Hike the Bear Creek Trail through a beautiful, mossy, fern-filled creek valley to the Gennett Poplar, the second largest living tree in Georgia.
LOCATION:Chattahoochee National Forest near Ellijay, Georgia
PACK:our Osprey day pack and our hiking gear list
OFFICIAL MAP: Nat Geo 777 Trails Illustrated Map (find it at Trailful Outdoor Co.)
The Bear Creek Trail is one of North Georgia’s most popular mountain biking and hiking destinations. Towering old-growth trees shade a beautiful, boulder-lined, densely vegetated creek valley, home to the Gennett Poplar, an old-growth tree of a stunning size, and the second largest living tree in Georgia.
This tumbling creek splashes through a lush forest just west of Ellijay, Georgia. It’s one of the most beautiful creek valleys in the state, and for this reason, it’s equally popular among hikers, trail runners, and mountain bikers. With abundant wildflowers, blankets of soft green moss, and a visit to the stately Gennett Poplar tree, the Bear Creek Trail has long been one of our favorite hikes in North Georgia.
This moderate length, just-under-six-mile hike explores the creek’s beautifully forested banks, splashes through stream crossings, and climbs a nearby summit for views of the valley below. Or alternately, the two-mile roundtrip to the giant poplar tree makes an excellent beginner and family-friendly hike, scoring a large dose of the trail’s lush beauty without the added miles. However you adventure, please remember to pack out everything you pack in, and to leave no trace to help preserve the abundant beauty of this forest.
Bear Creek Trail: the hike
The adventure departs from a trailhead at the end of the graveled Forest Road 241 west of Ellijay, Georgia (view maps and driving directions). Bear Creek spills and splashes over rounded boulders covered in vibrant green moss, tumbling in shallow whitewater pools as it cascades in small waterfalls. Sounds of the rushing creek fill the valley, and the often-moist forest floor dampens the sounds of hiking boots as the trail dives deeper into the valley. Above, hardwood trees tower in a tall canopy of green during spring and summer, and explode in an array of fall color when temperatures turn crisp in autumn.
The trail climbs elevation and splits in a junction with the Pinhoti Trail at .15 miles, keeping right at the Pinhoti intersection. Small, shallow trickling streams intersect the trail in the first half mile, tumbling downhill to feed the larger creek below. Green vegetation fills the valley in warm months: mosses, fern, and wildflowers thrive in this water-filled landscape, stretching to reach the dappled sunlight trickling through the tree canopy above.
The trail crosses several shallow side streams before reaching the first major crossing, Little Bear Creek, at .5 miles. The hike carefully crosses the broad but usually shallow creek. (Use caution: the mossy boulders and submerged stones can be extremely slippery!)
The trail crosses Bear Creek at .7 miles via stepping stones and then begins a short climb. The hike reaches the enormous Gennett Poplar at .9 miles.
The majestic tree, a giant compared to its surrounding neighbors, measures over 18 feet in circumference at its base. This tree, among several other giants in this valley, were spared from logging by the valley’s landowners. A massive, widespread deforestation took place in the South during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Nearly every tree in Georgia was logged during this time, irresponsibly clearing the southern Appalachian Mountains of their ancient forested beauty. (Just imagine Georgia’s forests filled with towering trees this size and larger!)
Departing the Gennett Poplar, the hike continues north, reaching a trail junction at 1.1 miles. The route veers left here, following the Bear Creek Trail to the north. (The Bear Creek Loop and Pinhoti Trail veer to the right. We’ve frequently found this trail section to be overgrown and more suited to mountain bikers than hikers.)
The trail dips elevation to cross the creek once again at 1.15 miles, and then begins a moderately strenuous climb, rising high above the loud, tumbling cascades of the creek far below. Fern, moss, wildflowers and vine carpet the forest floor here in warm-weather seasons.
The trail reaches an intersection at 1.75 miles, taking a sharp left turn to the south and gaining elevation as it carves through several wide switchbacks. A tall canopy of deciduous trees gives way to groves of young pine flanking the trail. The hike meets a clearing at 2.4 miles, and the trail turns a hard right to the northwest, following a wide gravel road as it climbs elevation to a summit. Views of the Bear Creek Valley and Parks Ridge, a nearby mountain, extend through the treeline along the trail, and wildflowers stretch to reach the dappled sunlight in warmer months.
The trail reaches Forest Road 68 at 2.8 miles. The hike turns around here, retracing the outbound path in reverse to the trailhead through the lush valley. The hike reaches the trailhead at 5.7 miles, completing the adventure.
Please share the trail!
The Bear Creek Trail is popular with hikers and mountain bikers. Please remember to stay to your right, don’t block the trail, keep your dog on a short leash, and let bikes pass safely.
Always leave no trace, pack out everything you pack in, and if you see trash, pick it up and pack it out.
Stay on the marked trail, tell someone where you're going, pack safety and wayfinding essentials, and don't rely on a mobile phone to find your way. Please always practice good trail etiquette. And before you go, always check the trailhead kiosk, official maps, and the park or ranger office for notices of changed routes, trail closures, safety information, and restrictions.
Love the trail?
This trail is maintained thanks to the hard work of countless volunteers and donations from supporters of the Chattahoochee National Forest. Please support them by making a donation or joining a volunteer day. Let's work together to keep these fantastic trails maintained and open for use!
Free parking is available at the trailhead. Trailhead access is via a gravel Forest Service Road.
34.818833, -84.564233 // N34 49.130 W84 33.854