Hike the Appalachian Trail from Tesnatee Gap to stunning Cowrock Mountain summit views on this 2.25 mile, out-and-back day hike in the Raven Cliffs Wilderness.
OFFICIAL MAP: Appalachian Trail, Trails Illustrated Map (find it at Trailful Outdoor Co.)
Rolling, blue-green-hued peaks. Wide-open vistas. Rocky, sun-dappled, fern-filled North Georgia forest. The hike from Tesnatee Gap to Cowrock Mountain on the Appalachian Trail packs a lot of visual punch in a short distance, spanning only 2.25 miles, round trip. And coupled with Tesnatee Gap’s easy-access trailhead, located off of a paved highway, it’s no wonder this hike is so popular. It’s one of the best and most popular short day hikes on the Appalachian Trail in Georgia.
The hike exploresthe beautiful Raven Cliff Wilderness just north of Georgia’s mountain towns of Helen and Cleveland, visiting the soaring summit of Cowrock Mountain for some stunning peak-filled views. The hike rates at moderate to difficult, gaining over 600 feet of elevation from Tesnatee Gap in a .85 mile climb from the trailhead. While the climb from Tesnatee Gap is nearly continuous, switchbacks ease the elevation gain throughout the hike. And while it’s a decent workout, the summit views make the effort so worthwhile.
Tesnatee Gap to Cowrock Mountain: the hike
The hike departs Tesnatee Gap (view maps and driving directions), hiking the white-blazed Appalachian Trail westbound from the parking area’s southwest corner. The trail begins to rise immediately, steadily gaining elevation under a canopy of spindly, shady, young hardwood trees. The Appalachian Trail reaches a small peak at .25 miles, the climb pausing for a short stretch as the trail rolls downward. The trail swings south at .35 miles, resuming the climb and entering a series of tight switchbacks.
The forest becomes increasingly rocky as the climb continues, leaving the highway sounds at Tesnatee Gap fading in the distance. Fern and vibrant green underbrush line the sides of the trail, and wildflowers stretch to catch the forest’s dappled sunlight in warmer months.
The trail exits its winding switchbacks at .75 mile, nearing the Cowrock Mountain summit. The hike reaches the summit at .85 miles, catching expansive views from the peak, one of our favorite views on the AT in Georgia. The mountaintop’s wide, smooth rock outcrop is a great place to take in the view, rehydrate, grab a mid-hike snack or enjoy lunch.
Before turning to return to Tesnatee Gap, the hike continues following the Appalachian Trail westbound to catch two more views near the summit. The trail arcs to the northwest, reaching a clearing with rolling summit views at .95 mile. From the clearing, the AT continues westbound, descending slightly to the third view at 1.15 miles. From here, this hike turns to retrace its steps to the Tesnatee Gap trailhead, reaching the trailhead and completing the adventure at just over two miles.
Up for more adventure?
If you’ve summited Cowrock and are up for additional miles before returning to the trailhead, continue following the Appalachian Trail toward Neels Gap, hiking westbound. Descending Cowrock Mountain, the Appalachian Trail reaches a view-packed campsite at the Wolf Laurel Top summit, one mile from Cowrock. For more info, check out our review of the Appalachian Trail from Blood Mountain to Cowrock Mountain, following the hike in reverse from the Cowrock summit.
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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34.725983, -83.847683 // N34 43.559 W83 50.861