Pinnacle Knob (5-6-18)
In far northeast Georgia, just outside the small town of Clayton, is a rather non-descript peak of middling height which boasts what might be one of the finest mountain views in the entire state. Rising just over 3,000-feet and thickly forested, you might not expect such high praise for Pinnacle Knob…I know I was more than a bit skeptical before visiting…but, believe me, it is praise well-deserved as you’ll see in this album. Despite its reputation for beauty Pinnacle Knob remains something of an undiscovered gem as well. With the wildly popular Black Rock Mountain State Park lying just to the north and the busy tourist town of Clayton only a few miles away as well it’s a bit surprising to me Pinnacle Knob isn’t more overrun…and I’m immensely glad for that fact. Getting to the summit cliffs doesn’t require an all-day trek either. Starting from the parking area on Courthouse Gap Road you’re only looking at just over a 3-mile round trip to the top. It is a workout, however, as the route climbs nearly a thousand feet along the way. The reward you receive upon stepping out onto the ledges, though, is more than worth it.
As previously stated the hike begins from a small dirt pull-off along Courthouse Gap Road, just east of Clayton, at a point where a set of high-tension power lines passes overhead. The trail itself is another tenth-of-a-mile or so farther up the road but there is no parking at that point so the power line opening is the spot to begin. Ascending Courthouse Gap Road you’ll soon reach the Courthouse Gap Trail (#47) on the left ascending into the rhododendron. The trail immediately begins a moderately steep ascent up the thickly wooded ridge. Though there is a bit of a more level stretch just before reaching Courthouse Gap, this first stretch is a good warm-up for what is to come. After about a half-mile the Courthouse Gap Trail reaches a T-junction with the Bartram Trail at its namesake gap. To continue to Pinnacle Knob take a right here and begin a gradual climb and descent through another tunnel of rhododendron. Before long though the grade steepens again and, at a point about three-tenths of a mile from Courthouse Gap, the trail tops the side of the ridge and the trail to the summit of Pinnacle Knob breaks right. From this point it’s another fairly steep mile to the top so enjoy the relatively flat terrain the path begins on. Soon the Pinnacle Knob Trail begins the long, sweeping ascent of the summits steep southern slopes. When I visited the forest here was bathed in beautiful spring green from floor to canopy…the cliffs above aside, this was the prettiest part of the actual walking portion of the hike in my opinion. The mountainside here is incredibly steep and I found myself greatly appreciative of the recent trail relocation which recently took place here. Originally, the path simply shot straight up the slope here which must have made for a brutal ascent. Now, however, the trail makes a series of long leisurely switchbacks to accomplish the climb making for a more moderate ascent. Just before reaching the summit cliffs the trail passes a series of large rock outcrops, one big enough to provide some shelter in a pinch were it needed. Prepare yourself at this point, what follows is eye candy of the highest quality.
At the 1.7-mile mark the trail suddenly breaks through the trees and deposits you atop the summit cliffs. Almost involuntarily a whispered “WOW” escaped my lips. What greeted my eyes was a scene far beyond what my expectations had prepared me for up here. The 180-degree panorama encompassed most of the mountains of northeast Georgia…the numerous ridges and vales all cloaked in a magnificent cloak of brilliant spring green. Far below lays the valley of Stekoa Creek where the town of Clayton is mostly hidden by the thick woodlands. To the north and west is the broad ridge of Black Rock Mountain (3,640’) with the much higher peaks of the Southern Nantahala Wilderness looming large on the horizon beyond. To the northeast is perhaps the most famous peak in the region, Rabun Bald, which at 4,695’ is Georgia’s second highest. I spent a good amount of time scrambling around on the cliffs, enjoying the incredible views from as many unique angles as I could find. A refreshing breeze was raking the summit at the time making the experience all the more enjoyable on this otherwise very warm day. Some mountaintops are harder to pull myself away from than others and, believe me, Pinnacle Knob was one of the hardest in quite a while. Retracing the route I had taken to reach the summit, I took the opportunity the easy downhill walk offered to enjoy some late-spring wildflower blooms and just a bit more of the brilliant foliage surrounding me. I found myself back at the car long before I really wanted to leave.
So, as you can tell, this hike was an instant classic. Not long or particularly difficult it was just enough of a challenge to appreciate all the more the incredible payoff that came at the top. Pinnacle Knob is a peak I waited far too long to visit and, hopefully, I will have the good fortune to return sooner than later. Without further adieu it’s my pleasure to present to you one of the prettiest short hikes I’ve yet to experience in North Georgia…as always, ENJOY!!
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 34.896900, -83.373875
Route Type: Out-and-back Difficulty: MODERATE
Mileage Hiked: 3.4 miles Hike Duration: 1:30
Trailhead Temp: 75'F Trail Traffic: 5-10 people
Min. Elevation: 2,200' Max. Elevation: 3,141'
Total Vertical Gain: 950' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 559' (ascent)
Trails Used (blaze color): Bartram (yellow), Courthouse Gap (green), Pinnacle Knob (green)