As you make your way up the short but vigorous trail to the top of Fort Mountain you will encounter scattered rocks of varying sizes. It helps you aunderstand the availability of material that lead to the construction of the rock wall the mountain is known for.
It has an otherworldly feel and I found it as fascinating on a recent trip as I did when I visited as a child.
Located near the summit of Fort Mountain, the rock wall which gives the mountain its name remains a mystery. Its origin has been attributed to everyone from Hernando de Soto to the Cherokee. The de Soto connection has long been disproved but the specific use by the Cherokee is still being researched. Some believe it was ceremonial while others consider it territorial.
The drive up Georgia Highway 2/52 to Fort Mountain State Park affords several breathtaking overlooks of the Cohutta Wilderness, the largest such area designated in Georgia. This southwestern chain of the Appalachians is striking for its natural beauty.
Through the acquisition of private lands beginning in 1938, Cloudland Canyon State Park was established in 1939, with much of the initial work being done by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) as part of FDR’s New Deal. Until this time, the only access to most of Dade County was through Alabama or Tennessee so the State of Georgia and the CCC built Georgia Highway 136 to connect the park and the county seat of Trenton to U. S. 41 and the rest of the state.
The park is located on the Cumberland Plateau atop Lookout Mountain, where Daniel Creek and Bear Creek converge to form Sitton Gulch Creek. The site was historically known as Sitton Gulch. Characterized by a dramatic gorge cut by Sitton Gulch Creek, Cloudland Canyon is over a thousand feet in overall depth, with elevations ranging from 800 to 1980 feet.
One of the most-visited state parks in Georgia, Cloudland Canyon offers something for everyone. Primitive campers, as well as “glampers” utilizing one of the well-appointed yurts or cottages, can spend days hiking the canyon, accessing waterfalls, caves and other amazing features. I highly recommend adding this to your Georgia “bucket list” if you’ve never visited. Even if you’re not an “experienced” hiker, the the Overlook Trail adjacent to the main parking lot is relatively easy. The views at the main overlook (above and below) are well worth the effort.
Summer is a great time to see native plants, such as the Golden St. Johns Wort (Hypericum frondosum) seen below. This species seems to grow right out of the rocks in places.
Overlook #2 is a short hike from the interpretive center and affords wonderful views of Bear Creek Gorge. It’s usually quite shaded and a bit difficult to photograph.
From the Overlook Trail, follow signs to the Waterfalls Trail. A quick descent and strenuous steps characterize this hike, which I didn’t complete due to time constraints.
Even if you can’t make it all the way to the falls, enjoy the geologic formations, including this well-known rock overhang.
Wild Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens) is somewhat common on this section of the trail.
Downtown Clayton has a nice section of historic commercial storefronts, and since it caters to tourists, it’s a fun town to walk around.
Eclectic businesses have added a lot of color, such as Zeppelin’s Pub & Grill on Main Street.
The large brick building seen here was built in 2003 but a great effort was made to construct something with a historical influence. It’s really impressive, as are the mountain views in nearly any direction from downtown Clayton.
Located 15 miles west of Clayton on US Highway 76, Popcorn Overlook presents a great opportunity to stop and take in the scenery of Northeast Georgia. It’s one of the most beautiful spots in the mountains and on a clear day, you can see many peaks in nearby North Carolina. Recently, the movie Lawless did some location shooting here, and there’s a scene in the movie featuring Shia Lebouf that uses this as a backdrop.
An interpretive sign placed by the U.S. Forest Services notes: The forests you see beyond this roadside area are a miracle of regrowth. Much of this land was cut over during the logging boom that began in these mountains during the 1880s and continued through the 1920s. Beginning gradually and swelling to meet a growing national demand for wood, large scale logging operations caused extensive damage and forever changed the character of the southern Appalachians.
Early mountaineers, accustomed to a hard life and little cash, willingly sold timber, land and mineral rights for small sums. Huge yellow poplars, white and red oaks and black cherry were sold for 40 to 75 cents a tree.
Whole mountainsides were cut over and burned, hillsides eroded. Streams that dried to trickles in the fall became raging rivers each spring. Most of this exploitation was financed from outside the region. This destruction generated widespread interest in saving and protecting the mountains.
The Weeks Act became law in 1911, and the first land approved for purchase was a tract of 31,000 acres from the Gennett Land and Lumber Company of Atlanta. By 1930, thousands of acres of mountain land had been acquired to protect watershed areas and provide a timber reserve. The Forest Service had begun its long-term and ongoing effort to provide environmental protection and economic stabilization for the Southern Appalachians. Several large tracts acquired from lumber companies were “virgin” forest, remote and inaccessible therefore uncut. However, most lands were cut over or culled, and the best trees removed.
Buzzard Mountain (1102 feet) is part of a string of relatively high peaks in the Georgia Piedmont which extends southwestward toward Pine Mountain. It’s easily viewed from Molena Road but is located on private property.