Georgia: Black Rock Mountain State Park
Named for its sheer black cliffs of biotite gneiss, Black Rock Mountain State Park is tucked into the Northeast corner of Georgia. Due to its steep and winding approach roads, the park is closed from October through March. We made reservations for the opening week and prayed for good weather. We were not disappointed. The temperatures reached into the low 70's and sunny skies prevailed for our stay.
Black Rock Mountain is the highest state park in Georgia, straddling the Eastern Continental Divide at an elevation of 3,640 feet and encompassing 1700 acres. Its views offer 80-mile vistas of the Southern Appalachians. The road up the mountain is pretty winding and steep. I am not crazy about heights, so the drive up was a bit of an adrenaline rush (going back down in the cliff-side lane may require a sedative!)
Oh, did I mention we had to sign a "bear waiver"? Ah yes, it is spring in the mountains and bears are awake and active (I am not sure they actually hibernate in this part of the country). The waiver is simply agreeing to not leave food or trash outside your RV. No point in enticing bears into the campground! The trash dumpsters are kept behind locked doors and many people talk about wearing "bear bells" while hiking to scare away the bears. We talk a lot while hiking, so that should give them plenty of notice to run away... I did, however, consider bringing along the uke just in case!
After setting up camp, we headed out to explore the first of two trails we chose to hike. The first, The Norma Campbell Cove Trail, is a memorial to a longtime naturalist at Black Rock Mountain. An event facility overlooks the cove of trees with a trail that has several switchbacks to accommodate the steep terrain. The trailhead begins right behind the event center. It is marked with numbered plates and pretty well-trod, with several downed trees cut in half to accommodate the trail and act as additional markers. It is a short trail - just about a tenth of a mile, which is why we attempted it on arrival day. We thought it would be an easy stretch for our legs after the long drive. Well, the short distance is almost vertical. The trail zig-zags to help navigate the slope down but you have to be a mountain goat to get back to the top. Still, a beautiful walk in the woods and a fun challenge.
The next morning, we walked to the trailhead for the Ada-Hi Falls Trail. The road to the trailhead is a hike in and of itself! A pretty good stretch up a couple of steep inclines and down the other side with an observation platform about halfway. It overlooks the whole valley below. At this time of year, it looks pretty barren, but in late spring the trees and rhododendron thickets should be spectacular.
We read up on this trail - a brief .25 miles with a few hills. We missed the notes about 108 steps in two staircases plus steep trails to get to the falls. The average grade is 25% and the trail can be slippery with wet leaves and mud. In the dry season, the falls are more of a trickle than a cascade, but the hike down is challenging and the scenery enjoyable. It was the climb back up the trail that made me wonder why I like hiking!
March is an interesting time to be here. Since the park had opened for the season just a few days before, we were one of only two other campers at our campsite "loop". It made us feel like we were the only ones there. The peaceful setting was lovely and the sunsets through the sparse foliage were spectacular. As I was washing up the dinner dishes, I watched the whole mountainside light up in our kitchen window. The sky was burnt orange, pink and yellow making my dishwashing a coveted event!
With the remote location, the evening stargazing is pretty amazing. It is easy to forget what a night sky really looks like. With all the light pollution from our urban environment, much of the night sky is washed out. Here, with few lights from the towns below, and no lights around the campsite, the stars are brilliant and so numerous that we stared in awe for quite some time before the chill drove us inside. We couldn't get enough of the beauty and watched the stars through the skylight over the bed. What does it feel like to fall asleep stargazing? Remarkably peaceful.
The campground is spread over several areas with a loop road linking each group. Some of the campsites have built-in stone fireplaces as well as fire rings and picnic tables. Some are situated to accommodate multiple RVs and tents - great for a family outing. In all, there are 38 tent and RV sites as well as 11 walk-in campsites a few backcountry campsites. There are also 10 cottages to rent for those who travel by car rather than by RV. The campsites are pretty level and well equipped with electricity, water, picnic table, and fire ring. There are two bathhouses on either end of the campground and are an easy walk from the campsites. Both are well maintained.
Things to Do
Set atop Black Rock Mountain, this park is all about hiking. Within the campground there are four trailheads offering 11-miles of hiking on both short and long trails. It is wise to keep in mind that there are some obstacles to hiking on a mountain. Rocks, mud, steep grades, and tree roots are all part of the package as are snakes, insects and bears. Stay on the marked trails and be aware of your surroundings.
The .85 loop of Black Rock Lake Trail skirts the edge of 17 acre Black Rock Lake. The trail winds through pine and poplar forests, offering bridges crossing over creeks and the 80-foot expanse of Cricket's Cove.
Rating: Easy to Moderate
The .10-mile Norma Campbell Cove Trail is the shortest trail. Its moderate elevation change makes it a great warm up to the steeper trails. You'll see rock outcroppings, ferns, and springs along the way as the trail winds back and forth down the mountainside.
The 2.2-mile Tennessee Rock Trail is blazed in yellow winding through some of the highest dense forests. Great views on clear days where you can see North and South Carolina as well as Tennessee.
Rating: Moderate to Strenuous
The 7.2-mile Janes E. Edmonds Backcountry Trail is quite steep in a number of places and ranks as moderate to strenuous for hikers. It follows cascading streams and climbs to the summit of Lookout Mountain offering fabulous views of the valley and surrounding mountain ranges.
The .25-mile Ada-hi Falls Trail sports a 25% grade with trails and stairs. It offers rhododendron thickets, ferns, and hardwoods. It ends at an observation deck for the small cascade of Ada-Hi Falls running over the face of the rock wall. In the dry months or during times of drought it barely trickles down the rock face! Still, the challenging grade and the Appalachian cove ecosystem it overlooks make it a great option for a short hike.
Hit the Reset Button
On the top of a mountain, Black Rock offers a unique setting to unwind. The challenging hikes and the solitude of a sparsely populated campground make resting in camp an enriching experience. Sunsets offer spectacular vistas of the mountains aflame with color, while stargazing is both amazing and humbling. We are pretty small in such a big night sky. Take the time to reflect on where you have been and how you got to this point in your life. Coincidence and what might seem to be random events can be connected when examined in retrospect. It is good to know your own history and, if necessary, make peace with it.
Don't Forget To Bring
- Camera (or cell phone camera) the forest and mountain views are worth photographing. If you have a steady hand, a video of the waterfalls would be terrific!
- Hiking boots. The mountains are lovely and there are several hiking trails to explore in the Park as well as around the area.
- Trekking Poles. If you are going hiking, these little "helpers" can keep you more stable on the trail. They are especially helpful for the steep terrain.
Since we completed our goal of the two short trails at this park, we spent the remainder of the day relaxing in camp playing the uke and just sitting in the sunshine. Perhaps that is a good way to look at most of these weekend get-aways. Find one or two goals to accomplish and then enjoy that accomplishment. Rest, relax and get ready for whatever comes next!