The James E. Edmond Trail is a 7.2 mile loop that offers sweeping mountain vistas, rushing creeks, and thick forest foliage. Ideal for shoulder-season hikes between the winter and spring seasons, it’s a prime trail for first-time backpackers or avid day trekkers alike. And just an hour and half away from downtown Athens, in Black Rock Mountain State Park, it's perfect for a weekend getaway.
Black Rock Mountain State Park is located right off of US-441 N and happens to be the highest elevation state park in North Georgia. From downtown Athens, take Martin Luther King Parkway to US-441 N/Commerce Road. Stay on this road the entire duration until you pass by Panther Creek Trail and Tallulah Gorge State Park. Black Rock is just north enough of Athens to be completely immersed in the densely-wooded North Georgia Appalachians.
Make sure to check out the Cowee Overlook as you drive up the winding road before the final turn into the trailhead parking lot. The overlook provides an exceptional view of the surrounding mountains and valleys below. It's also the same trailhead for the 2.2 mile Tennessee Rock Loop Trail—a route that families with children and dogs will appreciate for its relatively gentle uphill and downhill grades and easily navigable nature.
But that's not the one we're after. We're here to discuss the James E. Edmond Trail, considered by many to be one of the toughest hikes in Georgia.
The East and West Fork of the James Edmond Trail intersect at the summit of Lookoff Mountain. Laurel Ridge and Lookoff Mountain campsites are located at the top and have the best views on the hike. This top section of the trail is well-known for its dark green mountain laurel thickets.
The West Fork is familiar for its views of Black Rock Lake and numerous creek waterfalls. The Creek Ridge campsite is located on the West Fork side close to the undeveloped lake.
The James Edmond Trail is a strenuous and hilly hike. You’ll begin the trail with a nice steady decline deep into a forest of rhododendron groves, scattered pines, and mossy undergrowth. There are some creek crossings that will offer hydration, so be sure to fill up because there is no water at the summit.
At one point, the trail gains almost 900 feet of elevation in less than a mile. The trail is rated a D4 for its elevation gain to the summit at 3,600 feet.
At the summit, you are rewarded with a great campsite, (but no water so pack your own) and an awesome view. A panorama exposes you to an expansive view towards the Smoky Mountains. To complete the hike, head back down the mountain, where this time you take a steady incline to the trailhead.
The James E. Edmond hike will most likely take +3 hours to complete. Parking is $5. Camping requires a permit. To make a camping reservation call 800-864-7275 or check out the Georgia State Parks website.