Sunday, June 23, 2013

Black Rock Mountain State Park: Tennessee Rock Trail (Blog Hike #308)

Trail: Tennessee Rock Trail
Hike Location: Black Rock Mountain State Park
Geographic Location: north of ClaytonGA (34.90722, -83.41209)
Length: 2.4 miles
Difficulty: 6/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: June 2010; some pics taken June 2014
Overview: A lollipop loop with a couple of short steep areas to the summit of Black Rock Mountain.
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: From Clayton, take US 441 north 4 miles to Black Rock Mountain Parkway; this intersection is marked by a brown state park sign.  Turn left on Black Rock Mountain Parkway.  Take the parkway 2 miles to the park campground, where you should purchase an interpretive guide at the Trading Post.  Continue on the main park road 0.2 miles past the campground to the signed parking area and trailhead on the right.

The hike: At a summit elevation of 3640 feet, Black Rock Mountain State Park holds the title of being the highest state park in Georgia.  The mountain and park names come from the dark-colored biotite gneiss rock that underlies much of the area.  The mountain park features a nice campground, a cottage area, and a small waterfall.
The high nature of this park has advantages and disadvantages.  On the down side, the steep, narrow, winding road up the mountain can be a challenge for RV’s and trucks with trailers.  On the bright side, the high elevation provides one of Georgia’s few escapes from summer heat.  Indeed, on the late June afternoon on which I hiked this trail, the temperature down in Clayton was nearly 90 degrees, but the temperature on the mountain was a comfy 75.
            As you hike this trail, you will notice some numbered posts along the trail.  These posts correspond to a pamphlet entitled An Interpretive Guide to the Tennessee Rock Trail by Anthony Lampros and Dustin Warner.  This pamphlet can be purchased for $1 at the campground Trading Post.  That $1 might be the best hiking-related $1 you will ever spend, as their guide ranks among the best interpretive guides I have ever read.  Spend the dollar and see how many things you notice along the trail you would have overlooked otherwise.
Picnic area at trailhead
            The trail starts at the rear of the parking area as it passes through a small picnic area and almost immediately arrives at a signed trail intersection.  The difficult 7.2 mile James E. Edmonds Backcountry Trail exits right, while our hike remains on the Tennessee Rock Trail which goes left.  Just past this intersection, the trail climbs a steep set of wooden steps on a recent reroute.
            At the top of the steps, you reach the trail intersection that forms the loop portion of this hike.  The trail going softly left is our return route, and the trail going sharply left is the old Tennessee Rock Trail before the steps were constructed.  To pass the posts in Interpretive Guide order, this description will turn right here and hike the loop counterclockwise.
            The trail maintains a nearly constant elevation as it traces around the north face of Black Rock Mountain, soon passing a small spring.  Ferns, solomon’s seal, and other wildflowers line the trail.  Unfortunately, poison ivy also grows in abundance along the trail here in season.  By keeping my eye out for it, I was able to avoid contact with this irritating shrub; you should be able to do the same.
Hiking the north side of Black Rock Mountain
            At post #7 in the interpretive guide, a short spur trail leads left to a small boulder field.  Here you can see the darkly colored gneiss rock which gave this mountain its name.  At 0.8 miles (or post #10 in the guide), the trail intersects what appears to be an old logging road, where a sign indicates that you should turn left.  These signs and the park map are the best devices for keeping you on the trail.  The trail is marked with a few yellow paint blazes, but they are sufficiently far between that you may not be able to find one when you need it.  Fortunately, the main trail is easy to follow except for intersections such as this one.
            The wide old logging road climbs gradually as the forest changes from mixed hardwood to white pine.  1.2 miles into the hike, another sign indicates that you should turn left and leave the old road.  Note that continuing straight on the old road would lead you to the state park’s cottage and primitive camping areas.
            Back on narrow single-track trail, the hardest climb of the hike begins as you push toward the summit of Black Rock Mountain.  Five switchbacks ease the ascent somewhat, but the grade is still quite steep.  After reaching the spine of the ridge, the grade moderates as you approach the summit.
Summit of Black Rock Mountain
            A stone marker identifies the official mountain summit and its elevation.  Trees block any hope for a view from the summit, but if you continue along the trail for another 0.1 miles, a short set of wooden steps will lead you to the Tennessee Rock Overlook, which provides fantastic views to the northwest.  On a clear day, you can see both Brasstown Bald, the highest point in Georgia, and Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in Tennessee (hence the name Tennessee Rock).  I was able to pick out Brasstown Bald, but Clingman’s Dome faded on the horizon.  A drawing in the Interpretive Guide helps you identify other peaks.  On the other side of the trail, an opening in the trees gives views to the southeast, including the town of Clayton.  Take a few minutes and see what you can see.
Tennessee Rock Overlook
            Past the overlook, the trail heads gradually downhill staying right on the spine of the ridge.  Here you are walking on the Eastern Continental Divide.  Water landing to your right flows into the Chattooga River on its way to the Atlantic Ocean, while water landing to your left flows into the Little Tennessee River on its way to the Gulf of Mexico.
            The trail comes out at the paved main park road, but it does not cross the road.  Instead, the trail quickly drops back into the forest and begins a steep descent.  The steep section is brief, and soon the grade moderates.  At 2.3 miles, you close the loop portion of the Tennessee Rock Trail.  A soft right turn down the wooden steps will soon return you to the parking lot, thus completing the hike.


  1. The following comments were made in a previous version of this blog:

    RyanT282June 14, 2013 at 10:22 PM
    "Great blogs about the hikes! I'm from central Florida, and your hiking reviews are very similar to what I often read on, which I'm always looking at. I have been in northeast Alabama and north Georgia numerous times over the years and am always looking for new places to hike. I'll be heading up to GA in a few days and will be visiting Black Rock Mountain this time, so your blog entry is invaluable to me. Can't wait to visit it!" Ryan


    MathprofhikerJune 23, 2013 at 12:49 PM
    Hi RyanT282,

    Thanks for the comment. The comparison to Sandra Friend's website is humbling and flattering: her website is the best source for Florida hiking information in print or online. I am in the process of consolidating all of my regional hiking blogs into a single blog, so I will repost your comment and my reply over there.

    Let me know how the hike goes.

    See you on the trail,

    David, aka the Mathprofhiker

    1. Unfortunately, I was not able to hike much on that trail. My mother was with me and she is getting older and has a bad hip so we did not go there. All we could do was walk around that lovely mountain lake trail before you get into the park itself.

    2. I'm sorry to hear that. I had much the same situation with my mom the last few years of her life. She went home to be with the Lord last December. Enjoy the time you have with your mother: the trail will be there for a long time, but your mother won't.

    3. Amen! So very true.

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