Trails: Bear Hair Gap and Lake Trahlyta Trails
Hike Location: Vogel State ParkGeographic Location: south of Blairsville, GA (34.76617, -83.92358)Length: 5.9 milesDifficulty: 8/10 (Moderate/Difficult)Last Hiked: June 2019Overview: Two loops, one long and hard to a high overlook, and one short and easy around Lake Trahlyta to Trahlyta Falls.Park Information: https://gastateparks.org/VogelHike Route Map: https://www.mappedometer.com/?maproute=751665Photo Highlight:
Directions to the trailhead: From Blairsville, drive south on US 19 for 10.2 miles to the signed park entrance on the right. Turn right to enter the park, and pay the small park entrance fee. Drive the main park road 0.4 miles to the Visitor Center. Park in the Visitor Center parking lot or in the larger lot across the road beside Lake Trahlyta.
The hike: Established in 1931, Vogel State Park is the second oldest state park in Georgia and one of two original state parks in Georgia’s state park system (the other being Indian Springs State Park). The depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built many of the park’s structures including the dam that forms the park’s lake, Lake Trahlyta. The park’s location at the base of Blood Mountain, the highest point on Georgia’s section of the Appalachian Trail, keeps temperatures regionally cool even during the summer. The park is named for August H. Vogel and Fred Vogel, Jr., who donated the 233 acres to form the park. Vogel State Park offers several excellent amenities, including a 103-site developed campground, 35 cabins, fishing and swimming in Lake Trahlyta, a mini-golf course, and 18 miles of trails. The park has three main hiking trails: the 1 mile Trahlyta Lake Trail, the 4.3 mile Bear Hair Gap Trail, and the 12.9 mile Coosa Backcountry Trail. With more than a mile of vertical rise, the long and rugged Coosa Backcountry Trail is best hiked as a multi-day backpack. The other two trails could be hiked independently, but they combine to form a manageable 5.9 mile barbell-shaped route. Such is the hike described here. To do the harder loop first, this hike starts with the Bear Hair Gap Trail. From the lakeside parking lot, walk southwest past the Visitor Center along the asphalt road that leads through the cabin area to the park’s campground. After 0.25 miles of road walking, you reach the signed trailhead for the Byron Reece, Bear Hair Gap, and Coosa Backcountry Trails on the right. There is nowhere to park at the trailhead, so anyone who hikes any of these three trails has to start with a road walk. This parking arrangement seems suboptimal, but it is what it is.

Vogel State Park trailhead

The common entrance trail climbs a few stone steps before beginning a gradual ascent with cascading Burnett Branch downhill to the left. Maple trees dominate the forest at this elevation, and even though some pine trees appear in the forest this hike would be a nice fall leaf peeping hike. At 0.4 miles, the signed Byron Herbert Reece Trail exits right. The Byron Herbert Reece Trail forms a short but moderately steep 0.8 mile loop, and it makes a nice add-on if you want some more forest hiking after completing the Bear Hair Gap Trail. Continue straight to remain on the combined Bear Hair Gap and Coosa Backcountry Trail. After passing a wooden overlook platform that overlooks nothing in particular and crossing Burnett Branch, a gradual climb brings you to a major trail intersection. The unmarked trail going left leads to the campground, and the trails going straight and right form the loop portion of the Bear Hair Gap Trail. To make the climbing a little easier, this description turns right here and uses the trail going straight as its return route, thus hiking the loop counterclockwise.

Trail intersection

After only a couple hundred more feet, the Bear Hair Gap and Coosa Backcountry Trails part ways just after you exit Vogel State Park and enter Chattahoochee National Forest. You need to angle softly left here to stay on the Bear Hair Gap Trail. The trail markings here can be confusing. The Bear Hair Gap Trail is marked with painted green diamonds and the Coosa Backcountry Trail is marked with painted green rectangles, but the corners on some of the diamonds are rubbing off, thus making them look like rectangles. Fortunately, a brown carsonite post bearing the number 110, the national forest’s designation for the Bear Hair Gap Trail, also sits at this intersection.

Climbing toward Vogel Overlook

For the next 1.5 miles the wide single-track dirt and rock trail climbs on a moderate to steep grade as it gains just over 700 vertical feet of elevation. Three small creeks are crossed via bridge or rock hop, but the wet areas around them may make the crossings more comfortable if you are wearing waterproof boots. At 1.8 miles, you reach the signed spur trail for the Vogel Overlook. Turn left to reach the overlook. One final steep section brings you to the overlook. The view from the east-facing overlook is somewhat encumbered by trees, but even during the leafy months Lake Trahlyta is visible almost 900 feet below. On a clear day, Brasstown Bald, the highest point in Georgia, is visible to the east. You have earned these views, so take some time, have a trail snack, and see what you can see.

View from Vogel Overlook

Continuing around the Bear Hair Gap Trail’s loop, a pleasant section of sidehill trail ensues as the trail maintains a near constant elevation with the hillside dropping to your left and Slaughter Mountain rising to your right. Large amounts of paw paw and sassafras grow in the understory up here. At 2.6 miles, you rock hop rhododendron-choked Wolf Creek just before the Coosa Backcountry Trail re-enters from the right. Stay left to remain on the combined Bear Hair Gap and Coosa Backcountry Trails. The next 0.3 miles is a steep rocky descent that loses over 250 feet of elevation. The trail weaves around several cabin-sized boulders, and the terrain is scenic but rugged. Just past 3 miles, you cross Wolf Creek again, this time just below a small waterfall.

Descending through boulders

After some equally steep but less rocky descending, you cross from the national forest back into the state park. Some picnic shelters and the state park campground can be seen downhill and through the trees to the right. The last mile of the loop is a rolling course that traces the base of Slaughter Mountain, which rises to the left and falls to the right. At 4.1 miles, you close the loop. Retrace your steps down the entrance trail to the park road, then turn left on the park road to return to the lakeside parking lot that contains your car at 4.7 miles, thus completing the first loop and your tour of the park’s backcountry. To also see the park’s developed area around Lake Trahlyta, consider adding on the Trahlyta Lake Trail, which forms a 1 mile loop around its namesake lake and offers a short spur to an attractive waterfall.

Trailhead: Trahlyta Lake Trail

The Trahlyta Lake Trail starts at a signed trailhead at the southeast end of the lakeside parking area. The trail crosses a wooden bridge over the main stream that feeds Lake Trahlyta to reach a picnic shelter, where the trail curves left to begin following the southeast bank of Lake Trahlyta. The park road stays very close on the right, and a wooden boardwalk carries you over a wet area.

Blood Mountain behind Lake Trahlyta

5.2 miles into the hike, you reach the lake’s dam and spillway area. Looking to the left across the lake provides this park’s signature view of Blood Mountain behind Lake Trahlyta. The overlook you stood at an hour or so ago also stands above the lake’s opposite shore. Signs warn against descending the steep and slippery dam and spillway, so make sure you stay on the trail. Just after crossing the spillway, the signed spur trail to Trahlyta Falls exits right. The spur trail descends on a gradual to moderate grade to reach an observation platform near the base of Trahlyta Falls. Moderate volumes of water cascade for 35 feet over numerous rock layers, and the falls sound as pleasant as they look.

Trahlyta Falls

Back on the Trahlyta Lake Trail, the trail drops off the dam and passes very close to a water treatment plant and SR 180 on the right. The last segment of the trail follows a sewer line as it passes through a stand of holly. The trail comes out at the end of the park’s cabin road. A short road walk with the park’s swimming area on the left completes the loop of Lake Trahlyta and returns you to the lakeside parking area for a second and final time.