Great Hikes: Bear Creek Trail, Cohutta Wilderness, GA

The HSE ladies {and husbands} recently took a field trip to the Cohutta Wilderness in the Chattahoochee National Forest.  We had to take advantage of nearly 60-degree temperatures and a clear turquoise blue sky, after the frigid temperatures we’ve experienced recently.  Our intentions were to hike a different trail, but forest service road closures (darn icy roads!) threw a wrench in our plans.  We happened upon another nearby trail, which turned out to be a LONG, but enjoyable hike.

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Bear Creek Loop Trail – Cohutta Wilderness, Chattahoochee National Forest, Ellijay, GA
Distance: 9.7 miles (including approach trail and loop), 6.7 miles (loop only)
Difficulty Level: Moderate to Difficult
Trail Features: multiple stream crossings, Gennett Poplar, dense forest, steep climbs

The Bear Creek Loop can be accessed in two locations. The upper portion of the Bear Creek Loop can be accessed via an approach trail at a marked parking area on the right, when heading north on Old CCC Campground Rd (Forest Service Rd 68).  By starting at the upper portion approach trail, the hike will be about 3 miles longer than beginning at the lower trailhead.  The lower Bear Creek Loop trailhead can be accessed by Forest Service Rd 241/Bear Creek Camp Rd, off of Gates Chapel Rd.

A couple of cautionary notes:
* This trail is open to mountain biking and appears to be quite popular with riders.
* Regardless of where you begin your hike, you will encounter wide stream crossings.  It is best to wear waterproof boots in the winter, water resistant sandals in warmer months or be prepared to remove your shoes and cross barefoot.

We began our hike at the upper portion of the trail.  The hike began just downhill from an overlook {as seen in first picture, above}, which offered long-range views of surrounding mountains and the valley below.  Beginning at the upper portion of the trail, the first half of the hike was all downhill.

I was unable to locate a trail map online, to illustrate the path of the Bear Creek Loop.  Fortunately, I took a {not so great} photo of the the map posted at the trailhead.  This map appears at both the upper and lower trailheads and the trails are very clearly marked with signs.

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We began our trek at the red “YOU ARE HERE” marker and followed the well-established approach trail {purple line} northeast, crossing Barnes Creek at 0.5 miles.   This crossing is one of the widest creek crossings on the hike.  Continue the descent until you come to a fork at approximately 1.5 miles.

Bear Creek Trail 1

Continuing south, the trail intersects with the {red} Pinhoti trail, descending into the dense rhododendron and hardwood forest and crossing Bear Creek at numerous points.  We continued south past the sign for Bear Creek Loop, which pointed to the east.  NOTE: If you were to hike only the Bear Creek Loop (6.7 miles), you would start at the lower trailhead, hike north past the Gennett Poplar, then veer right at this split.

After the split for Bear Creek Loop, we passed the Gennett Poplar on the right side of the trail.  The Gennett Poplar is the second largest tree in Georgia, towering over the forest at nearly 100 feet tall, with an 18 foot circumference, and is estimated to be more than 400 years old.

Bear Creek Trail 2Continuing south on the Pinhoti/Bear Creek Loop trails, the trail encounters several wide stream crossings.

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At 0.8 miles beyond the Gennett Poplar, the Bear Creek Loop trail departs the Pinhoti Trail, heading southeast.  After 0.2 miles, the trail reaches the (lower) Bear Creek Loop trailhead parking lot.  From the far end of parking lot, the trail continues across Bear Creek.  As you can see in the pictures below, this creek crossing got the best of us.  With a 20+ foot wide crossing and few logs or rocks to scale across, we were forced to abandon our shoes, roll up our pants, and trek through the ice cold water with our bare feet.  It actually wasn’t that bad.  We all agreed that a minute in ice cold water was far better than hiking the last few miles with wet socks.

Bear Creek Trail 4

Once you cross Bear Creek for the last time, the trail immediately begins a steep incline out of the valley.  We continued uphill for over a mile, before reaching the ridge.  We followed along the ridge for another mile or so, encountering a few minor descents and gains, before winding back over to the intersection of the Pinhoti and Bear Creek Trail.

Bear Creek Trail 5

At the intersection, we retraced our steps up the 1.5-mile approach trail to the parking lot off of Old CCC Campground Rd. On the way back, the approach trail was a bit of a climb.

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All in all, we really enjoyed the hike.  The scenery was beautiful, constantly changing, and the last half of the trail offered a great cardio and leg workout.  If you prefer to do a shorter hike, we suggest parking at the lower trailhead off of Bear Creek Camp Rd.  From the lower trailhead, you can choose a 2-mile out and back to the Gennett Poplar, or hike the 6.7-mile Bear Creek Loop.  Just remember, if you skip the upper approach trail, you’ll miss out on this view….

Bear Creek-Overlook

So, make sure you drive up the mountain to see it!

The brief respite from cold weather has ignited Spring fever in my soul.  As the country is gripped by another blast of snow and frigid wind, I’m dreaming of more warm and sunny days spent on the trails.

– Brittany

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