Smithgall Woods State Park – Martin’s Mine & Cathy Ellis Trail

GPS Map - Smithgall
Click on image in check out the GPS tracking of this hike.

Smithgall Woods is a hidden gem of Northeast Georgia. A small state park located on alt-75 between Cleveland and Helen, this area is absolutely gorgeous. There are several trails that traverse the park. Don’t let the brochures fool you. Though the trails are listed as only being .5 to 2 miles long, you cannot park at the trail heads. Unless you are handicapped, you must walk to bike to the trails from the parking lot at the visitor’s center. So though the Cathy Ellis Trail is only .5 miles long itself, it takes an additional 2.7 miles to get there. With the peaceful walk to the trail heads and the two trails themselves, we clocked in at 7.38 miles, and it took us 3hrs 50mins.

Getting to the Trail Heads

The first section of the approach road is paved.
The first section of the approach road is paved.

As mentioned earlier, vehicles are not allowed beyond the parking lot at Smithgall Woods. To get to many of the trail heads, you must walked down the road to reach them. This trek in-itself is quite nice. The first section of road is paved, and then turns into a gravel road just beyond the covered bridge. The road travels through the woods and follows Duke’s Creek for the most part.

Along the road, about half a mile in, you pass by an apiary. These beehives won’t sneak up on you though. There are signs marked “Caution: Bees” along the road. They are a safe distance away from the road. I didn’t see a single bee up close, but you can most definitely hear them buzzing about, and if you look carefully, you can see the little buggers swarming about their hives.

Bay's Bridge
Bay’s Bridge

About halfway to the Cathy Ellis Trail, you come across a covered bridge, “Bay’s Bridge,” dedicated to Elizabeth “Bay” Smithgall Watts, a late professor of  anthropology at Tulane University, who passed away from a brain tumor in 1994. Bay was the daughter of Lessie and Charles A Smithgall Jr., whom the park is named for. If you’re interested in learning more, I suggest googling her name. I found her research and history to be quite interesting (Her PhD dissertation is “A Comparative Study of Skeletal Maturation in the Chimpanzee and Rhesus Monkey and its Relationship to Growth and Sexual Maturity”). 

About 2.1 miles away from the visitor’s center, you’ll come across Martin’s Mine Trail. The trail head is located on the left side of the road.

Martin’s Mine

Martin’s Mine is listed as a .9 mile trail. However, there is an extension to it that makes it a bit long, nearing 2 miles in total. It is a loop trail, so you will wind up back on the road where you started.

Waterfall on the Martin's Mine Trail extension
Waterfall on the Martin’s Mine Trail extension

If you’re into learning more about local history or gold mining, I strongly suggest grabbing the interpretive brochure from the visitor’s center. This trail winds along the woods on top of an old gold mine. Several of the mine shafts are still visible, and the toll the operation took on the landscape is evident and fascinating. The waterfall is accessed via the extension trail and is a site to behold. While not overwhelming in its size or flow, it is still beautiful and serene.

 

Once you’re back on the road, continue southeast for an additional .6(ish) miles to the Cathy Ellis Trail.

Cathy Ellis Trail

The biggest hills on the trail are found at the beginning and end of the road. Luckily, they’re not too steep. If you power through them (or, well, up and over them), you’ll make your way to the Cathy Ellis Trail (also known as the Chunannee Falls Trail). From the trail head, it is a short trek through the woods to reach a pleasant waterfall.

Chunannee Falls
Chunannee Falls

While not heavy with water (at least not when we were there), is it a tall one and still gorgeous. The picture does not do it justice. Greg and I just sat there for several minutes, taking in all the happy ions the falls were producing.

The trail can feel be a bit claustrophobic, with walls of rhododendron, doghobble, and all sorts of other vegetation lining the way.

The Cathy Ellis trail is named after a young woman who was swept over a waterfall in the Chattahoochee National Forest in 1972.

From the falls, it is a 3.2 mile hike back to the visitor’s center. If you’re up for more, there are several other trails along the way that you can enjoy.

 


 

 

Summary

Trail Length: 7.38 miles
Trail Rating: easy to moderate
Parking: $5.00 fee, paid to cashier in visitor’s center
Facilities: nice, clean bathrooms located at the visitor’s center

Hiked on June 28, 2015


 

Picture Gallery

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St. George Island – May 2015

Greg and I found beach-vacation nirvana when we visited St. George Island, FL this week. Quite beaches, miles of bike path, dog-friendly, hiking, and more. It was a wonderful few days.

Mt. Yonah Hike: April 26, 2015

Today was the perfect day for hiking. The sun was shining, but it wasn’t too hot and there was a lovely wind blowing. Greg and I kept it local and scaled a mountain that’s basically in our backyard – Mt. Yonah. I wish I could post my GPS map, but I screwed it up royally by starting it late and then forgetting to run it off until we were back on the highway. One of the fun parts about Yonah is that near the summit, there are multitudes of trails that interweave around the mountain and cliff face. I think we take a different route up to the top every time. Another fun part is that Yonah has some of the best views around.

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Logan’s Turnpike Hike: Nov 30, 2014

So here I was thinking that I was only a couple months behind in posting hiking pics, then I realized I’d completely skipped over posting about our hike on the Logan’s Turnpike trail, which Greg and I did back in November. I’m only 5 months late!

Anyhoo, you may remember our previous trip to Logan’s Turnpike, which was done during the warmer months. Because it’s a little-used trail, it was completely overgrown and parts of the trail had turned into a marshy stream. Oh, and there were bugs, lots and lots of winged things flying around our faces. Needless to say, it wasn’t our favorite-est of hikes. However, we figured that these issues were directly related to the warmer months, and decided to return in the cooler months. So on a pleasant day in November, we headed out to change our perspective of this trail.

Logan’s Turnpike has an interesting history. It’s an old road. You can still find artifacts of this along the side of the trail, old rusty pails and such. The end of the trail/road was so steep that some of the first cars couldn’t make it on their own. In order for a car to top the hill, the driver would have to turn the car around and drive in reverse, preferably with someone else helping to push (which sounds incredibly dangerous, if you ask me).

Anyhoo, this time the trek up and back down the mountain was much improved. We still didn’t see a single soul on this hike. There was little to no growth on the trail, the bugs were in hiding, and the marsh had dried up. All-in-all, it was a good day.

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Raven Cliffs Trail, Jan 2015

Raven Cliff Falls is one of the most popular hiking trails in the area. At the end of the easy 2.5 mile trail is, well, a rock cliff. This is the third time Greg and I have done this trail and the second time we finished it. (The last time, we turned back due to a yellow jacket nest on the trail. This was literally the week after we were attacked by hornets on the Yellow Mtn Trail, so we were a bit skittish of flying, stingy things.) You can see pictures from our first Raven Cliff hike here.

This time, we took our ever-happy trail corg with us. Scotch loved his hike.

Happy New Year Hike! – Blood Mtn Loop

Happy new year everyone! Surprisingly, there were no hangovers this morning, so Greg and I celebrated the new year by going on a hike. We decided to do the full Blood Mountain Loop, which involves the Byron Herbert Reece, Freeman, and Appalachian trails. The hike is a total of 6 miles. There are very few flat spots, with the trail mostly being slightly up or down hill the entire way. We’ve done parts of this trail before, but some parts of it were new to us. We also took our Corgi, Scotch, with us today, and it was all new to him. This hike also marks the first time we’ve ever met another hiking corgi. One corgi on a mountain trail is enough to elicit excitement, but two corgis caused some outright astonishment among fellow hikers (“Are you guys with the other corgi group?” “Did you know there’s another corgi ahead/behind you?” “Wow, I never thought I’d see hiking corgis!” and so on and so forth). A clear, gorgeous day plus a holiday means that the trail was packed (this is one of the most popular trails in the area). Overall, it was a wonderful day and an awesome hike.