Josh and me at the top of Pine Mountain
Night hikes are a fun way to experience a trail in a different way. I would recommend if you are going to try night hiking to be prepared and to hike somewhere that you are familiar with so you do not get lost. We typically bring headlamps, compass, water, snacks, and Josh’s coffee making apparatus to prepare coffee at the turnaround point.
Josh and I typically will do a night hike when it is either a full moon or a new moon. On a clear night with a full moon, there is no need to use your headlamps and the trail looks otherworldly with an ethereal glow coming from the moon. It is easy to spot wildlife and keep your footing.
However, with the new moon this weekend we decided to hike one of our regular hikes nearby at the Pine Mountain Recreation Area and the following night hike to the Appalachian Trail to crest the summit of Blood Mountain. The allure of hiking with the new moon is the hope to see stars and maybe even a bit of the Milky Way galaxy.
Fellow night hiker Anya joined us to hike at Pine Mountain the first night. Josh had brought some crazy tea in a bag he found somewhere for us to brew at the top. The Pine Mountain series of trails is two loops connected with a trail over the top of Pine Mountain with a spur trail to the overlook where you can see the bright lights of Atlanta in the distance. This trail system is easy to access off of exit 288 on I-75 in North Georgia. Just turn east and follow the road to the right and there is the trailhead with ample parking.
Pine Mountain Recreational Area sign
The first loop we took the right fork and quickly went in elevation from about 900 ft to almost 1600 ft in about a mile. Once we crested the mountain we took the spur to the overlook and Josh brewed the tea and we enjoyed the view. Being only about 40 miles north of Atlanta the stars were not very visible, but for this area were nice. Venus in particular was very bright. The weather was quite comfortable for late February in Georgia. At this point we had decided to do the more aggressive Blood Mountain hike the next night so we returned to the trailhead using the other side of the first loop and crossing thru the “fat man’s squeeze”. This is about a 2 to 2 ½ mile trip. If we had completed the second loop, then the total distance would have been 4.56 miles. I like the second loop but feel like it is a more enjoyable hike taking the left fork and going around.
Atlanta city lights in the distance from the top of Pine Mountain
part of Josh’s coffee making contraption
The next night Josh and I drove about 2+ hours up into the North Georgia mountains to the Chattahoochee National Forest. This is a huge area of land inhabited by black bears and is where the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail begins. To get to the Blood Mountain trailhead take Hwy 19 north from the Atlanta area until it dead ends on Hwy 129, go left on 129 towards Vogel State Park and the trailhead at Neels Gap will be well marked on the left before you get to Vogel.
Neels Gap Trailhead sign
Neels Gap Trailhead map
After parking at the trailhead, we marveled at the brightness of the stars just from where we were parked and were excited to see what we could find at the top of Blood Mountain. We started out on the Byron Herbert Reece Trail, which crosses a creek with Rhododendrons everywhere and quickly elevates over its .7 mile length. It is marked with blue blazes. You will come to a well-marked crossroads where you can go left south on the Appalachian Trail, right north on the A/T, or straight which has a couple of other named trails. We took the right fork, north on the A/T, to traverse the 2+ miles to the summit of Blood Mountain.
Thankfully the trail is very well marked with reflective white blazes from here on as it was pitch black and other than our headlamps we could not see much around us (well except for one fat rabbit). It was colder tonight dropping down into the lower thirties. As we climbed to the top of the 4459 ft mountain (the highest point along the A/T in Georgia), the trail started to remind me of a stone staircase at points and even a few larger rocks to climb over. As we neared the summit, we had hiked higher in elevation than the mountains around us and could start to see the orange glow of Atlanta around 100 miles to the south. There were several flat granite areas (where I could say a great dad joke, “don’t take this hike for granite”), right before we crested the top. The wind was positively howling at the top and unfortunately we couldn’t get the flame to stay lit on Josh’s coffee brewing contraption. We did enjoy the stars, but with the Atlanta orange glow to the south we couldn’t see the Milky Way like we could out west in Texas and Utah.
Atlanta city lights in the distance from the top of Blood Mountain (note we did bring a better camera than the iphone and tripod to try and get star pictures but the wind was too strong to get it set up and hold still)
To return we just went back the same way we came up. We had one spot where it took us a few minutes to be sure we were still on the trail and it got a bit spooky in the black woods when we could hear bats squeaking a flying about. But before we knew it, we were back to the trailhead at our vehicle. The entire round trip hike of 4.3 miles took us about two hours. Since the night pictures on my phone left much to be desired, I have a few pictures of Blood Mountain from a previous day hike. I hope our adventures have inspired you to try night hiking. rk
Chattahoochee National Forest sign
White blaze on the Appalachian Trail near Blood Mountain in North Georgia