What’s your favorite part of winter hiking? Is it the lack of heat and humidity, which can be quite unbearable in the south during the summer? Is it the solitude you find on the trails, where only the dedicated hikers are outside?
For us, it’s the scenic views that are only available when trees have shed their lush foliage. Before you even reach the peak of a mountain, bare trees offer rare glimpses of tumbling valleys below and silhouettes of skylines in the distance. The effects of winter thin out trees and offer vistas along ridgelines that are often just as magnificent as those from the actual peak itself. Here are a few of our favorite winter views, both near and far from Atlanta.
1. Jones Bridge Park
9099 Barnwell Rd, ** Johns Creek**
This section of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area is marked by the rusted metal structure of Jones Bridge. While you won’t get scenic overlooks of mountainous valleys here in town, the slender trees along the river expose several views of historic Jones Bridge and the shoals that run beneath it, whereas in summer the greenery is often so thick you can barely see the river. The best view can be reached from Jones Bridge Park off Barnwell Drive. Begin at the parking lot and follow the trail from JB 5 to JB 1. At this eastern end of the park, you’ll be able to see Jones Bridge, which sticks out like a sore thumb next to the river’s natural scenery. You can then follow the path along the Chattahoochee until JV 24, casting occasional glances to the river’s ducks who will splash in the waters regardless of the weather.
2. Kennesaw Mountain
900 Kennesaw Mountain Drive
While the view from Kennesaw Mountain , just over 1,800 feet, is spectacular, the mountain’s ridgeline is clear year-round. What you’ll want to look for during the winter is the views of Atlanta’s skylines on your approach to the peak of Little Kennesaw Mountain. Begin your hike at Burnt Hickory Road, where you’ll slowly gain in elevation as you progress from Pigeon Hill to Little Kennesaw Mountain. As you are traversing switchbacks through the boulder fields, keep an eye out for the fence on the left (between miles 2.5 and 2, which are marked for those traveling North from the visitor center). The fence signifies a perfect opening to catch glimpses of Atlanta’s distant skyline. Clear days will reveal the stretch of downtown and midtown buildings, but winter’s cloudy days also afford modest gray-colored silhouettes.
3. Arkaquah Trail to Brasstown Bald Trail
Trackrock Gap Road
Blairsville, GA 30512
Brasstown Bald is Georgia’s highest mountain peak, and it holds one of the most notable views in the area, of up to 4 states from the observation tower. But come winter, the hike along Arkaquah Trail’s ridgelines leading to the bald are equally impressive. It serves as a reward for climbing the 1,500 foot gain over 1.5-miles that you’ll endure from Arkaquah’s trailhead at Track Rock Road. Once on the ridgeline, you’ll cross over Buzzards Roost Ridge, Cove Gap, and Locust Log Ridge. Stop at the rocks just before your descent to Cove Gap (around 2 miles) and look north; you’ll see magnificent views of Brasstown Valley and the town of Young Harris. Further along your trek on Track Rock Ridge, you’ll pass through sections of mountain laurel that form a tunnel over the path. Lichen-covered rocks will break up the landscape, and opportunities to wander off the path to a few unofficial overlooks warrant views of the south side of the ridge. You’ll see a network of creeks including Arkaquah Creek and Brasstown Creek.
4. Jack’s Gap Trail
Off State Road 180- view here.
Jack’s Gap Trail is a relatively unknown approach trail to Chattahoochee Gap, where the trail intersects with the Appalachian Trail. As the trail rises above your starting point on Highway 180, the views to the west are rewarding. If you’re planning to log some hiking miles on the AT for the day, the 2.4 mile ascent is worth the distance. The singletrack ridge teeters on steep slopes that are lined with naked trees. To the west, winter reveals a view of the Blue Ridge Mountains' undulating dimples. In the mornings, the shadows of clouds will paint gray contours on the mountains.
5. Rabun Bald Trail
Off Hale Ridge Road 2.4 miles from Hale Church cemetery. Lattitude & Longitude here.
The second tallest mountain in Georgia is Rabun Bald, which reaches to 4,696 feet elevation. To reach the peak, marked with an observation tower, take the Three Forks Trail from Hale Ridge Road. The first portion of the hike gains 2,000 feet in elevation over the course of 2.9 miles. Keep an eye out for the carved stones that mark mile 3, and step beyond them for a pleasing view of the rolling mountains. And it’s always a marvelous view year-round when you climb the observation tower, which mimics the architecture of a stone fortress. The added height allows for panoramic views of the Little Tennessee River Valley and the Cherokee Foothills of South Carolina.
6. Vogel State Park
405 Vogel State Park Road
Blairsville, GA 30512
Choose an option to hike the Bear Hair Gap loop trail or connect Coosa Backcountry Trail to Blood Mountain, another portion of Georgia’s Appalachian Trail. Bear Gap Trail is only 4 miles in length and has minimal climbs, making it ideal for an afternoon stroll to stretch out your legs. Hike west on the trail to Vogel Overlook where you can see Lake Trahlyta and Vogel State Park from the overlook’s lollipop trail. In summer you’ll find the greenery encompasses the overlook, offering nothing but a mere opening to see below. From here you can choose to continue South to hop on the Coosa Backcountry Trail to Slaughter Gap, then take it to Trahlyta Trail to connect with the AT. Blood Mountain’s views from the eastern approach highlight neighboring mountains to the north and south. You can cross over the living rock to view both directions.