This was not an easy hike. The trail is registered as a 7.3 mile loop (or lollipop) trail, and the elevation from trail head parking to the primary vista, Look Off Mountain, varies very little. But it’s what is in between that can get to you. Hiking counterclockwise from the East fork trail to Look Off mountain and then back along the West Fork Trail, you encounter a downhill descent of approximately 994 feet, then an ascent to Look Off Mountain of 732 feet, then another 762 feet descent to lake, and then the last 2 miles is a relentless ascent of 1,020 feet back to the trail head parking. So, you face a total elevation climb of approximately 1,732 feet during this hike.
Click Here if you want the GPX for this hike.
I did this hike about 10 years ago, and I loved it — the trail offers a little of everything: beautiful vistas, mountain streams, waterfalls, a lake, and several camp sites. The vista off Look Off mountain views the Tennessee Valley, and the birth of the Little Tennessee River begins in the Valley below. With a compass and some keen eyes, you can see White Rock Mountain (Bartram Trail), the Flats (before Scaly Mountain), Scaly Mountain (also on the Bartram Trail), and to the west you can see the Crest of the Blue Ridge, which contains the Appalachian Trail at Plumborchard Gap. After the hike, drive up to the Visitor Center to look out on the City of Clayton, and then catch the Blue Ridge Overlook for a view of Windy Gap (Bartram Trail) at 64 degrees. Also look at Rabun Bald on the horizon to the left of Windy Gap.
The day was good for hiking, there was low humidity, a high of low 80′s (it was 95 in Atlanta), and there was a steady breeze on the trail the entire hike. Along the way, there was a lot of Poison Ivy on the trail fringes, so use your hiking stick to push the stuff aside if you are in shorts. I noticed serious wilting of the Rhododendron and browning of the forest ferns, no doubt a symptom of recent heat drought. For the most part, the trail was not too stressful on the ankles, consisting mostly of pine needles and loamy soil. However, closer to Look Off Mountain, there were some bolder-laden gullies which were a bit treacherous. There were also several areas where fallen trees from the tornadoes in May had obstructed the path. I am a little perplexed as to why the Rangers had time to put out signs that warned of Yellow Jackets on the trail, but not time to clear the obstructed trail. Oh well, priorities.
And you can click on the slide show below to freeze it or to zoom in: