Bartram Trail Backpacking Guide

The Bartram Trail is a 116 mile (187 km) pathway through the Appalachian mountains of Georgia and North Carolina. It was voted by readers of Backpacker Magazine to be the No.1 U.S. long distance trail for solitude. Sure enough, when I hiked the BT in 2011, I didn’t encounter a single other hiker. However, the lack of on-trail traffic left me puzzled. If the Bartram Trail really was selected No.1 for solitude, but hardly anyone ever hikes it, then who voted for it? 

All logistical details have been updated as of January, 2017. The mystery remains unresolved………..


Distance:  116 miles (187 km)

Average Time: 6 to 7 days

Start:  Russell Bridge, GA

Finish:  Cheoah Bald, NC

Highest Point: Wayah Bald 5,385 ft (1,641 m)

Lowest Point: Chattooga River 1,500 ft (460 m)

Bartram Trail Overview Map (caltopo.com)

Getting There & Away:

  • Russell Bridge (GPS Coordinates – 34.919484, -83.168664): There is a small car park on the GA side of the bridge. The trailhead can be found opposite the parking area (i.e. south side of the road).
  • Cheoah Bald (GPS Coordinates – 35.32560°N / 83.6807°W) is situated on the Appalachian Trail. Closest road access is Stecoah Gap (NC), from where it is a 5.5 mile uphill hike to the pathway’s northern terminus.

Chattooga River

Maps / Information:

  • Origins: The trail is named after William Bartram, 18th century botanist, writer and all-around outdoorsy type. Between 1773 and 1777 Bartram travelled widely through America’s southeast, manifesting his observations in the form of extensive notes and drawings regarding the region’s flora, fauna and native inhabitants.
  • A Trail in Two Parts: The Bartram Trail consists of two sections – Georgia (38 miles) and North Carolina (78 miles). Each state has it’s own separate website, maps, guidebook and even trail markers. Indeed, as of 2016, there doesn’t seem to be a single trail map that covers the entire pathway. Strange.

  • Guide Books: There are two; one for GA and one for NC. As of January, 2017, they come in the form of 8.5×11 spiral bound booklets. Both include detailed mileage points, trekking notes and maps. More than sufficient for navigation purposes on this easy to follow footpath. You can purchase both guides at either of the following websites: Georgia Bartram Trail Group or North Carolina Bartram Trail Society.
  • Caltopo Maps: Free downloadable USGS 7.5 topographic maps for the Bartram Trail.
  • NC Bartram Trail Topo Map: If you’re looking for something a little extra, the NC Bartram Trail Society produce a 1:35,000 interpretive hiking map for the 78 mile NC section of the trail. It includes elevation profiles, places of interest, side trails, flora and fauna information and historical factoids.   

  • Online: The excellent Bartram Trail page at Trailquest.net has logistical details, mileage points & detailed trekking notes for the entire trail. Good place to start your BT planning process.

Resupply:

  • Resupply and accommodation options are available in Franklin, NC, situated approximately 70 miles from the southern terminus.
  • Snacks can also be purchased at the Phillips 66 Gas Station (S.R.1310) near Nantahala Lake, NC (93 miles from Russell Bridge).

Nantahala Lake

Route / Conditions:

  • Character: The Bartram Trail winds its way through the southern Appalachians of Georgia and North Carolina. Rhododendron forests, sleepy hollows, impressive waterfalls, scenic lookouts and lots of solitude; there’s a lot to like about this trail.

Rhododendron Forest

  • Signage: As mentioned above, the BT is well marked from start to finish. Georgia has yellow diamond blazes, whereas North Carolina boasts yellow rectangular blazes. Two states, two distinctly marked sections, one trail.
  • Stone Markers: In addition to the above-mentioned signage, the Georgia segment of the BT  is distinguished by some wonderful engraved stone markers. Indeed, they may well be my all-time favourite trail signs. The classic Roman font combined with the weathered appearance, only adds to the historical feel of a trail that follows in the footsteps of a famed 18th century Naturalist.

Notes & Musings:

  • Wayah Bald: One of the highlights of my Bartram Trail hike was the 360° panorama from Wayah Bald. I managed to time my arrival perfectly. As I watched the sun peek over the horizon, I enjoyed a king-sized serving of granola with powdered milk. It never ceases to amaze me how even the simplest foods taste great when you’re in the outdoors.

  • Ridgetop Views: Some of my favourite memories from hiking the Bartram Trail in November, were the post-foliage views from the ridges. There was one morning in particular when the sky was ablaze with a kaleidoscope of crimson, orange, pale blue and dark grey.

Sunrise on the Bartram Trail.

  • Looking for something longer?: For those with the time and inclination, the Bartram Trail constitutes part of a 583 mile route I put together called the Southeastern Serpentine Trail. The SST combines four different hikes – the Foothills, Benton Mackaye and Bartram Trails, together with the Smokies section of the AT, to form a continuous long distance hiking route through some of the less frequented parts of the southern Appalachian mountains.

Benton Mackaye Trail section of the Southeastern Serpentine Trail.

 


Comments

Bartram Trail Backpacking Guide — 12 Comments

  1. Cam,
    I usually never make any comments but I just wanted to thank you for you blog.
    I’ve enjoyed reading, viewing, and thinking about the various trails you have hiked. This summer (2017) my daughter and I are planning on hiking a section of the Tahoe Rim Trail. Have you hiked this trail; if so, was it very well marked and defined?
    Keep up the hiking……

    • Hi Frank,

      No worries at all. Glad you enjoy the blog.

      In regards to the Tahoe Rim Trail, I’ve only ever hiked the section that coincides with the PCT (I think it was around 50 miles). However, from everything I’ve heard it’s not only a spectacular trail, but also a very well marked and maintained one as well. There was an article about the TRT in “Trailgroove” magazine a while back, which has a day-by-day account and some beautiful photos (http://www.trailgroove.com/issue27.html?autoflip=41).

      Best of luck for your hike this summer.

      Cheers,

      Cam

  2. Hi Cam
    I’m a Nevis to your blog, and really enjoying it!
    I’m in New York In May, and I’d like to do a 6 day trek somewhere on the East coast, possibly on the AT, but it doesn’t have to be.
    Do you have any suggestions?
    Also, I was thinking of buying a lightweight pack while I’m there, as there’s not much choice in Australia. I’ve heard REI is the best place to shop. Do you have any other suggestions for eg to buy a Gossamer pack, or would I be better off buying it online?
    Appreciate your thoughts
    Many thanks

    Jane

    • Hi Jane,

      Thanks for the message. In regards to hiking possibilities, there’s a lot of options in the north-east, but for some of the prettier areas such as Vermont, New Hampshire, the Adirondacks and Maine, May is still pretty early in the season. That being said, you can just hop on the train from New York City and be on a nice section of the AT in around 2 hrs or less.

      As for packs, yes, REI has a lot of good options (Granite Gear is one). But a lot of great cottage industry companies such as Gossamer Gear, Mountain Laurel Designs and ULA mostly sell their packs online.

      Best of luck.

      Cheers,

      Cam

      • Thanks Cam, I’ll have a look online.
        I think I may be better to buy a pack online and take it with me even if it costs a bit more

  3. Thanks for the write up and gpx. After hiking the Foothills trail last year I have been reading everything I can find online about the Bartram Trail and love the idea of the solitude you mention.

    Did you have any problems finding water and/or campsites on your trip?

    • No problems with either water or campsites. Apart from perhaps the road walk section, I can’t recall carrying more than a liter at any one time.

      Cheers,

      Cam

  4. So interesting that the BT was considered a Trail of solitude as much of it runs concurrent with the AT. I suspect the season on trail is a big factor (avoiding the hiker bubbles in early spring and early fall).

    There is plenty of gorgeous terrain (Wayah is one of my favorite’s on the southern portion of the AT) and resupply options aren’t too inconvenient.

    Great post Cam!

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