Hike the Arkaquah Trail to Brasstown Bald

Rate this Adventure 11 miles 3756 ft gain  - Out-and-Back Trail

Added by Christian Murillo

If the paved trail to the summit of Brasstown Bald is not enough of an adventure for you, combine it with the Arkaquah Trail for beautiful views and a challenging experience.

The Arkaquah Trail is unique as far as North Georgia trails go for any reasons.  Its elevation gain and distance puts it near the top for most challenging day hikes in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  If the 11 miles round-trip sounds a bit daunting, this hike can also be done as a 5.5 mile point-to-point, with one car at Track Rock Gap and another at the Brasstown Bald Visitors Center.  When combined with the 1.2 mile round-trip climb to the summit of Brasstown Bald, this makes for a full day of adventure filled with great lightly-trafficked trail and some epic views.

Since the hike can be done as a point-to-point, that also means that this hike can be done in two directions, descending down Chimney Top Mountain and the Arkaquah Ridge from the visitor’s center first, or getting most of the climb out of the way in the beginning of the hike when starting from Track Rock Gap.  The one perk about starting the trail from the Brasstown Bald Visitors Center is that if you get an early enough start to the hike, you can check out the sunrise from the panoramic observation tower on the summit of Brasstown Bald.  Even if you get a late start, checking out the observation tower after completing the Arkaquah trail would leave you with equally impressive views for sunset.  Getting to the summit with the majority of the crowds in the middle of the day is simply not nearly as impressive, although it does make for a great spot for a lunch break.  One thing that is certain is that no matter how you slice it, this is no walk in the park but it certainly is worth the effort.  This trail requires about 4-6 hours and a decent level of fitness. 

Starting from Track Rock Gap, the first 1.7 miles of this hike is brutal.  In this distance you will cover nearly 1400 feet of elevation gain in the form of seemingly endless switchbacks.  There are few hikes in Georgia that can match the prolonged steepness of this initial section of the trail.  After you have built up a good sweat, you will find yourself on top of a beautiful ridge, with the mountain dropping off on the north and south side of the trail.  At this point, you can already feel very relieved, as you have completed the longest climb of the hike.  The rest of the way is straightforward as you continue east, with several short descents and relatively mild climbs as you progress along the ridge.

The fact that long sections of this hike pass on top of an exposed ridge mean that you are afforded great views almost the entire time.  Although there are few unobstructed overlooks, many of the surrounding mountains and valleys can be seen through the hardwoods, especially in the winter months, when the leaves are gone.  Completing this hike in the winter will not only give you the best views, but will also expose you to some greenery, passing through Rhododendron tunnels which keep their leaves year round, while most other plants are bare. 

Most of the hardwoods are found in the elevations lower than 3,500 feet on the first 3.5 miles of trail.  You will notice that you are getting higher in elevation and closer to the visitors center by seeing how the flora quickly changes to being dominated by thick Rhododendrons.  In June and July these bloom with beautiful pink and white flowers. 

Once you make it the 5.5 miles to the visitor’s center, I highly recommend taking the extra trip to the summit of Brasstown Bald, despite the probable jelly-like feeling in your legs.  This is a great lunch or snack stop. 

The hike down is exactly the same as the hike up, except the overall descent is tougher on your knees and quads than it is on your butt.  By the end of the hike, I assure you that your feet will feel like bricks and your legs will feel like 2x4’s, but it will all be worth it.  One thing to note is that while the trail is very easy to navigate, since there are no intersecting trails, there are no blazes to follow as there are on the AT or some other trails in the area. 

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