Appalachian Trail: hiking Three Forks to Springer Mountain
Hike the Appalachian Trail from the lush, creek-filled Three Forks valley to Georgia's Springer Mountain, the southern end of the AT.
Rolling through the Blue Ridge Mountains of the Southern Appalachians, the Appalachian Trail hikes its final steps in Georgia to reach its southernmost end. The epic-length trail treks more than 2000 miles from Mount Katahdin in Maine to Springer Mountain, a journey attempted by many but successfully hiked by few. In its final, southern stretch, the AT dips through a lush, green, creek-filled valley before climbing to its end at Springer, a wonderfully scenic and moderately challenging hike that tops our lists of favorite day hikes in Georgia.
This classic North Georgia hike follows the famed AT on its final southern stretch, traveling from the beautiful, lush Three Forks valley to the Springer Mountain summit. The hike, a moderately strenuous 8.6-mile out-and-back, travels a widely diverse landscape, climbing from a richly vegetated, mossy creek valley to stunning mountaintop views at Springer. It’s one of our favorite AT hikes in Georgia for its varied terrain, gorgeous summit views, and, of course, the epic feeling that comes with standing at the southernmost white blaze of the Appalachian Trail.
Appalachian Trail – Three Forks to Springer Mountain: the hike
The hike departs the gravel-paved Forest Road 58 at Three Forks (view maps and driving directions), hiking the AT southbound across a wooden bridge spanning Chester Creek. The trail arcs southeast, following the Appalachian Trail’s iconic, rectangular white blazes.
The AT passes an intersection with the diamond-blazed Benton Mackaye Trail at .25 miles before diving into a canopy of rhododendron and mountain laurel. The pebbly, rocky trail switches back repeatedly as it climbs elevation, rising above several converging streams on the trail’s right before crossing Stover Creek via a wooden bridge at .6 mile. The trail hugs the creek’s banks, traveling upstream before crossing Stover Creek twice again, first via stepping stones and then over a wooden bridge at 1.5 miles. The surrounding forest is lush and filled with fragrant pine, trickling side creeks and dense thickets of rhododendron.
The trail switches back, gaining altitude and passing a blue-blazed side trail leading to an AT shelter. The hike turns right, following the AT’s white blazes and climbing elevation over a dry, rocky, fern-filled ridge. The trickling, watery sounds of Stover Creek fade behind in the distance. The Appalachian Trail reaches the 3,312 foot peak of Rich Mountain at 2.45 miles. The trail dips elevation slightly after the summit – a respite from the trail’s nearly continuous climb over the last mile.
The trail’s descent ends at 2.75 miles after crossing Davis Creek, entering a mossy, green and damp creek valley filled with the sound of flowing water. The AT intersects with the Benton MacKaye Trail twice again. The trail crosses through the Springer Mountain parking area at 3 miles, trekking across the gravel Forest Road 42 and beginning the final climb to the Springer summit.
Vistas emerge on the trail’s right side as the hike climbs to the mountaintop. Seasonal wildflowers thrive on Springer Mountain’s sunny, rocky lower elevations and are abundant in colorful clusters during spring, summer, and fall. The trail bed is rocky and rooty, ascending over lichen-crusted, weathered boulders.
The hike passes two trail intersections in the final climb to the summit: the diamond-blazed Benton MacKaye Trail at 4 miles, and a blue-blazed trail that leads to the Springer Mountain shelter, camping area, and spring.
The trail reaches the Springer Mountain summit at 4.3 miles. Views of the southern Appalachian Mountains extend from the rocky summit, nearby mountains rolling in layers of blue haze in the far distance.
Several bronze plaques mark the official southern end of the Appalachian Trail. A white blaze, the final of thousands, is painted on the mountaintop beside a plaque commemorating the trail’s Georgia end.
The summit is a prime spot to grab a breather and a snack, taking in the gorgeous views. Departing the mountain’s summit, the hike retraces its outbound journey on the Appalachian Trail, reaching theThree Forks trailhead at 8.6 miles and completing the adventure.
More Appalachian Trail adventures at Three Forks
Finished with daylight and energy left? At the Three Forks trailhead, the AT crosses FR 58 and travels one mile north to a stunning series of waterfalls at Long Creek Falls.
Consider camping the night in this peaceful, stunningly beautiful creek valley at one of the Three Forks campsites along Forest Road 58. If you stay the night, explore the AT again the next day, hiking eastbound on the Appalachian Trail to the Hawk Mountain AT shelter and a centuries-old, weathered cemetery.
Appalachian Trail: Three Forks to Springer Mountain Map, Directions & Details
Free parking is available at the Three Forks trailhead. Note: Trailhead access is via a gravel Forest Service Road.
34.664183, -84.184317 // N34 39.851 W84 11.059
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