Sunday Hikes: The Homestead Trail at Red Top Mountain State Park

Red Top Mountain State Park is nestled along the shores of Lake Allatoona in northwest Georgia.  The state park received its name from the high iron content in its red soil.   This area was originally mined for iron and you can still locate rocks rusting along the shoreline of the lake.  Nowadays, this state park is known for its boating, cycling, swimming, and hiking.

Whoever Red Top SP has in charge of maintaining their hiking trails does a fabulous job.  They are wide, well marked, and routed for maximum viewing enjoyment.

My favorite trail at Red Top is the Homestead Trail.   This 5.5 mile lollipop trail covers much of the park’s geography and provides a great workout as well.   The trail begins at the Visitor Center and for the first 1/2 mile mostly drops in elevation.  This trail uses yellow blazes and has frequent mile markers and signs.  At the bottom of the initial descent, the trail briefly joins the Sweet Gum Trail but after a hundred yards or so kicks off to the left where it ascends the ridge line.  

The top of this ridge is often empty of hikers as it is skipped by many because it follows a creek on the far side of the ridge and rejoins the Sweet Gum Trail near where it initially departed from it.  The two trails run together again for approximately 1/4 mile until the Lodge Road is crossed when the Sweet Gum trail abruptly veers off to the right.  

Almost immediately after the trails diverge, you come upon the 3.5 mile loop portion of the trail.  The scenery and wildlife sightings in this area ramp up as well.  While hiking this trail yesterday the knocking of woodpeckers accompanied me as I repeatedly surprised deer along the trail. 

I normally go left here at the loop which gets the biggest hill out of the way and saves the gorgeous lakeshore for the return trip.  The trail throughout the loop rises and falls repeatedly, but with no sustained incline or descent.  This results in a consistent high heart rate and fresh views around every corner.

The lakeshore area of the loop is my favorite as the emerald green waters lap the shore beside me for over a mile.  Once you complete the loop you cross Lodge Road and follow the lollipop stick portion of the trail back to the Visitor Center.  For variety if you want to see new terrain you can take the Sweet Gum Trail veer just before the Lodge Trail.  This will quickly lead to the Lodge parking lot which if you cross in a straight line you will pick back up Sweet Gum and can follow this around to the opposite side of the Visitor Center.  This doesn’t really add any mileage to the length of the hike but does give you a feeling of having seen most of the state park.

One of the nice things about hiking in this area in August is that the muscadine vines are dropping their fruit everywhere.  Muscadines are a native grape to this area and at ground level look like thick woody vines that climb the trees.  The variety most common at Red Top is a sub variety called a Scuppernong which is green and has a very thick skin.  I think the deer must be having a field day vacuuming these up.
A couple of housekeeping notes before I leave you.  Red Top does use an honor system based $5 parking fee.  Also, since Lake Allatoona is a Corps of Engineers lake, be forewarned that they drain it every winter.  There is no drinking water along the trail but there is a place to fill bottles at the Visitor Center and of course if you have a Lifestraw you could fill from the lake or creeks.  

I hope you get to enjoy this trail sometime and thanks for reading.  rk

National Parks News for August 2017

There is a lot of stuff going on in the National Park System this month.   Here is a taste of some of the top National Park stories this month.

  • Unless you have been living under a rock, you probably have heard about what many are calling The Great American Total Solar Eclipse happening on August 21.   The solar eclipse will cross the United States from Oregon to South Carolina and will cross over dozens of National Park sites including popular National Parks like Grand Teton NP, Smoky Mountain NP, and Congaree NP.   These parks are all expecting huge crowds to see the eclipse.
  • Joshua Tree National Park has been recognized as the newest International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky Association.  Other National Parks with this designation include Great Basin NP, Grand Canyon NP, Death Valley NP, Canyonlands NP, Capitol Reef NP, Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP, and Big Bend NP.    Glacier NP and Canada’s Waterton Lakes NP share this designation also as they border each other.   Joshua Tree NP will be officially “sworn in” this month
  • Road Construction in Arches NP starts this month and runs through November.   As a result of the road closures, popular arches in the Windows Section will not be accessible.   The Devils Garden Campground will be closed and traffic delays are anticipated.
  • Many of the popular cliff trails in Acadia National Park have now been reopened.   They had been closed during the peregrine falcon nesting season.
  • Senior National Park Passes increase in price from $10 to $80 effective August 28th.   The Senior Pass is a lifetime pass that is only purchased once and is available to seniors 62 years and older.   If you are wanting to get a pass before the price increases, call before you visit as many National Park System locations are sold out.   These can be ordered online on the National Park website at
  • Tragedy struck in several National Parks recently.   A hiker died of heat exhaustion in Grand Canyon NP on Aug 1st after getting lost, a mountaineer died July 22nd in a fall while rappelling from Forbidden Peak in North Cascades NP, and two hikers have been missing in Joshua Tree NP for the past week.   On July 29 a near disaster struck in the Narrows in Zion NP as a flash flood nearly swept away several hikers.   Luckily quick thinking and a human chain allowed everyone to escape safely.   Unfortunately, overcrowding during the high season in the National Parks combined with extreme summer weather has created dangerous scenarios in the Parks.    Everyone try to be careful and safe out there.    rk

Sunday Hikes: Cloudland Canyon State Park Waterfalls Trail

Cloudland Canyon State Park in northeast Georgia is a great place for a day trip or weekend camping trip from Atlanta or Chattanooga. The aptly named Waterfalls Trail takes you to the parks two largest waterfalls, Cherokee and Hemlock falls. The trail is only 2.1 miles round-trip but is also entirely a steep stairway descending into the canyon so going back up will wipe you out. About half a mile in you will reach the 60 foot Cherokee Falls. Cherokee drops into a large pool before turning back into the small Sitton’s Gulch Creek. 

A little over half a mile later you will reach Hemlock Falls. Hemlock is 30 feet taller than its upstream partner and splashes down onto the rocks below. Though Hemlock is more impressive it’s view is somewhat obstructed by a large tree and a giant boulder that can’t help but make you  question where such a large rock fell from.

 A lot of people try to get a better view by leaving the platform and getting closer to the Falls but you have to walk past multiple signs warning you to not leave the trail so you should probably not do this. The trail continues past Hemlock Falls and turns into the Sitton Gulch Trail but most people turn back up towards the canyon’s rim. The hike won’t take you more than an hour and gives you two beautiful waterfalls to enjoy as well as a bit of a workout on the way back up! Whether you live nearby or are traveling by I’d say that Cloudland Canyon is worth the visit for sure! 

Thanks! – Josh