Rabun Bald Hiking Trail
By TIM HOMAN
This strenuous 2.9-mile hiking trail leads to the top of Rabun Bald, at 4,696 feet Georgia's second highest peak, next to Brasstown Bald, which is 4,784 feet.
Location: Eastern Blue Ridge, Rabun Bald; Features: Georgia's second highest mountain; Distance: 2.9 miles; Difficulty Rating: Strenous; County: Rabun; Nearest City: Clayton; Maps: Rabun Bald Quadrangle, GA-NC; Blazes: Yellow, infrequent at lower end; Campsites: Water Sources: Mile 1.5, rivulet on left; Ranger District: Tallulah. VIEW INTERACTIVE MAP
Starting at its carsonite trail sign, this infrequently blazed but easily followed path works its way up to the summit of Rabun Bald (4,696 feet), Georgia's second highest peak. This remote, challenging footpath rises steadily almost from the beginning, ascending nearly 2,200 feet along its 2.9-mile length. The level stretches and short dips between climbs are just long enough to let you catch your breath. The final grade to Rabun Bald is steep.
Beginning at about 2,500 feet, the trail rises steadily through a dense forest where mountain laurel thickets and galax patches are common. Galax, an abundant wildflower in the mountains, is easily identified by its shiny green (copper-red in winter), leathery, heart-shaped leaf. You can often detect galax colonies by the scent-a peculiar, sweet skunky fragrance-even before you see them.
At mile 1.5 the rivulet to the left of the path serves as the only water source on the way to the top, and it probably goes dry during drought. Beyond this rivulet, the treadway leads through an open oak forest before it enters an area of boulders and mountain laurel thickets. At mile 2.1 the footpath crosses a grassy glade where lousewort is common. This fern-leafed wildflower received the first part of its name from the old belief that livestock became infested with lice upon contact with the plant.
The trail climbs steeply from the glade for slightly less than 0.2 mile before leveling out on a spur ridge. Often tunneling through rhododendron, the final 0.3 mile ascends very sharply. The path enters the small clearing atop Rabun Bald on the side opposite the observation tower's stairs. Here on top of Rabun Bald's crest, a few American mountain ash grow among the short, twisted oaks that surround the man-made clearing.
The Rabun Bald Trail ends at its junction with the Bartram Trail. On clear, hazeless days the high-perched observation tower offers a superb 360-degree panorama. The long sloping ridges and unbroken forests of the 14,OOO-acre Warwoman Wildlife Management Area spread away to the south. To the east, South Carolina's Lake Keowee shimmers in the distance. To the northeast, near Cashiers,North Carolina, you can see the sheer rock face of Whiteside Mountain. At most other points on the compass, except where the view reaches the rolling landscape of the Piedmont, overlapping rows of ridges and peaks become indistinct in the blue distance.
If streams are full, and if you have binoculars, see if you can spot the waterfall over toward the cliff faces in North Carolina. One more thing: the large crows that call "crunk" rather than "caw" are common ravens.
Mile 2.9: Summit of Rabun Bald, Georgia's second highest mountain at 4,696 feet. Excellent 360-degree views on clear days.
See page 2 of Holcomb Creek Trail for directions to the signed Hale Ridge Road (FS 7)-Warwoman Road junction. Travel approximately 5.5 miles on dirt-gravel Hale Ridge Road; the trailhead and small carsonite trail sign are on the left side of the road. Very limited pull-off parking is to the right side of the road just past the trailhead.