Three Forks Trail (12-11-16)
The "Three Forks" is a name I heard first not that long after moving back to the southern Mountains in 2012. I came across a vintage postcard depicting the site and was immediately intrigued as it portrayed a place where three separate wild mountain streams joined forces above a deep rocky gorge. A quick search for Three Forks at the time turned up nothing I could definitively point to as the inspiration for this old postcard. Over the years I would occasionally do a brief search to try and turn up anything new but to no avail. I started to seriously believe that the "Three Forks" existed only in the imagination of some past artist to give folks from the lowlands one more temptation to come vacation in the mountains. Then, about a year ago, I began to be more interested in exploring the trails of the North Georgia mountains. Not long after starting my research into potential future trips in the region guess what I discovered...yup, a place called the Three Forks. I may at that moment shouted at my computer screen, "It does exist!"
It didn't take long to pinpoint the location of the Forks and to my great delight I discovered there was even a maintained trail leading to them...well, most of the way. More on that in a bit. The Three Forks refers to a spot in extreme northeastern Rabun County where the convergence of three small streams (Holcomb Creek, Overflow Creek, and Big Creek) create the headwaters of the West Fork Chattooga River. The route I followed began at the Three Forks Trailhead on Overflow Creek Road at a spot called John Teague Gap. The four mile drive from Highway 28 in Pine Mountain, Georgia is mostly gravel and a bit rough in places but I made it with a front-wheel-drive sedan no problem. The route to the Forks begins beyond a large boulder, inscribed "Three Forks Trail," on the east side of the road at the gap.
The 1.5 mile route to the Forks begins with a brief climb over the crest of the wooded ridge and then a long gradual descent to the river valley below. The trail was easy to follow but it was obvious from a few overgrown sections that it isn't the most heavily used foot path in Chattahoochee National Forest. Once the trail reaches the bottom of the ridge and begins to level out (around a mile in) an obvious path splits left down a shallow gully surrounded by rhododendron. At the time I visited there was a plastic-covered sign with 'Three Forks' and an arrow to signal the turn but it didn't look like a sign with any permanence to it so I wouldn't count on it to find your way. After turning onto the spur trail it only took another couple minutes of downhill walking before the trail almost literally dumped me out into Holcomb Creek. This is a fascinating spot. Just ahead and upstream is a small but pretty multi-tiered cascade. Downstream, Holcomb Creek is compressed to a width of little more than a couple feet as it plunges into a narrow slot canyon at least 20-feet deep.
At this point the trail seems to abruptly end and, if the following route description sounds a bit rugged to you, it is indeed a suitably scenic end. I was here to see the Three Forks however, so I'd be pressing on. From here the route would get steep, overgrown, and a bit hard to follow. The first order of business is to safely get across Holcomb Creek. If the water is up, don't attempt it. Even if the water is low tread carefully, a fall will send you careening down into the slot canyon I described earlier. The narrow unmarked path to the Forks begins across the stream, at a point just above the slot canyon, by climbing a steep bank underneath some overhanging rhododendron branches. Hopefully, as when I visited, you'll be able to pick up a faint path heading downstream at this point. The first tenth of a mile or so the goat path follows along and above Holcomb Creek climbing some. Then things get interesting. The trail begins to drop...moderately at first but before long you may find yourself grabbing for surrounding branches. At one point there is about a 10-foot ledge to carefully slide/scramble your way down. At the bottom you'll find yourself once again along Holcomb Creek. Just pick one of the myriad of trails here which cross through and around a nearby campsite to the banks of the West Fork Chattooga River and the Three Forks. A handy overhanging boulder was a great spot from which to take in the scene. Upstream Overflow Creek came in from the left and Big Creek and it pretty waterfall tumbled in from the right. Behind me the waters of Holcomb Creek also were making their drop into the river. Downstream, the three forks now joined as one, I could watch the impressive Chattooga disappearing into a gorge surrounded by high rock walls. Needless to say, it was an amazing spot and one I enjoyed an extended period of time at trying to take it all in.
So, joy of joys, the mysterious Three Forks actually exists and I've now had the privilege of visiting them. Afterwards, I was informed by a fellow hiker that there are no less than 10 waterfalls in the immediate area on the streams which feed into the Forks. That and the gorge reportedly sports a fabulous wildflower display in the springtime. A return trip might definitely be a necessity in the near future! Anyway, I now invite you to a secluded corner of the North Georgia mountains which, up to a year ago, I was skeptical even existed. Come on along with me as I discover the Three Forks...and as always...ENJOY!
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 34.962209, -83.228759
Mileage Hiked: 3.0 miles Hike Duration: 1:45
Trailhead Temp: 35'F Trail Traffic: None!!
Min. Elevation: 1,820' Max. Elevation: 2,420'
Total Vertical Gain: 600' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 200'
Trails Used (blaze color): Three Forks (green), Three Forks Spur (unblazed)