Hike a challenging and scenic adventure Appalachian Trail in Georgia, climbing from Unicoi Gap to Rocky Mountain, dropping into the wildflower-filled Indian Grave Gap and looping back to the trailhead on the Rocky Mountain Trail.
OFFICIAL MAP: Appalachian Trail, Trails Illustrated Map
With a just-off-the-highway trailhead and some seriously spectacular summit views, it’s no wonder that this Unicoi Gap adventure is one of the most popular hikes on the Appalachian Trail in Georgia. This hike makes a heart-pounding climb of Rocky Mountain, one of Georgia’s most difficult AT stretches, climbing over 1,000 feet to the mountain’s summit. After catching views from the mountaintop, the hike descends to the wildflower and mountain laurel-filled Indian Grave Gap and treks through lush forest on the mountain’s middle elevations, looping back to Unicoi Gap on the Rocky Mountain Trail.
It’s a great cardio workout, with an extended, pulse-raising climb through a rocky terrain. The summit offers some great campsites just off the trail. And the forest is simply beautiful, filled with fern, moss, wildflowers and trickling creeks. It’s easily one of our favorite Appalachian Trail hikes in our state.
Appalachian Trail and Rocky Mountain Trail loop: the hike
The hike departs the Unicoi Gap trailhead north of Helen (view maps and driving directions), passing a large boulder with a bronze plaque commemorating the Appalachian Trail. The hike follows the AT east, climbing wooden stairs to enter a boulder-filled, rocky forest. The trail begins a steady climb of Rocky Mountain’s western slope, climbing through a lichen and moss-filled forest dappled with sunlight and crossing several small, trickling springs.
The trail switches back through a rhododendron-filled forest at .6 mile, passing a small campsite. Through-the-tree views of the surrounding mountains emerge on the left as the hike continues to climb elevation. Nearing the summit, the white-blazed Appalachian Trail passes an intersection with the blue-blazed Rocky Mountain Trail, the return route for this loop hike, at .85 mile.
The hike follows the Appalachian Trail southbound, making a final climb to the summit. Large slabs of lichen-crusted rock emerge from the forest floor, and the forest begins to thin with the ever-higher elevation. The trail passes a campsite at 1.3 miles just before summiting, catching distant views of Yonah Mountain. Several trailside campsites with stone fire rings dot the mountain’s peak.
The hike follows the AT across the mountain’s summit, catching more photo-worthy, expansive views of rolling mountains and valleys from a wide, slab rock outcrop.
The trail begins a nearly continuous descent to Indian Grave Gap, dropping through a fern-filled forest by way of rustic stone and wood stairs and ducking through tunnels of gnarly-branched mountain laurel. The hike meets the gravel-paved Indian Grave Gap at 2.5 miles, having descended over 850 feet from the Rocky Mountain summit. (From the gap, the Appalachian Trail crosses the gravel road, ascending through a tunnel of mountain laurel and trailing to Tray Mountain. A side trail departs to the southwest, descending to the Andrews Cove Campground.)
This hike turns north from the gap, following the blue blazes on the gravel Indian Grave Gap Road. Wildflowers flank the trail in warm-weather months, stretching high to reach the sunlight below the tall tree canopy.
The hike rolls elevation on the blue-blazed road before reaching the turnoff to the Rocky Mountain Trail at 3.15 miles. The route turns west, veering from the road and following the trail’s blue blazes into the forest. The trail crosses several small streams, making a steady climb of Rocky Mountain’s middle elevations in a forest filled with fern, deciduous trees, and leafy underbrush.
The trail peaks at 4.25 miles, reaching a small campsite and a junction with the Appalachian Trail. From the junction, this hike follows the AT westbound, descending through the forest to Unicoi Gap and completing the adventure at just over 5 miles.
More Appalachian Trail adventure at Unicoi Gap
Just across the highway, the Appalachian Trail summits Blue Mountain and hikes to Chattachooee Gap, visiting the Blue Mountain shelter, trailing through a fern and wildflower-filled forest and visiting the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River.
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Free parking is available at the USFS Unicoi Gap trailhead.
34.801600, -83.742833 // N34 48.096 W83 44.570