Hike to gorgeous views of Fort Mountain and the Cohutta Wilderness from the historic Grassy Mountain fire tower, climbing from the shores of Lake Conasauga, a small, glassy mountaintop lake.
OFFICIAL MAP: Nat Geo 777 Trails Illustrated Map (find it at Trailful Outdoor Co.)
It’s one of the best views in all of Georgia. Perched on the summit of Grassy Mountain, nestled deep in the Cohutta Wilderness, is a weathered, gray, steel fire lookout tower that rises from a tree-lined mountaintop, offering exceptional, long-range views of nearby Fort Mountain. This hike climbs to this tower-topped summit, a scenic trek from the shores of Lake Conasauga that passes a marshy beaver dam and crosses through a scenic swath of forest.
The Cohutta Wilderness is simply stunning: it’s rugged, remote, broad and beautiful. And it’s immense, spanning nearly 36,000 acres, the largest wilderness area east of the Mississippi. This hike explores a glassy mountaintop lake near the Cohutta’s western border, climbing from lakeside vistas to the Grassy Mountain fire lookout tower, and exploring some beautiful forest and marsh along the way. The views from the historic metal tower are simply incredible, the perfect place to soak in some classic Blue Ridge beauty.
If you go, be prepared for an extended drive on wilderness gravel roads. Pack hiking gear essentials (check out our hiking gear list for our favorite, trail-tested gear), including safety and wayfinding gear, since the wilderness is vast and remote. Consider spending the night: the Lake Conasauga Campground at the eastern edge of the lake offers some prime, off-grid lakeside campsites. And have fun out there; at just over five miles, this is one amazing hike.
Grassy Mountain Tower Trail: the hike
The adventure starts at the Lake Conasauga picnic and day use parking area (view maps, parking info and driving directions, dropping elevation from the trailhead northbound to the shores of the lake. Reaching the lake, this hike turns right, following the lake counterclockwise, skirting the lake’s shore. (The actual trailhead for the Grassy Mountain Tower Trail is on the opposite shore of the lake.)
The trail dives through a forest of hemlock and rhododendron, crossing a series of small wooden bridges and boardwalks on the lake’s shore. Reaching the campground at .5 mile, the hike hangs a left on a gravel road, trekking through the campground and continuing to skirt the lakeshore. The route veers left at just under .6 mile, leaving the campground and crossing the lake’s earthen dam. Views across the lake are broad and beautiful.
The hike reaches the Grassy Mountain trailhead near the end of the dam, hanging a right on the Tower Trail. The hike ascends through a forest of fern, mountain laurel, and hemlock, rolling elevation over a small, shady knob.
At 1 mile, the hike reaches a small beaver dam at the end of a grassy marsh, meeting the Songbird Trail.
The route veers right at the beaver dam intersection, following the Tower Trail westbound on a joined segment of the Songbird Trail. The trail climbs elevation, beginning a nearly unrelenting ascent to the mountain’s summit and climbing through leafy brush and vibrant green fern.
The hike veers right at 1.25 miles. Pungent, onion-scented galax – a low-lying, evergreen ground cover that’s native to the north Georgia mountains – line the trail. Twisted, gnarly branches of rhododendron frame the sides of the trail, and evergreen needles from the scattered, sporadic hemlock overhead litter the forest floor.
The hike parallels a boulder-filled creek, switching back as it rolls over several small knobs. The climb intensifies, grabbing elevation on a rocky, rooty trail bed, before the trail reaches a gravel road at 2.2 miles. Making a final ascent to the mountain’s summit, the hike turns right on the gravel road, trekking southwest through abundant wildflowers and breeze-blown grasses.
The hike reaches the summit at 2.6 miles. The Grassy Mountain fire tower rises several stories from the summit, stretching over the treeline. A careful climb to the first platform reveals a spectacular panorama, stretching nearly 360 degrees to the nearby Fort Mountain and over the rolling, tree-covered, mountainous landscape of the Cohutta Wilderness.
In warm-weather months, the only view is from the tower’s rickety stairs – but the mountaintop is a great spot for a mid-hike snack and a perfect place to soak up the summit’s abundant sunshine and steady breezes. When it’s time to hit the trail again, the hike descends from the mountain, following the outbound hike in reverse to the Lake Conasauga Trail. The hike reaches the lake at 4.5 miles and turns right on the Lake Trail, meandering along the lake’s shore. The trail reaches the swimming beach and picnic area at just over 5 miles, turning right on the lake spur trail to return to the parking area, and completing the adventure.
Because this area is so remote, challenging, and the trails are sometimes sporadically blazed or not marked at all, always tell someone where you’re going and pack an official paper map and wayfinding essentials, such as a GPS and compass (and know how to use them if you’re lost). Always pack emergency essentials. And it’s always best to avoid trails along the rivers and creeks in the weeks following a heavy rain.
Nearby adventures in the Cohutta Wilderness
Just west of this trailhead, follow a just-under-two-mile lollipop loop on the Lake Conasauga Songbird Trail. It’s a short but scenic adventure, catching wide views of a boggy beaver pond and following several boardwalks through a rolling forest filled with rhododendron and shallow creeks. To the north, follow the ultra-scenic Jacks River Trail from Dally Gap, splashing through a number of creek crossings to visit tumbling waterfalls. Or check out our full guide to the Cohutta Wilderness for even more ways to adventure in this wildly remote stretch of North Georgia.
More fire tower adventures in the Southeast
Loved the hike, and up for exploring some more sublime views from nearby towers? Check out our favorite hikes to historic fire lookout towers near Asheville, NC for some more summit-scaling adventures.
(What is Wilderness, and why is it important? Read more in our guide to Wilderness areas in the South.)
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.
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