Day 4: 18.9 miles
We slept in and gorged ourselves on the hotel breakfast before loading up and heading out the door for the second and longer part of the Franklin Road Walk. We had about 10 miles of road walking to do, and our packs were feeling very heavy with 5 days worth of food weighing us down.
The road walk was much more delightful than I ever could have anticipated. Although it was practically not at all marked, we were able to follow along using the NatGeo map we had. We walked along quiet country roads with cute homes with large freshly mowed yards with daffodils blooming in the gardens and small creeks babbling nearby.
Cardinals and blue birds fluttered by and dogs barked as we passed each house. We passed pastures with little donkeys and Shetland ponies and the occasional goat or cow. These bored animals stared at us as we walked past.
The views of nearby mountains provided the perfect backdrop. The occasional pick up truck or car would pass by and wave at us. We never felt like we were about to get run over.
Of course road walking sucks to some degree. Our feet started to get tired, and we took many breaks to eat some of the food we were carrying to try to reduce our load. At one point we stopped at a church which had an inviting picnic area with a nearby water spigot.
When we finally reached the end of the road walk, we got to a trailhead with a map that suggested that there had been a reroute of the Bartram Trail, which would have cut off a small amount of the road walk. It wasn’t on our map, and we hadn’t noticed any sign of a trail leading off from the road we had just walked on, so we figured we would just take the old Bartram, which still existed, but was now marked with blue markers. We still saw some of the old yellow Bartram markers occasionally too.
At some point we passed a day hiker. This is notable because this is only the second time we’ve passed any other hikers on the Bartram (not counting the sections where it intersected the AT).
The trail seemed very abandoned, and unused but surprisingly easy compared to the previous section. We did stumble upon a few confusing spots where the trail seemed to intersect another trail and then carry on in both directions, but we figured out that one of them was the new rerouted Bartram Trail, and the other time there must have been someone who was confused about where to add trail markers. Or something like that.
Eventually, however, the trail reached the ridge, and we got sweeping views of the surrounding mountains. A Barred Owl swooped overhead as we hiked over the ridge line.
Something that one often forgets about hiking during this time of year is just how much exposure to sunlight you get. None of the trees have leaves on them, so there is basically no shade. This also means we have views practically all the time.
We passed by an abandoned school bus. I have no idea how this school bus could possibly have gotten to this ridge, with no visible road nearby, and no reason for it to be here.
At some point the trail entered a slightly more wet area, and we hiked through rhododendron bushes, which were recently cut back by a trail crew. We were astonished by the amount of work this trail crew put in. It was absolutely delightful to hike this section of trail.
We got to a junction where we could take a side trail to reach the top of Fishhawk Mountain. We decided to take it. It was a steep, narrow climb to the top where we were rewarded with a plaque in memory of William Bartram.
We scrambled back down, and the trail continued to impress us with informative plaques about the native flora. I couldn’t believe how well this section of trail was looked after. I took pictures of each plaque so I could read about the plants later, when I wasn’t busy chasing daylight to a campsite.
The sunset was beautiful, and because this trail is so underused, we decided to camp right in the middle of the trail. Honestly, it’s probably the best way for us not to have a negative impact as there aren’t many other durable surfaces for us to camp on.
Day 5: 20 miles
We woke up somewhat early, and packed up.
We had one more mountain to climb before entering Georgia. Scaly Mountain offered beautiful views and we stopped for a snack.
As we climbed down Scaly mountain, we were in awe of the trail maintenance that had obviously just happened. It was incredible how many downed trees, and rhododendron bushes they had cut back. I thanked the folks and the hard work that went into clearing this trail out loud several times although nobody was there to hear me.
We passed a beautiful waterfall not far off the trail covered in icicles.
We encountered a couple of disoriented day hikers as we approached a road. They told us they were hiking a loop, but we couldn’t figure out what loop they were talking about. Sadly, it became clear once we crossed the road. There were several trail intersections, and one of them was even called loop trail. Those poor folks had started their hike on the wrong side of the road.
We continued to marvel at the trail maintenance as we descended into Georgia. There was no signage to tell us we had just crossed into another state, but our map provided the information.
We walked past many creek and streams gushing water with cute little bridges leading us across. The rhododendrons were thick, and I was thankful for the coolness of this ecosystem as we entered the heat of the day.
We climbed Rabun Bald, a slow steady climb, with an amazing stone observation tower on top with sweeping views in all directions.
Finally the trail maintenance ended, and we were left scrambling over blow downs and through thick rhododendrons. This made me appreciate the work that went into the previous sections all the more.
Our feet grew tired, and the day wore on, and eventually we called it quits at Wilson Gap where there was an established campsite. Since we finished early for the day, we spent some time going through our provisions and noted that we probably had enough food for at least 3 more full days, possibly 4. It’s amazing how much food we carried out of Franklin! It’s nice to think our packs will only get lighter as we approach the Foothills Trail!
Day 6: 21 miles
The moon is so bright at night, it’s really hard to sleep sometimes. I wake up thinking it’s daylight.
Eventually I woke up to the sound of vireos and pileated woodpeckers signaling that it was in fact daylight.
We hit the trail only to find it covered in fallen over rhododendron bushes and other branches and trees. It was like someone played a game pickup sticks with the nearby vegetation. The trail looked easy under all that mess, but we were left to scramble up and over and under and around all these fallen bushes and trees.
Eventually, though, the ecosystem changed, and we entered a much dryer area with fewer blow downs.
At each gap, someone had carved “Bartram Trail”, and occasionally the name of the gap on a large rock.
We descended into the beginnings of spring. We probably timed this hike a bit too early because we had wanted to see wildflowers and other spring plants, but so far they’ve been few and far between.
But hiking down to lower elevations brought some wildflowers to life. We saw blood root, rue anemone, violets all over the place, and sharp lobed hepactica. It was amazing how locally abundant some of these flowers were. It slowed us down as we stopped to examine the flowers and take pictures. We were also treated with several waterfalls, one right on the trail, and another not far off trail.
The trail was easy. I mean REALLY easy. It gently rolled up and down over small hills.
When we got close to and crossed a road, there were a surprising number of day hikers out and about.
Eventually we hit the mighty Chattooga River and followed it a ways until we found a lovely place to camp.
Day 7: 21 miles
We were camped only 6.3 miles from the end of the Bartram Trail, and they were easy going miles along the river.
We hit the road, where the Bartram ends and looked around for a sign. We found one of the rock carved signs sitting next to the parking lot, and took a celebratory picture marking the end of the Bartram Trail.
The beauty of this trip, though, is that there is a short connector trail leading to the Foothills Trail. So the end of one long trail meant the beginning of the next.
We crossed the Chattooga River on the road, and found a trailhead on the other side. We had 3.7 miles on this connector trail. Our pace came to a screeching halt when we found ourselves surrounded by wildflowers. Toadshade (a type of trillium) and rue anemones we’re everywhere. We also found sharp lobed hepatica. These wildflowers were abundant, and it was hard to put our cameras away.
Eventually, however, we hit the Foothills Trail. Unfortunately, this connector trail intersects the Foothills Trail 8.5 miles from the southern terminus, so we had to walk south toward Oconee State Park knowing that we would have to double back and walk those 8.5 miles again.
The Foothills Trail was busy. We passed several folks day hiking and backpacking.
The last few miles before we got to the state park dragged on. My feet were sore and I was tired from the sun beating down on us.
We had thought that we would see oconee bells somewhere near Oconee State Park, but we were wrong about this. In fact the trail goes nowhere interesting in this park, it simply terminates at a parking lot with a few signs about the area.
We sat down in the parking lot, ate a snack and then walked back the way we came.
Somehow the miles went by faster on the return. It was evening, and the sun was setting and the break did me and my feet some good.
A few miles later we found a spot to camp.
We spent some time trying to figure out how and where we are going to resupply. We’re thinking either Cashiers tomorrow if we’re making miles fast, or Sapphire the next day if we don’t think we can make it into Cashiers at a reasonable time tomorrow. It’s about 21 miles from here. I guess we’re in a 20 miles per day kind of pace. I can’t believe how quickly this trip is going by.
Currently we’re sitting in the tent listening to someone shooting a gun over and over again not too far away. Glad we’re not closer to the road that I’m sure they’re on.
Day 8: 21 miles
We set our alarm for 6:30AM to get an early start in the hopes of making it to Cashiers today.
We started hiking by 7, before sunrise and had the pleasure of seeing dawn break.
We didn’t see much of anyone until we hit the Chattooga River mid-morning, and then suddenly everyone and their uncles were out on this beautiful Saturday. There were day hikers, backpackers, people fishing, people out with their kids, groups of people, you name it.
The trail was slightly trickier along the bank of the river, but we were often rewarded with waterfalls.
The miles went by quickly, and eventually we left the river and headed uphill, passed a couple of trail maintainers along the way. We thanked them profusely for the work that they were doing, and hiked another 5 miles or so to the road crossing to Cashiers. I was impressed that we were able to cover 21 miles before 5pm.
We were able to hitchhike with a young couple who had just done a bike road race, and they dropped us off at the Ingles in Cashiers. We then had to either walk a mile on a scary road or hitchhike again just a mile down the road to the hotel I had scoped out. I was surprised when we quickly got a ride.
We checked into the Laurelwood Inn, and they were running a promotion for the month of March giving guests a $25 gift card to the brewery next door along with a night at the Inn for less than I had anticipated spending just on the hotel. We happily accepted the offer and showered before walking over to the brewery for burgers and a beer.
We slept really well with blackout curtains keeping the moon and sunlight out.