Read Now, Travel Later
COVID-19 has changed the world. The tourism industry has been one of the hardest hit areas of the global pandemic. Local restaurants, museums, state and national parks have all changed hours of operation, procedures, and some have gone out of business altogether.
Please verify current operations of any places you want to visit mentioned in these articles, and contact me if a business has permanently closed so I can update the article. Thank you and stay safe out there!
At 4,786′ above sea level Brasstown Bald is the highest point in Georgia. Although not quite as high as other state’s “highest points” the mountain vistas were still something beautiful to admire. But it was one particular feature of Brasstown Bald that gave it an advantage over some of the others and led to an interesting adventure the day I visited.
Parking, Gift Shop, and Shuttle Service to the Top
Pulling into the parking lot near the summit a friendly lady extended a pole out the window of her ticket shack with a basket attached to the end. “$5 if you don’t mind,” she said. For a moment I wondered what would happen if I told her I minded, but instead I dropped some cash into her basket. After parking my van in the ginormous parking lot I realized how late it was (I had left nearby Helen much later than I expected) and walked back over to the friendly ticket lady.
I asked her when they closed (it was already after 4p.m.). She said 5p.m. but immediately added, “But you can stay as long as you like. You’ll just have to walk down from the top because the shuttle won’t be running.” A big smile broke out across my face; I didn’t mind walking down a mountain as long as I could stay at the top as long as I wanted!
The $5 admission (it’s $3 self-pay if you arrive when the ticket booth is closed) included a shuttle ride to the summit. People with handicap passes could drive their own vehicles to the top instead of climbing onto the shuttle. Before I took the shuttle to the top I visited the small gift shop. They had ice cream, snacks, and drinks, and various toursity items like cups, shirts, and bags with Brasstown Bald printed on them. I bought a bag of Bear Poop (chocolate malt candies) as a Christmas gift for my brother.
The shuttle ran every few minutes so I didn’t have to wait long to hitch a ride to the top. The gentleman driving the shuttle noted it was the first trip all day he’d had only a single passenger. Brasstown Bald is a popular place, more for locals than tourists, but it was never overcrowded he said. The ride took just a few minutes and soon enough I hopped out at the summit.
Brasstown Bald Visitor Center
At the summit was the Brasstown Bald Visitor Information Center that included a museum, observation deck and tower, and restrooms. The 8,000 square foot museum included many exhibits depicting the natural history of the area, specifically the Chattahoochee National Forest and Brasstown Bald. I didn’t have time to watch the 15-minute movie but a lady told me it covered the four seasons of Brasstown Bald.
By the time I arrived at the summit I only had fifteen minutes to quickly explore things before a US Forest Service ranger asked, “The shuttle is making the last trip down today. Are you staying up here?”
“I’m staying,” I said with the biggest grin on my face. A few minutes later the museum doors were locked, the shuttle took the last visitors down the mountain, and the employees drove their cars away.
Just like that I had the entire summit to myself. A light breeze made the summer heat and humidity feel downright comfortable. A few clouds floated across an otherwise clear blue sky. It was so quiet I could hear the buzzing of bees in a nearby blooming rhododendron bush. I suddenly laughed out loud at the perfect moment of peace and serenity with this breathtaking view in all directions.
The observation deck and tower provided clear views of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee along the southern Appalachian Mountains. Unfortunately for me access to the tower was limited to business hours so I wasn’t able to climb the steps to see the view from the top. But the view from the circular deck was more than good enough. I could see the parking lot far below. I thought I could see a lake or two. Lots of development in the flat areas. And lots of mountain ranges in all directions.
I found a pair of benches and took a seat for awhile. A long while.
Hiking the Brasstown Bald Trail
I could have stayed at the top for hours but sunset was four hours away and I wanted to get to Bell Mountain to see it there. With great reluctance, after taking a final lap around the observation deck, I descended the stairs and found the trailhead for the Brasstown Bald Summit Trail.
The 0.6-mile one-way trail descended 423′ from the summit back to the parking lot. Going downhill the paved trail was pretty easy to walk, but about halfway down I met an older couple huffing and puffing while climbing the trail to the summit. I would definitely rather walk down than up, but then again who wouldn’t?
It was about that point, shaded under a thick canopy of leaves, that I heard the first boom of thunder. Normally I was thrilled to hear the coming of a summer thunderstorm but while hiking through a forest with no idea where the storm was, or how fast it was approaching, was just a little bit disconcerting. I picked up my pace on the trail and made it from the summit to the parking lot in about fifteen minutes.
The option of being able to access Brasstown Bald, albeit by the strenuous summit trail, after hours makes the highest point of Georgia a rather unique outdoor attraction, though not the only one (Clingman’s Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is similar). Although I got just a bit rushed on the way down it was absolutely thrilling to be able to enjoy the views from the summit late on a summer afternoon.
The entrance to Brasstown Bald is located on Georgia Highway 180. It is about equidistant from Helen, Blairsville, and Hiawassee (20 miles). The easiest way to get there is from Highway 76 (Unicoi Turnpike) between Hiawassee and Helen.
One very important note about reaching Brasstown Bald is the last 3-mile drive up the access road to the parking lot. From Highway 180 to the parking lot the road ascends about 1,400′ in elevation, making it a pretty steep road. It is entirely possible for campers, RV’s, and trucks with travel trailers to make the climb, but I wouldn’t recommend it (especially on the drive back down).