Long Distance Trails

The Ultimate Guide to Exploring Georgia’s Pinhoti Trail

POSTED ON July 27, 2022 BY Ralph S.


Introduction

Embark on an extraordinary journey through the heart of the American South with the Alabama Hiking Trail Society, where the Pinhoti Trail unfolds as a captivating tapestry of natural wonders.

This long-distance trek covers 335 miles (about 540 km), providing intrepid adventurers with an immersive experience through Alabama’s diverse landscapes. From the trail’s southern terminus to its northern endpoint, the Pinhoti Trail offers more than just a physical challenge; it’s a passage through untamed beauty and historic terrain.

Discover the untamed spirit of the land as you traverse through meandering paths, cross crystalline streams, and ascend the heights of Flagg Mountain, savoring every moment of this captivating odyssey.

The Pinhoti includes the whispers of Southern history, the echoes of ancient forests, and the promise of self-discovery in every footstep.

History of the Pinhoti Trail

Alabama's Pinhoti Trail

The genesis of the Pinhoti Trail can be traced back to 1970 when a group of hikers from the Alabama Hiking Trail Society (AHTS) sought to create a new trail that would connect Alabama’s Flagg Mountain with Georgia’s Appalachian Trail. This ambitious project aimed to create an outstanding example of a long-distance trail, showcasing Alabama’s diverse landscapes and providing access to remote areas of the state.

Mike Leonard, one of the founding members of AHTS, played a crucial role in developing the Pinhoti Trail. With a dedicated team of volunteers, Leonard scouted potential routes for the trail and worked tirelessly to secure land rights from private landowners and government agencies. His efforts led to the completion of the Alabama portion of the trail in 1987, marking a significant milestone for the AHTS and the Pinhoti Trail.

In the early 1990s, the Alabama Hiking Trail Society identified the need for a new trail to connect the Southern Terminus at Flagg Mountain to the northern expanses of Maine.

As the years progressed, the Alabama Hiking Trail Society’s persistent efforts continued, emphasizing the importance of community involvement in maintaining and preserving the trail.

In 2008, work began on building the Gateway, a section that connects Flagg Mountains to Weogufka State Forest and serves as the trail’s southern terminus. This collaborative effort between AHTS, the Alabama State Lands Division, and other community partners allowed for better access to the Pinhoti Trail and increased opportunities for outdoor recreation.

The Gates became not only a practical access point but also a symbolic entrance into the collaborative spirit that sustains the Pinhoti Trail.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of many individuals and organizations, the Pinhoti Trail has become a beloved destination for hikers seeking adventure in Alabama’s scenic wilderness.

Key Facts about the Pinhoti Trail

Pinhoti Trail

  • Location: Eastern United States, connecting Alabama and Georgia to the Appalachian Trail in Tennessee and North Carolina
  • Total Length: 335 miles (540 km)
  • Time to Hike: Approximately 3-5 weeks for long-distance hikers, with the exact duration varying based on individual hiking pace and preferences.
  • Trailheads: The trail has multiple trailheads along its route, including Flagg Mountain in Alabama and Springer Mountain in Georgia. But you can find others here.
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate to Strenuous
  • Established: as a National Recreation Trail in 1977, but officially opened in 1987
  • Total Elevation Gain: Approximately 70,000 feet (21,300 meters)
  • Best Time/Season to Hike: Spring and Fall
  • Lowest Point: Weogufka Creek, near Weogufka State Forest in Alabama, at 545 feet (166 meters) above sea level
  • Highest Point: Buddy Cove Gap at 3,164 feet (964 meters) above sea level.

Trail Overview: Difficulty Levels and Route Options

The Pinhoti Trail offers a range of difficulty levels, with some sections being relatively moderate and others more strenuous. The trail is typically divided into three main sections: the North Alabama section, the Central Alabama section, and the Georgia section.

The North Alabama section covers approximately 112 miles (180 km) from Flagg Mountain to the Tennessee state line. This portion is considered the most challenging part of the trail, with steep ascents, rugged terrain, and limited water sources. It also passes through Talladega National Forest and Cheaha State Park, offering stunning views of the surrounding landscape.

The Central Alabama section covers approximately 120 miles (193 km) from Flagg Mountain to Weogufka Creek in Coosa County. This section is the newest addition to the Pinhoti Trail and features easier terrain compared to the North Alabama section. It also includes a diversity of landscapes, from pine forests to lush valleys and rolling hills.

The Georgia section covers approximately 103 miles (166 km) from Weogufka Creek in Coosa County to Springer Mountain in Georgia. This portion features a variety of terrain, including challenging climbs, rocky switchbacks, and scenic ridgelines. It also passes through the Chattahoochee National Forest and Amicalola Falls State Park, providing stunning views of Georgia’s wilderness.

Hikers have the option to hike the entire trail or complete shorter sections as day hikes or overnight backpacking trips.

Trail Highlights

  1. Weogufka State Forest: The journey commences in Weogufka State Forest, a lush expanse showcasing the natural beauty of Alabama. This high point provides panoramic views, setting the stage for a memorable journey through the southern wilderness.
  2. Intersection with the Benton MacKaye Trail: The Pinhoti Trail intersects with the Benton MacKaye Trail at mile 72.2 (116 km), offering hikers the option to extend their adventure onto another iconic long-distance trail.

Route Options

  1. Southern Bound (SOBO):
    • Those beginning their adventure from the southern terminus can expect a challenging yet gratifying experience as they traverse through Weogufka State Forest and Buddy Cove Gap.
  2. Northern Bound (NOBO):
    • Starting at the northern terminus, the trail offers a diverse range of challenges as hikers ascend through the Appalachian Mountain chain towards Flagg Mountain.

Additional trail insights:

  • Sections in northern Alabama and north Georgia feature occasional road walks, providing a change of scenery and a chance for resupply in nearby towns.
  • Hiking the entire trail, which covers parts of Maine, Tennessee, and Alabama, requires careful planning, including consideration for varied weather conditions and the availability of water sources.
  • Link to Georgia trail information: Georgia Department of Natural Resources

Seasonal Considerations: Best Times to Hike The Pinhoti Trail

Pinhoti Trail in October

When planning a thru-hike on the Pinhoti Trail, it’s essential to consider the weather conditions and seasonal changes that can affect your journey. The trail’s location in the eastern United States means that it experiences a wide range of temperatures and weather patterns throughout the year.

Here are some important things to keep in mind when planning your hike:

Spring (March to May)

Springtime along the Pinhoti Trail heralds the awakening of nature, with temperatures gradually rising from the winter chill. Hikers can expect daytime temperatures ranging from 60°F to 75°F (15°C to 24°C) in the lower elevations, providing comfortable conditions for traversing the diverse landscapes.

The trail passes through Weogufka State Forest and crosses Weogufka Creek, offering picturesque views and a chance to witness the vibrant flora that blankets the forest floor.

Summer (June to August)

As summer arrives, the Pinhoti Trail embraces warmer temperatures, with daytime highs averaging between 80°F and 95°F (27°C to 35°C). Hikers should be prepared for increased humidity, especially in the lower elevations of northern Alabama.

Southern hospitality extends to the trail, but adequate hydration and sun protection becomes imperative. The trail meanders through Coosa County, providing long hikes through dense woods and occasional road walks.

Fall (September to November)

Fall paints the Pinhoti Trail with a palette of warm hues as temperatures start to mellow. Daytime highs range from 65°F to 80°F (18°C to 27°C), creating an ideal environment for thru-hikers. The trail intersects with the Benton MacKaye Trail and the Appalachian Trail, offering a convergence of long-distance hiking routes.

Hikers will experience breathtaking vistas at Buddy Cove Gap, a high point along the trail.

Winter (December to February)

Winter brings cooler temperatures, and hikers tackling the Pinhoti Trail this season should be prepared for daytime highs ranging from 40°F to 55°F (4°C to 13°C). However, the northern terminus at Flagg Mountain may experience occasional snowfall, adding a touch of winter magic to the journey.

Hikers should check for current trail conditions before embarking, especially in higher elevations.

Essential Gear and Equipment

Essential gear for hiking the Pinhoti Trail

For any thru-hike or long-distance backpacking trip, having the right gear and equipment is essential. This is especially true for the Pinhoti Trail, which offers a variety of terrain and weather conditions.

Before heading out on your journey, make sure you have these essential items:

  • Hiking gear: A good pair of hiking boots or trail shoes, moisture-wicking clothing, and a comfortable backpack are crucial for a successful hike. Consider investing in quality gear that will last you throughout your journey.
  • Backpacking equipment: For hikers planning to camp overnight, a lightweight tent, sleeping bag, and cooking supplies are necessary. Also, a water filtration system is essential for accessing clean drinking water along the trail.
  • Camping gear: If you plan to camp at designated campsites or tent sites along the trail, be sure to have a reliable sleeping pad and warm sleeping bag. A headlamp or flashlight will also come in handy during nighttime activities.
  • Essentials: Don’t forget to pack essentials such as a map, compass, first-aid kit, and insect repellent. These items may come in handy during emergencies or unexpected situations.
  • Outdoor activities: Pinhoti offers a variety of outdoor activities such as fishing, birdwatching, and wildlife viewing. If you plan to engage in these activities, be sure to bring the necessary gear, such as a fishing rod or binoculars.

Remember to always pack your gear and equipment in a lightweight and organized manner, as excessive weight can quickly become a burden on long-distance hikes. Here is a link to Silverlight’s hiking tips page for more tips and gear recommendations.

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Navigating the Pinhoti Trail: Maps, Markers, Permits and Regulations

Alabama's link to the Appalachian Trail

Embarking on a thru-hike requires meticulous planning to ensure a smooth and rewarding adventure.

Permits and Regulations

While the Pinhoti Trail generally doesn’t require permits for day hiking or thru-hiking, it’s crucial to check specific regulations, especially if your route intersects with other trails like the Benton MacKaye Trail or the Appalachian Trail.

Hikers planning to camp overnight on this portion of the trail will need a permit from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC). For more information on obtaining this permit, visit the ATC’s website.

The Alabama Wilderness Coalition and relevant forest service agencies provide up-to-date information on any restrictions or permitting requirements. Check out the link.

Maps and Markers

Equipping yourself with detailed maps is essential for easy navigation. The trail is well-marked with light blue blazes, making it relatively easy to follow. Ensure you have topographic maps, and consider GPS devices for added navigation precision. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources offer valuable resources for interactive maps and trail markers.

Link to Appalachian Trail book guide: Appalachian Trail Conservancy

Check out other options for trail guides and navigation apps:

Trail Conditions and Updates

Stay informed about current trail conditions, closures, or any recent developments before setting out. Government agencies and organizations like the Coosa County Forest Service regularly update trail information, ensuring hikers are aware of any challenges or changes along the way.

It’s essential to follow all regulations while on the trail to ensure its preservation and safety for future hikers. These regulations include:

  • Stay on the marked trails, and do not stray off onto private property.
  • Leave no trace by properly disposing of waste and not damaging natural resources.
  • Camping is only allowed at designated campsites or shelters along the trail.
  • Open fires are prohibited on the Pinhoti Trail, except for designated fire rings at campsites or shelters.

Accommodations, Camping, and Overnight Stays near the Pinhoti Trail

Camping and Overnight Stay

For those undertaking the Pinhoti Trail adventure, camping becomes an integral part of the experience. Here’s a detailed guide to popular camping spots and other accommodation options near the trail.

  • Flagg Mountain Camping Area: Situated at the northern terminus of the trail, Flagg Mountain provides an ideal camping spot. While no specific permits are required for camping at Flagg Mountain, it’s essential to check for any regulations or guidelines provided by the local forest authority.
  • Buddy Cove Gap: As one of the high points along the trail, Buddy Cove Gap offers a camping spot with panoramic views. While camping here doesn’t typically require permits, it’s recommended to verify current trail conditions and regulations from relevant authorities.

Check out the recreation and camping fees for the National Forests in Alabama.

Places to Stay Along the Trail

Aside from camping, hikers can find alternative accommodations at various points along the route.

  • Hostels and Shelters: Several hostels and shelters are strategically positioned along the trail, providing shelter and amenities for thru-hikers. In Georgia, the Hiker Hostel offers affordable accommodations specifically designed for hikers. Equipped with bunk beds, showers, and a communal kitchen, it’s an excellent place to rest and meet fellow hikers.
  • Local Lodges and Inns: Near the trail’s northern terminus in Alabama and the southernmost peak in Georgia, there are local lodges and inns that offer a comfortable respite for hikers. Check with local tourism boards for options and reservations. A popular choice among hikers is the Mulberry Gap Mountain Bike Get-A-Way, where you can enjoy comfortable rooms.
  • Trailside Campsites: Apart from designated campgrounds, the trail offers scenic spots suitable for dispersed camping.

Resupplying and Refueling

Trail resupply

A multi-day hiking trip like the Pinhoti Trail requires careful planning around food and water supplies.

Resupply Towns

  • Anniston, Alabama: Positioned in the southern section of the trail, Anniston provides a convenient resupply point for thru-hikers. This town offers grocery stores, outdoor retailers, and various amenities for hikers to replenish their supplies.
  • Piedmont, Alabama: Located in northeastern Alabama, Piedmont serves as a resupply option with grocery stores and other facilities. Thru-hikers can take advantage of this town’s amenities before continuing their journey.
  • Dalton, Georgia: For those trekking through the northern section of the trail, Dalton in Georgia serves as a viable resupply town. Hikers can find supermarkets and other resources for restocking supplies.
  • Ellijay:  Located near the trail in Georgia’s northwest section, Ellijay offers a variety of options for hikers, including grocery stores and other amenities.

Trailside Resupply Points

  • Benton MacKaye and Appalachian Trail Intersections: Thru-hikers intersecting with the Benton MacKaye Trail or the Appalachian Trail can utilize nearby trailheads or access points for minor resupplies. These intersections often have resources for hikers to restock essentials.
  • Trailside Hostels and Shelters: Several hostels and shelters along the Pinhoti Trail offer resupply services to thru-hikers. These stops not only provide supplies but also offer a chance for hikers to rest, recharge, and connect with fellow trekkers.

Resupply Strategies

  • Mail Drops: Considering the remote nature of certain trail sections, some thru-hikers opt for mail drops to strategic locations. Planning in advance and coordinating with local post offices can ensure a seamless resupply process.
  • Local Stores and Markets: Many trailside towns have local stores and markets that cater to hikers’ needs. While planning resupply points, hikers should take note of these options for a more flexible and dynamic approach.
  • Trail Angels: Connect with trail angels along the Pinhoti Trail who may offer assistance with resupply or provide valuable local insights.

Getting There: Directions and Transportation Options

Pinhoti Trail, Talladega NF, Alabama

Embarking on the Pinhoti Trail adventure begins with strategic planning for your journey to Georgia and Alabama. Here’s a comprehensive guide on how to get there and efficiently navigate your way to the trailhead.

Nearest Airports

Both airports are well-connected, offering a range of domestic and international flights.

Transportation from Airports to Trailheads

From Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) to Georgia Trailheads:

  • Shuttle Services: Several shuttle services operate from ATL to trailheads in Georgia. These can be pre-booked for convenience.
  • Car Rentals: Renting a car is a flexible option, allowing you to drive directly to your chosen trailhead. Major car rental agencies are available at the airport.

From Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport (BHM) to Alabama Trailheads:

  • Shuttle Services: Arrange shuttle services of your choice to transport you from BHM to trailheads in Alabama.
  • Car Rentals: Opting for a rental car from BHM provides flexibility, especially for trailheads that may be in remote locations.

Car rentals, taxis, and Uber are readily available at the airport, or one could use the MARTA public transit system to get closer to the trail area before transitioning to a taxi or rideshare service.

Conclusion

Like the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) or the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), the Pinhoti Trail is a challenging and exhilarating adventure for both experienced and novice hikers. Its diverse terrain, breathtaking views, and rich history make it an unforgettable journey.

However, by following the necessary regulations, planning carefully for resupplies, and arranging transportation to trailheads, you can fully immerse yourself in the beauty of this amazing trail.


RALPH S.

Ralph S. is the founder of Silverlight, an avid hiker and trail runner he enjoys spending time outdoors, riding his motorcycle and swimming at the beach when he's not busy replying to customers or developing new Silverlight gear.

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