Coosa Backcountry Trail: The build up.
I’ve read a lot about the Coosa Backcountry Trail and have seen many different accounts of the trail. Some say 12 miles, some say 13.4, some say 12.9 and so on. One point everyone usually agrees on is that this hike is very strenuous and not to try it in one day.
We had been planning on doing the Coosa Backcountry Trail for some time, but something always came up and we had to postpone. In the beginning, it was not having all the gear we wanted, sometimes it was work and other times the weather would monkey wrench us. This time was different. We had our gear, work stayed out of the way and the weather was perfect. We had a green light and our foot was on the accelerator.
Coosa Backcountry Trail: Arrival at Vogel State Park
We arrived at Vogel State Park and acquired our permit from the visitor center. The permit is free and all we had to do was fill it out with our departure and return dates, then put it on the dash of the car. The park volunteer jokingly told us that if we weren’t back in a couple of weeks that they would come looking.
We went out to the car to get the rest of gear situated and put on our packs. We left the visitor center parking lot and turned left on the paved road and headed toward the campground. After passing a few cottages there was a trailhead sign and set of stairs to the right. There was a ranger standing there talking to a park volunteer and we asked them to take our picture. After getting our picture taken we headed up the trail following the green blazes to the approach to the Coosa Backcountry Trail.
Coosa Backcountry Trail: The Hike
Shortly after leaving the park we came to the trailhead. Here, the Bear Hair Trail leaves left and the Coosa BackcountryTrail to the right. We crossed Burnett Branch on a small footbridge and headed into Burnett Gap following a small feeder stream. As the trail ascended into Burnett Gap with Sheriff’s Knob on the right and Sosebee Cove to the left. At about a mile and a half we came upon a small waterfall on the right and the stream flowed across the trail. After a short stint, we crossed Forest Road 180, the trail leveled out a bit, and there was a small campsite on the left. The trail started its descent deeper into Sosebee Cove and we came upon a log footbridge crossing a streamlet.
The trail continued its descent and we came across a couple of campers taking advantage of a sweet little campsite on the left. As we continued northeast there was a small catwalk at about 3.25 miles where we stopped to fill up with some fresh water. After filtering some water and filling up a couple pouches to be filtered later, we continued on. Shortly after filling up we came to a defunct catwalk right before the footbridge crossing West Fork Creek. Right after the footbridge, there was a campsite to right and we crossed Forest Road 107.
The climb to Locust Stake Gap
Here, the trail immediately ascended back into the forest and headed northwest toward Locust Stake Gap. Hiking a bit further there was a campsite to the left marked with a small cairn and one to the right as well. We crossed a small stream and noticed a double green blaze. Then the trail made a turn to the right. I believe that this is a reroute because there was an old trail off to the left where the double blaze was.
The trail continued to climb along the creek and we reached a switchback where there was a fresh blowdown obstructing the trail at 3.74 miles. There was a reroute, but we still had to crawl on our hands and knees through a small hole between the ground and the tree branch. The hole led straight back to the trail where we saw a reassuring green blaze. I also saw an old blue blaze under the green one, which made me curious. I know the Coosa Backcountry Trail was blazed yellow in the past, but I’ve never heard anything about blue.
We continued our climb and I noticed an old jeep trail that headed to the left. We reached another switch back where the Forest Service Boundary is. Here the trees and a rock are painted red and there are yellow signs that read “Land Survey Monument and Forest Service Boundary.” The map shows that this is the separation between districts ten and sixteen.
Locust Stake Gap to Calf Stomp Gap
After a very short but welcomed descent, we made it to the ridgeline at Locust Stake Gap. There is a nice little campsite here on the right at 4.6 miles. To the left is Sosebee Cove.
The Coosa Backcountry Trail now heads southwest and again makes a climb toward Calf Stomp Gap. We continued to ascend the ridgeline and the trail just kept climbing. As soon as you think you are making some serious headway and have reached the top, nope, another turn with yet another ascent. Although, once we reached the halfway point between Locust Stake and Calf Stomp Gaps there was a crest, and for about five hundred feet, it was somewhat flat. Those five hundred feet were like a vacation that ended too soon, and the climbing started again.
Just before Calf Stomp Gap, the trail veers left and heads east for about four hundred feet and then switches back south for another climb to Calf Stomp. The next stop is Forest Service Road 108 where there is a campsite to the right. We stopped here to have a snack, take a short break and decide what our plan for the rest of day was. We knew that there was another campsite with a water source not too far after we returned to the trail.
When our break was over, we crossed the road and began the next chapter of climbing. After walking for a bit, I could start to hear the stream in the distance and we hoped we were getting close to where we would retire for the night. We found the stream and the campsite to the right, but after investigation, the campsite turned out to be dismal at best. If we would have had our tent instead of our hammocks and tarp it could have worked but it still wouldn’t have been great.
I noticed that there was an old jeep track that headed parallel between the stream and the Coosa BackcountryTrail in the same direction we had just come, so I decided that we should follow it back to the road. I knew from my map that the stream crossed FS Road 108 and thought that there might be another campsite near there. The jeep track met the road and we headed left to find where the stream crossed it. There was an overgrown campsite there but it was close to the road and we deemed it unsuitable for our purposes.
We doubled back to the Coosa Backcountry Trail and made our way back up the hill past the dismal campsite (basically making a loop) and followed the stream to its source. Once there, we regrouped and discussed our options. Since this was the last water source on the trail until Wolf Creek, we decided to filter as much water as we could and fill up our extra pouches and press on.
Coosa Bald or Bust
We decided to go for broke and head for Coosa Bald. Surely there had to be a sweet spot to camp on the summit of that mountain that gives this trail its name. So we pressed on switch backing from one side of the ridgeline to the other gaining elevation. The water added 8.5 pounds to my pack and I was really feeling the extra weight on my legs as we made the slow ascent to Coosa Bald.
The trail headed southwest up the knob just below the top of Coosa Bald and we found a really sweet campsite on the left that over looked the valley below. We considered staying there, but we really wanted to make it to the top of Coosa Bald, so we moved on.
We made it to the intersection of the Coosa Backcountry Trail and the Duncan Ridge Trail, and caught a ride on the Duncan Ridge Trail heading northwest to the summit of Coosa Bald. This was the last climb of the day and we were ready to make camp for the night. After a long day of practically all uphill hiking, this last climb was welcomed yet tiring.
The hard earned reward of Coosa Bald
After a very long day, we made it to the summit of Coosa Bald. When you reach the top there is a spectacular rock outcrop to the left and two campsites just off the trail to the right. Both campsites are definitely prime spots and we ended up choosing the second. Reaching the top of Coosa Bald was amazingly rewarding and although we were tired, the adrenaline of our accomplishment kept us going.
Our next steps were to set up our tarp and hammocks, find a hanging tree for our food and gather firewood. We had our backpacking stoves to cook with, but we really wanted the novelty of a campfire. Marcie helped me with the tarp and then she collected some kindling to get us started with the firewood gathering. After the initial set up, I made some evening coffee to give us a little boost for the final chores of the evening.
We made some ramen and tuna for our dinner and ate while as the sun dipped from the horizon. Then we consolidated all of our food, food related trash and packed it into Marcie’s sleeping bag stuff sack and hung it from the tree we found.
At this point, the hammocks were calling our names and we decided to lay down. After our long day of hiking, it felt really good to be suspended in the horizontal position. We talked for a bit about the day and soon drifted off to sleep.
Good morning Coosa Bald
I woke up at around 7:30 in the morning after a restless night’s sleep. It dipped down into the mid 50’s and the wind picked something fierce that night. I would never have thought at the end of July it would have gotten that cold. However, we were above four thousand feet and funny things happen in the mountains.
I got up and lowered the food from the tree and put on some coffee for myself and ate a mini pecan pie that I brought for my breakfast. These suckers have 480 calories each and only cost fifty cents at Wal-Mart. As I was finishing my first pie and my pot of coffee, Marcie woke and I made a pot for her. Marcie had some breakfast and then we packed up our gear and said farewell to Coosa Bald.
Coosa Backcountry Trail: Day Two
We followed the Duncan Ridge trail southeast off of Coosa Bald to the trail intersection and headed south toward Wildcat Gap. The Coosa Backcountry Trail and the Duncan Ridge Trail share the same track at this point and the trail is blazed green and blue. The trail heads down the spur on a wide, very steep and rocky track into Wildcat Gap. The trail is obviously an old wagon/jeep trail from years past.
After reaching Wildcat Gap, we came to Duncan Ridge Rd and veered left. The trail picked up in about two hundred feet on the left side of the road and was marked and blazed with both colors. The trail now becomes a single track path and starts a gentle climb across the eastern slope of Wildcat Knob. After we crossed the eastern slope, the trail made a right and headed west across the southern slope of the knob, switched back east and then south again. Heading south the trail switchbacks multiple times downhill into Wolfpen Gap. Just after the last switchback, there is an old jeep trail that heads downhill and from the map, it appears to be an old portion of the Coosa Backcountry Trail.
We crossed Wolfpen Gap and came to the road crossing at GA 180. This was second time crossing GA 180 since we started our hike and we hadn’t seen a paved road since we crossed it the first time just after leaving Vogel State Park. There was a dirt road on the left heading north and a gravel road to the right heading north into the Cooper Creek Wildlife Management Area. Straight across GA 180 was the trail connection. After we crossed GA 180, the trail immediately makes a sharp left and there is a trail marker hidden in the brush. We were now entering the Blood Mountain Wilderness.
On to Slaughter Mountain
The trail immediately started to climb at this point and was very tough going for over a mile. We were heading up the ridgeline toward Slaughter Mountain gaining elevation every step of the way. The area is so beautiful, but it was difficult to really enjoy a lot of the scenery due to having to put one foot in front of the other and keep on trucking. It was really just our exhaustion lingering from the day before that made this so tough. This would be just like another moderate day hike if done on its own, but adding in the lack of sleep and sore muscles really made it a full blown workout.
We finally made it up the ridgeline to the top of the knob just north of the summit of Slaughter Mountain and we were worked over. We were now over the four thousand foot mark again and it felt like we had gotten into a fist fight with a bear. It was really nice to start the descent into the saddle between the knob and the summit of Slaughter Mountain. The trail leveled out for a bit while on the saddle and then relatively speaking started a gentle ascent to the eastern slope of Slaughter Mountain. The trail pretty much leveled out across the slope and there were some sweet rock outcrops to the right and some nice views into the valley below on the left.
The descent into Slaughter Gap was definitely welcomed at this point and I knew that our climbing for this trip was over. I knew we were coming up on the intersection where the Duncan Ridge Trail leaves the Coosa Backcountry Trail, but I got a little confused for a moment because we hit a switchback that wasn’t on the map. I looked at my compass and we were heading northwest, which made me wonder if we had missed the intersection somehow. I was aware the Coosa Backcountry Trail heads north after parting with the Duncan Ridge and figured it was a reroute. As soon as I had made that conclusion we came to the intersection. After looking at the track on my phone when I got home, I realized that it was definitely a reroute. This entire portion of the Coosa Backcountry Trail was rerouted years ago to reduce the impact on the Blood Mountain Wilderness after years of the area being over utilized.
There is a nice campsite on the left at the intersection of Coosa Backcountry Trail and the Duncan Ridge Trail.
The Duncan Ridge Trail leaves south and heads deeper into the Blood Mountain Wilderness and meets up with Appalachian Trail. The Coosa Backcountry Trail heads northeast at this point switch backing its way to the Bear Hair Trail and meeting Wolf Creek.
The Last Stretch
After leaving the Duncan Ridge Trail, the Coosa Backcountry Trail continues its descent switch backing further into the valley and the scenery was beautiful as we made our way down. We came across a mountain laurel that looked manicured like it should be a shade tree in our yard. It looked like it would make a nice little spot to sit and relax for a bit on a hot day and enjoy a snack, but we continued on.
As the trail continues to switchback into the valley, it’s kind of all over the place, dipping south, veering left, and then veering right for one last dip south and then twisting back north to reach a feeder stream of Wolf Creek. The trail follows the stream on the right and then veers to the south switchbacking a couple more times and comes to another feeder stream where it meets the Bear Hair Trail. The Bear Hair Trail heads left to the north and the Coosa Backcountry Trail heads northeast cutting through some boulders and then crosses the original feeder stream and Wolf Creek forms on the right.
The trail follows the stream on the right and then veers to the south switchbacking a couple more time and comes to another feeder stream where it meets the Bear Hair Trail. The Bear Hair Trail heads left to the north and the Coosa Backcountry Trail heads northeast cutting through some boulders and then crosses the original feeder stream where Wolf Creek is formed in conjunction with two other streams.
Wolf Creek runs parallel to the Coosa Backcountry trail on the right for a while and the trail is now double blazed with green rectangles and diamonds. We passed an old hollowed out tree trunk filled with river rocks and had little cairns stacked on it. Soon we came to another stream crossing and reached the wilderness boundary where we crossed back into district sixteen and left the Blood Mountain Wilderness. The trail curves left to head north to re-enter Vogel State park.
The Coosa Backcountry Trail was a very challenging and rewarding hike that definitely tested our endurance. The feeling of accomplishment we received was matched only by our level of exhaustion.
I read a lot about this trail and we had it in our sights for a long time. The reports and recommendation that this trail should be done as a backpacking trip are definitely right, in the sense that to truly enjoy the scenery you should take your time. I would actually have liked to take three days to hike this trail. The Coosa Backcountry trail is the kind of hike that you need to keep your momentum going as you climb, especially if breaking it into two parts. If it was broken into three days at four to five-mile sections, there would be a lot more time to stop and smell the roses and see the sights. We did it overnight to test ourselves and for the workout.
We want to do this trail several more times with different approaches in the future. The next time we want to try for a one-day attempt maybe doing the trail clockwise. With over twenty pounds on our backs, this trail was difficult, but with day packs, this trail could definitely be done as an endurance testing day hike. I would also like to take my time and enjoy it in the fall when the leaves have dropped to see the many vistas this trail has to offer.
If you haven’t experienced the Coosa Backcountry trail, it is definitely a must hike. However, for the beginner, I recommend you do this trail with an experienced hiker and take your time. The Coosa Backcountry trail could be just what you need to thrust you from beginner to intermediate over the course of a weekend.
So get out there, have fun, be safe and ALWAYS, LEAVE NO TRACE!!