Ellicott Rock Wilderness is a paradise for me. It contains two of the things I most enjoy on my adventures...solitude and a bit of (quirky) history. Centered around the North Carolina-South Carolina-Georgia state tri-point. The federally designated wilderness (established in 1975) is a bit over 8,000-acres in size and contains parts of three National Forests; the Chattahoochee (GA), Sumter (SC), and Nantahala (NC). Running through the heart of the wilderness are the wild and clear waters of the Chattooga River, whose banks my hike on this day would follow.
On its own the wilderness area would certainly be enough to earn inclusion on my personal list of top nearby hiking locations. There's two little things that make it that much more special, however...and those little things are Ellicott and Commissioners Rocks, remnant markers of a time when this really was the edge of true wilderness and the boundaries of the states that meet here had yet to be determined. Markers that can still be seen today.
The story of these two remote but very important rocks began in 1810 when settlers from neighboring Georgia and North Carolina got into a brief shooting conflict, known as the Walton War, over the disputed boundary of these states. In 1811 a prominent United States surveyor by the name of Andrew Ellicott was hired to travel to the boundary and determine the correct location of the border once and for all which Congress had determined should be located at Latitude 35N. Travelling into the Appalachian backcountry Ellicott made his calculations and inscribed the location of the newly 'official' boundary on a rock on the east bank of the Chattooga River. Ellicott's inscription "N - G", meaning North Carolina-Georgia, can still be seen plainly on the rock today. Apparently Ellicott's proposed boundary wasn't precise enough for the lawmakers of North and South Carolina as they sent their own team of commissioner's to the area to re-evaluate Ellicott's calculations. Their determination found that the correct location of the 35N latitude line was in fact about 15 FEET farther south! Therefore they inscribed their own rock, "Lat 35 AD 1813 NC + S.C." just downstream from the original where it also remains seen to this day. Thanks to modern technology it is now known that neither rock actually sits on the 35th parallel which crosses the Chattooga some 230 feet south of Ellicott's Rock. This discrepancy has meant that these borders are still in dispute, more-so to the west though where the 35th's incorrect position has important water-rights repercussions along the southern border of Tennessee with Georgia and Alabama.
So there you have it, the seldom-told story of Ellicott and Comissioners Rocks and how they remain important to the boundries of three states which, even today, haven't come to an agreement. What is equally amazing, to me, is how intact each of these rocks are. You would think that after 200 years of rain and floods they would have worn away or at least have been lost, but no. If you had no knowledge of them they look like they could have been carved relatively recently. Thankfully, as a wilderness area where signs are not permitted, these rocks are not easily found on a first visit which should help protect them to some degree from human vandalism. While the state line is marked, it requires a 20-foot scramble down a slippery bluff to get to the two rocks along the river Once along the river you just need to search around a bit. Just remember Comissioners Rock is about 15 feet DOWNSTREAM from Ellicott Rock depending on which one you find first. Also, neither marker is more than 5-feet above the mean water flow so if you're visiting at high water both rocks will likely be submerged.
So, come along with me through a pristine southern wilderness to the site of one of the few remaining disputed boundaries within the United States...let's go...
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 34.974845, -83.114801
Hike Length: ~9.0 miles Hike Duration: 3:00
Trailhead Temp: 35'F
Min. Elevation: 2,020' Max. Elevation: 2,200'
Total Vertical Gain: 250' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 62'