Drive to Trailhead & Trail Guide - Hightower Bald

UPDATE: Pat and Ryan say their route from the north is good.

Drive Guide - Hightower Bald (Southern Approach) from Atlanta

  • Duration: 2:15
  • Google Maps from Atlanta (33.91998, -84.33898):
  • Seasonal/Limited Access: Unknown
  • Directions:
    • I made it to the 2WD trailhead in a Prius. Using both a Prius and a Corolla, I was unable to make it past an erosion ditch shortly after this point. I got hung-up on my trailer hitch and had to rock the car to get out.
    • Take a good street-capable GPS and pre-load maps, if necessary. You’ll want it for your final approach, where Google Maps and reality diverge.
    • N on GA-400 and go 47 miles.
    • At end of 400 (@ GA-60) go straight onto GA-115. Go 4.8
    • GA-115 turns R. (About 60 minute drive to this turn.) Go 11.4.
    • L on Tesnatee Gap Valley Rd. There’s a left turn lane. Go 2.8.
    • Go straight onto McAfee Rd. (Tesnatee turns left.) Go 0.2
    • L on US-129 N at T. (About 1:15 total drive time to this turn.) Go 0.8.
    • R on GA-75A. Go 8.2.
    • L on GA-75 and go 16.6
    • Stop – Make sure all of your GPS are turned on and you’re tracking your route.
    • R on GA-2/US-76E and go 5.2.
    • The final approach to the trailhead (about 15 minutes):
      • L on Upper Hightower Rd (sign to Mt Pleasant Church of God) and go 1.6
      • Upper Hightower Rd makes a 90 degree left turn; follow it. Go 1.6.
      • Road becomes 1 lane and loses the center stripe. About this point, it forks, and the left fork is Jack Branch Rd. Stay to the right. Go 0.2.
      • There is a gravel road to the right. Do NOT take it. Go 0.2.
      • Fork to left is marked private. Keep right. Go 0.1.
      • Park at wide spot in road. Room for 3-4 cars. There’s a buried-fiber-optic post marking the spot.
      • This is 0.7 miles before the AT.
    • IF you have 4WD and high ground clearance (HGC), you can drive farther.
      • You’ll find some 2 foot deep erosion gullies. You could tip your vehicle if you’re not careful.
      • I recommend against driving all the way to the trailhead in a 2WD SUV or a 4WD passenger car (like the Subaru Forester). You want big tires and 4WD. If you have either 4WD or HGC, you might try driving a little farther.
      • Be prepared to back out, if necessary.
  • Food
    • Last McDonalds: GA-53 on GA-400.
      • There is a McDonalds in Hiawasee that opens at 6 AM 7 days a week, but it is out of your way.

Drive Guide - Hightower Bald (Northern Approach) from Atlanta

I don’t know if there is a feasible approach from the North. These are notes on how it might be done.

  • Duration: 2:20
  • Google Maps from Ashford Dunwoody Rd I-285 at 33.91998, -84.33898:
  • Seasonal/Limited Access: Unknown
  • Directions:
    • Ryan says you can drive to the end of Eagle Fork Rd at 35.007268, -83.622564.
    • Blye Gap Rd is gated at 35.011715, -83.626984

Trail Guide - Approach from the South

  • UPDATE: This thread says Charlies Creek Rd was repaired in 2015.
  • UPDATE: As of June 2016, I drove from Upper Hightower Rd to the first part of Charlies Creek Rd in a Corolla, but was unable to drive to Blue Ridge Gap. The road was too steep and I could not get traction to climb the hill. This is currently drivable in a light 4WD such as a Forrester. They did not re-engineer the road, so runoff is cutting erosion ditches quickly. It won’t be long before a Jeep-type 4WD will again be required.

  • Duration:
    • To the summit: 4:35 (5.1 miles) - one way (per my trip of 2013.04.20)
    • From the summit to car: 4:40 (per my trip of 2013.04.20)
  • Navigation
    • GPS is essential for this hike.
    • Bushwhacking strategy:
      • Once you leave the AT, you’ll want to navigate from gap to peak to gap to peak…
      • I tried to traverse some hills, to skirt the peak. This was a mistake. It was slow and very hard on the knees and ankles. When you’re in a gap, hike straight up to the top of the next peak. When you’re on a peak, follow the ridge line down to the next gap. (Make sure you follow the correct ridge line. Some peaks have multiple ridges, and I started down a wrong one.)
      • Follow ridge lines between gaps and peaks.
        • If you find yourself 10 yards off the ridge line, try and get back onto it. I regretted it when I diverged from the ridge.
        • If you find yourself 25 yards off the ridge line, take your trekking poles, whack yourself over the head in penance, and get back on the ridge line.
        • The final 1/4 mile (approximate) approach to Hightower Bald is overgrown with dense vegetation. You may have to skirt this. I did. Regaining the ridge line was a LOT of work. I followed the faint trail as it went slightly downhill to avoid this vegetation. Then, at some point, I said, “Too much downhill,” and headed straight up the hill. I then encountered another faint trail and followed it for a bit until I was about 30 feet from the apex. I then went straight up to the summit and found the 10 foot semi-clearing. You might do better by staying closer to the ridge as you skirt the vegetation. I think I followed the trail longer than optimal.
      • There is a faint trail on much of the ridge lines.
    • You can read stories on the web about how difficult this bushwhack is. For the route I describe, it is a strenuous hike, but only the last quarter mile or so has really bad vegetation. There was a small (10’) relatively clear spot at the summit.
    • I did this trip on April 20, 2013. Spring ‘greening’ was just staring. Vegetation will be much worse in summer. I recommend making this trek after Daylight Saving Time begins (for the longer days) and no later than I did. Brittle winter vegetation is easier to bushwhack than lush summer growth.
    • Recommended route:
      • 0.8 miles, climb 625’ [30 minutes] - Follow Charlies Creek Rd from parking to the AT.
      • 3 miles, climb 810’ [2 hours] - Follow AT to the north (left).
      • Leave AT on the north side of Rich Knob, before Bly Gap.
      • 1.3 miles, climb 1000’ (net 660’) Bushwhack to HTB [2 hours]
  • Trailhead altitude: 2433’ @ 2WD parking @ 34.95928, -83.60615
  • Summit altitude: 4588’
  • GPS tracks/waypoints:
    • Trailhead (AT): 34.95869, -83.59622
    • Leave AT: 34.98682, -83.59916
    • Hightower Bald: 34.9848, -83.6202

Trail Guide - Approach from the North

I don’t know if there is a feasible approach from the North. These are notes on how it might be done.

  • Duration:
    • 1.8 miles of hiking along old road plus 0.8 to 1.2 miles of bushwhack.
  • Navigation
    • From the gate at the fork of Eagle Fork Rd and Blye Gap Rd at 35.011715, -83.626984, follow Blye Gap Rd along the north side of Dave Barrett Creek (DBC).
      • DBC runs mostly to the east. There are 3 streams which branch to the southeast from DBC.
        • Loggy Branch is the first.
        • Sugar Cove is the middle. (Unnamed on Google.)
        • Barrett Branch is 3rd.
        • My Garmin GPS has a properly labeled dot where each stream branches off DBC, but the streams are mislabeled and the 3rd stream is not shown as a blue line.
        • Ryan emailed an image to me which shows a map with all 3 at 9:28 PM on 2016.06.19. (Search for “Satellite photos that Blye Gap Rd”.)
    • At 35.006258, -83.611714, Blye Gap Rd crosses Dave Barrett Creek and forks.
      • The right fork heads southwest and then follows Sugar Cove and shows up on Google.
      • Take the left fork south, then turning east, following the south side of DBC.
      • After crossing Barret Branch, you’ll be between DBC and Barrett Branch, and the road quality degrades. Follow this along Barret Branch about 0.1 miles, keeping Barrett Branch to your right.
      • Follow the trail/road about another 0.1 as it drifts away from Barret Branch.
      • A trail forks off to the right. Follow this up the draw containing Barret Branch. (Garmin eventually shows this draw as containing a short “Intermittent Stream”). There will be some switchbacks in the last 1/2 of this trail, before it reaches Bly Gap.
  • Trailhead altitude:
  • GPS tracks/waypoints:

Summit Guide

  • Hang antenna from tree: not good. You could snake a wire from tree to tree.
  • Space to guy mast: Not really. I bungeed a mast to a tree.
  • Cell coverage: Yes. Adequate AT&T signal. Good Verizon/Pagenet signal.
  • Unique features: Very, very strenuous bushwhack.

Plan-B Candidates

  • Bell Knob