Sunday, June 30, 2013

Finally Done!

After working for over a month, I have now finished consolidating all of my small regional hiking blogs into this one.  During that time, I have hiked 7 new trails that I am now ready to post.  Also, I went to Ohio and took pictures on 36 hikes that I did not have pictures on before, so I am working on updating those blog entries as well.  Finally, I have a hiking trip to western New York scheduled for July.  As you can see, I am having a busy summer, but also a fun one.

I hope you like the consolidated blog.

See you on the trail,

The Mathprofhiker

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Ijams Nature Center: North Cove/River/Tower Loop (Blog Hike #419)

Trails: North Cove, River, and Tower Trails
Hike Location: Ijams Nature Center: Wildlife Sanctuary
Geographic Location: south side of KnoxvilleTN
Length: 1.3 miles
Difficulty: 4/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: April 2013
Overview: A loop hike to the banks of the Tennessee River.
Center Information: http://ijams.org/

Directions to the trailhead: In downtown Knoxville, enter south on the James White Parkway.  After crossing the Tennessee River, take the first exit onto Hillwood Ave.  Turn left on Hillwood Ave.  Take Hillwood Ave. 0.5 miles to its terminus at Island Home Avenue and turn right on Island Home Ave.  Ijams Nature Center is 1.4 miles ahead on the left.

The hike: Known to locals simply as the “Bird Sanctuary,” Ijams Nature Center (pronounced “eye-mms”) traces its beginnings way back to 1910.  The center is named for Harry and Alice Yoe Ijams whose home site sits on the very western portion of today’s nature center property.  Harry was known as Knoxville’s leading bird expert, and Alice Yoe was known as the “First Lady of Knoxville’s Garden Clubs.”  Harry Ijams is most famous nationally for the artwork he did to promote the Great Smoky Mountains National Parkduring the early years of its existence.
            In the 1960’s, the Knoxville Garden Club, Knox County Council of Garden Clubs, and the City of Knoxville worked together to turn the Ijams property into a nature park that is open to the public. Today Ijams Nature Center remains a private not-for-profit organization, and the center’s 275 acres make a wonderful green oasis on the south bank of the Tennessee River in the heart of suburban Knoxville.
            Ijams Nature Center has over 10 miles of trails divided into two sections: Mead’s Quarry/Ross Marble Nature Area located south of Island Home Avenue and the Wildlife Sanctuary/Learning Center located north of Island Home Ave.  Good hikes can be had in both sections, but the center’s oldest and most famous trails all lie in the north section.  This hike takes you under some rocky bluffs and right to the bank of the Tennessee River along the center’s most famous trail of all.           
Trailhead: North Cove Trail
            From the front of the Visitor Center, pick up the paved wheelchair-accessible Universal Trail is it heads northeast away from the parking lot.  Very quickly you reach the trailhead for the North Cove Trail, where this hike turns left to leave the pavement.  The wide dirt/mulch North Cove Trail descends to the river in serpentine fashion using several switchbacks, so the grade is never too steep.  The back of the Visitor Center can be seen uphill to your left.
            0.2 miles into the hike, the North Cove Trail ends at an intersection with the Discovery Trail, which heads left, and the River Trail, which continues straight.  The Discovery Trail makes an interesting side trip to a lotus pond with a short boardwalk, but this hike will continue straight on the River Trail to get to the main attraction.  As you would expect from the trail’s name, obstructed views of the wide Tennessee River soon appear through the trees on your left.
            At 0.4 miles, you reach the riverside boardwalk that makes Ijams Nature Center famous.  The wooden boardwalk clings tight to the sheer rock bluffs on the right with the river now in full view to the left.  When I hiked this boardwalk on a warm late Saturday afternoon in mid-April, two kayakers were paddling downstream while a paddlewheel-style party boat rocked its way upstream.  Bats are known to live in the caves under these rocky bluffs, but I did not see any on my visit.  The boardwalk’s location on the outside of a wide river bend makes it a good place to observe river activity, so stay for awhile and see what you can see.           
Tennessee River

Boardwalk on River Trail
            Just after stepping off the boardwalk, a set of wooden steps leads up and right to a geologic fold.  The exposed rock of the river bluffs gives you a rare opportunity to observe the result of the geologic forces that formed the Appalachian mountains many thousands of years ago.  You can see that the layered sedimentary rock appears bent, a result of tectonic movements in the earth’s crust.
            Back on the River Trail, the trail heads for the extreme northeast corner of the sanctuary where, at 0.8 miles, it curves sharply right as an industrial area comes into view straight ahead.  Now climbing gradually, the trail follows an ugly power line clearing for 0.1 miles to arrive at a trail intersection.  The Toll Creek Loop exiting left provides a short boardwalk along its namesake creek, but this hike will turn right to exit the power line clearing and begin the Tower Trail.           
Intersection with Toll Creek Trail
            The Tower Trail climbs steeply but only for a short distance to arrive at a bench that offers a bird’s eye view of the Tennessee River during the leafless months.  After gaining 125 feet of elevation in 0.15 miles, you reach the highest point in the Wildlife Sanctuary and this trail’s namesake tower.  The “tower” is actually a directional beacon for the nearby Knoxville Downtown Island Airport; it is a thin metal structure about 20 feet in height.
           
Passing the "tower"
            Past the tower, the Tower Trail descends moderately past some nice tulip poplar trees to arrive at its end, a junction with the South Cove Trail.  Turning right on the South Cove Trail, the Visitor Center and parking area soon come into view through the trees ahead.  After exiting the woods and returning to pavement, a brief walk past some lotus-filled frog ponds is all that remains to complete the hike.

Fort Yargo State Park: Lake Loop Trail (Blog Hike #418)

Trail: Lake Loop Trail
Hike Location: Fort Yargo State Park
Geographic Location: south side of Winder, GA
Length: 6 miles
Difficulty: 4/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: March 2013
Overview: A circumnavigation of Marbury Creek Reservoir.

Directions to the trailhead: From Athens or I-85, take SR 316/US 29 to SR 81; there is a traffic light at this intersection.  Go north on SR 81.  Take SR 81 north 2.5 miles to the main park entrance.  Turn right to enter the park.  Pay the entrance fee, pick up a trail map in the Visitor Center, and then proceed to the mountain bike trailhead and parking.  If this lot is full, you could also park at the tennis courts across the road or at the beach parking area at the end of the main park road.

The hike: For my general comments on Fort Yargo State Park, see the South Loop blog entry.  The Lake Loop Trail described here is the longest and arguably best hiking trail in Fort Yargo State Park.  The lake stays in view for about three-fourths of the hike, and the nice Piedmont forest of maple, sweet gum, loblolly pines, and slash pines keep you constant company.  Note that this trail is also open to mountain bikes, and the direction mountain bikers are allowed to ride alternates daily; it is posted at the trailhead.  I recommend walking the opposite direction as the mountain bikers to best avoid collisions.  I hiked this trail on a Saturday when bikers were instructed to ride counterclockwise, so this trail description will go clockwise.
            One last note before beginning: the park lists the distance for this trail at 7 miles.  However, my calculations show that this loop is closer to 6 miles in length, and I have used my calculations in the description below.  It took me about 3 hours to complete this loop.
Trailhead: Birdberry Nature Trail
            Start at the Nature Center and head north, picking up the paved handicapped-accessible Birdberry Nature Trail.  A large wooden sign marks this trailhead.  The paved nature trail has a large number of interpretive signs and provides a good introduction to the Piedmont forest at Fort Yargo State Park.  Maple, oak, beech, and hickory are the dominant broadleaf trees, while loblolly and slash pines prevail among the conifers.  Some nice lake views open up to the right, and a sheltered overlook sits on a peninsula in the lake.
            After crossing one of the lake’s main feeder streams on a wide wooden footbridge, the Lake Loop Trail turns right to leave the pavement where the Birdberry Trail continues straight to make a short loop.  The Lake Loop Trail is marked with yellow blazes.  The other hiking trails are marked with orange blazes, and the Mountain Bike Trail is marked with blue.  The wide single-track dirt trail leads through bottom-land forest and crosses another shallow muddy-bottomed stream.
            In the middle of a gradual climb away from the lake, the trail crosses the paved access road to Will-A-Way Recreation Area at 0.6 miles.  Will-A-Way Recreation Area is a camp-type facility designed for special needs groups; it is not open to the general public.  Just after passing the 1 mile marker, the trail starts following an ugly sewer right-of-way that serves the Will-A-Way Recreation Area.  Numbered wooden posts with painted yellow tops mark each mile along this hike.           
Mile marker on Lake Loop Trail
            At 1.2 miles, the trail curves left to leave the sewer line and enter a young forest featuring many red cedars.  Soon a green-blazed spur trail exits left and leads out of the park to the Barrow County Recreation Department, and just a few hundred feet later the trail crosses the access road for the Philip H. Grace Group Home, another facility closed to the general public.  The trail next passes the highest point on this hike and begins a gradual descent to the lake.
            Just shy of 2 miles into the hike, the trail passes through the two main state park campgrounds.  Hiking trails are notoriously hard to follow in campgrounds, but the yellow blazes will keep you on course.  The trail exits the campground right beside the lakeshore at a canoe launch area.  The next 0.5 miles cling to the lakeshore and offer some of the best lake views on this hike.  Some sewer covers make unusual but well-sized places to rest and admire the water.           
Marbury Creek Reservoir
            At 2.3 miles, you reach the dam that creates Marbury Creek Reservoir.  The trail climbs to reach the dam and turns right to cross it; this is a hot sunny hike in the summer.  At the south end of the dam, you reach a complicated intersection.  An old gas line clearing heads straight, and the mountain bike trail goes both left and right at a soft angle.  This hike stays on the Lake Loop Trail by turning sharply to the right and taking the path closest to the water.
           
Approaching the dam
            The trail follows the curvature of the lakeshore as it curves left and passes several benches.  Some small but narrow steephead ravines can be seen to the left.  Just past the 3-mile marker, the trail curves more sharply left and rises away from the lake only to return again a few hundred yards later.
           
Steephead ravines
            Near 3.4 miles, the trail enters the sunny gasline clearing and reaches another intersection with the mountain bike trail.  Turn right twice to stay on the Lake Loop Trail.  Now heading northwest, the trail passes under two power lines with the lake in view to the right.  This part of forest is shrubby with only a few areas of tall pines.
            Just shy of 4 miles, you reach the south end of a wooden bridge that crosses a narrow section of Marbury Creek Reservoir.  The Old Fort Trail (also blazed in yellow) exits left here, but our trail turns right to cross the long wooden bridge.  On the warm Saturday afternoon when I hiked this trail, many anglers had stationed themselves on this bridge in hopes of getting a bite.  At the north side of this bridge, you reach a large boat ramp parking area.  This part of the park is sometimes called Area B.
Bridge across Marbury Creek Reservoir
            The trail turns right to exit the parking area.  The remainder of the hike follows the more developed north bank of Marbury Creek Reservoir, so expect plenty of company on this section of trail.  Soon you pass mile post 5 as the mountain bike trail comes within sight on the left.  At 4.7 miles, you reach the main picnic area as the trail briefly joins the picnic area access road to top a small hill.  At 4.9 miles, the trail turns right to leave the road and rejoin single-track dirt trail.
Trail exits picnic area road
            After dipping to cross a small creek on a wooden bridge, you reach a trail fork.  The trail going straight stays close to the lake, while the trail heading left takes a short-cut over a ridge.  The choice is yours: both trails sport yellow blazes, and the two trails come back together near the fishing area.  I recommend taking the trail that continues straight because it stays closer to the lake and is hiker-only.
            The trail makes a sweeping left turn as it passes first the beach area on the right, then the disc golf course on the left, and finally the main fishing area on the right.  After walking through the parking lot for the fishing area, the short-cut trail enters from the left.  Quickly you find yourself in an area called the Rock Garden where a large collection of small boulders sits beside the trail.  The treadway itself, however, remains clear and easy to walk on.
            At 5.8 miles, you exit the woods and reach old Fort Yargo, a collection of wooden structures that lies a couple hundred feet to the left of the trail.  When I came here on a warm Saturday afternoon, costumed interpreters were showing families around the structures.  The old fort makes a great opportunity to add an historical component to this hike.           
Historic Fort Yargo
            Past the fort, you quickly arrive at the main park road where the trail turns right and crosses an arm of the lake on the park road bridge.  You might be able to spot some waterfowl in the shallow reedy waters to the left.  On the north side of the bridge, the trail reenters the woods on the right/east side of the road.  A short, gradual uphill climb returns you to the mountain bike trailhead parking lot to complete the hike.

Cheaha State Park: Bald Rock (Blog Hike #417)

Trails: Doug Ghee Accessible and CCC Trails
Hike Location: Cheaha State Park
Geographic Location: south of OxfordAL
Length: 0.6 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: March 2013
Overview: An easy walk to fantastic views from Bald Rock.

Directions to the trailhead: In eastern Alabama, take I-20 to US 431 (exit 191).  Exit and go south on US 431.  Take US 431 to SR 281 (Talladega Scenic Byway).  Turn right on the SR 281 access road, then turn left on SR 281 itself.  Take SR 281 south 11 miles to the signed Cheaha State Park entrance on the right.  Turn right to enter the park, pay the small entrance fee, and begin driving the hilly one-way park loop road.  About half way around the loop, turn right at the sign for Bald Rock.  Veer left of Bald Rock Lodge and park in the trailhead parking lot.

The hike: Perched on the roof of AlabamaCheaha State Park consists of 2799 acres on the top of Cheaha Mountain.  Fittingly the name Cheaha comes from the Creek Indian name for this place “Chaha,” which translates to “high place.”  As the name suggests, at 2407 feet above sea level, the summit of Cheaha Mountain is the highest point in Alabama.
The Creek may have been the first to recognize the significance of this mountain, but they were hardly the last.  Like half of Alabama’s state parks, Cheaha State Park was formed in 1933 when the State of Alabama acquired this land.  The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) arrived that same year and began work on many of the park facilities still used today.  In particular, Bald Rock Lodge, the Bunker Observation Tower built directly on the summit, and the park’s stone cottages are all works of the CCC.  The park also features a motel and a restaurant built in 1973.
For hikers, the park’s most famous trails actually lie just outside the park in the surrounding Talladega National Forest.  Within the park lie several short trails, including the Lake Trail, which leads 1 very steep mile from the mountain summit to Cheaha Lake, the Pulpit Rock Trail, a 0.5 mile trail leading to an unusual rock formation, the 0.25 mile Rock Garden Trail, and the short trail system at Bald Rock.  Bald Rock is the easiest overlook in the park to access, and it is the overlook that gives the park’s best views.
Boardwalk trailhead
            At the rear of the parking area, pick up the Doug Ghee Accessible Trail, a 3000-foot boardwalk that provides a handicapped-accessible route to the overlook at Bald Rock.  As you walk out the elevated boardwalk, you will notice a trail on the forest floor on either side of the boardwalk.  The faint trail on the left is the CCC Trail, and the wider trail on the right is the Pinhoti Trail connector.  All three of these trails lead to Bald Rock, so you can pick whichever two you prefer to hike out and back.
            For the outbound trip, I stuck with the boardwalk.  The well-constructed wooden boardwalk with tall railings makes the going very easy. Interpretive signs along the trail tell of the plants and animals of the area as well as the area’s geological history.
At 0.3 miles, you reach the overlook and a world class view.  Standing atop the quartzite rock, you can see more than 20 miles to the north.  Anniston and Oxford appear as small settlements in the distance, and cars on I-20 creep along as tiny dots.  The low pine-covered foothills in the foreground take center stage, and stunted Virginia pines on the rocky summit frame the view.
Bald Rock

View north from Bald Rock
            To get back to the parking area, I chose to use the CCC Trail.  The CCC Trail is accessed by taking the first set of steps off the boardwalk down to the right.  The CCC Trail is hard to discern at first, but it roughly parallels the boardwalk, which is now above you and to your left.  The shiny but lumpy quartzite makes the going more challenging compared to the boardwalk, but the unusual rock formations make the trek more interesting. 
Unusual quartzite formation
            At 0.6 miles, you reach the steps leading back up to the boardwalk just before returning to the trailhead to complete the hike.  Before leaving, be sure to take in some of the other facilities the park has to offer.  My mother and I had a memorable dinner in the park’s restaurant, which features large picture windows with fantastic views to the west.  Whichever activities you choose, enjoy your visit to the roof of Alabama.

Talladega National Forest: Chinnabee Silent Trail (to Cheaha Falls) (Blog Hike #416)

Trail: Chinnabee Silent Trail
Hike Location: Talladega National ForestLake Chinnabee Recreation Area
Geographic Location: south of OxfordAL
Length: 6 miles
Difficulty: 6/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: March 2013
Overview: A scenic out-and-back to interesting Cheaha Falls.

Directions to the trailhead: In eastern Alabama, take I-20 to US 431 (exit 191).  Exit and go south on US 431.  Take US 431 to SR 281 (Talladega Scenic Byway).  Turn right on the SR 281 access road, then turn left on SR 281 itself.  Take SR 281 south 14 miles to Cheaha Road and turn right on Cheaha Rd.  Take Cheaha Road 3.6 miles to Lake Chinnabee Road and turn left on Lake Chinnabee Rd.  Lake Chinnabee Rd. enters the recreation area 1.4 miles later.  Park in the first parking area on the left.  Picnic tables and vault toilets can be found at this parking area.

The hike: Stretching 6 miles from Lake Chinnabee Recreation Area in the west to a junction with the Pinhoti Trail on Talladega Mountain in the east, the Chinnabee Silent Trail may be the most famous hiking trail in Alabama.  One trip down this path and you will quickly see its appeal.  The aquatic falls and antics of Cheaha Creek make pleasant sights for the eyes and sounds for the ears.
            The trail’s name comes from the fact that it was built over the four-year period of 1973 to 1976 by Boy Scout Troop 29 from the School for the Deaf in nearby Talladega.  Thus, the builders of this trail would never have heard the sounds of Cheaha Creek, one of the main attractions of this hike.  Yet they chose to build it anyway, and an excellent job they did at that.  Throughout this hike you will see their handiwork in railings, waterbars, and stone steps.
            The trail’s centerpiece both in terms of scenery and distance is Cheaha Falls.  The falls can be accessed by hiking the Chinnabee Silent Trail 3 miles east from Lake Chinnabee Recreation Area or by hiking it 1 mile west from Turnipseed Camp parking area along SR 281.  The hike from the camp is shorter, but it misses the best section of Cheaha Creek gorge.  Thus, I chose to hike to the falls from the recreation area.  With a two-car shuttle you could leave one car at each end and shorten the hike to 4 miles while eliminating any retracing of steps.           
Western trailhead: Chinnabee Silent Trail
            Begin by walking past the vault toilets and heading out the well-trod trail with Cheaha Creek to your right and the steep hillside to your left.  The waters of Cheaha Creek are so clear that I was able to see small fish swimming around in the creek.  Two trails quickly exit to the right and ford the creek.  The first exiting trail is the Lakeshore Trail that circles Lake Chinnabee, and the second exiting trail is the Skyway Backpack Loop heading for Adams Gap.  The Skyway Backpack Loop is a long and difficult 18 mile loop, one-third of which is the Chinnabee Silent Trail.
            With the preliminary section out of the way, the trail heads into the heart of Cheaha Creek gorge as it climbs at first gradually and then more moderately up the north wall of the gorge.  This section of trail is rather rocky and may be the most difficult part of this hike.  A prescribed burn conducted here in 2011 makes this a very sunny section of trail.           
Climbing on Chinnabee Silent Trail
            At 0.5 miles, you reach a wooden boardwalk that also serves as an overlook platform.  This overlook provides a nice vista of several small waterfalls in Cheaha Creek, which is now some 50 feet below you.  These waterfalls are called Devil’s Den Falls, and they make a nice warm-up for what is to come.
          
Devil's Den Falls
            Past the overlook, the trail descends back to creek level using some stone steps, some of which are glued together with concrete.  The concrete looks out of place in this rugged, natural setting.  At 0.8 miles, you rock-hop a small tributary of Cheaha Creek.  Some established campsites can be found along the creek here.  I was amazed at how calm Cheaha Creek is at this point compared to the rollicking waterfalls that lie downstream and upstream.
            After a very easy stretch along the creek, the trail joins an old road at 1.1 miles and begins a steady gradual-to-moderate ascent out of the gorge.  Some faded white paint blazes mark the trail here, but for the most part the Chinnabee Silent Trail is well-trodden but unmarked.  1.3 miles into the hike, the trail curves right to leave the old road as the grade eases.           
Chinnabee Silent Trail in a hollow
            For the next 1.7 miles the trail passes through quiet secluded hollow after quiet secluded hollow.  The general trend is uphill, though a few sections head downhill on moderate to steep grades.  At 2.1 miles, you top a ridge that has burned recently before heading into the next hollow.
            3 miles into the hike, you reach wooden Cheaha Falls Trail Shelter, which lies on a ridgetop within earshot of its namesake waterfall.  Some picnic tables in front of the shelter make nice places to sit and have a trail snack while taking in the view through an opening in the trees to the south.  Cheaha Creek Gorge lies directly in front of you, and Talladega Mountain is the large mountain that can be seen in the distance.           
View from Cheaha Falls Trail Shelter
            Past the shelter, continue on the Chinnabee Silent Trail downhill less than 0.1 miles to reach Cheaha Falls.  Unfortunately, there is no easy way to get a clear view of the waterfall: vertical cliffs lie between the trail and the base of the falls.  I was quite satisfied with the partially obstructed views I obtained through the trees, and the sound of Cheaha Falls makes this a memorable spot.  I remind you again that the builders of this trail would never have heard the sounds of this waterfall.
Cheaha Falls
            The Chinnabee Silent Trail continues another 3 miles past this point.  The trail next fords Cheaha Creek above Cheaha Falls, then climbs moderately to reach its crossing of SR 281.  East of SR 281 lies the toughest part of the Chinnabee Silent Trail, a stiff climb up Talladega Mountain to its terminus with the Pinhoti Trail.  The trail does not form a manageable day-loop, so unless you have a car shuttle at some point you will have turn around and retrace your steps to the Lake Chinnabee Recreation Area to complete the hike.

Kings Mountain National Military Park: Browns Mountain Trail (Blog Hike #415)

Trail: Browns Mountain Trail
Hike Location: Kings Mountain National Military Park
Geographic Location: south of Kings MountainNC
Length: 5.7 miles
Difficulty: 5/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: March 2013
Overview: An out-and-back featuring partially obstructed views from Browns Mountain.

Directions to the trailhead: Near the South Carolina-North Carolina border, take I-85 to North Carolina SR 216 (exit 2).  Exit and go south on North Carolina SR 216.  North Carolina SR 216 quickly reaches the state line and becomes South Carolina SR 216.  Take SR 216 a total of 3 miles from I-85 to the signed Visitor Center on the left.  Park in the large asphalt parking area in front of the Visitor Center.

The hike: For my general comments on Kings Mountain National Military Park, see my blog entry for the Battlefield Trail.  Other than the paved battlefield trail, the out-and-back to Browns Mountain described here is the most popular hike in Kings Mountain National Military Park.  Because Browns Mountain is the highest point in the park, the partially obstructed views from its summit and nearby false summit extend far into the Piedmont to the south.
            The high areas along this hike are heavily wooded, so I recommend visiting Browns Mountain in late winter or early spring when obstruction is at a minimum.  Also, the moderate length and difficulty offered by this trail make it a good early-season preparatory hike to get the leg muscles powered up after a long winter’s nap.  Whenever you choose to come here, this trail offers a pleasant hike through some of the nicest forest in this part of the state.
Backcountry trailhead
            After registering at the Visitor Center as required by park rules, walk out the front door and past the restrooms to the end of the blacktop.  A brown carsonite post and a metal park sign mark the trailhead for the backcountry trails.  Continue straight on the wide single track dirt trail, which is marked throughout its length by plentiful blue paint blazes.  Black waterbars are also plentiful throughout this hike.
            At 0.15 miles, you reach the intersection with the main backcountry trail, which goes straight and left.  Signs direct you to turn left to head for Browns Mountain.  The trail continuing straight heads for Lake Crawford in adjacent Kings Mountain State Park, a worthy destination in its own right.  The two options here actually form one very long 15.1 mile loop, but such a loop is too long for a comfortable day hike.
Following the blue blazes
            The trail dips steeply but only for a short time to cross a tributary of Long Branch.  Some brown carsonite posts indicate that this trail has been designated a National Recreation Trail.  The trail next begins a long gradual to moderate climb away from this tributary.  Part of this climb uses an old road similar to the one used by the overmountain men when they came here from Tennessee.  See the Battlefield Trail blog entry for more details about the overmountain men and how they turned the tide for the Patriots during the American Revolution.
            0.6 miles into the hike, the trail curves left to leave the old road.  This turn is well marked, as is the entire trail.  After dipping through a shallow ravine, you cross SR 216, the road you drove in on.  This road crossing is unmarked from a driver’s perspective, so take care as you cross.  Now on the west side of SR 216, the trail climbs a little more to top a narrow ridge, which it begins following.  The understory here is very sparse thanks to the park’s prescribed burns.  These fires destroy invasive plants and thus help maintain the forest in its native state.
Trail along ridgetop
            At just over 1 mile into the hike, the trail drops off the end of this narrow ridge to reach a tributary of Stonehouse Branch.  When I hiked this trail in early March, I was greeted by an entire chorus of frogs bleating out their mating calls.  The next 0.5 miles remain streamside as you cross and recross several small creeks, all on wooden footbridges.
            Now passing the lowest elevation on this hike, the trail curves left and begins the main assault of Browns Mountain.  Near the beginning of this ascent another area on the right has been prescribed burned just recently.  Bare understory and charred tree trunks give testament to the power of fire. 
Recent prescribed burn
            The trail climbs on a moderate grade to reach the signed spur trail to Browns Mountain at 2.2 miles.  The main trail goes straight here to continue its long loop, but this hike turn rights to begin the spur trail.  After climbing a couple of steep areas, you reach a pair of benches that give nice views to the south.  This point offers the least obstructed view on this trail, so take some time to admire the sights.
View near Browns Mountain
            Past the benches, the trail dips through a high saddle to arrive at the real summit of Browns Mountain.  There are no benches and no real views to be had here, but the summit is not without interest.  A working weather station is located at the summit.  Also, four cement foundations give witness to a fire tower that stood on this summit many years ago.
The Browns Mountain Trail ends at this point.  There is a rough jeep road that leads down the west side of the mountain, but it only takes you further from the trailhead and it does not loop.  Thus, you will need to turn around and retrace your steps 2.8 miles to the Visitor Center to complete the hike.

Tugaloo State Park (Blog Hike #414)

Trail: Sassafras Circle Trail
Hike Location: Tugaloo State Park
Geographic Location: northeast of LavoniaGA
Length: 3.6 miles
Difficulty: 4/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: February 2013
Overview: An interesting frontcountry hike with good lake views and wildlife viewing.

Directions to the trailhead: In northeast Georgia, take I-85 to SR 17 (exit 173).  Exit and enter north on SR 17.  In less than 0.2 miles, turn right on Gerrard Road, cross the railroad tracks, then immediately turn right to continue on Gerrard Rd.  Drive Gerrard Rd. its entire length to SR 328 and turn left on SR 328.  Drive SR 328 3.3 miles to the park entrance road on the right.  Turn right on Tugaloo Park Road, enter the park, and park in the blacktop old boat ramp parking lot behind the Visitors Center.

The hike: Formed by the confluence of the Tallulah and Chattooga Rivers some 20 miles northwest of here, the Tugaloo River used to flow southeast as it forms the border between Georgia and South Carolina.  The word “Tugaloo” comes from the Cherokee Indian name for this particular river.  The river’s days of flowing ended with the construction of Hartwell Dam in the 1950’s, and today Tugaloo State Park occupies a hilly peninsula that juts eastward into Lake Hartwell.
            The most popular activities at Tugaloo State Park center around the lake.  The park features a white sand beach area, a 6-lane boat ramp, 20 lakefront cottages, and 105 campsites.  Hikers have two trails to choose from: the 3.6 mile blue-blazed Sassafras Circle Trail and the 0.75 mile red-blazed Muscadine Trail.  This description will focus on the more substantial Sassafras Circle Trail.  Truth be told, 0.3 miles of the Muscadine Trail are also used on the Sassafras Circle Trail, so you could easily hike both in a single journey by making only a short detour.
            The Sassafras Circle Trail starts at a brown carsonite post to the right of the old boat ramp parking area downhill from the Visitors Center.  Information on the post gives the average hiking time as 4 hours, but I completed this loop is roughly half that time.  The trail heads through the grassy picnic area with the lake in full view on your left.  Some southern-style swings provide opportunities to sit and admire the water.           
Trail enters woods
            At the far end of the grassy area, a blue carsonite post marks where the trail enters the woods.  At 0.2 miles, the trail splits to form its loop.  I chose to turn left here and hike the loop clockwise.
            After crossing a small stream, the trail traces around a wide sunny peninsula that appears to contain a canoe launch area.  Notice the cut made into the hillside to create a level trail surface here and think of the labor it took to build this trail.  If rain has fallen recently, look for animal tracks in the soft disturbed soil underfoot.  On my visit I saw several sets of deer tracks in this area, and later in the hike I saw a group of white-tailed deer.
            After passing some wooden steps that exit right up to an old parking area, you enter a confusing area where the blue carsonite posts are needed to keep you on the trail.  The entire Sassafras Circle Trail is well-marked with blue paint blazes and blue carsonite posts, without which parts of this trail would become a real exercise in route-finding.
Lake Hartwell
            Now back in the woods, the trail briefly follows a wide old dirt road before crossing another creek on a wooden footbridge and climbing moderately.  1 mile into the hike, you cross the paved north cottage area entrance road.  With the north cottage area to your left, the trail tops a surprisingly steep hill before dropping to cross the paved north cottage area exit road. 
            The trail drops through two steep ravines, and in between it rises to cross a narrow paved boat ramp access road.  At 1.5 miles, you pass a bench that offers a nice view of Lake Hartwell through the trees.  On my visit, two anglers on a boat a few yards from me were trying their luck in the water.  Also, in this area the Sassafras Circle Trail starts following the much older Crow Tree Nature Trail, as indicated by a wooden sign.  Notice that the trail here is much more worn and easily distinguished from the surrounding ground compared to some sections of trail you hiked earlier.
Wooden footbridge
            1.7 miles into the hike, you reach the campground amphitheater.  Instead of taking the main lighted path to the right out of the amphitheater, stay with the blue blazes as the trail curves right and climbs slightly to reach a blue carsonite post at the shoulder of the northern campground road.  The trail’s designated route from this point is not clear, but the best option is to turn right and walk along the northern campground road back to the main park road.  Ignore a blue blaze to the left of the campground road near the Nature Hut.
            Upon reaching the main park road, cross the road and walk downhill through a grassy area to reach the southern campground loop.  Turn right on this loop, walk up to the next intersection, and then angle left as the trail reenters the woods.  Another blue carsonite post and a blue paint blaze mark this point.
Trail exits campground
            Leaving the campground behind, the trail dips through a steep but shallow ravine and begins a moderate climb toward the highest point on this hike.  An old trail bridge indicates that this section of trail has been rerouted in the recent past.  After crossing the access road for the south cottage area, the trail continues to climb and, 2.4 miles into the hike, reaches an intersection with the red-blazed Muscadine Trail, which goes straight and right.  The two options come back together in 0.3 miles on the right option and 0.4 miles on the straight option, so you could go either way here.  Being the purist that I am, I chose to turn right here to stay with the blue blazes of the Sassafras Circle Trail.
            The trail stays on the high ground for a short distance with some white silos to your right before curving left and descending moderately.  At 2.7 miles, the two arms of the Muscadine Trail come back together.  The Sassafras Circle Trail turns right here while the Muscadine Trail continues straight.  Again, follow the blue blazes to stay on the right trail.           
Intersecting the Muscadine Trail
            The trail descends to cross the beach access road and the beach access trail in quick order before turning right and climbing steeply for a short period of time.  A double blue blaze marks this turn.  After dropping to cross the paved road to the group picnic shelter, the trail crosses a creek on another wooden bridge and ascends again with the primitive camping area on your left.  A new road was being built here on my visit, and this section of trail may be the faintest on the entire loop.
            3.3 miles into the hike, the trail comes out at the primitive campground access road.  You need to turn right here and walk along the seldom-used primitive campground access road back out to the main park road, but there are no trail markings here to indicate such.  Upon reaching the main park road, cross it and reenter the woods where you will once again find the blue blazes.  After a short downhill stint, you close the loop.  A left turn and 0.2 miles of retracing your steps will return you to the Visitors Center and complete the hike.