Hike the Bartram Trail to Rabun Bald, the second-tallest mountain summit in Georgia, to catch stunning panoramic views from the mountain’s summit.
LOCATION:Rabun County near Clayton, Georgia
OFFICIAL MAP: Nat Geo 778 Trails Illustrated Map
Birds of prey circle in thermal uplifts in the seemingly endless valleys below. The rolling southern Appalachian Mountains, weathered by time, surround the summit, creating an endless panoramic view that’s stunning no matter where you turn. This hike on the Bartram Trail to Rabun Bald offers a generous dose of serenity and a gorgeous dose of natural beauty from a soaring summit, the second highest in Georgia.
Georgia’s loftiest peak, Brasstown Bald, offers equally stunning, see-forever views. But unlike Rabun Bald, there’s a paved access to Brasstown’s summit. While Rabun Bald is often quiet and serene, visitors often crowd Brasstown Bald by the literal busload. While access to Rabun Bald requires a bit more effort, the payoff seems so much sweeter, and the views just a bit better given the workout to reach the summit.
This day hike is the easiest, and shortest-distance, access to the Rabun mountaintop. The hike follows the Bartram Trail, a long-distance trail that treks some of northeast Georgia’s most beautiful landscapes before entering North Carolina north of Rabun Bald. The trail follows the route William Bartram, a writer and naturalist, journeyed in the late 1700s, including a particularly beautiful stretch of the Bartram Trail on the wild and scenic Chattooga River just south of Rabun Bald.
Bartram Trail to Rabun Bald: the hike
The hike departs a quiet, upscale Sky Valley neighborhood near the end of a gravel road (view maps and driving directions – and please be sure not to block any driveways or the gravel road). The hike veers left to follow a green-blazed trail, an access trail to the nearby Bartram Trail. (A gravel road veers to the right; take the path to the left.) The trail immediately climbs elevation, ascending Rabun Bald’s lower elevations through a forest dense with rhododendron and mountain laurel.
The access trail reaches the Bartram Trail at just under .2 mile. The hike turns right, trailing the yellow-blazed Bartram Trail southbound toward the Rabun Bald summit. The trail gains elevation unrelentingly; however, the difficulty is moderate, thanks to a series of sharp trail switchbacks that conquer the height slowly.
The Bartram Trail meanders through a rocky landscape dominated by gnarly, blue-green leafed rhododendron that cast a lattice of shadows on the trail’s path. In springtime, ferns unfurl and wildflowers dot the trail’s sides, framed by large rock outcrops covered in green moss and silvery lichen.
The Bartram Trail reaches a campsite in a wide clearing at .8 mile. Glassy mica speckles the trail’s sandy surface, glimmering in rays of the sun. The hike turns left, following the yellow-blazed Bartram Trail southbound in a switchback-saturated final ascent toward Rabun Bald. The trail crosses a large slab of cemented rock, and passes a large outcrop at 1 mile, meandering through the last few switchbacks before beginning the final, straight-shot trek to the summit.
The Bartram Trail summits Rabun Bald at 1.5 miles, passing a small campsite. An observation platform caps the mountain’s rocky, bald summit, and the platform is accessible by steep-pitched wooden stairs. The tower’s foundation is historic: it was the first fire tower in the area, and was more recently converted to a wood viewing platform above the original tower’s stone base.
Outstanding views surround the Rabun Bald summit, offering hikers a 360-degree panorama anywhere they turn. Rabun Bald’s lofty peak sits on the Eastern Continental Divide, offering sweeping, long-range views of the surrounding North Carolina and Georgia wilderness. Georgia’s Black Rock Mountain is visible to the southwest. To the northwest, the North Carolina summits of Standing Indian Mountain, Pickens Nose, and the firetower-capped Albert Mountain rise from the horizon. And the enormous, sheer-sided slopes of Whiteside Mountain are visible to the northeast.
Departing the breezy, sun-drenched Rabun Bald summit, this out-and-back hike doubles back on its outbound route, retracing the Bartram Trail northbound. The route turns left off the yellow-blazed Bartram Trail at 2.75 miles, following the green-blazed access trail to the Beegum Gap trailhead. The access trail reaches Beegum Gap at 3 miles, completing the hike.
Nearby hiking adventures
In the area with energy left to spare? Follow an ultra-scenic stretch of the Bartram Trail from Warwoman Dell to Pinnacle Knob, visiting the stunning cascades of two waterfalls before climbing to beautiful 180-degree views from a rocky summit near Clayton. Or hike a small stretch of the Bartram Trail to the banks of the crystalline Chattooga River on a hike to Dicks Creek Falls. Cross the SC border to visit Issaqueena Falls, one of South Carolina’s most beautiful waterfalls. Score exceptional canyon and waterfall views at Tallulah Gorge State Park. And check out the full list of our favorite hikes in Rabun County for more adventure inspiration.
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Extremely limited (and free) parking is available at the USFS trailhead. Please don't block the gravel road or driveways.
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