Brasstown Bald | Blairsville, Georgia
Blairsville GA 30546
At 4,784 feet, Brasstown Bald is the highest peak in the state of Georgia; and from the observation deck at its summit, visitors get a 360-degree panoramic view of mountain ranges in Georgia, Tennessee and North and South Carolina. On a clear day, the Atlanta skyline is visible to the south, and Lake Lanier glistens on the horizon just beyond Tesnatee Gap. Visually, visitors can trace the silver ribbon that is Russell-Brasstown National Scenic Biway as it winds diagonally up Tesnatee Gap and then cuts perpendicularly across Wildcat Mountain, heading toward Cleveland, the Gateway to the Mountains, then follows the left face of Jack’s Knob downward to Chattahoochee Gap. The granite face of Mt. Yonah appears to the southeast, a distince profiles against the blue sky.
A narrow ring of ultrabasic rocks (soapstone, dunite and olivine) completely surrounds Brasstown Bald and the ridges leading to it. This is the southernmost habitat for many northern plant and animal species, including the red-back vole. A northern hardwood "cloud forest" of huge, old birches covers the north face. Rhododendron and mountain laurel are among the few shrubs that can survive on these thin, cold soils. The wild flower displays are particularly outstanding in the north-facing coves and down the east side of Wolfpen, one of the longest, highest ridges in Georgia.
Brasstown Bald was so named because of confusion between the Cherokee words itse-yi, meaning "new green place," and untsaiyi, meaning "brass." Cherokee legend regarding bald mountains described a horrible, sharp-clawed, winged beast that attempted to steal and eat Indian children. The Cherokees cleared the forest to capture the monster and prayed to their Great Spirit, who killed the beast, restored the children to their parents, and has kept the mountaintops clear of trees ever sense.
A steep, paved 0.5-mile trail leads from the parking area to the visitor center on the bald. For a fee, a shuttle bus carries visitors from the parking area to the visitor center, weekends during April and May then daily from Memorial Day through the end of October.
The trail from the parking area, the Wagon Train Trail, is well worth walking. The old wagon road to Young Harris leads east then north into the fantastic "cloud forest" of northern hardwoods on the north side of the mountain, below the visitor center. The huge, old yellow birch is festooned with old-man's beard lichen because of the continuous moisture from cloud condensation. Rosebay rhododendron may be found near the parking lot, followed by purple rhododendron as the major heath shrub. As one ascends, the trees gradually get shorter. Soon one enters dwarfed red oak and white oak forest where the trees are very old, twisted and limby. The top is a shrub bald with unique mountaintop species, such as dwarf willow and red-berried mountain ash.
In 1986, Congress designated 11,823 acres within the Chattahoochee National Forest as the Brasstown Wilderness. Since then, an additional 1,152 acres have been acquired. The bald itself, which is not within the wilderness area is only .75 acre. The paved trails, parking areas, visitor center and other facilities are outside the wilderness.
The Visitor Center
The center, built of stone, offers interpretive programs tracing the human and natural history of the southern Appalachian region. The Mountain Top Theater features continuous video programs. An outside observation deck provides a 360-degree view of the surrounding area. Here, the visitors may be awed by the view but unprotected from the wind. Because of its height, Brasstown Bald gets much weather that misses the valleys. Strong wind, rain, and lower temperatures are not uncommon. In winter there is often snow and ice. The fire lookout tower is not open to the public.
DIRECTIONS: From Cleveland, take GA 75 north through Helen to GA 180; turn left (west) onto GA 180 (also GA 66); go 6 miles; turn right onto GA 180 spur; continue 3 miles to thr Brasstown Bald parking lot.
FACILITIES: Video show, picnic area, bookstore and gift shop, hiking trails, parking lot (fee), restrooms, exhibits, observation deck, brochures, concessions, shuttle bus.