Backpacking the Fork Mountain Trail Loop

Aaron Rae
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Local hikers and backpackers know the Ellicott Rock Wilderness mostly for the exciting adventures of camping and kayaking on the Chattooga River Trail or viewing the waterfalls at Kings Creek Falls and Spoonauger Falls. They may even hunt for hidden boundary markers in the only wilderness area in the country that blankets three states. A spring backpacking trip lends itself to a wilderness experience that can be epic if not for a few simple conveniences.

Chattooga River
Chattooga River Aaron Rae

Who would enjoy this experience?

Anyone who enjoys weekends that are filled with 20-miles of hiking through dense hardwood forests alongside picturesque rivers and streams and sleeping under starry skies will love backpacking the Fork Mountain Trail Loop.

Getting there and how much time will people need for this?

One of the draws to this backpacking trip is the opportunity to cross boundaries. From Atlanta, a 245 mile drive north of the city takes you away from the conveniences of the Keurig to the glow of campfire coals and cowboy coffee. It’s well worth the 2-hour drive for a night or two spent in the mountains of North Georgia.

Parking and Trailhead: What’s the parking situation and are there fees?

Conveniently, the drive takes you off I-85 at the southern end of the National Scenic Highway at the GA-SC border. While you fuel up with the energy bar and banana you packed, enjoy the view of Table Rock at the South Carolina Visitor Center. Don’t linger too long as the parking at Burrells Ford Campground is first-come first-served and free. Popular with fisherman, it can fill up fast, especially during trout season.

Aaron Rae

Where do you start and how long will this take?

The 20 mile trip begins at the Burrells Ford Campground parking lot on the edge of the Ellicott Rock Wilderness. This is where you conveniently access a 7.2-mile section of the 76-mile Foothills Trail located across the road to the right. Leisurely hikers may wish to extend the trip by a night. This will allow you time to search for the GA-NC boundary marker on the swampy banks of the Chattooga River.

What’s one thing about this place that visitors should look forward to?

The Ellicott Wilderness supplies you with conveniences such as the those of a marked trail, a small stream near the campsite from which to filter water, and even a bench where you can sit and eat your lunch at the Sloan Bridge intersection.

You will have passed the path to the Walhalla Fish Hatchery to veer west onto the Fork Mountain Trail, the longest in the Ellicott Rock Wilderness. It crosses Bad Creek a couple of times as it weaves you in and out of North and South Carolina like a fly fishing line teasing a trout. After 13 miles, a convenient camping spot near the creek is a cozy place to tell stories or plan your search for the historical Commissioner’s Rock where the common boundaries of GA, NC, and SC meet.

The next morning, stretch out the kinks and awaken to some slight elevation before cresting the ridgeline up and over into the river valley. The dawn drapes the dark outlines of the new leaves budding from the trees and livens the magical Chattooga River like crystals leaping from a wizard’s wand.

From here, follow white blazes to make your way south along 4.5 miles of the Chattooga River Trail (CRT). Just when you think the trip is bringing you closer to civilization as you approach the junction to Spoonauger Falls, opt to head back into the wilderness and take the spur back to the Foothills Trail.

Aaron Rae

Is the trail in good condition?

Remember, this is a wilderness area. Minimal maintenance is done in order to keep the area in its most natural state. On the Fork Mountain Trail, rust colored blazes are sparsely spaced.

Are there any safety concerns?

As with any spring hiking or backpacking, keep your eye out for slick spots from heavy rains, even when you think you are away from the creek or river.

Where to eat afterwards?

Anyone traveling the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Hwy 11 knows The Spotted Pig has mouthwatering brisket sandwiches, ribs, and barbeque chicken. Save room for a giant slice of homemade banana cream or peanut butter chocolate pie. Another reason to keep the pace up on the trail? They close at 4 p.m. on Sundays.

Difficulty: 1= Easy and 5 = Extremely Difficult

Depending on the weight of your pack and your pace, this trip is on average a 3. To do the trip in one night, you need to keep a reasonable pace, which will keep you warm in the cooler temperatures.

Mileage

Approximately 20 miles

Dog friendly?

Yes, leashed.

What’s the best time of year to go?

If you are looking for solitude in the wilderness, winter or early spring. If you are looking to play in the water at the end of your hike, summer is the time to do it.

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