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)
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.
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 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).
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.
- 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.
- 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.