Yonah Mountain Hike Route Map

Yonah Mountain

Do a search for the best hikes in North Georgia and Yonah Mountain is sure to show up near the top of the list. A pinnacle of rock rising sharply over 1,500-feet from the surrounding forests and farmland, Yonah is a beacon for hikers and rock climbers alike. Located near the small town of Helen, the mountain is a southern outlier of the Appalachian Mountain chain, sitting slightly apart from its more lofty neighbors to the north. This makes the peak all the more dramatic as dominates the surrounding landscape far more impressively than you might expect from a mountain which barely cracks the 3,000-foot elevation mark. Adding to its appeal as well is the relatively short and moderately steep trail which leads to its summit. This is a summit which can be reached by pretty much anyone in halfway decent shape. The towering summit cliffs provide one of the finest views I’ve yet experienced in the Georgia Mountains with sweeping panoramas both south and west of the surrounding piedmont and the southernmost peaks of the Appalachians. It’s a wonderful hike, and one that I had long been looking forward to. So it was on this day I set out to experience one of Georgia’s most famous peaks for myself.

Reaching the trailhead for Yonah is the first challenge. The gravel road to the parking area is located off Chambers Road between the towns of Helen and Cleveland. On my visit the gravel road was surprisingly rough with huge washed out trenches running along its length. Recent heavy rains and the heavy traffic this road sees are surely the culprits but just be aware if you decide to visit in a low-slung automobile. The trailhead sits alongside a large parking area where the high cliffs of Yonah’s summit can be seen rising above the trees to the east. The trail leaves the parking area and begins a relatively easy ascent through a forest of mixed pines and hardwoods. Before long large boulders begin to littler the forest floor alongside the trail and a short footbridge crossed a tiny unnamed stream just past the quarter-mile mark. Past the bridge the climb continues, mostly moderate in steepness as the trail ascends to the south along the western slopes of Yonah. Climbing ever higher the path passes a particularly impressive area of large boulders and ledges at around the mile mark, requiring a few short scrambles in spots, before emerging at a small clearing about a quarter mile later. Here you get the first taste of the scenery you’ll be treated to at the summit as a small boulder overlooks the valley to the south. It’s a perfect spot for a breather as the climb only intensifies from here.

From the clearing the trail attacks the ridge just behind it. There’s no switch backs here…just a steep climb straight up a deep washed-out ravine which poses the most serious ascent of the hike. Luckily its short-lived. Beyond the ravine the trail returns to a more moderate grade and shortly emerges at a gravel road used by the military for training on the mountain (more on that in a second). Turning right the hike turns into a road-walk as the trail winds its way up to the northern summit ridge. At just over a mile-and-a-half the road emerges atop the ridge at a large open area with a latrine-style building at one edge. This is the training area at Yonah used by U.S. Army Rangers at various times during the year. A sign here warns that occasionally that Yonah is closed to prevent interference with exercises in the area. I’m not sure how often this happens but a number is provided… 706-864-3367…if you’d like to call ahead to make sure the trails and summit are open. At the training area it’s a bit confusing where to head. Looking south in the direction of the summit you’ll see the road the trail has been following continuing uphill to the left while a seemingly well-travelled trail enters the woods to the right. Despite spending a couple minutes looking I couldn’t locate any trail blazes to tell me which was the correct route to take. Preferring trail over road I therefore took the trail on the right. I found out later, however, the road was the correct route. No matter as the “trail” emerges back onto the road quickly after a short and steep climb. At this point the route to the summit simply follows the road all the way to the top.

The summit of Yonah is sometimes referred to as “Yonah Meadows” for the large open lawn which covers it. From what I saw it makes for a popular camping spot. The road ends here and now it’s up to you to explore the numerous spur paths which lead down to the cliffs…there’s no marked route so it’s a bit of a choose-your-own-adventure. I followed a route which led to the very southern edge of the towering western cliffs, with a plan to walk the cliff-edge northward from there before cutting back over to the main trail. The views from the summit ledges are incredible…as I said earlier they rival many other overlooks I’ve visited in the North Georgia Mountains. High peaks are visible to the west while to the south the Georgia Piedmont, dotted with the occasional hill, stretches away to the horizon. As I walked carefully along the edge stops were frequent as I soaked in every last second of the natural beauty this place offered me. It was spectacular…and over far too soon. The walk back simply retraces the route up…it’s easier in that it’s downhill but the rough terrain in places keeps the pace slower. Before long you’ll stand once again in the parking lot looking up at the high cliffs where you were standing not long before.

My experience at Yonah was as good as I expected. The trail was (with a couple minor exceptions) easy to follow and not all that strenuous. Drawbacks for me included the heat (which is expected in Georgia in August) and the crowds. I was able to avoid both to some degree on this hike by getting an early 8am start. The long shadows of the morning kept me in comfortable shade for most of the climb and 90% of the people I crossed paths with I met after the summit on my way back down. This meant that I was able to enjoy Yonah Mountain much more, I’m sure, than if I had waited until later in the day to visit. Overall I’d give this hike a high rating…its reputation as one of Georgia’s premier day hiking destinations is well-deserved. I’ve rambled on enough though…let’s hit the trail and explore the beautiful Yonah Mountain…as always, please enjoy…

Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 34.637332, -83.725397

Route Type:  Lollipop                  Difficulty:  HARD  (Petzoldt Rating:  7.50 )

Hike Length:  4.5 miles                Hike Duration:  2:30

Trailhead Temp:  70'F                  Trail Traffic:  25-50 people

Min. Elevation:  1,700'                   Max. Elevation:  3,166'

Total Vertical Gain:  1,500'            Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile:  667' (ascent)

Trails Used (blaze color):  Cliffs Spur (unblazed), Yonah Mountain (green)


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