Gaze Through the Eyes of a Dragon on this North Georgia Road Trip
Are you looking for one of the most scenic drives in North Georgia? Recently, in the North Georgia mountains, they have discovered the head of a dragon that has laid in the Southern Appalachian Mountains for millions of years.
During this process, they uncovered 77 miles, 715 curves, two loops, six gaps and endless views that stretch over our mountains. This fall is the perfect opportunity to travel Dragon Eyes. What makes it so special is it fits the needs of everyone. Whether you're looking for a hike in the mountains or overlooks to view the autumn colors or just a thrilling ride, this road trip is sure to fire you up for fall.
There are several different points you can begin Dragon Eyes, but we'll start our journey at the center. Sunrise Grocery is a quaint little store right at the center of the two loops. During the fall season, they have local apples, fried pies, ciders, jams and jellies, hand-made pottery and world-famous boiled peanuts that would be perfect to take along for the ride. During October, pop in and tell them you're doing Dragon Eyes, and get a free apple for everyone on board. Pick up your Dragon Eyes merchandise and stickers here.
From Sunrise Grocery, head north for a half-mile on 19/129 and turn right on 180, this is known as Jack's Gap. This drive starts out in the Choestoe Valley, which means "Land of the Dancing Rabbit" in Cherokee.
As you start to climb, you will soon be at the base of Brasstown Bald, the highest mountain in Georgia. Make a left to wind your way through the canopy-covered road up to the parking area. From there, you can either make a short, paved hike or take the shuttle they offer during business hours up to the top. At the summit, they have an observation deck that has a stunning 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains and valleys. If you're staying in the area, Brasstown Bald is the perfect place to catch a sunrise or sunset.
When you're ready to head out, make your way down to the base and turn left on 180 to continue on the back side of Jack's Gap. This might be the best opportunity to see a black bear. Once you get to the dead-end, make a right onto 75 toward Helen.
State Road 75 takes you over what is known as Unicoi Gap and twists and turns to an elevation of 2,949 feet. This is a great area to take in the colorful leaves and, if weather permits, roll down the window to let in the fresh mountain air. This is also a good spot to get in some hiking as the Appalachian Trail passes right through Unicoi Gap.
For hikers seeking a challenge, you can begin your journey right off the road at the trailhead and hike to the Rocky Mountain summit. Slightly over 5 miles, this hike is one of the more strenuous in Georgia and gains an elevation of over 1,000 feet, but it will be worth every step once you reach the top and take in the view.
If you're not looking for something quite so difficult, you could just walk a bit of the trail; it is a pretty one with lots of rocks and colorful leaves. A pretty location to stop for a picnic is off of Unicoi Gap is at Andrew's Cove. There are picnic tables and a cute little creek that flows through the area. If you enjoy camping, they also have plenty of campsites available.
As you wind down the Gap, you will come along the upper waters of the Chattahoochee River, where you could stop to fish or tube if the water is warm enough. If not, plan to take another trip in the summer!
To make your way to Hogpen Gap, you will need to take a right onto Alternate 75 and drive down a few miles and turn right onto Highway 348 (Richard Russell Scenic Highway). Not too far up is a great place to stop for a quick hike to Dukes Creek Falls. The trail is a 1.9 roundtrip hike down to the valley to view the falls. There are several observation decks that are good places to take pictures from.
If you have more time, there is another hike that you can take further up Richard Russell that is spectacular. Raven Cliff not only leads to a couple of beautiful water falls with a rock cliff at the end, but the hike itself is gorgeous. This trail does require more effort and time as it is a five mile roundtrip hike. The Raven Cliffs Wilderness Area is very lush and well worth a visit.
If you don’t want to stray too far from the road, there are a few overlooks where you can stop to take in the view. One of the most stunning views in Georgia is right when you cross into Blairsville and overlook Lordamercey Cove. You'll definitely want to stop and take some pictures here! You can also see Brasstown Bald in the distance. If you want to go to the best place to see a sunset, this is the spot.
The hike up to the summit of Wildcat Mountain is less than 2 miles with a short ascent, but you won't regret it once you get there. Parking is available on the top of Richard Russell Scenic Highway. You can walk down the road a little to take the Appalachian Trail south up to the blue-blazes trail. It is less than a mile once you begin the blue trail to a wide open bare-rock that offers the amazing view!
Once you continue down from the top of Richard Russell Scenic Highway, you will turn the corner and come up on Tesnatee Gap. This is where the old Logan Turnpike Wagon Trail used to be, and back in the day, people used to travel this route via wagon over the mountain to White County. Can you imagine? There is a parking area here where you can hike another portion of the Raven Cliff Wilderness up to Cowrock. Take the popular white-blazed Appalachian Trail going west. The hike is a little over 2 miles, and again, is well worth the effort.
After descending the rest of Richard Russell Scenic Highway, you have finished your first loop! You'll want to turn left onto 180, go one mile and turn left onto 19/129, where you'll pass by Sunrise Grocery to make your way to the second loop and over Neel Gap. This road has a lot to offer, and you won't be disappointed if you take the time to enjoy it all.
First up is Vogel State Park. This park is one of the busiest in Georgia and with good reason. It is well-known as being the most beautiful, too. The centerpiece of the park is Lake Trahlyta with its mountain backdrop behind it. The park offers several hiking trails with one of those being a short hike down to an impressive waterfall. There is a wooden platform where you can stand right beside the falls. Many families come here year after year to spend their vacations either camping at one of their campsites or in one of the cabins on site. It is also a great place to take the kids trout fishing or out on the lake in one of their paddleboats. If you don't have the time to stay overnight, there are plenty of picnic tables right beside Wolf Creek, which flows into the lake.
Helton Creek Falls is a very popular stop in Blairsville and is not too far up from Vogel on the left. You'll see a small sign for the turnoff, and the paved road quickly turns into a narrow-dirt road that leads down to the parking area. The hike is short and very family-friendly with a platform to view the second fall at the end. The trail is less than a half-mile, and you will pass one fall before reaching the other. Both falls are gorgeous, especially when we’ve had recent rainfall.
When you make your way up the mountain, don't pass by historical Mountain Crossings at Neel Gap without stopping in. They are the premier outdoor outfitter right on the Appalachian Trail (AT). It is the only place the AT passes through a man-made structure. Not only do they have outdoor gear, they also have a lot of unique AT gifts, books, maps and more. They have an overlook off the side of the store that you'll want to see.
You will love the twists and turns the rest of the way down! Many bikers and bicyclists come from far and wide to ride over this mountain. When nearing the bottom, you will have another waterfall hike opportunity with Desoto Falls. This slightly over 2-mile hike is an easy one that leads to two gorgeous waterfalls, one lower and one upper fall. There are also picnic tables and grills available, which makes for the perfect place to grill a burger.
Now that you have completed Neel Gap, you'll continue on your journey toward Woody Gap. Turn right onto Highway 19, stay on 19 for about 10 miles until you get to Stonepile Gap, where you'll make a right onto Highway 60, which is Woody Gap. This drive offers some beautiful scenery. One highlight is at the top of Woody Gap where the Appalachian Trail crosses at an elevation of 3,160 feet.
There is an overlook here to stop and gaze on the valley below. Many hikers make the trek from Woody Gap to Blood Mountain, which is eight miles, but a very popular section hike. That might be a little too much for this journey, but something to remember in the future.
Once you pass the overlook, sit back and enjoy the twisting turns, scenery and the colorful leaves. When people talk about beautiful country roads, this one has to be included as a favorite! You will enter into the cute little town of Suches, which is often described as "The Valley Above the Clouds" because it has some of the highest elevations in the state. Suches has a population of around 900 and is home to the smallest public school in the state of Georgia.
Suches is where Woody Gap and Wolfpen Gap meet. Turn right onto 180 to make your way over the final gap. This section does not have any overlooks, but it will probably be the best area to see those gorgeous autumn leaves. There are several places of interest along the way, one being Lake Winfield Scott. The recreation area offers year-round camping, picnicking, boating, swimming and hiking.
There is also an access trail on the grounds that will take you up to the summit of Blood Mountain. Hiking Blood should be one hike that is put on the to-do list. The views from the top are amazing, not to mention the trail itself is pretty spectacular, too. It is usually filled with blooming rhododendron in the late spring.
The prettiest section of Wolfpen is the Sosebee Cove area. You will drive through a canopy-filled forest that will make you wonder if you're in a rainforest. It is filled with century-old trees and is known for having a lot of wildflowers. There is a pull-off where you can descend into the cove and take a loop trail to gaze at all the color. When you leave Sosebee Cove, make your way down by tight curves to the bottom of 180. You will be coming out right beside Vogel State Park where you began the loop.
This might take you a couple of days to really take in, possibly even a few trips if you want to partake in all the activities, but it will give you the opportunity to have an amazing fall experience that only the North Georgia mountains can offer. Whether it is from the highest point in the state or a winding road in the valley, this road trip will be one that you'll definitely remember! So, this fall escape to the mountains and gaze through the eyes of a dragon.