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 (find it at Trailful Outdoor Co.)
With trailhead located just off a paved highway, and with some seriously spectacular summit views, it’s no wonder that day hike from Unicoi Gap is one of the most popular hikes on the Appalachian Trail in Georgia. This adventure scores a heart-pounding climb of Rocky Mountain, one of the most difficult stretches on the A.T. in our state, climbing over 1,000 feet to the mountain’s summit. After catching views from the mountaintop, the hike descends to the scenic Indian Grave Gap. And then it explores a lush forest on the mountain’s middle elevations before looping back to Unicoi Gap on the Rocky Mountain Trail. It’s one great hike, for sure.
It’s a great cardio workout, too, with an extended, pulse-raising climb through 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 A.T. day hikes in Georgia.
Appalachian Trail and Rocky Mountain Trail loop: the hike
The adventure begins at the Unicoi Gap trailhead north of Helen (view maps and driving directions), passing a large boulder with a bronze plaque commemorating the A.T. 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 mossy forest dappled with sunlight and crossing several small, trickling springs.
The trail switches back through thickets of rhododendron forest at just over a half mile and passes a small campsite. Through-the-tree views of the surrounding mountains emerge on the trail’s left side, including the recognizable summit of Yonah Mountain. 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.
The hike follows the Appalachian Trail southbound, making a final climb to the mountain’s rounded peak. Large slabs of lichen-crusted rock speckle the forest floor and the canopy begins to thin as the trail climbs elevation. The route passes a campsite at 1.3 miles just before the summit and several more 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 just over three 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 five miles.
More Appalachian Trail adventures 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.
After the Adventure
Catch your breath and throw out some high fives. You’ve just completed on of the most challenging sections of the AT in Georgia! As a reward, head into Hiawassee for a frosty pint of craft beer and some tacos at Hiawassee Brew. And after you’ve relaxed and recharged, stop by our new hiking outfitter shop, Trailful Outdoor Co. to say hello to the Atlanta Trails founders, Eric and Rob. We’ve stocked our new shop with our favorite hiking and backpacking gear brands including ENO, Osprey, KUHL, Kelty, and many more. We also carry our line of Atlanta Trails hats, shirts, hoodies, and stickers as well as locally made gifts and goods, trail maps, and books. We’d love to see you!
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.
Love the trail?
This trail is maintained thanks to the hard work of countless volunteers and donations from supporters of the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club. Please support them by making a donation or joining a volunteer day. Let's work together to keep these fantastic trails maintained and open for use!
Did you have trouble accessing the trail, or notice some recent trail updates or storm damage? We'd love to know! Contact us here, and thanks for helping us keep this site updated!
Free parking is available at the USFS Unicoi Gap trailhead.
34.801600, -83.742833 // N34 48.096 W83 44.570