|Georgia Blue Ridge Mountains from atop Blood Mountain|
Difficulty: Moderate; Freeman Trail is rocky and brushy
Access: Paved road to trailhead, no pass required
The rocky summit of Blood Mountain is the highest point on the Appalachian Trail in Georgia and provides beautiful views of the southern Blue Ridge just two hours driving from Atlanta. This loop hike visits the summit via a well-traveled stretch of the AT but make a loop for the return, following the little-used Freeman Trail along the southern slopes of Blood Mountain. It's also possible (and perhaps recommended) to simply hike round trip to the summit of Blood Mountain via the AT for a 4-mile round trip hike that avoids the rockier and more difficult terrain on the Freeman Trail. The numerous rhododendrons along the trail suggest that this would be a gorgeous late spring or early summer hike when the flowers bloom. This was a beautiful and enjoyable hike, especially when done as a round trip to the summit of Blood Mountain on the AT; I recommend it to anyone who lives in or is visiting the Atlanta area.
I hiked Blood Mountain on a one-day whirlwind tour of the north Georgia; after arriving at Atlanta Hartsfield early in the morning on a red-eye, I hopped in a car and drove north and hiked Blood Mountain in the morning, later doing other short hikes at Brasstown Bald and Anna Ruby Falls. Hikers looking at a map may wonder why this hike starts from the Byron Reece Trail north of Neels Gap rather than following the AT from Neels Gap; the answer is that the parking area at Neels Gap is dedicated for customers of Mountain Crossings at Walasi-Yi, an outdoors equipment store housed in a historic stone building. As Blood Mountain is an extremely popular hike, the larger parking area at the Byron Reece Trailhead is better suited for accommodating hikers.
From Atlanta, I took Highway 400/US 19 north from the city past Roswell and Alpharetta until the freeway ended; I continued following US 19 north, following signs to stay on the route as it went through various turns, passing through Dahlonega and entering the Blue Ridge, crossing the mountains at Neels Gap. I took the turnoff on the left for the Byron Reece Trailhead shortly after crossing the gap and parked at the trailhead.
The first 2/3 mile of the hike follows the Byron Reece Trail from the trailhead up to the Appalachian Trail at Flatrock Gap. Byron Reece, as a memorial at the trailhead notes, was a twentieth-century poet who grew up in Blairsville, just north of Blood Mountain, and became distinguished for his writings about the north Georgia Blue Ridge before his early death. The trail itself entered the Blood Mountain Wilderness soon after leaving the parking area.
|Entering Blood Mountain Wilderness|
|Rhododendron along the trail|
|When I see the white blazes, I feel at home|
|Appalachian Trail on Blood Mountain|
|First views on Blood Mountain|
To the south, I gazed out into the Piedmont, spotting Yonah Mountain near Helen, one of the few Georgia mountains that I recognized. Layer upon layer of hills faded out into the Piedmont, reminding me of the rolling hills of Albemarle, Nelson, and Madison Counties that I once gazed out at from the mountains outside Charlottesville.
|View into the Piedmont|
Continuing past this initial viewpoint, I soon arrived at a second overlook on a broad rock outcrop, this one with a view wider than the first view. This time, I could gaze out along the crest of the Blue Ridge to the west, my eyes straining to spot Springer Mountain and the starting point of the 2,200-mile long Appalachian Trail. The highest peaks in the view formed the watershed divide between the Chattahoocee and Tennessee River watersheds.
|Blue Ridge view from Blood Mountain|
|Yonah Mountain and the Blue Ridge Mountains|
|Blood Mountain Shelter|
|Junction for the brushy Freeman Trail|
The Freeman Trail followed the southern slopes of Blood Mountain for a little under 2 miles, with occasional ups and downs but no extended climbs or descents. There were no views but the hardwood forest was pleasant to hike through. At about half a mile in, the trail crossed over a small stream where a few autumn leaves decorated the water. Hickory nuts and acorns littered the forest floor.
|Autumn leaf on the Freeman Trail|
|Hollowed-out spiral trunk|
Blood Mountain was an enjoyable hike along the Appalachian Trail with good views of the Georgia Blue Ridge. I was happy to be back in the Blue Ridge, albeit much farther south than the Blue Ridge with which I'm most familiar, so I found this to be a very satisfying experience, especially on a weekday morning when I did not have to share the trail with many other hikers. This circuit is highly recommended for hikers living in or visiting the area.