With a few recent days of cool temperatures, I was excited to try out a new hike in North Georgia with my hiking buddy over the weekend. We were hoping to see the changing colors in the leaves and definitely saw the beginnings of the Fall colors. The Blood Mountain hike is more heavily traveled than most, due to a large segment of it being on the Appalachian Trail. I thoroughly enjoyed this hike, despite the strenuous hills and switchbacks at the beginning. I guess it is best to get those out of the way early though 🙂
Blood Mountain Trail – Chattahoochee National Forest, Blairsville, GA
Distance: 6.2 miles (loop)
Elevation Gain: 1,800 ft
Difficulty Level: Moderate to Strenuous (elevation)
Trail Features: forest, rock outcroppings, long-range views, Appalachian Trail
With an elevation of 4,459 ft, Blood Mountain is the second highest peak in Georgia and the highest peak in Georgia on the Appalachian Trail. The Blood Mountain loop trail is comprised of three trails on the southern edge of Vogel State Park. The loop begins at the Byron Herbert Reece Access trailhead, located just off of US 19/29. My advice would be to arrive early, due to limited parking at the Byron Herbert Reece trailhead.
The Byron Herbert Reece Access trail travels through a forest of rhododendron. The terrain becomes fairly steep as you climb stone steps and switchbacks, gaining about 400 feet in elevation.
After 0.7 miles, you will reach a three-way intersection. Turn right to follow the Appalachian Trail (white blazes) up Blood Mountain. The terrain along this segment of the Appalachian Trail is quite steep, with an elevation gain of nearly 1,400 feet in the 2.1 miles up to the top of Blood Mountain. Your hard work is first rewarded after about 0.8 miles, with your first glimpse of the view.
Continuing on the trail, the terrain becomes steeper and features switchbacks until you reach the second clearing, at the 1.4 mile mark. At this point, you will climb up steep boulders to a level area with a stunning view. Take advantage of this area for a water break and enjoy the view. As you continue to gain elevation, the temperature drops substantially. Be sure to bring layers, if you are hiking in Fall/Winter months.
At the summit, you will find a primitive shelter, built in the 1930s for hikers on the Appalachian Trail. Climb the rocky area to the right of the shelter, to enjoy the a snack and the long-range views from Picnic Rock.
From the summit, you will head down Blood Mountain on the opposite side from which you ascended, following the Appalachian Trail southwest toward Bird Gap. The Freeman Trail (blue blazes) will be located on the left. The trail will be significantly more dense and appear not as heavily traveled, compared to the Appalachian Trail and Byron Herbert Reece Trail portions of the hike. The 1.8 mile Freeman Trail traverses around the side and base of Blood Mountain, making the terrain very rocky at times. Although there are no views from the Freeman Trail, this portion of the hike is quiet and peaceful.
Once you return to the three-way intersection at the end of the Freeman Trail, cross over the Appalachian Trail to return to the trailhead via the Byron Herbert Reece trail.
If you care for a shorter hike, you could do the 4.3 mile out-and-back trek of the Byron Herbert Reece trail to the summit of Blood Mountain on the Appalachian Trail and return the same way back down the mountain. The Vogel State Park map shows this loop at the bottom, with the trailhead parking lot appearing just north of Neels Gap and the Byron Herbert Reece trail and Freeman trail appearing in blue.
The Blood Mountain trail was perfect for a Fall hike. But, the stunning long-range views make this a great hike any time of the year! Have you been on any great hikes recently? (Like this post? You can read the first of our series of Great Hikes here.)