Hike the Yonah Mountain Trail through a rocky, wildflower-filled forest, climbing this iconic mountain to exceptional summit views and great backpacking campsites near Helen, Georgia.
LOCATION:near Helen, Georgia
OFFICIAL MAP: Nat Geo 778 Trails Illustrated Map
With incredible views, steep drop-offs, and a moderately challenging but ultra-scenic climb to the summit, the Yonah Mountain Trail delivers one of North Georgia’s best and most popular hikes. Yonah rises from the foothills of Georgia’s southern Appalachian Mountains, jutting skyward from the rolling landscape between Cleveland and Helen. The mountain’s asymmetrical, iconic shape and massive, exposed rock outcrops near the summit lend to its popularity with hikers and climbers.
It’s a moderately strenuous hike, with a continuous, unrelenting upward climb to the summit and a few scrambles over boulders – but the views from the summit are simply stunning.
This out-and-back, just-over-four-mile round trip hike travels from the mountain’s base to the Yonah Mountain summit on a meandering trail and gravel roadbed. The hike explores a rocky, mossy, boulder-filled forest that blossoms in springtime with abundant wildflowers, and passes multiple campsites along the way. At the summit, far-flung vistas extend in broad panoramas to the horizon, catching incredible views from multiple rocky, steep outcrops. It’s an equally fantastic wildflower-spotting springtime hike, a gorgeous fall-leaf-spotting hike in autumn, and a great snow-spotting hike in winter.
Yonah Mountain Trail: the hike
The hike departs a trailhead off Chambers Mountain Road south of Helen (view maps and driving directions), accessed from a short stretch of gravel road. The trail dives through a grove of young hardwoods and gnarly-branched mountain laurel, immediately beginning its summit-bound climb as it departs the trailhead.
The hike crosses a small bridge over a trickling stream at .3 mile. The trail arcs southbound, carving through the first of several switchbacks at .5 mile and passes a small campsite beside an enormous, fissured boulder at .6 mile.
The trail continues its seemingly skyward climb, ascending two sets of stone stairs at .8 mile. The hike scrambles through a small, angular boulder field at 1 mile. (A number of side paths, leading to climbing routes, veer off the main trail. The main Yonah Mountain Trail is usually the wider of the trails, and is often well-blazed with bright green trail blazes at tricky intersections.) In the springtime, the trail’s boulder-filled landscape fills with vibrant wildflowers.
The trail reaches a wide, grassy clearing with multiple campsites at 1.2 miles, grabbing some beautiful mid-hike views from a boulder at the clearing’s western edge. Departing the clearing, the hike follows a gravel road northbound, and the climb quickly intensifies. The hike reaches an intersection at 1.5 miles and turns right, following the gravel road eastbound and continuing the climb.
The gravel road enters a small US Army training camp at 1.6 miles. From the camp, various trails split in multiple directions; for the easiest route to the summit, the hike continues following the gravel road, the widest of the trails, veering left at all the major trail intersections. The hike pauses for a can’t-miss view at 1.85 miles, accessed by a slight veer to the right on a side trail. From this rocky vantage point, farmland peppers Yonah’s surrounding, rolling landscape, and birds of prey soar overhead in thermal updrafts. It’s a great place to catch a quick break (and great view) before the final climb to the summit. Cowrock Mountain, a prominent peak on the nearby Appalachian Trail, dominates the view on the northwestern horizon.
Continuing on the gravel road, the hike veers left again at 2 miles. The trail crests the Yonah Mountain summit at 2.2 miles, entering a wide-open, grassy mountaintop meadow dotted with stone campsite fire rings. The mountain’s green, rounded peak stands at 3166 feet, a 1400-foot climb from the trailhead far below.
Side trails lead beyond the treeline that rings Yonah Mountain’s grassy summit. Views from these trails are gorgeous – but the drop-offs are sheer, sudden and extremely dangerous. If you choose to explore the summit without climbing gear, be extremely careful and stay well away from the edge. One wrong step or slip could be really bad news.
The breezy, sun-drenched summit makes a great spot to hang out in a hammock, grab a snack or cloud gaze in the grassy clearing before the hike back down. Departing the summit, the hike retraces its steps in reverse, reaching the trailhead at 4.4 miles and completing the adventure.
Yonah Mountain: backpacking & campsites
Primitive camping is available at the Yonah Mountain summit and mid-elevation base camp. Campsites are first-come, first camp, so be sure to arrive early for the best spots, especially on warm-weather weekends.
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Free. The US Army leads active training sessions on Yonah Mountain. Call 706-864-3367 to check the training schedule and avoid hiking on training days.
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