For your safety, check-in with the Main Office before leaving on your hike. Also, bring plenty of water and wear appropriate clothing and shoes. The Main Office has trail maps for your convenience.
Rabun Bald – elevation 4696 feet
- Length: 4 miles round trip; approx. 3 hours
- Difficulty: Moderate – Difficult
- Approximate elevation gain: 1,000 feet
- Directions to Trailhead: Take Highway 106 from Highlands to Scaly Mountain. Turn left on Hale Ridge Road (just past the Scaly Mountain Post Office), then stay right onto Bald Mountain Road. Look for a US Forestry sign that indicates a left onto Kelsey Mountain Road and the trailhead.
Majestic and massive, Georgia’s second highest peak, Rabun Bald, rises just south of the North Carolina line near Scaly. The combination of a complete lack of facilities and difficulty in locating access routes combines to make Rabun Bald one of the Highlands area best kept secrets and offers solitude for hikers. An observation deck on the summit allows hikers to view 100 miles on a clear day.
The trail snakes through a series of moderately steep switchbacks, climbing quickly through an area of dense rhododendron. As it gains the summit’s ridgeline, the trail flattens somewhat, soon emerging into the open bald. The summit is dominated by a newly renovated observation platform that lifts visitors above the tree line providing spectacular views in all directions.
Scaly Mountain – elevation 4804 feet
- Length: 4 miles round trip; approx. 3 hours
- Difficulty: Moderate – Strenuous
- Approximate elevation gain: 1500 feet
- Directions to Trailhead: Take Highway 106 south 1.7 miles to the Osage Mountain Overlook. Park your car at the overlook. The trail starts up the mountain just across Highway 106 (Dillard Road).
The Bartram Trail leads from Highway 106 to the Scaly Mountain summit. The initial 0.6 mile of trail starts up the mountain steeply, passing a small waterfall.
Make sure you bear to the right onto the roadbed and soon you will begin a slow, prolonged ascent along the side of this ancient peak. Begin looking for a junction with a spur trail on the left at mile 1.2. The junction occurs at a level point along the trail.
Follow the spur to the left to access Scaly’s summit. The Bartram Trail continues straight ahead. The summit spur is approximately 0.3 miles long, gaining the mountaintop via a series of fairly easy switchbacks along the northeast slope. The final section tunnels through a series of seemingly ancient, gnarled oasis(?). Several distant views to the north are visible in the leafless winter months.
Scaly Mountain’s high point is broad and rocky, and features expansive views in every direction. Dense thickets of mountain laurel alternate with the open areas, creating a patchwork of hiding places. Far below sparkling mountain lakes and lush green pastures dot the landscape. On exceedingly clear days, a receding line of rounded peaks fade into the western horizon. Take your time and fully explore the area.
Whiteside Mountain – elevation 4931 feet
- Length: 2 mile loop; approx. 2 hours
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Approximate Elevation gain: 600 feet
- Directions to Trailhead: From the corner of Main Street and NC 106 in Highlands, follow US 64 East for 5.4 miles. Turn right onto Whiteside Mt. Road (SR 1600). There is a sign for Whiteside Mountain Recreation Area. Follow for 1 mile to the signed parking area on the left. There is a $2/day area use fee at Whiteside Mountain Recreation Area. Restroom facilities are located by the parking lot.
Perhaps one of the best trails in the area for a panoramic view is the Whiteside Mountain Trail. Beautiful views of the surrounding area can be seen from vantage points all along the trail. To the north, Shortoff and Yellow Mountain are prominent. Chimneytop Mountain rises to the east. To the south, the foothills and Piedmont, including Lake Keowee, are visible. On the western horizon rises the Nantahala Mountains where the Appalachian Trail meanders. Rock outcrops and cliffs are numerous.
Yellow Mountain – elevation 5127 feet
- Length: 9.6 miles roundtrip; approx. 4 – 6 hours depending on hiking ability and endurance
- Difficulty: Strenuous
- Approximate Elevation gain: 2,000+ feet
- Directions to Trailhead: Take Highway 64 east from Highlands 3 miles and turn left onto Buck Creek Rd. (by Shortoff Baptist Church). Follow Buck Creek Road 2.3 miles. The trail will be on the right with parking lot on the left.
- Note: no water access on this trail. Bring plenty of water!
The trail traverses four mountains in under five miles (Cole Mountain, Goat Knob, Shortoff Mountain, and Yellow Mountain). The destination of this hike is the spectacular 360° panoramic vista seen from the top of Yellow Mountain’s newly renovated fire tower.
The trail starts at Cole Gap on Buck Creek Road and climbs gradually for about 300 ft. to the top of Cole Mountain. From there it climbs more steeply gaining 400 ft. more in elevation before reaching the summit of Shortoff. The trail follows the ridge of Shortoff and then starts down the North side. The trail will fork at a much-vandalized sign. Follow the trail to the left into a saddle between Shortoff and Goat Knob which is 450 ft. lower than Shortoff’s peak. The trail crosses Goat Knob and continues down the north side to Yellow Mountain Gap, some 900 ft. below Shortoff. From here the trail begins a steep ascent gaining 1000 ft. in elevation to the Yellow Mountain summit.