Take a Hike
Whether you’re an experienced thru hiker, have a few trails under your belt, or are just starting out, one of the most important lessons any hiker must learn are the ways of the land. Just like not putting the jelly spoon into the peanut butter jar, there are some things out on the trail that you just don’t do.
While we’d all love to head out into the great unknown (or a favorite local trail) with a guarantee of not seeing another soul for hours, that isn’t always a reality. We have to be courteous of fellow hikers so that everyone out there can enjoy the same beauty that we are.
Be respectful of the quiet. This is one of the most important rules of hiking. For a lot of hikers the search of silence is one of the drawing factors, so try to speak softly and turn your cell phone down a notch if you’re in a place that has cell service. It can be hard sometimes to resist the urge to screech with excitement (that pileated woodpecker is incredible and we all know it), but remember that you’re not the only thing out in those forests. Instead of rustling about, take some time to enjoy the environment. Revel in the small cracklings of wildlife. The wind against the mountainside. Take some time to just listen.
Step aside. When you’re out wandering, you’re not always trying to see how fast it’ll take you to get to your destination. Sometimes you need to take a little break, or maybe you just want to take a moment to appreciate your surroundings, and that’s okay. But when you do, make sure that you’re off to the side of the trail so other hikers can easily pass by. There’s nothing more frustrating than having to maneuver your way around someone standing in the middle of the path, especially on a small trail. Like pulling your car off on the interstate, step off to the right side. Your fellow hikers will appreciate it and you’ll be just as grateful when someone does the same for you.
Yield. In a similar vein to stepping aside, there’s a code for who steps aside when passing one another on a small trail. The rule of thumb is always downhill hikers yield to those traveling uphill. Now, this can change depending on who has the most space, if someone has a dog, there are children or a large group involved, etc. But always be mindful of those you’re passing along the way.
Stay on the trail. The impulse to go off trail and walk around puddles, creeks, or just explore what’s out there is tempting. And it can be really hard to resist sometimes. But remember, those trails are where they are for a reason. Although the forests around them are beautiful and should be acknowledged, staying on marked trails is what helps keep both the trails and the nature around them preserved. Respect the trail, respect the forests, and keep on hiking.
Leave No Trace. This rule is pretty straightforward and has evolved into a full-blown movement since the early 90s. Following the previously mentioned tips and more, Leave No Trace really boils down to making sure that you’re prepared for the environment that you’re going to be hiking in and doing everything possible to leave the natural beauty of the land untouched. Take nothing from the trail, leave nothing on the trail, and enjoy the trail.
For more information on the Leave No Trace movement, visit https://americanhiking.org/resources/leave-no-trace/
Hiking seems pretty simple until you start doing it. Sure, it’s just you and the great wide yonder, but then there are rules and regulations and gear and the list keeps going. It’s a lot to remember sometimes and everyone has advice to offer. But sometimes it’s a little confusing when that backpacker you met last weekend suggests you take the access trail to the top of the bald because it doesn’t have any switchbacks. Sure, sounds great but…what’s a switchback?
Even though the terms seem endless and like maybe, quite possibly, these experienced hikers are speaking an entirely different language, here is a list of the top terms to get you started. Once you’ve learned these, the rest will be a breeze and you’ll be slinging acronyms and trail lingo in no time flat.
Access Trail. This one is a little self-explanatory because it’s exactly what it sounds, a trail that accesses another trail, campground, or road.
Bald. Imagine a little bald man but instead of a man, it’s a mountain, and there you have it. A bald is a treeless, rocky summit that can be found in certain parts of the Appalachians, mostly in the southern region.
Baselayer. If you’re going to be doing any kind of backpacking or overnighting during cooler weather, you’ll need to get really familiar with this term. Basically, a baselayer is the bottom most layer of clothing that fits like a second skin.
Blaze. This is a term that most know what it is without even realizing it. You know those streaks of colors found on random trees throughout a trail? Well, that’s a blaze. And they’re not so random after all.
Bushwhack. If you’re bushwhacking, you’ve said farewell to the trail life and headed off into the unmarked bushes of the unknown. Just remember to be careful out there.
Fall line. Look directly downhill from the path your own. The most direct route downward is going to be your fall line.
Gap. Typically, you’re only going to hear this term on southern trails. Northern hikers refer to these geographic locations as cols. Gaps are the low spots along the ridgeline.
Knob. Here’s another primarily southern term that refers to the prominent mountain or hill with a rounded top.
NoBo. These are Appalachian Trail hikers who are starting in Maine and hiking all the way south to Georgia.
SoBo. These are Appalachian Trail hikers who are starting in Georgia and hiking north all the way to Maine.
Switchback. Just like it sounds, the trail switches back and forth, or zig zags, up and down the mountains. The idea is to avoid erosion and keep mindful of the earth, but this works out just as well for hikers too. Nobody wants to hike directly uphill for 15 miles straight.
Destination: Preacher’s Rock
“Go Tell It On the Mountain” could have very easily been written about Preacher’s Rock, a gorgeous rock outcrop that sits close to the summit of Big Cedar Mountain, along the Appalachian Trail between Woody Gap and Jarrard Gap.
To get to Preacher’s Rock from Blairsville, take Gainesville Highway roughly 10 miles, past Sunrise Grocery and Byron Herbert Reece Farm and Museum, and then take a right on Wolf Pen Gap Road. Follow the twists and turns up the mountain, winding through the beautiful North Georgia Mountains. It’ll feel like you’ve missed your turn a time or two, but don’t worry, you didn’t. Finally, after about 10 miles, you’ll come to a stop sign with a gas station on the right hand side. Take a left onto Highway 60. Drive about 2 miles up the mountain until you come to a parking lot with a forest service sign, Woody Gap Recreation, park your car, and you’ve made it.
As soon as the weather begins to warm up, the parking lot stays full from sun up to sun down on weekends, and even some weekdays. So if you’re looking for some solitude, the earlier you go the better.
The hike itself is on the shorter side, around 2 miles out and back with white blazes, and is suitable for just about anyone, dogs included. Though it should be noted that the last .4 miles to the top could be a little strenuous, with several scrambles to hike through, but once you make it to the top you’ll be so thankful that you made it. It’s a view unlike any other around.
While Preacher’s Rock has become one of the top destinations on the Appalachian Trail in the Blood Mountain Wilderness for its incredible views and easy accessibility, what really makes the rocky summit unique is the story behind the name.
Back in the late 1800s, a local farmer and preacher from the Suches area by the name of “Bear” Joe Lunsford staked his claim on that rock every Sunday for weekly sermons. Bear would wake up early in the mornings, walk the 2 miles from his home to the base of the trail, and climb to the granite outcrop to preach his sermons out into the valley.
Now part of the Appalachian Trail, Bear’s “Preacher’s Rock” is infamous, well-loved, and gives a sermon of its own to anyone who passes through on their hike along the AT, those who wander out for the day, or those who just need a little taste of mountain magic.
Hiker Highlight: Yin from Virginia
Appalachian Trail hikers come in all shapes and sizes, from all walks of life, from places all across the globe. They hike in search of solace, in search of enlightenment, in search of answers to questions they may not have even asked yet. Some hike for the pure joy of hiking, while others have never set foot on a trail prior to making that initial step up Springer Mountain or Mount Katahdin. No matter the reason, whatever it may be, that led them to hike the 2,000-mile long trail, each have a unique story to tell as they stuff their backpacks, lace up their boots, and set off on a journey that could very well change the course of their lives.
For one hiker, Yin, it was a combination of things that led him to the Appalachian Trail, but like most of his fellow hikers, Yin is there for the search. What exactly he’s searching for, he’s yet to figure out.
Yin was born and raised in Taiwan but came to the United States as a young adult, seeking the college experience and prosperous life after finishing his undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA. But, like most people his age, Yin soon found that life after graduation wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be. There are no big flashing lights, no warm welcoming signs, “you made it!” shining like beacons in the night. Soon the reality of student debt and all the responsibilities that come with adulthood started crashing down, and Yin was left with no choice but to get a job less than his dream and settle down in his college town.
Fast forward nearly 10 years and Yin was still working that same job, still living in that same town, and was quickly approaching 30 – an age that’s significance was not lost on him. He wasn’t happy with his job or his life, but he didn’t know where to go from there. No one prepared him for the daily monotony of life after college and he’d always imagined his 20s to be something more than what they were. Time seemed to be ticking faster than it ever had before and Yin needed a change. But what?
Living in Charlottesville, a college town known for its large hiking community and close proximity to the Appalachian Mountains, Yin had heard of the Appalachian Trail before and had even met a few people who’d hiked it. From the stories he’d read and listened to, the trail seemed like the place to go for people who didn’t know where else to turn. To Yin, it seemed like the perfect place to be.
So Yin set out, having never hiked a day in his life, to hike all of the AT, from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. On day three of his journey, Yin sat on Ramrock, between Woody Gap and Gooch Gap, looking out across the Blood Mountain Wilderness with tears in his eyes.
“I really hope I can do this,” he said. And he grabbed his sack, re-laced up his boots, and trudged on.
destination: long creek falls
If you’re looking for a scenic trail, with beautiful falls at the end, and to check off a couple high profile trails while you’re at it, Long Creek Falls in Blue Ridge, Georgia should make it to the top of your list.
An easy to moderate difficulty rating, Long Creek Falls is a two-mile out and back trail that sits directly on the combined Appalachian Trail, Benton McKaye, and Duncan Ridge Trail.
Since the falls are only a short walk off of the AT, it’s a hot spot for thru-hikers who want a quiet place to rest their feet, take a nap alongside the river, or simply sit and take in the beauty of the falls.
Over the years, Long Creek has also become a destination for day hikers, particularly families and those with dogs who want a decent trail to visit on the weekends. In fact, it’s grown so much in popularity that the parking lot at Three Forks (the area you’ll drive to the start of the trail) is always packed, sprawling out down the dirt service road, especially on the weekends. So if you’re wanting a less crowded view of the falls, going on the weekdays would give you more privacy to enjoy the trail and the falls once you get there.
With full falls, even in the middle of summer, Long Creek Falls is one of the first along the AT and one of the prettiest you’ll find not only Fannin County, but all of North Georgia. Exposed rock frames the falls, allowing for optimum sittin’ spots along the bank of the falls and the creek that it feeds. Before tumbling over one large rock face, Long Creek runs over smaller rocks, making the final drop into a shallow pool at the base of the falls even that more impressive.
You can hear that soft rustle of water from the start of the trail all the way through.
As far as getting to the trailhead goes, it isn’t a hard one to find. In fact, you can even plug the location into your GPS and it’ll take you right to the parking lot.
From Blue Ridge, you’ll take Old Highway 76 and hop on Aska Road until it dead-ends into Newport Road. Take Newport Road until it ends and turn left onto Doublehead Gap Road. Doublehead Gap will turn into a dirt road, which you’ll follow until the three-way split. On the split, follow Forest Service Road 58 until you reach Three Forks, which is just over five miles.
Once you’ve made it, park your car, follow the trail across the road from the foot bridge, and take in all the wonder and beauty of Long Creek Falls.