Burnt Mountain Preserve
I've been in Pickens County (Jasper) this week for work and although I am driving back and forth from home each day, I am still trying to take some time in the evenings to hike. I have been to Pickens quite a lot for work in the past or just driven through on my way to points north, but never actually hiked here before. I didn't want to drive too far out of my way for a weeknight hike, so I was happy to find the Burnt Mountain Preserve Trails, which are just north of the city and easy to access. The Preserve is located along Highway 136 and a breeze to find. The parking area is located right along the road, so you can't miss it.
There are 3 trails within the preserve but two of them are very short. I chose the longest one, the Champion Creek loop. It was still only 2 miles long but that was a good length for the amount of time I had. Starting out from the parking area, there are very visible signs for all three of the trails, however, the start of the trail is completely overgrown. Once I waded through this part, the rest of the trail was pretty well maintained. I don't think these trails are frequently visited because I saw no other footprints or paw prints, there were tons of spiderwebs, and a lot of bushes growing onto the trail. The trails themselves are well marked with orange, yellow, or white markers. The Champion Creek trail has a white marker and forms a loop, which is always nice.
The first thing to know about the Champion Creek Trail is it's very steep. It goes downhill almost immediately and parts were a little slippery. There are very few switchbacks. I knew this going in but for some reason, the steepness got to me during this hike. Probably because I'd been on my feet all day for work already! Basically, you are descending into a valley to reach the appropriately named Champion Creek. Once at the bottom of the valley, you'll see a small side trail leading down to the creek. Don't skip this part!
The best thing about this hike was the creek. There is a lovely little waterfall and lots of rocks to sit on. The waterfall is really small but very aesthetically pleasing, with a nice stair step formation. I could have sat next to it all evening. I didn't wear or bring sandals, so I didn't put my feet, in but it looked really nice. I feel like, though, this would be a likely spot to see snakes, due to the secluded environment and rock crevices to hide in. There were lots of oddly growing tree roots and rock ledges for critters to hide in. I only saw a snail though. It was also really cute.
After returning to the main trail, obviously, the loop starts to go back up. I found this side of the trail to be more scenic than the other half. It goes along the creek for a bit and crosses the creek a few times (very small, shallow crossings). I also saw more wildflowers and interesting foliage on this side. Buuut it's still really steep. There's like one switchback and the rest is just uphill. The trail ends on the other side of the parking lot and is within view of the road for a small stretch, which definitely lets you know you're near humanity. Overall, this trail felt very secluded and isolated. There was no one else there during my visit. I didn't find the scenery of the trail to be extremely scenic but the waterfall was worthwhile. It was also a good work out and if I lived closer by, I would definitely add it to my repertoire of maintenance trails.
As a bonus, just north of the preserve there are two amazing overlooks along Highway 136. The view of the mountains and the valley below are stunning. It's easy to pull over and take pictures. And another bonus, Fainting Goat Vineyards is also along this stretch of the road. I have been wanting to go there for a while, so I definitely might come back here on a weekend with James and the pups to do the hike again and then visit the vineyard. All in all, the Burnt Mountain area has a lot to offer. The "pickens" are definitely not slim in Pickens County!