Hike the Appalachian Trail from the stream-filled Three Forks valley to Long Creek Falls, the Hawk Mountain Shelter and a centuries-old, weathered cemetery.
LOCATION:Appalachian Trail near Ellijay, Georgia
PACK:our Osprey day pack and our hiking gear list
OFFICIAL MAP: Appalachian Trail, Trails Illustrated Map (find it at Trailful Outdoor Co.)
This fantastic hike from the lush Three Forks valley to the Hawk Mountain AT Shelter lacks a summit view. But mountaintop vistas aside, this is one of our favorite AT segments in Georgia. Departing from a stunning creek valley, the hike visits a beautiful, tumbling waterfall, an old cemetery with rustic gravestones, and an AT shelter – and explores a whole lot of beautiful North Georgia forest along the way.
This shady stretch of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia visits Long Creek Falls before winding and rolling to the Hawk Mountain Shelter. And a short, mid-hike detour visits the historic Hickory Flatts Cemetery. It’s a fantastic 9.1-mile day hike – and an equally great overnight adventure at one of the AT’s many trailside campsites.
Appalachian Trail to Hawk Mountain: the hike
The adventure begins at the gravel Forest Road 58 under a canopy of hemlock, rhododendron and deciduous trees (view maps and driving directions). Departing the trailhead, the hike dives into the forest, hiking northeast and paralleling the spilling cascades of Long Creek on the trail’s left.
Reaching an intersection at .8 mile, the hike veers northeast, departing the Appalchian Trail to follow blue trail blazes to Long Creek Falls. This stunning waterfall spills 50 feet over a nearly sheer cliff, tumbling into a pool of water under towering hemlock in a valley choked with gnarly-branched rhododendron. It’s not the highest, nor the largest – but Long Creek Falls is simply beautiful, and has long been one of our favorite North Georgia falls.
Departing the waterfall, the hike retraces to the intersection and follows the AT’s rectangular, white blazes eastbound. The trail winds through switchbacks in a continual elevation climb, passing several campsites and leaving the waterfall’s rushing sound behind. The AT passes a broad, cleared field before reaching a gravel road at 2 miles.
The hike turns north on the gravel road, briefly departing the AT to descend to the Hickory Flatts Cemetery, reaching the old cemetery at 2.2 miles. A pavilion and restrooms border the 150-year-old cemetery, a juxtaposition of centuries. Though a few of the headstones have been replaced with modern, engraved versions, most are marked with weathered wooden posts or simple, broken, nameless rock fragments.
The hike departs the cemetery, backtracking on the gravel forest road to the AT and continuing the eastbound journey. The trail continues to climb elevation before cresting at 3 miles, and passes a large-trunked, old-growth tulip tree at 3.6 miles.
The AT reaches an intersection at 4.1 miles. A short northbound hike on the blue-blazed trail treks a short stretch to the Hawk Mountain AT shelter. Scattered campsites flank the shelter, and a further .1 mile trek leads to Long Creek. Upstream several miles from Long Creek Falls, the creek here is shallow and narrow.
Backtracking to the Appalachian Trail from the shelter, the hike turns left at the intersection to follow the AT’s white rectangular blazes and descend elevation. The trail reaches a gravel road, Appalachian Blue Ridge Road, at 5 miles. From here, the hike turns to retrace its outbound route on the AT, returning to Three Forks and completing the adventure at 9.1 miles. (Visiting the shelter, cemetery, and waterfall a second time on the return trip? The distance will total 10 miles.)
Note: slippery rocks and fast-moving water can be extremely dangerous! Please don’t climb, stand on, swim near, or jump from any waterfall.
Three Forks to Hawk Mountain Shelter: camping
This hike is chock-full of great options for an overnight adventure. All of the campsites at Three Forks and on the AT are primitive, free, and first-come, first camp – so arrive early for the best choice of sites, especially on weekends. Where ever you make camp, please pack out everything you’ve packed in and leave no trace to help keep Georgia’s wilderness beautiful.
Car camping sites dot Forest Road 58, located on the banks of the tumbling Noontootla Creek. These sites are some of our favorites for car camping in Georgia: the sound of the rushing creek is a beautiful soundtrack for dreams under the stars. Check out our Three Forks campsite review for more details.
Up for a backpacking adventure? The AT is dotted with campsites throughout the hike. And if you don’t mind some potential company, there are many campsites surrounding the shelter near the end of the hike.
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 Georgia Appalachian Trail Club. 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 Three Forks trailhead. Access to the trailhead is via a gravel Forest Service road.
34.664775, -84.183940 // N34 39.823 W84 11.039