Whitley Gap Trail is a trail I ran across by accident on the internet while researching my Hiking with Kids article.
I hiked it recently with the kids, and this Helen, Ga hike has become my favorite hike to date. Maybe it’s the fairies, pixies, gnomes, and trolls that make it so unique! I don’t mean to say that we actually encountered any of those creatures, but if I had to describe a place where they lived, this would be it.
Rhododendron and Mountain Laurel, with twisted and knotty trunks, grow think on either side of the trail. The bottoms of the bushes are bare because they are so thick that the sun cannot penetrate down. And how lovely it is to see their trunks.
But look toward the sky and you’ll notice the branches begin to leaf out (they were just beginning to bloom when we were there last week.) Those branches reached across the walkway, over our heads, and interlaced to create a tunnel! I was in awe.
About 1/2 mile into the trail, there is a clearing, with the perfect tree. I believe with all my heart that this tree has one purpose in life…for children to climb it. And off the trail here, just about 15-20 feet, nestled around a few bushes, is the most amazing view of the mountains that you’ll ever see. We perched ourselves on the large stones and sat in awe.
A few dozen yards beyond the tree is a clearing, with a campfire ring and large deadwood pieces to sit and rest. It is obvious this is a resting place for thru-hikers. Another mile down the trail is Whitley Gap Shelter, where AT hikers camp on their way along the trail. To be honest, we didn’t make it down that far. We had so much fun in the clearing, climbing the tree, watching the mountains, and playing Knights in the tunnel of shrubs, that we didn’t feel the need to complete the hike. It was perfect!
The Sherpa Guide where I found this info was difficult to decipher, so here are my directions for you.
Take 75Alt to Richard B Russell Scenic Highway, in Helen. This intersection is right at Smithgall Woods State Park. If you are passing the park, with the Visitor Center on your right, as if heading into Helen, then Richard B Russell is the first turn after the park on your left. Go to mile marker 7, where you will find the parking lot for Hogpen Gap. This is where the AT crosses the road. You are going to enter the AT on the side of the road opposite the parking lot. As you enter, you will see a sign indicating you are int he Raven Cliff Wilderness Area. You’ll hike here on Hogpen Gap for about a 1/2 mile.
This first half-mile is difficult. There are large stones on the path, and the climb is steep (although there are switchbacks.) My five year old handled it fine, chit-chatting the whole way. I had to put the 20 month old in a sling.
Once you reach the top, Hogpen Gap keeps going. You’re going to turn left onto the trail marked Whitley Gap. This trail is a bit rocky, but was easily navigated by both boys.
Also on Richard B Russell, trailheads for Raven Cliff Falls and Dukes Creek Falls. Both are incredible!
I know, I know…I shot this video vertically – major videographer faux pas. But it was really the best angle for viewing this alluring forest.