Appalachian Trail: hiking Tesnatee Gap to Cowrock Mountain
Hike the Appalachian Trail from Tesnatee Gap to stunning Cowrock Mountain summit views on this 2.25 mile, out-and-back day hike in the Raven Cliffs Wilderness.
Rolling, blue-green-hued peaks. Wide-open vistas. Rocky, shady, ferny forest. The hike from Tesnatee Gap to Cowrock Mountain on the Appalachian Trail packs a lot of visual punch in a short distance while spanning only 2.25 out-and-back miles. And coupled with Tesnatee Gap’s easy-access trailhead off of a paved highway, the hike’s easy access and beauty boost its popularity. It’s one of the most popular short day hikes on the Appalachian Trail in Georgia.
The hike trails Georgia’s beautiful Raven Cliff Wilderness just northwest of Helen and Cleveland, (view maps and driving directions), visiting the soaring summit of Cowrock Mountain for some stunning peak-filled views. The hike rates at moderate to difficult, gaining over 600 feet of elevation from Tesnatee Gap in a .85 mile climb from the trailhead. While the climb from Tesnatee Gap is nearly continuous, switchbacks ease the elevation gain throughout the hike. And the summit views make the effort worthwhile.
Tesnatee Gap to Cowrock Mountain: the hike
The hike departs Tesnatee Gap (view maps and driving directions), hiking the white-blazed Appalachian Trail westbound from the trailhead at the parking area’s southwest corner. The trail begins to rise immediately, steadily gaining elevation under a canopy of spindly, shady, young deciduous trees. The Appalachian Trail reaches a small peak at .25 miles, the elevation gain pausing for a short stretch as the trail rolls downward. The climb begins again at .35 miles as the Appalachian Trail swings south, entering a series of tight switchbacks.
The forest becomes increasingly rocky as the climb continues, leaving the highway sounds at Tesnatee Gap fading in the distance. Fern and vibrant green underbrush line the sides of the trail, and wildflowers stretch to catch the forest’s dappled sunlight in warmer months.
The trail exits its winding switchbacks at .75 mile, nearing the Cowrock Mountain summit. The hike reaches the summit at .85 miles, catching expansive views from the peak – one of our favorite views on the Appalachian Trail in Georgia. The summit’s wide, smooth rock outcrop is a great place to take in the view, rehydrate, grab a mid-hike snack or enjoy lunch.
Before turning to return to Tesnatee Gap, the hike continues following the Appalachian Trail westbound to catch two more views near the summit. The trail arcs to the northwest, reaching a clearing with rolling summit views at .95 mile. The Appalachian Trail continues westbound, descending slightly to a third view at 1.15 miles. From here, this hike turns to retrace its steps to the Tesnatee Gap trailhead, reaching the trailhead and completing the hike at 2.3 miles.
Up for more miles?
If you’ve summited Cowrock and are up for more AT miles before returning to the trailhead, continue following the Appalachian Trail toward Neels Gap, hiking westbound. Descending Cowrock Mountain, the Appalachian Trail reaches a view-packed campsite at the Wolf Laurel Top summit, one mile from Cowrock. For more info, check out the Appalachian Trail from Blood Mountain to Cowrock Mountain, following the hike in reverse from the Cowrock summit.