Black Rock Mountain State Park is located in the extreme northeastern tip of Georgia and has the distinction of being the highest State Park in the state. Encompassing around 1,750 acres the park is draped along a high ridge which is anchored by Black Rock Mountain to the south, at 3,640', and Lookoff Mountain to the north, at 3,162'. The park has a number of trails criss-crossing it but the main two, the Tennessee Rock and James Edmonds, loop southeast and northwest respectively along the ridge from near the park visitor center. It was the longer of these two primary trail I was interested in this day, the James Edmonds Trail.
I had long been eyeballing Black Rock Mountain State Park as a possible hiking destination. For whatever reason, despite living only 40 miles away, I had still yet to set foot on any of its trails as of the fall of 2016. As the year drew to a warm, parched, and wildfire-plagued close I decided to correct this absence. Just one week prior to this trip I had attempted a loop of this and the Tennessee Rock Trail but was chased off by thick clouds of smoke from the 50,000+ acres of forest engulfed in flame to the north and west of the park. This weekend however saw the prevailing winds blowing in just the right direction to spare the park, at least for a portion of one day, from the seemingly ever-present ashy clouds. Hopefully I'd be able to squeeze in this hike, one which I had waited so long to complete.
The trail itself is named for one of Black Rock Mountains early park rangers, James "Mr. Eddie" Edmonds. At 7.3 miles in length its not an overly long trail but it in no way finds the easiest route to travel that distance, making it quite difficult due to the constant and frequently steep elevation changes. The trail begins from a small parking area on a tight bend in the park road not far below the visitor center. As of 2016 there was a $5 day use fee required. Beginning alongside the Tennessee Rock Trail the James Edmonds Trail breaks right only a few yards beyond the trailhead. The trail crosses north over the ridge before, at around the half-mile mark, it splits into a loop. The south half of the loop dips down the ridge towards Black Rock Lake before re-climbing it to reach the summit of Lookoff Mountain. The north half also descends the ridge, all the way to Black Rock Lake, before climbing the ridge again to rejoin the other half of the loop about a half-mile from Lookoff. After hiking the entirety of the trail I can't say that hiking the trail in one direction versus the other is in any way advantageous. Both routes require long descents and steep climbs, the southern half only marginally less so. I'd be following the loop in a counter-clockwise fashion, keeping south first and hitting the lake on the way back. I wanted to make as much of a bee-line for Lookoff as possible as there was no telling when the park might once again be swallowed up in smoke.
The hike was uneventful. The trail was well marked and easy to follow. It was tough, due to the constant changes in elevation, but it was rarely rough. Lookoff Mountain itself turned out to be quite pretty though there weren't quite the all-encompassing views I for some reason expected. It also provided an interesting look at the nearby Rock Mountain wildfire burning nearby. I made a slight detour on the return hike to walk the 3/4-mile path around Black Rock Lake. It was a completely flat side-trip so it added a nice bit of variety for very little effort. For the most part, I also managed to avoid the smoke. It did end up moving back over the park for my return climb to the car from Black Rock Lake and got quite thick at times. It wasn't going to impede any views though along that stretch of the hike so, aside from making deep breaths a bit uncomfortable, it was little more than a nuisance.
So, without further adieu, I present the James Edmonds Trail of Black Rock Mountain State Park in Georgia. As always...ENJOY!!!
Mileage Hiked: 8.2 miles Hike Duration: 3:45
Trailhead Temp: 40'F Trail Traffic: 5-10 people
Min. Elevation: 2,250' Max. Elevation: 3,300'
Total Vertical Gain: 1,900' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 232'