Lake Russell Lady Slipper Trail (ish) Hike

Lake Russell Recreational Area in Mt. Airy, Georgia is a hidden gem, especially in the off season. The trails are quiet and isolated. And even during the months when the park is fully open, the beach area and campgrounds might be crowded, but the trails typically remain little traveled.

One of our favorite trails is the Lake Loop that, you guessed it, circles around the lake. This past weekend, however, we went on one of the other trails – the Lady Slipper Trail.

The Lady Slipper Trail starts off with a steady uphill climb for about a mile. Once you hit the top of the ridge, you merge into an old forest road. The official trail turns left, heading northeast. Greg and I eyed each other, and turned right, heading down the road going southwest into an area of the park we haven’t explored. We did about 3/4 of a mile, reaching the end of the road and going a bit further (a smaller trail continued beyond the end of the road) along the ridge through a pine forest. We would have kept going deeper into the woods, except we came across a hunter and didn’t want to disturb him or his dogs. So, we turned around and headed back.

Wanting to at least go for 5 miles, we hiked beyond where the trail enters the road and continued northeast and veered off onto the Lady Slipper Trail once more, where it departs the road and heads down a hillside. Instead of doing the loop though, we went for distance and then turned around to head back to where we parked.

On our way back, we actually met up with the hunter that we saw at a distance in the woods and exchanged apologies and pleasantries. He had two small hunting dogs with him that were adorable and friendly. Scotch and Beans behaved themselves and everyone had a good sniff. We also met a couple groups of mountain bikers on the return journey – making this the busiest we have ever seen this trail before.

The Lady Slipper Trail is a multipurpose trail. You can hike, bike, or horseback ride on it, so I’m really surprised we haven’t seen a lot more folks on it before.

The day was beautiful and the dogs enjoyed getting to stretch their stubby little legs. It’s been great getting out and hiking more again. I can feel my heart recovering from my last mystery illness flair up, and with each hike, I can feel my body getting stronger and more resilient. Being outside again makes my soul happy.

I am grateful for the abundant outdoor beauty that exists so close to where I live.

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Smithgall Hike: Tower Road

On Saturday, Greg and I returned to one of our favorite local destinations – The Smithgall Woods Center for a hike.

Smithgall is awesome because most of the time, the entire park is pedestrian only. So even just getting around in the park is a hike in itself, and there’s several hiking trails off of the main road. It’s a peaceful, less populated state park.

I am happy to say, that the park has fully reopened. Last time we went, most of it was closed because the main road had been washed away, leaving behind a ravine.

This time
Last time

Instead of hitting up one of the normal hiking trails, we decided to take a graveled side road up to a cell tower. The road is aptly named Tower Road. We’d never explored this part of the park before, and I can say for certain that this is definitely the steepest part of Smithgall.

We took the Scotch and Beans and had some fun. After not going hiking or leaving the house much at all these past few weekends, it felt awesome to get out in nature again and really reset myself for the week at hand. Nothing makes me more content than a jaunt through the woods amongst the happy tree pheromones ion thingies (no really – look up “Forest Bathing”)

 

Indian Grave Gap to Tray Mountain

Greg and I have completed two hikes so far in 2019, and both have been brand new to us. This past weekend, we made our way to a remote spoton the Appalachian trail – where the trail crosses Indian Grave Gap Road. Indian Grave Gap Road is a narrowish dirt road that winds through the national forest. If you decide to visit it, I recommend a truck or suv, especially after hard rains like we’ve experienced here in North Georgia lately.

Where the AT crosses the road, there is a small parking lot. We geared up and headed north towards Tray Mountain.

Tray Mountain is the 7th highest peak in Georgia. The trail up to the peak is moderately difficult, and a near constant incline. But it is an awe-inspiring trail with canopies of mountain laurel and rhododendron that give way to breathtaking views. Eventually leading to the very top of Tray Mountain at 2.55 miles (the shelter is as little further down the trail, but we didn’t go that far). This trail has become an instant favorite.

New Year’s Hike – Unicoi to Helen

Yesterday, Greg and I took full advantage of the holiday and the gloriously mild weather and went for a hike. When you have time off and it’s 63 degrees outside, you go outside and enjoy it!

So warm we didn’t need jackets

It’s amazing that after six years of hiking and exploring all that the mountains of Northeast Georgia has to offer, that we still find places that we’ve never hiked. Especially trails that are definitely ones that should have been on our radar. Yesterday’s hike was one of these. We go to Unicoi State Park in Helen at least once a month. We love taking the pups for a casual stroll around the little lake there, and we’ve explored a bit of the other trails this park has to offer, but we’ve never completed the Unicoi to Helen trail.

Until now.

Coming in at just under six miles in and out, this trail is one that we’ll be adding to the rotation for sure. I’d say it’s only moderately difficult – purely based on length. The climbs and descents are mild. It has been raining A LOT here recently, so the trail itself had several swishy, muddy parts, but nothing that a good pair of waterproofed boots couldn’t slog through easily.

Sign at the Unicoi Lodge Trailhead

The trail starts at Unicoi Lodge in the park and winds up at the city park in Helen, where you can add a little bit of length and site-seeing to the hike by going around the little paved loop in the park.

Because of the weather and time of year, the trail had many different types of fungus and lichen growing everywhere. The rivers and streams were flowing like crazy, several days after we received flood-level amounts of rain.

This was a great, new experience to start of 2019.

 

Fall Hike: Or “Let’s go this way”

Sometimes you have to stare at Google maps and try to find a new and interesting place to go hiking. Follow the Appalachian trail north of your normal treks and you may discover a new section that has a road and approach trail that leads right to it.

That’s how we discovered the Appalachian Trail at Addis Gap. The plan was to head to the trail head at the end of Wild Cat Road and hike up to the A.T. and then go for distance.

The drive there was bordering on magical. Peak color, an undisturbed dirt road covered in yellow leaves, and even a water fall along the way. It took a solid 30 minutes to drive down the long, narrow gravel road known as West Wild Cat Rd, and it was certainly a beautiful adventure.

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After being on approach trail (the old end portion of Wild Cat Road) for about 15 minutes, we were met by a couple of cyclists, which meant we had to scramble and get the pups out of the way (we had Scotch and Beans with us). The second dude who road by let us know that more folks on bikes were coming down the mountain.

There was a race going on.

Our secluded hike was going to be interrupted by a lot of people in tight shorts, and our nerves were going to be shot by trying not to have a corgi vs. bike accident.

But we trudged on, luckily being able to see a relatively good distance along the path.

But behold! a fork in the trail. To the left, the continuation of Wild Cat Road/approach trail. To the right, though, was another old forest road, showing up on Google Maps as “Deep Gap Road.”

When we got to the fork, our decision was basically made for us. A large group of cyclists were speedily coming down the mountain from the approach trail. We took the road less traveled, and honey, that made all the difference.

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The rest of the hike was peaceful, and while we were constantly climbing the mountain, the grade was easy. So while we didn’t exactly get to the A.T. this time, we found a place where we can come back to later.

In total, we hiked five miles (2.5 in, 2.5 out). We enjoyed it immensely, and the pups did as well.

Hiking the A.T.

The mountains of Northeast Georgia provide an amazing array of hiking choices for those who are outdoorsy-inclined. Hiking is one of my favorite weekend activities, especially during the cooler weather. After almost a full week of feeling almost like a normal human being, I wanted to take a real hike this weekend and not just a jaunt through the woods at Unicoi State Park.

So early on Sunday morning, Greg and I packed up our gear and our snacks and headed up the mountain on the Richard Russell Scenic Parkway nearby. This highway gets closed quite often during the winter months because certain parts never see direct sunlight and ice sticks around like crazy. We drove up to the top of the mountain, to where the Appalachian Trail crosses the road at Hog Pen Gap. From that particular trail head, we headed north for 2 miles and then returned.

GPS map of the hike

A nice, relatively flat 4-mile hike was exactly what I needed for both my body and my spirits. The morning was absolutely invigorating, albeit a bit chilly at first. The trail follows a ridge, and we were hiking in fog for a good portion of the morning, watching it slowly evaporate as the sun rose over the mountains and peeked through the trees.

I feel a unique sort of peace while hiking, and there’s an added bonus of accomplishment when you’re done.

Oddly enough, this is the first time we’ve done this portion of the A.T. I’d like to return eventually and go a littler further than 2 miles in.

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A Jaunt Through the Woods

The North Georgia Mountains typically experiences one weekend of perfect Autumn weather a year. This weekend was that weekend. It’s that weekend where, no matter how bad or weak I’m feeling, you can bet I’m going to be outside in one form or fashion. Yesterday, I spent most of the day helping Greg to landscape work where I could (more on that tomorrow), but today we partook in some much needed hiking therapy.

Our reasons were multiple. Both Greg and I wanted to get out and enjoy the day. We also took all three dogs to the vet on Friday for their checkups and vaccines. Twinkie, Scotch, and Beans had all gained a significant amount of weight, and while that’s good news for Beans, the growing puppy, it wasn’t so much for Twinkie and Scotch. Especially Twinkie, who had gained almost 15 pounds since her last vet visit. I knew she had put on some matronly weight in her old age, but I never realized how much!

It was eye-opening to say the least.

So we’ve made a promise to ourselves to give the older pups more activity, so that hopefully they can slim back down to a healthier corgi weight.

So we harnessed up all three pups, which is an epic task within itself, and schlepped them over to Unicoi State Park where we walked the lake trail. It’s the perfect trail for the old fart corgis who don’t do well on long or hilly hikes, and for Beans’s first ever hike. It’s also great for me, who has a finite amount of energy to spend while experiencing a flair up of the mystery illness (I’ll post an update on that later this week).

Half of the fun is constantly untangling the leashes of this bunch

It was actually a bit misty when we first started, but quickly cleared up. I think the short, 2-mile hike did everyone some good. The pups were super happy to be out, and even Twinkie, who is quite lazy, kept pace and seemed to enjoy it. Greg and I got to actively participate in the one perfect autumn weekend, for which I am most grateful.

So now we sit back and wait for winter to arrive next weekend. Autumn in the mountains is an elusive and fickle thing.