The Gahuti Trail is the Crown Jewel of the Fort Mountain Trail system. This 8.2 mile trail travels around on or near the top of the ridgeline, passing just below the summits of Cohutta and Fort Mountain.
The official mileage is 8.2 miles but the trail feels longer. Due to many parts of the trail being rocky which slows the pace. It will take a hiker anywhere from 4 to 7 hours on average to hike this loop trail. Depending on their shape and breaks. My moving 2.1 avg. m.p.h(Garmin GPS calculated) pace took 3 3/4 hours to finish the trail. And another 1/2 - 3/4 hrs for breaks and sightseeing. For a total of 4 1/2 hrs.
There are many places to start the trail. The official trailhead is Cool Springs Overlook. The trail described here will start from the front parking lot located on the left immediately before the guard shack. It is a small parking lot. Or you can leave your vehicle at The Post(Office) and pay the $5 parking fee before starting the trail.
I believe the trail is more enjoyable this way. It affords the opportunity to enjoy the 3.0 mile eastern part of the trail in full before starting the more scenic 5.2 mile western section part of the trail.
From the front parking lot hike 0.1 mile and take a left up the stairs which is marked with an orange marker on the Oak tree. The trail is well marked by orange markers throughout the trail. The 1st mile is a nice fairly level hike crossing a bridge over Mill Creek around the 0.75 mile mark.
Shortly after 301 Trail comes in from the left marked by a wooden bridge and shares the same treadway with the Gahuti Trail for a short distance. The Gahuti Trail goes left and crosses a wooden bridge over Mill Creek for the last time around mile 1 where it diverges from the 301 Trail. The 301 Trail diverges to the right and descends down a ravine following Mill Creek down the mountain.
Four backcountry campsites are available for use by permit on the Gahuti Trail. The trail passes Campsite #1 around the 1.2 mile mark. From the campsite intersection the trail takes a right and begins ascending and will have several short rocky ascents and descents for the next 0.4 miles.
This part of the trail is slow due to its rocky nature. It flattens out for a pretty spell around mile 1.6 before beginning its descent again around mile 1.8 declining to 2,348 sq.ft. Around mile 2 the trail comes to a switchback and begins its gradual ascent back up to Cool Springs Overlook on the east side.
From mile 2 to the 2.6 mile mark the trail meanders through the forest gradually ascending. The Old Fort Road becomes visible on the left around mile 2.2. The trail ascends to the top of the ridgeline and continues on top arriving at the official Gahuti trailhead/Cool Springs Overlook around mile 2.6.
Cool Springs Overlook is a gorgeous deck overlook offering a view to the east of the state park. From the overlook the trail continues to the left and continues for 0.1 miles before coming to the 302 trail junction. This can be a tricky trail intersection. Take the 2nd right onto the Gahuti Trail which is marked by the orange markers.
A short distance later the trail goes left. Always follow the orange markers and you will be fine. If continued straight, it is the West Overlook trail which is a loop trail that takes you to the West Overlook. The Mystery Wall and the restored Fire Tower are in the middle of the West Overlook Loop Trail on CCC Stone Tower Trail.
The trail gradually ascends before crossing Old Fort Rd around the 3.0 mile mark near the parking lot for the West Overlook and Mystery Wall. It is marked by a large Gahuti Trail sign and a double white trail painting across the road. This is the end of the eastern section of the Gahuti Trail.
Now begins the more scenic 5.2 mile western section of the trail. This section of the trail will trace right to the edge of the western ridge several times offering magnificient views of the valley to the west. In addition, this section crosses Goldmine Branch Waterfall near the top of the waterfall. This section is much more diverse than the eastern section meandering from ridge to interior and back before finally entering the interior forest for the last time near its most southern point.
The western section enters an idyllic section of the forest proceeding on a southernly direction. Around the 3.6 mile mark the trail passes Campground #4 which is located in a secluded part of the State Park in a ravine near a creek. A little bit further and the trail crossess Rock Creek at its orgin.
After crossing the creek the trail begins following the contour of the western ridge. The trail follows a pattern of going to the edge of the ridge then detouring into a contour ravine or interior forest a short distance before coming back to the ridge. Back and forth this general pattern will hold for the next mile.
Starting around mile 3.7 the summit of Fort Mountain becomes visible near the beginning of this section of the trail and gradually becomes more distant everytime the trail offers the same view at the edge of the ridge. Around mile 4.1 there is a wonderful view of the valley below.
Around mile 4.6, the trail intersects Campers Loop. If you go right onto this loop it will take you to edge of the ridge for another nice view. It is a short loop, maybe 0.3 miles. The image on this page of a trail bench is actually located at the end of this short detour loop. The top image on the left of this webpage is around mile 5.0.
Around mile 5.1, the trail crosses Goldmine Branch Creek via a bridge and continues down the left side of the Waterfalls near its orgin. Big Rock Trail intersects with the trail here and is a short loop trail that begins at the lake. The two trails share the same treadway for a short distance before the Gahuti Trail diverges to the west crossing another wooden bridge and begins to ascend. Approximately 0.3 miles after crossing the bridge the trail passes Campground #3 on its left which is also near the 301 Trail junction on the right.
Campground #3 is around the 5.5 mile mark and from here the trail turns west and proceeds into the interior forest for good. Around mile 6, the trail crosses a clearing for powerlines and continues back into the forest. Approximately mile 6.4 the trail crosses Fort Mountain Park Road. If the road is taken to the right it leads to the Radio Tower located on top of Cohutta Mountain. If the road is taken to the left it will lead back to Fort Mounatin Lake. There is a large trail sign on the road marking this point.
The trail crosses the road and begins ascending gradually over the next 0.4 miles with Cabins visible on the left during the cooler months. Around mile 6.9 the trail comes to a T-intersection. If you go left it will take you to a paved road and cabins. The trail continues to the right. In the next mile the trail passes a couple of connector trails to the lake on your left and passes Campground #2 on the right near the Goldmine Creek Trail terminus on the left.
After passing Campground #1, the 301 Trail will arrive on the right and intersect with the Gahuti Trail before diverging from the trail to the north. The final stretch ascends in alternating climbs and level offs ascending over 300 ft. Depending on what shape you are in, it may or may not be a big deal.
|Measurement Tool:||eTrex Garmin 10|
|Access:||Cool Spring Overlook Trailhead|
|Parking lot at Front Entrance|
|Hiking:||Easy to Moderate|
|Cool Springs Overhead Trailhead:||2,566 feet|
|Front Parking Lot:||2,674 feet|
|Low Elevation:||2,257 feet|
|Trail Junctions:||301, 302|
|Features:||Views into Valley, Idyllic Creeks|
|Well-maintained, other hikers|
|Note for GPS accuracy:||You may get different|
|mileage results depending|
|on GPS processing software|