Hike a 35-mile stretch of the Bartram Trail in Georgia, exploring remote, temperate rainforest corridors and beautiful forest. This multi-day hike climbs to views from Rabun Bald, visits tumbling waterfalls, and descends to the ultra-scenic Chattooga River.
LOCATION:in Rabun County, GA
OFFICIAL MAP: Nat Geo 778 Trails Illustrated Map
Bearing the name of one of the South’s earliest explorers, our state’s stretch of the Bartram Trail explores some of Georgia’s most beautiful forests. Stretching 35 miles from our state’s northern border to the western branch of the Chattooga River, the trail offers outstanding day hikes to many of its highlights, but serves as a fantastic multi-day backpacking adventure as well.
The Bartram Trail follows the footsteps of William Bartram, an explorer and botanist who traveled this area in 1775. On his journey, he gathered and documented botanical specimens from this area’s extremely biodiverse forests, and according to history books, documented well over a hundred new species of flora and fauna.
With many campsites and seasonal water sources along the way, this route makes for an excellent backpacking adventure. The hike can be accomplished as a challenging seventy-mile round-trip. Or with a pre-arranged shuttle, the route is an easier 35-mile one-way adventure, dropping from the heights of Georgia’s second-highest peak at Rabun Bald and descending to Georgia’s state line on the Chattooga.
Bartram Trail: the hike
The trail’s northernmost point in Georgia lies near the North Carolina border, about twenty miles from Clayton, GA, along Hale Ridge Road (view maps and driving directions). Departing Clayton, travel north on US 441 to Route 246 in Sky Valley. After approximately 7 miles, take a hard right onto State Road 1625, also known as Hale Ridge Road. The route will head south, back into Georgia for three miles. Several signs for the Bartram Trail exist here, so be on the lookout for yellow trail blazes and trail signage as the road begins its descent toward Holcomb Creek Trailhead. The first sign on the right is the location for hiker drop-off, or the northern depot for the shuttle.
The trail’s southernmost point in Georgia is located at the intersection of the Western Fork of the Chattooga River and GA-28. From Clayton, follow Warwoman Road east. At just over 14 miles, Warwoman Road intersects Route 28. Make a right turn and travel another 2 miles to the southern trailhead, reaching parking on the road’s left side. (If you’re hiking southbound and using a shuttle, this is the location where you’ll need to arrange for pickup. This article is written from the perspective of a southbound hike.)
Departing from Hale Ridge Road, the hike winds along a ridge, following the Bartram Trail’s signature yellow trail blazes. In its first two miles, the hike crosses a plethora of streams, complemented by skillfully crafted wooden bridges. The biodiversity in these first miles is incredible. The muffled rush of cascading water, in tandem with the cacophony of fauna in the canopy above, sets an even tempo for the hike. The trail follows a gentle, downward gradient toward the northern slope of Rabun Bald, the hallmark ascent of this route.
Nearing three miles, the trail passes through the backyard of several mountain properties near Beegum Gap. This signifies the beginning of the Rabun Bald summit push. After several switchbacks, and a mile later, the Bartram Trail reaches a short spur that leads to stunning views from the fire lookout tower on Rabun Bald. A number of campsites ring the summit – though for truly stellar camping, the large platform on the fire lookout tower offers a great place to pitch a sleeping pad under the stars.
Descending from Rabun Bald, the Bartram Trail winds its way southwest over the next thirteen miles to Warwoman Dell, the first and only intersection with a paved road on this section of the trail. The trail descends steadily, passing a number of campsites and small creeks before reaching Windy Gap at just over 10 miles. The hike reaches Courthouse Gap at just over 13 miles, and passes an intersection with the green-blazed Pinnacle Knob Trail at 13.5 miles. (The view from Pinnacle Knob is outstanding, and less than two miles, roundtrip, from this intersection with the Bartram Trail.)
The miles in the forthcoming stretch leading into Warwoman Dell are full of variable, up-and-down single track, enveloped by the heights of thousands of acres of hardwood and thick, lush undergrowth. The last of these miles are dotted with excellent campsites, many within earshot of the area’s beautiful tumbling waterfalls.
The hike follows a steep descent from Courthouse Gap, crossing several small, seasonally-flowing creeks. Reaching a large campsite at just under 15 miles, the trail carves sharply northbound to reach Martin Creek Falls, crossing Martin Creek over a wooden bridge just below the waterfall.
The Bartram Trail continues to descend, passing through several campsites and an impressive slot canyon on Martin Creek. After crossing a gravel road at just over 16 miles, the hike passes Becky Branch Falls and crosses the paved Warwoman Road at just under 17 miles.
After crossing Warwoman Road, the trail drops down a steep series of switchbacks into Warwoman Dell. The dell offers a restroom and sheltered picnic areas set in a lush valley filled with springtime wildflowers and several small waterfalls. Hanging a right, and following the trail’s yellow blazes, the hike passes through a picnic area. The trail carves sharply to the east, veering toward the Chattooga River and the GA/SC border.
The trail’s next miles are generally shrouded, rolling through a densely grown forest and scrambling over fallen trees and through shallow creek crossings. After crossing the gravel Sandy Ford Road and Dicks Creek at 26 miles, the Bartram Trail reaches an intersection with the Dicks Creek Falls Trail. A short half-mile side trek on this trail leads to Dicks Creek Falls, a stunning waterfall that spills into the crystalline waters of the Chattooga River below.
At just over 28.5 miles, the hike reaches an outstanding creekside campsite near Earl’s Ford. From here, it’s just over six miles to the southern terminus of the Bartram Trail in Georgia, so it’s a great spot to spend the night and swim in the beautiful water.
The gently-rolling hills on the periphery of the Chattooga River lend themselves to fast-paced hiking and nominal amounts of elevation gain for the rest of the adventure. The hike reaches a side trail that leads to Adeline Ford at just over 32 miles, and soon passes through an old farmstead. As the topography begins to level and take the shape of the riverbed to its right, the end of the trail is near. Rounding a final bend, and crossing a large bridge the trail reaches its Georgia end at Russell Bridge, completing the one-way adventure. If you’re not shuttling back to the trailhead, Russell Bridge is the mid-point of the hike; from here, the adventure doubles back on its outbound route, reaching the northern trailhead at just under 70 miles.
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