The Bartram Trail

Georgia/North Carolina
  |  Gorp.com
View from Flat Top
Looking toward the Piedmont from Flat Top (Photo © Johnny Molloy)
Trail at a Glance
Length: 110 miles
States: Georgia & North Carolina
Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous
Season: Year-round (some sections very cold in winter)
Use: Moderate
Condition: Excellent
More: NC Bartram Trail Society; Bartram Trail Conference
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The Bartram Trail offers the consummate Southern Appalachian experience, as it treks 110 miles from northeast Georgia to western North Carolina through the wooded mountains of Georgia's Chattahoochee National Forest and North Carolina's Nantahala National Forest. Though the Bartram Trail passes through no designated wilderness areas, it certainly exudes a wilderness aura. The path begins along a wild and scenic river, then turns north onto the Blue Ridge, culminating in a 360-degree view from a stone tower atop Rabun Bald. The Bartram Trail travels next into North Carolina amid incredible stone-faced mountains, where the views are all natural. After crossing the Little Tennessee River Valley, the Bartram Trail heads back into the high country, offering another 360-degree view from the old stone tower of Wayah Bald. From here, it's downhill to Nantahala Lake before entering the gorge country of the Nantahala River, topping out with a climb along numerous waterfalls to reach the trail terminus at Cheoah Bald, which functions as a grandstand for the Smoky Mountains.

The Bartram Trail's course, while still being improved, is mostly set. It is well marked, well maintained, and with few exceptions, easy to follow. Quality camping opportunities are many and well spaced from one another, and water access is generally good. Natural features abound from beginning to end, keeping the hiking interesting. However, there is currently a 14-mile road walk stretch through the vicinity of Franklin, North Carolina. A future reroute will eliminate the road walk and possibly shorten the trail. For now, consider the road walk an opportunity for resupply, as it is roughly at the halfway point. Other resupply points are minimal.

The trail is named for eighteenth-century naturalist William Bartram. Inspired by his naturalist father John Bartram, William set out in 1773 to explore the southeastern United States. For four years he cataloged and described the flora, fauna, and American Natives of the region. He is credited with identifying over 200 native plants. His adventure was later published as Travels of William Bartram, and is available in bookstores. Bartram's life and contributions still have an impact today; his homeplace and botanical garden is a Philadelphia landmark, and his travels and notes are valuable resources, revealing what much of southeastern America was like more than 200 years ago. Today, the Bartram Trail roughly follows Bartram's journey through the mountains of North Georgia and western North Carolina, attempting to offer a wilderness opportunity reminiscent of Bartram's experience, while promoting further inquiry and knowledge of the Southern Appalachian region.

Camping opportunities along the Bartram Trail are plentiful, with a few exceptions. Backcountry campers must be at least 50 feet from the Chattooga River and its tributaries. Other than that, backcountry camping is allowed anywhere in the Chattahoochee National Forest of Georgia unless specifically prohibited. The same goes for lands in the Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina. However, a few sections of the trail enter private lands, where camping is prohibited. These private lands are easily avoided. Near Nantahala Lake is a private campground that offers showers and even cabins. The real challenge comes on the 14-mile road walk between Buckeye Creek and Wallace Branch. While there is a campground with water about 0.4 miles from the Wallace Branch end of the road walk, the closest water source on the Buckeye Creek end is another 7-mile hike into the woods. Those hikers wanting to camp near water will have a 21-mile hike ahead of them. Hikers may opt to stay in one of several motels half-way along this road walk, or ration water appropriately and camp on either end of the road walk. After the road walk, camping opportunities once again are frequent enough to make extended backpacking easily manageable. Overall, camping is spread among both ridgelines and creeks. Hikers will need to keep apprised of water sources on some of the longer ridge walks.

The Bartram Trail is surprisingly lightly used, with some exceptions. Its beginning portion on the Chattooga River is more heavily walked, as is the area near Rabun Bald. In North Carolina, the Wayah Bald area is busy, as is the paved greenway along the Nantahala River and atop Cheoah Bald. (The Wayah Bald and Cheoah Bald areas run in conjunction with the Appalachian Trail, bringing the crowds.) The entire trail is quiet during winter, but the high elevations on the ridgelines can make an extended winter trip very challenging, with potential for heavy snow and subzero temperatures. The most pleasant times to hike are late spring, summer, and fall. Fall is especially scenic, with clear blue days contrasting with autumn's color parade.

The entire trail can be hiked without resupply, though the Franklin road walk portion avails not only lodging and postal services, but grocery stores and even a laundry. Otherwise, the path passes by one small store with convenience items and limited camping supplies near Nantahala Lake. After hiking the Bartram Trail, your resupply thoughts will probably be geared toward getting enough grub to turn around and do the trail again.


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