It has the most popular mountain in all of North Georgia, not to mention some of the best scenic vistas and easy-to-moderate trails in the state. It also happens to be just about 11 miles of the nearly 2,200 belonging to the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.
The section of trail I am talking about is the section of the AT that starts at Woody Gap and ends at Neels Gap, approximately 11 miles in total distance and traversing up and over one of the most popular and highly-trafficked peaks in all of Georgia, Blood Mountain. Because of its several great views and easy access, the trails in this immediate area seem to always have hikers on them, from the trailheads at Lake Winfield Scott to the access points at Woody Gap and Neels Gap.
So what’s this section of trail like? With nearly 11 miles of trail to cover, there are some fantastic points of interest along this section of the Appalachian Trail. Starting at Woody Gap on GA 60, the trail immediately enters the Blood Mountain Wilderness and climbs Big Cedar Mountain, which has some great views to the south on several rock ledges. The climb is moderate at times, but fairly easy to ascend. After summiting Big Cedar Mountain, the trail moderately descends to both Dan Gap then Miller Gap, following the ridgelines of the surrounding mountains. The end of the Dockery Lake Trail is at Miller Gap, which leads approximately 3.4 miles down to the Dockery Lake campgrounds.
After leaving the lowest point of the trail at Miller Gap, the trail moderately climbs to near the top of Burnett Field Mountain before reaching Jarrard Gap. Several campsites are spread around this area, as it is the final portion of the trail where campfires are permitted. The Jarrard Gap Trail also stems off from this part of the trail, leading 1 mile to the Lake Winfield Scott Campground. Depending on the time of year you hike this section, you could see several AT thru-hikers camping at this section as well, which could make for some great campfire conversations.
Once you leave Jarrard Gap, the moderate to strenuous ascent to the top of Blood Mountain begins. Before reaching Slaughter Gap, the Woods Hole Shelter is located off a side trail for those who enjoy shelter camping. Once you reach Slaughter Gap, the real climb begins. This is also the point where the Duncan Ridge Trail ends, which is one of the toughest trails in Georgia to conquer. Just south on the trail is where the Slaughter Creek trail ends as well, which leads about 3 miles back to Lake Winfield Scott.
The climb to the top of Blood Mountain is armed with several switchbacks and straight ascents, but can easily be accomplished by most hikers. Once at the top, the hiker is awarded with some of the best vistas in the entire state. There are 360 degree views in the late fall and winter seasons along with several other points of interest. The Blood Mountain Shelter lies right near the summit, which offers a two-room and enclosed area for those who wish to camp on top of the mountain.
Once you’ve soaked in all of the beauty atop Blood Mountain, the descent to Neels Gap is one of the steepest ascents in the state. Traversing over about 1.5 miles of trail, this section of trail loses approximately 1400 feet in 2 miles before exiting the wilderness. Several rock outcrops and severely steep parts of trail await the hiker on this section of trail as well as a couple of trail intersections, including the Freeman Trail that skirts the southern face of Blood Mountain and the Byron Reese Memorial Trail which leads about .8 miles to the parking lot available for hikers. Parking is not available at the Walasi-Yi Center at Neels Gap and is only available for those shopping at the Mountain Crossings Hiking Outfitter.
This section of the Appalachian Trail offers hikers several options, which can be rare in North Georgia when it comes to backpacking. For those who love to backpack, you can add the extra 5 miles or so and end your trip at Tesnatee Gap, or start a few miles before Woody Gap at Gooch Gap, where FS Road 42 intersects the trail. But the 11-mile hike starting at Woody Gap and ending at Neels Gap is a great day-trip for those who like to cover a lot of ground while out for a day.
The several access points to the trail in this section gives hikers plenty of options, including starting at Dockery Lake, Lake Winfield Scott, or even Vogel State Park and intersecting the trail at Slaughter Gap.