This loop trail begins at the Big Rock Nature Trailhead located adjacent to Fort Mountain Lake. All trail mileage is approximate. Drive pass the main entrance of the lake and less than a 1/2 mile the sign for the trail will be on the right with a small parking lot opposite it.
The 301-401-407 loop trail is named for the 3 largest sections of the trail but the trail includes an additional two short spur trails to get to the main section. Those two trails are the Big Rock Nature Trail and the Gahuti Trail.
The trail starts out at a lower elevation(2,513 feet) than either of the twin peaks of Fort Mountain and Cohutta Mountain since it begins at the lake which is located halfway between the twin peaks and on the lower ridge connecting the twin peaks.
The trail descends into the valley west of the mountain range and traverses from the southern end all the way to the northern end before returning on the higher elevation 407 Trail which follows below the contours of the rock fields that are so characteristic of this mountain.
From Big Rock Nature Trailhead the trail follows the path 0.2 miles marked by Yellow Paint markings on the trees before junctioning with the Gahuti Trail. The Gahuti Trail has orange markings on the tree and is impossible to miss since there is a sign pointing to the left and a bridge crossing a small creek.
The loop trail described here continues on Gahuti Trail approximately another 0.4 miles before arriving at a campsite on the left(1/4 rental campsites on the Gahuti) and immediately afterwards a tree with a double mark of orange paint or colon. Take a right at this tree to leave Gahuti and join the 301 Trail descending sharply down Cohutta Mountain which represents the Southern peak of the State Park.
For approximately a mile the trail descends sharply from 2,428 feet to 1,700 feet arriving at Waystation #1. This section of the trail must be hiked back up at the completion of the trail and is rated strenuous going down due to the grade and up for the obvious reason. This section alone makes a hiking pole obligatory just to maintain balance while descending to Waystation #1.
There are 5 Waystations located in the valley trail system surrounding Fort Mountain State Park. Waystation #1 & #2 are located in the western valley trail system of the park and the 301-401-407 Loop Trail passes both of them and Waystation #1 twice.
From Waystation #1 the loop trail continues to the east on the 407 Trail for approximately 0.3 miles before arriving at a V-Junction for the 401/407 Trail. The 401 Trail veers off left and this is the direction you should take for the trail described here.
The trail immediately passes a couple of old sheds from Fort Mountain's mining past and then crosses the Goldmine Creek at approximately the 2.0 mile mark. The trail continues descending into the valley on a wide roadbed before junctioning with the 408 Trail which comes in from the east and is a short 0.1 mile connector trail which ascends 120 feet back up to the 407 Trail.
Continue on the 401 Trail for another 0.1 miles and the 301 Trail intersects it going south to north or north to south depending on what direction the hiker has chosen. Continue past the 301 Trail intersection descending slightly on the 401 Trail for the next 0.3 miles through a gorgeous section of the forest arriving at the trail junction with the 400 Trail which arrives from the south at approximately the 3.0 mile mark and 1,447 feet elevation.
The next 0.8 miles of the 401 Trail winds through the forest like a serpent arriving at the lowest elevation point for the 301-401-407 Loop Trail at 1,296 feet right before crossing Rock Creek and shortly after that arriving at a forest service road. Take a right onto this forest service road at approximately the 3.8 mile mark.
The trail now begins ascending following this forest service road and you will see the 401 Trail re-enter the forest on your left at approximately the 4.1 mile mark. Continue past the 401 Trail re-entry point and keep following the forest service road for another 0.2 miles before arriving at Waystation #2 at approximately the 4.3 mile mark.
Now the trail begins its 301 Trail Section. From Waystation #2 continue north onto the 301 Trail for approximately a mile on a wide roadbed gradually ascending 200 feet before arriving at the 201 Picnic Ground. This picnic ground use to be a helipad for tourists in the 1970s and is a great place for a break. From the picnic tables you can view the beginning of the Cohutta Wilderness slightly to the northwest.
The 201 Picnic Ground represents the most northern point on this loop trail. Take a left back onto the 301 Trail upon leaving the picnic ground and almost immediately on the right you will see the entry point for the 407 Trail at approximately the 5.3 mile mark. Approximately the half way point on the 301-401-407 Loop Trail.
This begins the 407 section of the 301-401-407 Loop Trail. The 407 Trail is a 4.0 mile trail that traces right below the beautiful rock formations on Fort Mountain near the top of the mountain. The best time to hike this trail is when the leaves have fallen and the view of the rock formations are unimpeded. Nevertheless, it is a unique and beautiful trail no matter what time of the year it's hiked.
The 407 Trail quickly starts off ascending a 150 feet before leveling off and pasing two small sheds which are remnants from past mining operations on its left. The trail climbs another 75 feet to an elevation of 2,050 before descending slightly and joining the beginning of the rock formations that can been seen on Fort Mountain from the City of Chatsworth, GA.
The rock formations on the left of trail begin around mile 5.9 and are slightly pass the West Overlook on top of Fort Mountain near the refurbished Fire Tower and the mystery stone wall remnants. This rock formation will grow in size for the next 0.2 miles and continue for another 0.5 miles until approximately mile 6.4.
At this point the 407 Trail takes a sharp turn to the west and descends 200 feet before junctioning with the 403 Trail at mile 6.7 where it continues around on a 180 degree switchback to the east and shortly after continuing to the southeast. The 403 Trail is a short connector trail descending back down to the 301 Trail junctioning with the trail just south of Waystation #2.
The 407 Trail begins slightly ascending again a little over a 100 feet before crossing Rock Creek at mile 7.4. The trail from Rock Creek going south weaves through the forest arriving at its 408 Trail junction at mile 8.5. This 1.1 mile section from Rock Creek to the 408 Trail junction sees the first 0.8 miles descend over 200 feet before sharply reversing and ascending 130 feet in 0.3 miles.
The 301-401-407 Trail passed the lower elevation junction of the 408 Trail near the beginning of this loop trail and this is its high elevation junction. The 408 Trail is a 0.1 mile connector trail between the 407 Trail and descends down to the 401 Trail. From the 408 Trail junction the trail ascends rapidly 150 feet before leveling off and entering a fun section of the trail.
After leveling off this section of the 407 Trail is arguably the coolest part. The trail levels off around mile 8.7 and in rapid progression passes a small waterfall, an abadon mine, another abandon mine, and finally passes the Goldmine Branch waterfall at mile 9.0. After passing the Goldmine Branch waterfall the trail descends gradually on a wide-road bed for the next 0.5 miles offering wonderful views of the northern Fort Mountain peak before arriving back at Waystation #1.
Now comes the not fun part. Only one way back to your vehicle. And it is not for the faint of heart. A 1.0 mile ascent on the steepest grade section of a trail in the area if not Georgia. This section of the 301-401-407 Loop Trail ascends over 700 feet from Waystation #1 up the 301 Trail to its Gahuti Trail connection on the left.
The Gahuti Trail is marked by an orange ribbon but trust me you won't miss it because you will be too tired to hike much farther past it if by mistake. Look at the image gallery to see this ribbon marking the Gahuti Trail connection.
From here it is a nice 0.6 mile walk through the woods to your vehicle. And shortly after either your bed or the ER.
|301-401-407 Loop Trail|
|Access:||Big Rock Nature Trailhead|
|Hiking:||Moderate to Strenuous|
|Big Rock Nature Trailhead:||feet|
|Features:||Picnic Ground, Mines, Goldmine Branch Waterfall|
|Note:||Possible to Bushwack down Goldmine Branch|
|Creek from Lake 0.1 miles to 407 Trail|