It was a dark, foggy and cold fall day. The leaves had just started to change and so I decided to do a sunrise hike at Preacher’s Rock. I could hear the sounds of the birds waking up and the breeze whistling through the trees. It was in that moment that I knew why I hiked.
It wasn’t for the destination, or for the feelings of adrenaline rushing through your veins when you get to the top. It was for feeling connected with nature and unplugging from everything else.
I've hiked 10 places in the past year, and these are the hikes you need to do this fall.
No. 10: Cloudland Canyon, Dade County
This park offers it all, stunning canyon views, multiple waterfalls and even places to camp under the stars. I hiked Cloudland Canyon in April and loved every minute of it.
There are multiple trails, so it can get confusing, but each trail is worthy. The West Rim Loop Trail goes along the top of the canyon and gives breathtaking views of the canyon itself, and can be a perfect opportunity for a beautiful sunset picture.
When I went, I hiked the West Rim Trail to a lookout, then changed course and started down the waterfall trail. This trail leads to Cherokee Falls and Hemlock Falls, each with a great view. There is a lookout platform for both waterfalls, but I actually hiked (off-trail, and heavily frowned upon) behind Hemlock Falls. After the falls, the trail backtracks and goes back up to the Rim Trail toward the interpretive center. This hike is not very treacherous, and is definitely dog friendly. It’s the perfect day trip.
No. 9: Brasstown Bald, Union County
Probably the most accessible “hike” on my list, Brasstown Bald is a gem for everyone. The park has a paved road that climbs to the summit, and offers shuttle bus rides during operating hours. You still have the option to walk, but you can pound the pavement without driving out to Union County.
The hike is 1.1 miles and moderate. At the summit, there is a lookout, a museum and a small theater playing historical information about the park. The lookout is at the top of the learning center, just below an old wooden fire tower. The hike itself is dog-friendly, but they aren’t allowed inside of the learning centers.
Brasstown Bald is the highest point in Georgia at 4,783 feet above sea level, including mountains from both the Blue Ridge and Appalachian Mountains. I honestly was disappointed with this hike — due to the lack of one. I expected a hike, not a walk up a driveway.
The park charges a parking fee, and it may not be much of a hike, but regardless, the panoramic view is worth it.
No. 8: Black Rock Mountain, Rabun County
Clayton is a bit of a drive, but it is worth it for this beautiful view. The Tennessee Rock Trail is a 2.2 mile trail and a relatively easy hike. The trail itself is heavily vegetated and reaches the summit at just 1.55 miles. The summit overlooks North Carolina, including Pickens Nose, another popular hiking spot.
This summit also offers the option to drive all the way to the top, in order to skip hiking all together. This could be an option for those who want to see a beautiful view but can’t make the hike. Along with the main overlook, there are other overlooks along the way that are under construction, but offer just as beautiful of a view.
No. 7: Indian Seats, Forsyth County
Indian Seats is a beautiful hike for those who don’t want a long drive. Located in Cumming, Indian Seats is the nickname for the summit of Sawnee Mountain.
The summit has a rocky outcrop, with three indentations that mimic seats. This hike is very well maintained and honestly feels more like a nature walk that a hike. There are multiple switchbacks, but the terrain almost never gets rocky, and the trail is not steep at all. This 2-mile trail is definitely dog-friendly, and has a platform located to the right of the seats. I hiked it this summer and was surprised to learn that there is a plaque labeling what you see in the distance, noting important features such as other mountains and landmarks.
For anyone who wants to see a beautiful view without driving too far, this one’s for you.
No. 6: Amicalola Falls, Dawson County
I’m not going to lie, I’m not much of a waterfall hiker. Don’t get me wrong, I still think they are beautiful, but I would much rather prefer a mountain top view at the end of the hike. That being said, Amicalola Falls takes my breath away, both literally and figuratively. This waterfall is the tallest cascading falls east of the Mississippi River and falls 720 feet.
The Amicalola Falls Loop Trail is only 2.1 miles roundtrip, but includes a strenuous climb up 604 stairs. The falls are beautiful both from the bottom and the top, and this is a great day hike for anyone wanting to get out of the house.
No. 5: Preacher’s Rock, Lumpkin County
I fell in love with hiking at Preacher’s Rock. I found it my freshman year of college after a local told me about it. It’s part of the Appalachian Trail and starts at the Woody Gap. It’s a relatively short hike at 2 miles roundtrip but has an amazing view. The trail passes a popular camping site on the right and continues through a heavily wooded area before running into a few switchbacks. The trail reaches the summit at 1 mile with an incredible view. There are multiple camping sites at the top and plenty of trees to eno (that’s a fancy hammock). This short but beautiful hike is best in the morning because it has a perfect view of the sunrise. If you’re looking for a short day hike that isn’t too far away, this hike is your best bet.
No. 4: Tallulah Gorge, Rabun County
Probably one of the most popular places to hike, I hiked “the gorge” for the first time in elementary school and forgot how brutal the stairs were until my sophomore year of college. This is a great hike for anyone who loves nature, history and hiking but doesn’t necessarily want the typical mountain top view. The state park, located just south of Clayton, offers many different trails to explore the 2-mile gorge. My favorite trail is actually a two-trail package, the North and South Rim trails.
The trail begins at the park’s interpretive center, and goes out the back door down toward the first few overlooks. At the first trail junction the trail goes left toward Overlooks 1 and 1A. At these overlooks you can see the suspension bridge that goes across the gorge, a toppled tower that Karl Wallenda used to cross the gorge on a high-wire in 1970. The North Rim Trail backtracks to the first junction, and continues on to more overlooks. After Overlook 3, the trail goes toward the dam, and reaches Highway 441 at 1 mile. The trail crosses the gorge along the highway, then connects with the South Rim Trail. The South Rim Trail then goes down a flight of stairs, across the suspension bridge, and up stairs back to the interpretive center.
No. 3: Rabun Bald, Rabun County
This hike is breathtaking. Instead of a rocky face, this 3 mile round-trip trail leads to a tall tower that overlooks a panoramic view.
The access trail starts in a Sky Valley neighborhood and runs into the Bartram Trail less than a quarter-mile in. While this hike isn’t necessarily as hard as the others, such as Blood or Yonah Mountains, I quickly found myself winded. The switchbacks definitely help with conquering the elevation. The entire trail is very “woodsy” and overflowing with vegetation and wildlife. Just short of a mile, there is a clearing with evident camping spots, and a great boulder for resting. Just past another campsite at 1.5 miles, the trail summits on top of a wooden observation deck. The deck itself isn’t that large, but the panoramic view of both Georgia and North Carolina mountains. This hike is a must-do for anyone who wants a beautiful view without a difficult hike.
No. 2: Blood Mountain, White County
The first time I ever cried during a hike was at Blood Mountain.
I still don’t know if it is because of how difficult the hike is, how beautiful the view is or both. The 4.3 mile round-trip trail starts at the Byron Reece Trailhead near Helen at Neels Gap. The trail starts easy, crossing a stream or two, but quickly gains elevation by a set of stone stairs.
After the stairs, the trails continues to gain elevation, until it meets the Appalachian Trail at Flatrock Gap at 0.7 miles. At the intersection, the trail continues right, following the AT white blazes.
At 1 mile, the trail introduces tight switchbacks, peppered with large boulders and rocky clearings. The switchbacks end at 1.4 miles before meeting several large boulders along the trail. The trail summits at 2.15 miles with the highest elevation on the AT in Georgia at 4,459 feet. At the summit there is a rock building, an AT shelter for thru-hikers, that was built in the 1930s. The rocky overhang just next to the shelter offers a breathtaking view at the top.
No. 1: Yonah Mountain, White County
Yonah. I don’t know any other way to describe it other than my happy place.
This 4.4 mile trail is round-trip and starts at the Mount Yonah Trailhead, between Cleveland and Helen. The mountain itself has a beautiful rock face on the side that Army Rangers use for rapelling training. The beginning of the trail is a pretty standard wooded trail, but quickly becomes increasingly steeper and more rocky. Switchbacks wind up alongside the mountain before opening into a small field with a great view at 1.2 miles. This field is a great halfway point and an excellent place to rest. The second half of the hike has no switchbacks, but is a pretty steep incline up to the Ranger training facility at 1.6 miles. Once you take a right at the facility, the summit is about 10 minutes out. The top of the summit is a large rock face with a great view at 2.0 miles. The view looks out on many rolling hills, including Cowrock Mountain, a famous peak on the Appalachian Trail. After the view, the trail continues to a large grassy opening with plenty of places to camp at 2.2 miles.
This climb will always be my favorite, but it is also extremely dangerous. The view at the rockface has sharp edges, including the famous “Yonah peak,” and one wrong step could be fatal.
If you choose to hike it, proceed with caution.
Lindsay Howard is a student at the University of North Georgia Gainesville campus and a clerk at The Times.