Woody Gap to Neel’s Gap is early on in the annual Appalachian Trail pilgrimage, and in spring you’ll see many chipper thru-hikers working their way through their first week of the trail. Besides the convivial trail vibes, this portion offers a variety of scenic overlooks both across the mountains of the Chattahoochee National Forest and the sprawling valleys of trees in the Blood Mountain Wilderness. This section of the AT is primarily single-track, and a few rocky climbs pop up on Big Cedar Mountain and Blood Mountain. Much of this trail follows ridgelines at a fairly consistent elevation. You descend 50 feet total from Woody Gap (3,160 feet) to Neel’s Gap (3,109 feet) and the climbs are spread out so you’ll have plenty of time to catch your breath. The ascent to Blood Mountain has the most switchbacks and straight ascents, and it is also one of the most popular spots on the trail as you’ll encounter hikers from Lake Winfield Scott and Duncan Ridge Trail.
What Makes It Great
Within 1.1 miles on the trail, you’ll reach the top of Big Cedar Mountain, on an easy climb that gains only about 500 feet. Be careful after wet weather, as some of the rocks on the ascent are slippery. At the summit you’ll be on Preacher’s Rock. Take a minute to survey the 180-degree view of Chattahoochee National Forest. Lance Creek, about 3 miles, offers a scenic spot to stop for a water break or a quick dip. It carves through the center of the trail, bubbling calmly and following the trail east. Starting at Slaughter Gap, the trail climbs east to the summit of Blood Mountain at 9 miles. You’ll get similar views of the Blue Ridge Mountains as the windswept summit and living rock offer less tree coverage than other parts of the trail.
Who is Going to Love It
Whether a day hike or a backpacking weekend, Woody Gap is a good central location to hike North or South on the Appalachian Trail. Regardless, once you get off the trail, it’s only 15 minutes into Dahlonega, where you can fuel up at one of the hiker-friendly restaurants. If ending at Neel’s Gap, drive south for 30 minutes to reach Dahlonega. For those making a day trip from Atlanta, Dahlonega is on the way home anyway.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
The start and end of this hike is one of the easiest accessed trail year-round. Woody Gap is located off Highway 60, and there are parking lots on both sides of the road for you to park, pending whether you want to hike northbound or southbound. At Neel’s Gap, off Highway 19/129, you’ll end at Walasi-Yi Interpretive Center, where you can get picked up. Or opt to park at the Blood Mountain trailhead for the Byron Reece Trail. Parking is free at all locations, but do not park in the Walasi-Yi lot.
You’ll find a portable toilet at Woody Gap, in addition to some covered benches and picnic tables. The scenic overlook on the south side of the trailhead offers a beautiful view of Springer Mountain and the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains.