Rabun Bald: hiking the Bartram Trail from Beegum Gap
Hike the Bartram Trail to Rabun Bald, the second-tallest mountain summit in Georgia, to catch stunning panoramic views from the mountain's summit.
Georgia’s loftiest peak, Brasstown Bald, offers equally stunning, see-forever views. But unlike Rabun Bald, there’s paved access to Brasstown’s summit. While Rabun Bald is often quiet and serene, Brasstown Bald is often crowded by visitors by the literal busload. Access to Rabun Bald requires a bit more effort – but the payoff seems so much sweeter, the views just a bit better given the hike to reach the summit.
This day hike is the easiest, and shortest-distance, access to the Rabun mountaintop. The hike follows the Bartram Trail, a long-distance trail that treks some of northeast Georgia’s most beautiful landscapes before entering North Carolina north of Rabun Bald. The trail follows the route William Bartram, a writer and naturalist, journeyed in the late 1700s, including a particularly beautiful stretch of the Bartram Trail on the wild and scenic Chattooga River south of Rabun Bald.
Bartram Trail to Rabun Bald: the hike
The hike departs a quiet, upscale neighborhood near the end of a gravel road (view maps and driving directions). The hike veers left to follow a green-blazed trail, an access trail to the nearby Bartram Trail. (A gravel road veers to the right; take the path to the left.) The trail immediately grabs elevation, beginning to climb Rabun Bald’s lower elevations through a forest dense with rhododendron and mountain laurel.
The access trail reaches the Bartram Trail at just under .2 mile. The hike turns right, trailing the yellow-blazed Bartram Trail southbound toward the Rabun Bald summit. The trail unrelentingly gains elevation, though the difficulty is moderate, thanks to a series of sharp trail switchbacks that conquer the height slowly.
The Bartram Trail meanders through a rocky landscape dominated by gnarly, blue-green leafed rhododendron that cast a lattice of shadows on the trail’s path. In the Spring, ferns unfurl and wildflowers dot the trail’s sides, framed by large rock outcrops covered in green moss and silvery lichen.
The Bartram Trail reaches a campsite in a wide clearing at .8 mile. Glassy mica speckles the trail’s sandy surface, glimmering in rays of the sun. The hike turns left, following the yellow-blazed Bartram Trail southbound in a switchback-saturated final ascent toward Rabun Bald. The trail crosses a large slab of cemented rock, and passes a large outcrop at 1 mile, meandering through the last few switchbacks before beginning the final, straight-shot drive to the summit.
The Bartram Trail summits Rabun Bald at 1.5 miles, passing a small campsite. The mountain’s rocky, bald summit is capped by an observation platform that’s accessible by steep-pitched wooden stairs. The platform’s foundation is historic: it was the first fire tower in the area, more recently converted to a wood viewing platform above the original tower’s stone base.
Outstanding views surround the Rabun Bald summit, offering hikers a 360-degree panorama anywhere they turn. Rabun Bald’s lofty peak sits on the Eastern Continental Divide, offering sweeping, long-range views of North Carolina and Georgia wilderness.
Departing the breezy, sun-drenched Rabun Bald summit, this out-and-back hike doubles back on its outbound route, retracing the Bartram Trail northbound. The hike turns left off the yellow-blazed Bartram Trail at 2.75 miles, following the green-blazed access trail to the Beegum Gap trailhead. The access trail reaches Beegum Gap at 3 miles, completing the hike.