Arkaquah Trail: hiking Brasstown Bald to Track Rock Gap
Hike the Arkaquah Trail from Brasstown Bald, Georgia's highest summit, and descend to Track Rock Gap to view ancient Native American petroglyphs on this difficult 11-mile round trip hike.
From stunning, sweeping views to mysterious ancient petroglyphs, the strenuous Arkaquah Trail hikes an incredible landscape and lists near the top of our favorite Georgia hikes. The trail departs from the near-summit of Brasstown Bald, Georgia’s highest-elevation mountain summit, rolling elevation on a ridge and catching views from multiple peaks. Arkaquah is especially stunning in winter when deciduous leaves have fallen, opening beautiful views throughout much of the trail’s length – and it’s been a longtime favorite on our list of Georgia winter hikes.
The Arkaquah Trail’s end at Track Rock Gap visits an ancient archeological site, where six smooth, soapstone boulders are etched and carved with various primitive symbols. Experts believe the petroglyphs were created over 1,000 years ago, and are one of the most significant discoveries of Native American rock art in the Southeast. And while the outbound hike was mostly downhill, it’s at Track Rock Gap that this hike’s real workout commences, making a nearly unrelenting return hike to Brasstown’s towering summit. With gorgeous views, incredible Native American history, and a heart-pumping workout, Arkaquah makes for one amazing north Georgia adventure.
Arkaquah Trail at Brasstown Bald: the hike
The hike departs the Brasstown Bald parking area (view maps and driving directions), beginning at the signed Arkaquah trailhead and diving elevation into a dense canopy of rhododendron.
The trail reaches an overlook on a side trail at 1 mile, scrambling over a flat rock outcrop to catch the first of many long-range views on this hike. Departing the overlook, the trail rises to cross a massive, lichen-covered rock outcrop in a clearing at 1.3 miles, with views extending south.
The trail descends from the outcrop, diving into a canopy of mountain laurel and rhododendron. A side trail departs the Arkaquah Trail to the left at 1.7 miles, descending to an overlook that offers extensive views of the blue-cast, rolling mountains to the south.
The trail carves into Brasstown’s ridge line, the trail becoming rocky, boulders towering over the trail’s sides. The trail descends, carving through switchbacks as it drops elevation. Trickling streams flow across an overhanging, mossy rock outcrop, dripping to lower elevations – and in frosty weather, lining the trail with crystalline icicles.
The trail reaches Low Gap at 2.6 miles and then climbs a small ridge. The trail descends elevation to meet Cove Gap at 3.4 miles, rolling through alternating landscapes along the rocky, craggy, fern-filled mountaintops on the ridge. The trail ascends once again, climbing through a tunnel of mountain laurel and cresting an unnamed summit at 3650 feet. Fern and lichen-covered rock dominate the mountain’s top, and several large, exposed rock outcrops provide excellent vantage points of the farmland-dotted valley below.
The hike arcs to the southwest, and then veers northwest, switching back as it descends elevation. The trail descends more than 600 feet through a series of switchbacks before beginning a straight-shot, steep drop toward Track Rock Gap. The Arkaquah Trail meets Track Rock Gap Road at 5.25 miles, having descended a continuous 1375 feet in the last 1.5 miles.
The hike crosses Track Rock Gap Road, following the road southwest for a short stretch to the gap’s archeological site and reaching the petroglyphs at 5.5 miles. Over 100 deeply-carved petroglyph symbols are spread across six large soapstone boulders at the site, and signs depict the carvings’ locations and history.
The petroglyph shapes cover the densely-carved Track Rock boulders and include animal tracks, feet, human-like stick figures and grid-like drawings thought to depict village maps. (For more info on the petroglyphs’ shapes and origins, visit the Chattahoochee National Forest’s Track Rock information site.)
Departing the petroglyphs, the hike retraces its outbound steps to the Brasstown Bald trailhead. The ascent from Track Rock Gap is an intensely difficult, calf-burning climb to the ridgeline, unwavering in its steady climb to the summit. It’s a great workout, to say the least, scoring this hike among one of the most difficult we’ve featured in Georgia.
The trail levels at 7.2 miles, beginning a short, yet refreshing, downhill finale to the Arkaquah trailhead, rolling elevation to the finish. The hike reaches the trailhead at Brasstown Bald at 11 miles, completing the hike.