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Hiking to the top of the world, Georgia style
By Tom Adkinson

(Editor’s note: This is one in a series of travel stories spotlighting destinations and activities to consider in a time of coronavirus and to inspire safe outings elsewhere.)

brasstown bald tower
Nothing sticks up higher in the mountains of North Georgia than the observation tower atop Brasstown Bald; image by Tom Adkinson.

BRASSTOWN BALD, Georgia – This is one of the places Karen Carpenter had in mind when she sang about being “on top of the world looking down on creation.”

Brasstown Bald, 125 miles north of Atlanta in the Blue Ridge Mountains, is the highest point in Georgia, and the signs say that you can see Georgia and three other states when you climb to the observation deck that rises atop the 4,784-foot-tall mountain. (A bald is a southern Appalachian term for a mountaintop with a 360-degree view.)

brasstown bald trail
The trail to the top of Brasstown Bald is an invigorating walk of six-tenths of a mile; image by Tom Adkinson.

North Carolina is so close that there’s no doubt about seeing it, and it doesn’t stretch believability too much that some of the distant ridges you see on the horizon are in Tennessee and South Carolina. People say that sometimes you even can see the office towers of Atlanta if you look south and the atmosphere is perfectly clear.

When conditions are not perfect, you still get magnificent views. It’s a real treat to be so high that you can look down into fog-shrouded valleys or see what the tops of clouds look like without being in an airplane.

As you walk around the observation deck, you can see Rabun Bald, Georgia’s second-highest peak; Black Rock Mountain, site of Georgia’s highest-elevation state park; Blood Mountain, the highest Georgia spot on the famous Georgia-to-Maine Appalachian Trail; and the many peaks inside the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest.

Brasstown Bald observation tower
You look down and across four states when you are at the Brasstown Bald observation tower; image by Tom Adkinson.

Regardless of what artificial boundaries lie among the rolling ridges, the panoramic view you get from Brasstown Bald lifts your spirits. This sight is the reward for a stiff, but short, hike of six-tenths of a mile.

When times are normal (as in no coronavirus pandemic), there’s a shuttle to take you to the top, but that’s a cop-out for anyone who’s physically able. There are bragging rights – along with extra knowledge – that come with taking that short hike.

The trail to the observation tower is paved, making it an easier hike than you might expect. Along the way are several signs to give you reasons to pause, catch your breath and learn something. (Timely signs coach you about social distancing. Six feet is the wingspan of a bald eagle, the length of two beaver tails or the length of a pine snake.)

One of the permanent signs answers the question of how to distinguish mountain laurel from rhododendron. They are similar and grow together, but laurel (in blossom in May and June) has tiny, pink-fringed teacup blooms, while rhododendrons (in blossom June and July) are bigger and showier. There are two rhododendron varieties on Brasstown Bald – rosebay, with white to light-pink flowers, and Catawba, with flowers that are rose pink to purple.

Brasstown Bald flame azalea
The orange blossoms of flame azaleas accent the trail to Brasstown Bald, along with mountain laurel and two variety of rhododendron; image by Tom Adkinson.

Consider it a bonus if you see the bright orange of flame azalea while walking the trail. It’s not nearly as common as laurel or rhododendron.

This mountainous corner of Georgia is full of other attractions and diversions. Among them are the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway, which brings true definition to “serpentine”, and the Track Rock Petroglyphs, rock carvings made by Creek and Cherokee Indians more than a thousand years ago.

Brasstown Bald Visitor Center
Brasstown Bald is one among many attractions in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest north of Atlanta; image by Tom Adkinson.

When you reach the top of Brasstown Bald, you may want to start visiting peak elevations in other states. There’s even a group of like-minded folks. It’s the Highpointers Club, and the most accomplished members have topped out in all 50 states. The highest is Denali in Alaska. At 20,320 feet above sea level, it’s more than four times the height of Brasstown Bald.

Trip Planning Resources:

(Travel writer Tom Adkinson’s new book, 100 Things To Do in Nashville Before You Die, is available at

Published August 14, 2020

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