Highpointing – GA-KY-SC-AL-FL

We’ve had this trip for months, and in October had to re-scheduled it due to COVID concerns.  I was a bit worried we were attempting some of these peaks too late in the year, and, unfortunately, ended up being right about that.  Many roads we encountered were closed, even though their status showed as ‘open’.  No matter though, we still had a great, whirlwind weekend where we were able to get in 5 Highpoints.  Originally, we’d planned on 8 (and called them the ‘bowtie 8’ because our drive would go in a bowtie pattern).  The weather had other plans. 

We flew into ATL, arriving around 11am.  The flight had been uneventful, the airport was crowded, and it seemed to take forever to make it to ground transportation (several trains were involved).  When we arrived there was an hour wait at the Enterprise counter to get our vehicle (they wouldn’t let me use the kiosk because I was paying with a debit card instead of a credit card).  On a positive note, we received an upgrade on our vehicle, and we were able to choose any vehicle in the row.  We ended up picking a Nissan SUV so we could sleep in the back, which ended up being much more comfortable than our last trip, where we slept in the front seats.

We were on our way around 1pm.   First stop: Brasstown Bald, Georgia’s Highpoint.  It rained the entire way there, and when we arrived, the parking area was shrouded in clouds. 

I wasn’t even sure we were in the right place, but after getting out my directions I realized it was a half mile walk up a closed (but paved) road.  We paid the $3 per person entry fee and parked.

The weather was miserable, so I put on my hat, jacket, and heavy-duty gloves and we were on our way, walking up the road.

The walk up this road was easy, but in today’s conditions, miserable.  It wasn’t quite snowing yet, so we were getting soaked from the rain.  It was bitterly cold. Water was running down my gloves and I had to pull my jacket hood so tight I could only see a few feet in front of me. I much prefer snow to rain. 

At the top of the hill was a plaque and a sitting area

And beyond that, the visitor’s center (closed)

It was no surprise we were the only ones here today, as the weather was brutal.  The wind picked up as we took a look around, searching for the summit marker (side note, there isn’t one.  The rangers keep it locked up inside so no one steals it).  We found the Highpointers bench, and then climbed the stairs to the tower.  Unfortunately, the tower was closed due to COVID. 

The wind picked up and it started snowing, so we decided to head back down.  We rushed to the car and headed towards our second highpoint of the day:  Clingman’s Dome, TN.  Unfortunately, the road was closed 6.5 miles from the summit, and it was still raining, so we decided to skip this Highpoint too and instead headed to Kentucky. 

We got lost driving (this happens a lot when we highpoint, the intense 4WD road should have tipped us off) and arrived late at night, walking the short distance to the summit in snow. This highpoint is on private property, so we kept our waivers on us as we looked walked around the summit.

This summit had a tower as well, but we didn’t climb it (too clod)

We made a mental note next time to add GPS coordinates to highpoints for our next trip, so we wouldn’t have such difficulties finding them, headed back to the car and drove to the summit we hoped to hike in the morning:  Mt Rogers, VA.  Passing through Gaitlinburg we noticed they were having some sort of parade/celebration, as the city was all done up in lights and there were tons of people milling about.  This looked like a fun town.  Maybe next time we’ll stay here when we come back for the highpoints we weren’t able to get this trip.  We stopped at a grocery store for some cheese, crackers, and meat (side note:  garlic ritz are the bomb) and were on our way, listening to a Harry Potter book on tape.

We arrived at 4am to the trailhead.  The snow, which was supposed to stop around midnight, showed no signs of stopping.  We decided to get a few hours rest and start out at first light.  The wind howled and blew snow around us as we slept, or rather, tried to sleep, as we were slightly afraid the car would tip over in the wind.  We were comfortable sleeping in the back with our sleeping bags and heated blanket, but the noise from the wind kept us awake.  At 6am we turned on the heater, and at 7am we called it.  The wind and snow were just too much for an attempt today. 

On to the next highpoint! 

We crossed into North Carolina, and attempted to take the Blue Ridge Parkway to the summit of Mt Mitchell, but it waws closed.  We then tried to take a back route, and got pretty close.  The weather was nice and there wasn’t any snow on the ground, but we encountered a winter closure gate.  Hmmmm.  They should really publicize things.  There are a lot of great dispersed camping spots here.

No worries though:  on to the next highpoint! 

We were on our way to South Carolina.  Sassafras Mountain was my favorite highpoint of the trip.  Not only does it have a cool name, but the road was open to the top and it was a beautiful day!  There’s a short hike to the summit area just beyond the closed gate.

We walked up the gravel road to a very nicely done highpoint.

The summit marker, bench, and plaques were easy to find

We walked up the stairs to the observation area, and realized we were on the NC/SC state line!  So cool!  So, of course we took photos.

Check out the view from the observation area

Sassafras Mountain: 

It was still early in the day, so we decided to drive over to visit the Alabama State Highpoint as well (Cheaha Mountain).  We ended up starting out the wrong way and heading back into South Carolina

But we quickly noticed our mistake and turned around.  After arriving at the State Park (which had people camping but no open bathrooms) we paid the entrance fee (the girl who took our money wasn’t wearing a COVID mask, and was a little rude) and drove to the observation area.  This was another nice observation area.

We were the only ones there, so we went inside and climbed the stairs

The stairs looked pretty cool on the way back down.

After doing some calculations we realized we had time to drive all the way to the beach and visit Florida’s highpoint tomorrow. We stopped to get gas and noticed Alabama doesn’t have a COVID mask mandate in place.  The town we drove through was sketchy, and I got some very negative looks from the locals when I wore a mask while getting gas.  The people giving me the looks looked to be members of street gangs, so we didn’t stay long.  We drove all the way to Chocktaw Beach and parked on the side of the road, backing the SUV in.  We were right next to the water, and I was excited to wake up to the sunrise the next morning.  We ate our dinner (drive thru taco-bell) and I jotted some notes down in my journal.  How cool was it we were sleeping on the beach tonight?  Sorry, no pictures of this, as it was dark.  In the end the sunrise wasn’t that spectacular and we forgot to take pictures, but it’s a memory I’ll never forget.

It was an hour from the beach to Britton Hill, Florida’s highest point.  At 345’ it’s not much of a highpoint.  In fact, it’s not even a valid peak.  The park was nice though (not the bathrooms, as they were quite filthy, but the park itself, Lakewood Park, was nice).

And now for the 5 hour drive back to ATL.  There was considerably less traffic as we made it back to Georgia

Some notes:

  • There was a lot of Christmas cheer in the form of holiday light displays
  • We passed no less than 500 Baptist churches
  • We saw a lot of deer
  • They close Blue Ridge Parkway in winter, even though they say they don’t
  • The cops in Alabama only have blue lights on their patrol cars
  • We didn’t see any wildlife except for deer (I was kind of expecting to see armadillos in FL)

Author: Laura M Clark

Laura has summited over 500 peaks above 13,000' solo, including being the first woman to solo summit all of the Colorado 14ers, as well as the centennials. After each hike, she writes trip reports for each one and publishes them on her blog, which is read by fans all over the world. Author of Wild Wanderer: Summiting Colorado’s 200 Highest Peaks, which is available to purchase on Amazon.

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