Appalachian Trail: Indian Grave Gap to Chattahoochee Gap
This hike is a moderate-to-difficult 6.9 mile section of the Appalachian Trail from Indian Grave Gap to Chatttahoochee Gap that runs through the center of the Mark Trail Wilderness area. It is in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest (Blue Ridge District). This section has about 2,474 feet of climbing and 2,091 feet of decent. Near Unicoi Gap, there are some steep sections.
Along this trail you will pass Unicoi Gap (where there is parking, if you're looking for a shorter hike) , Rocky Mountain, Blue Mountain (where there is a shelter), Red Knob, and will find the Chattahoochee Source Spring at a beautiful shoulder near Jacks Knob where the Jacks Knob trail comes down from Georgia Highway 180 near Brasstown Bald.
The Chattahoochee Spring is the source of the Chattahoochee River that flows through Atlanta and into the Gulf of Mexico. Follow the signs to find it just a couple hundred yards off the Appalachian Trail.
Strong storms in recent years have left the section of the trail closest to Unicoi Gap looking pretty battered with many trees of all sizes down. However, trail maintenance has been notably kept and the trail is clear. Additionally, because of its southerly residence, this section of the Appalachian Trail is accessible year round (other than very rare inclement weather.)
As are all US Wilderness areas, the Mark Trail Wilderness is part of the National Wilderness Preservation System meaning, according to the US Wilderness Act of 1964, that it is "an area where the earth and community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain" and "an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions." As such, this area has a special natural beauty that is becoming increasingly rare.
Gravel parking for this hike can be found where Indian Grave Gap Road crosses the AT at Indian Grave Gap just north of Helen, GA. Note that Indian Grave Gap Road requires fording the headwaters of the Hiawassee River in your vehicle. If the weather has been wet, the ford can be deep. Alternately, you can park at Unicoi Gap on GA-75. This will cut about 2.8 miles off the length of this hike.
The mid-section of this hike can be a little rugged due to the results of storms in the area where there's the most elevation change near the beginning of the trail. Also, in my experience, most kids will wear out before they've reached the end of a 7 mile hike. I'd give this a 4 out of 10 for kids.
Dogs that are used to exercising outside for extended periods should probably be ok. Just watch for sections with lots rocks that might injure their feet.
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