campsites near Lance Creek, accessible via a side trail at 3.5 miles.
The AT continues its northbound journey, gaining elevation as it departs the Lance Creek campsites and crossing a stream at 4 miles. The trail levels elevation at 4.4 miles, grabbing views of neighboring summits through the treeline on trail right. After passing a campsite at 4.6 miles, the trail rolls elevation through a series of wide switchbacks in a leafy deciduous forest.
The trail crosses a spring just before reaching Jarrard Gap at 5.8 miles. From here, the Appalachian Trail continues north towards Blood Mountain, passing a large group campsite on trail left. The Jarrard Trail departs left, hiking 1.15 miles to the glassy mountaintop waters of Lake Winfield Scott. Hike this trail in Spring to catch wildflowers, like the trillium above, carpeting the forest floor near Jarrard Gap.
This hike turns around, hiking south to retrace its steps on the AT over Big Cedar Mountain, reaching the Woody Gap trailhead at 11.6 miles.
Extend the Hike
Easily add mileage to the hike, or create an overnight backpacking adventure by continuing the hike to Blood Mountain. Continue following the AT from Jarrard Gap to the Slaughter Creek Trail, and then crest the Blood Mountain summit via the Appalachian Trail at Blood Mountain. The AT departs the Blood Mountain summit, continuing its northbound journey in a descent to Neels Gap. The view-packed Appalachian Trail segment from Woody Gap to Neels Gap totals 10.6 one-way miles.
Backpacking & Camping
Excellent campsites dot this hike’s length, including campsites near the stunning, long-range views at the Big Cedar Mountain summit. Backpack in to one of the many campsites along the Appalachian Trail (view the trail map for locations) – or camp at Woody Gap at one of the sites near the parking area. All campsites on the Appalachian Trail are first-come, first-camp. Plan your hike to grab a campsite early for the best pick of sites – and be prepared to backpack further than planned if your choice site is already taken.
The campsites are located in the Blood Mountain Wilderness, where black bear have been recently active. Overnight food storage in a bear-resistant canister is required at campsites on the Appalachian Trail from Jarrard Gap to Neels Gap from March 1 through June 1. Use of a bear-resistant canister is recommended year round throughout the Blood Mountain Wilderness, including Big Cedar Mountain and Woody Gap. And likewise, due to heavy campsite use near Blood Mountain, campfires are prohibited on the AT from Jarrard Gap to Neels Gap.