Lake Winfield Scott Excursion
I've been trying to visit lesser known or traveled trails recently. I've definitely noticed an explosion in the popularity of certain areas of North Georgia lately and in general, I like to take the road less traveled. Part of Leave No Trace is actually planning your excursions to avoid overcrowding on trails, thereby reducing the impact on the trail. I try to achieve this by hiking at off times (weeknights, obviously), visiting certain areas in the "off-season", or going to recreation areas that may be near a very popular area but somewhat off the radar. For example, the last few times I've been near Woody Gap, it was packed and overflowing with cars but nearby areas such as Dockery Lake are practically empty.
With this strategy in mind, James and I recently did a great loop hike near Lake Winfield Scott. This recreation area is located just outside Suches near the Blood Mountain Wilderness. Driving up Hwy 60, I was panicking because Woody Gap was packed and there were people parked all along the highway outside of designated parking areas. I was worried Lake Winfield Scott would be the same way. It was absolutely beautiful weather that weekend and unseasonably cool, so everyone had fled to the mountains. Much to my delight, Winfield Scott was pretty much empty and we had the place to ourselves. There is a $5 parking fee, which may deter some people, but is a small price to pay in my opinion.
The route we took involved 3 trails and, believe it or not, there are even more trails nearby and other ways to explore this amazing area. For more on this, check out Atlanta Trails! The trailhead starts near the south corner of Lake Winfield Scott, where you follow a feeder trail for a short distance and then pick up the Slaughter Creek Trail. This trail follows Slaughter Creek through a beautiful forest, crossing the creek a few times and gently gaining elevation until it reaches the Appalachian Trail. There are several really awesome looking campsites along the way, so an overnight adventure is a great option.
At the junction of the Appalachian Trail, it's possible to hike the AT north to Blood Mountain. This adds a few additional miles and I tried to convince James to do it, but he wasn't having it! So we continued south on the AT. This stretch of the AT is really pretty (I know, I say that about every part of the AT). It was full of really tall, puffy, white flowers that were a huge butterfly attraction. I saw so many butterflies of all different varieties. It felt like a Dr. Seussian scene. There are also campsites along this section and I believe a shelter as well (don't quote me on that. The Freeman Trail also intersects with this area, however, it appeared to be very overgrown from what I could see.
After traveling south on the AT, the trail reaches Jarrard Gap Road. This spot can be slightly confusing, but there is a directional sign for guidance. At this point, if you're tired of trail walking you can take Jarrard Gap Road back the initial starter trail to Lake Winfield Scott. Or you can walk a very short distance down Jarrard Gap Road and then take the Jarrard Gap Trail to the same point. We chose the trail option. It was a little overgrown and not as scenic as the first parts of the loop, but it did take us through the Winfield Scott campground and I always like to check out campgrounds for future reference. The campground seemed pretty full but we only saw 5-6 people actually on the trail and most of them seemed to be AT backpackers.
Once back at Lake Winfield Scott, there is also the option to do a short trail around the lake. I stopped to take pictures and wanted to actually walk around the lake to cool down after the hike, but I realized James had disappeared and I found him sitting in the car with the AC blasting! So he was done for the day. I have to give him credit, though. He was a good sport and seemed to enjoy himself overall. Lake Winfield Scott is really pretty though and is surrounded by wildflowers and mountains. It's probably about as close to an "alpine" lake as we can get in Georgia, since it is one of the highest elevation lakes in the state. It looks like it would be really nice for kayaking or paddleboarding, especially since there are restrictions on the types of motor boats allowed (electric only). It's a little more peaceful than some other lakes.
After leaving the lake, of course we had to stop in Dahlonega and get dinner at Gustavo's. After hiking nearly 6 miles, we felt we'd earned our cheese-less, vegan pizza and some ciders. Seriously, though, they have the best pizza and can make roasted veggies on a crust taste great. Cheers!