Appalachian Trail: Three Forks to the Hawk Mountain Shelter
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.
This Georgia Appalachian Trail hike from Three Forks to the Hawk Mountain Shelter doesn’t score a summit view. But mountaintop views aside, this trek visits a beautiful, tumbling waterfall, an old cemetery with rustic gravestones and an AT shelter – and is well worth the mileage.
This shady stretch of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia visits Long Creek Falls after departing the stream-filled Three Forks Valley 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 – or a great overnight adventure at one of many trailside campsites.
Appalachian Trail to Hawk Mountain: the hike
The Appalachian Trail crosses the gravel Forest Road 58 in the Three Forks valley under a canopy of hemlock, rhododendron and deciduous trees. This northbound hike departs Three Forks (view maps and driving directions), trailing northeast toward Hawk Mountain. The Appalachian Trail gains elevation steadily, passing several trailside campsites. The trail parallels the spilling, crashing and cascading Long Creek on the trail’s left.
The Appalachian Trail reaches an intersection at .82 mile, the hike veering northeast to follow blue trail blazes to Long Creek Falls. The waterfall spills 50 feet over a nearly sheer cliff, tumbling into a pool of water under towering hemlock.
Departing the waterfall, the hike retraces to the intersection, then follows the rectangular, white blazes of the Appalachian Trail eastbound. The trail winds through switchbacks in a continual elevation climb, passing several campsites and leaving the rushing sound of Long Creek Falls 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 Appalachian Trail, descending toward the Hickory Flatts Cemetery and 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 plots’ 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 Appalachian Trail. Reaching the trail, the hike turns left to continue the eastbound journey to the Hawk Mountain shelter. The trail continues to climb elevation before cresting at 3 miles. The trail passes a large-trunked, old-growth tulip tree at 3.6 miles before making a short climb of Hawk Mountain’s lower elevation.
The Appalachian Trail reaches an intersection at 4.1 miles. A short northbound hike on the blue-blazed trail treks .1 mile to the Hawk Mountain AT shelter. Many 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 Hawk Mountain Shelter area, 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 Appalachian Trail, 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 Appalachian Trail hike is chock-full of great options for an overnight adventure. All of the campsites at Three Forks and on the Appalachian Trail are primitive, free, and first-come, first camp – so arrive early for the best choice of sites, especially on weekends.
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. See more info and photos in our Three Forks campsite review.
Up for a backpacking adventure? The Appalachian Trail is dotted with campsites throughout the hike; see the trail map below for site locations. And if you don’t mind some potential company, there are many campsites surrounding the Hawk Mountain Shelter near the end of the hike.
Where ever you make camp, please pack out everything you’ve packed in and leave no trace: this Georgia wilderness is beautiful and deserving of preservation.
Appalachian Trail - Three Forks to the Hawk Mountain Shelter Map, Directions & Details
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
Thank you for your support! - the Atlanta Trails crew