[Updated on 7/16/21] From Amicalola Falls and Red Top Mountain to Unicoi and Vogel, we’ve explored quite a few of the state parks in Georgia in the 12 years we’ve been traveling together.
But our trip to Black Rock Mountain State Park last September firmly established the 1743-acre park near Clayton GA as our favorite.
Located on the Eastern Continental Divide at an altitude of 3,640 feet, Georgia’s highest state park is surrounded by some of the state’s most extraordinary scenery.
There are numerous overlooks offering breathtaking views of staggering sunrises and sunsets, rolling oceans of fog, and the most majestic mountains in Georgia, with vistas stretching up to 80 miles on clear days.
There are hiking trails leading you into pristine old growth forests, past gurgling streams, to wondrous waterfalls. One trail circles a picturesque 17-acre lake that’s stocked with rainbow trout and other angler favorites.
Because of the elevation, temperatures are cooler atop Black Rock Mountain. And in addition to the excellent culinary offerings of downtown Clayton, there are countless things to do nearby.
Warwoman Dell, Tallulah Falls, Moccasin Creek, Rabun Bald, Minnehaha Falls, Angel/Panther Falls, Hemlock Falls, Lake Rabun, Lake Burton, and the town of Dillard are all within 15-20 miles, making this an incredible base for exploring the best outdoor attractions in Rabun County.
Read on for our in-depth guide to the best things to do in Black Rock Mountain State Park, including some history, hiking trails, Appalachian culture, camping, and more!
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Black Rock Mountain State Park Info
ADDRESS: 3085 Black Rock Mountain Pkwy, Mountain City, GA 30562
BLACK ROCK MOUNTAIN STATE PARK RESERVATIONS: 1-800-864-7275
PARK HOURS: 7:00am to 10:00pm daily
OFFICE HOURS: 8:00am to 5:00pm daily
ENTRY FEES/PASSES: $5 parking fee for daily entry, or $50 for an annual park pass
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: GA State Parks
RESERVATIONS WEBSITE: Reserve America
DIRECTIONS FROM ATLANTA: Take I-85N to I-985N. Stay on the 4-lane road through Tallulah Falls, which becomes US 441N through Clayton. About 3 miles north of Clayton, turn left onto Black Rock Mountain Parkway. Note that the mountain road to the park is very steep, and road conditions may include slippery ice in winter months.
READ MORE: The 10 Best North Georgia State Parks
Black Rock Mountain State Park History
After the first European explorers made their way to North Georgia in 1760, the region now known as Rabun County became known as the “Cherokee Mountains” because the local Native American population was so thick.
There were at least four significant Cherokee settlements in the area, including one on Stekoa Creek, one on the Tallulah River, one on Warwoman Creek, and one near what is now the mountain town of Dillard.
The portion that became the town of Clayton GA was originally known as “the Dividings,” because it was the intersection of three important Cherokee trails.
Eventually, two of these trails were widened and improved to create US 23/441 and US 76, Clayton’s primary highways.
One of the area’s first European visitors was explorer/naturalist William Bartram, whose writings provided early insight into Native American culture.
Traveling through Rabun County in the early 1770s, he hiked what is now Black Rock Mountain State Park (then known as Passover) and climbed Rabun Bald. His 4-year journey through the southern colonies was memorialized with the creation of the 114-mile Bartram Trail.
Lieutenant John Dillard, the pioneer who helped to establish Buncombe County, NC (where Asheville is located), was one of the first settlers in Rabun. His family moved to the area in 1794, after receiving a land grant as reward for his service in the American Revolution.
After years of hostilities between the settlers and natives, the Cherokee surrendered their land to the state of Georgia in 1817. Clayton officially became a town in 1823, named after Judge Augustin S. Clayton, who later became a two-term congressman.
The land that became Black Rock Mountain State Park was bought by Rabun County native John V. Arrendale over time. Starting with a 70-acre purchase in 1938, it consisted of 1,000 protected acres by the time the park was established in 1952.
The state park has since grown to 1,743 acres, including 300+ acres added after getting funding from Georgia Governor Zell Miller’s land acquisition program in 1995.
Things To Do in Black Rock Mountain State Park
Black Rock Lake
This 17-acre lake near the base of Black Rock Mountain offers excellent opportunities for hiking, fishing, picnics, photography, and watching wildlife.
The looping .85-mile Black Rock Lake trail offers excellent views, from an 80-foot wooden bridge spanning Cricket Cove to gorgeous reflections of the white pine and yellow poplar forest and brilliant blue skies above.
The lake is regularly stocked with rainbow trout and also has bass, bream, catfish and yellow perch. In addition to the bridge, the wheelchair-accessible pier and a 160-foot wooden boardwalk are great places for anglers to cast their lines.
Don’t miss the bridges over the gentle cascades of Greasy Creek and Taylor Creek. The latter also offers shady spots with picnic tables and BBQ grills.
READ MORE: The Top 15 North Georgia Waterfalls
Black Rock Mountain Overlooks
One of our favorite things to do in Black Rock Mountain State Park is to check out the jaw-dropping views available at each of the park’s 5 scenic overlooks.
The Black Rock Overlook next to the visitor center offers a stunning bird’s eye view of the town of Clayton, while the Blue Ridge Overlook is the best place to catch a spectacular sunrise.
The Cowee Overlook and Nantahala Overlook both offer breathtaking vistas of the park’s northern wilderness, with the latter also being a good place for catching the sunset.
But by far the best place to watch the sunset on Black Rock Mountain is the Tennessee Rock Overlook. It’s accessible via the 2.2-mile Tennessee Rock Trail, but there’s also a hidden access point en route to the cabins, directly across from the “Eastern Continental Divide” sign.
Foxfire Museum & Heritage Center
Located just outside the park’s boundary, the Foxfire Museum & Heritage Center is a must-see for anyone fascinated by the Appalachian history of North Georgia’s Blue Ridge Mountains.
This unique cultural heritage attraction started in 1966, when students at the nearby Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School created a magazine about the traditions of Appalachia.
The magazine, which was named after a local mushroom that glows in the dark, eventually grew into a series of Foxfire books on virtually every aspect of southern homesteading life.
The excellent living history museum was built in 1974, and features 20 historic buildings and countless artifacts from North Georgia’s pioneer era (1820s to 1940s).
James E. Edmonds Backcountry Trail
Rated difficult to strenuous, this 7.2-mile backcountry loop trail was named in honor of one of the very first rangers at Black Rock Mountain State Park.
Departing from the same parking lot as the Tennessee Rock Trail, the often-steep trail makes it way along cascading waterfalls and through coves filled with mountain laurel.
You can also access part of the trail from Black Rock Lake, if you want to hike a shorter section to the waterfall along Greasy Creek (as we did).
Hardy hikers who make the challenging climb to the Lookoff Mountain summit will be rewarded with breathtaking views of Wolffork Valley and the mountain ranges that surround Black Rock. Backcountry camping is available at designated sites with advance reservation only.
READ MORE: The Best North Georgia Mountains For Hiking
Norma Campbell Cove Trail
The newest of the Black Rock Mountain State Park hiking trails, the .10-mile Norma Campbell Cove Trail loop is rated as easy. But during our visit, finding it was difficult due to overgrowth in need of trimming.
The trail was named after beloved naturalist Norma Campbell, who proposed the development of (and raised funding to build) the Marie Mellinger Center. This 1,484-sq ft facility now hosts music events, Appalachian arts & crafts workshops, and naturalist-led programming.
The cove trail offers a short but sweet hike on the southern edge of the Eastern Continental Divide, with huge rock outcrops, ferns, and wildflowers all along the way.
If the park is crowded, this is a perfect place to get away, with the sounds of springs that feed into Stekoa Creek and numerous log benches for savoring Nature’s serene splendor.
READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Helen GA
Tennessee Rock Trail
By far the most popular of the Black Rock Mountain State Park hiking trails, this 2.2-mile loop is rated moderate to difficult.
The yellow-blazed interpretive trail offers an excellent overview of the area’s natural history. A 32-page booklet (available at the visitor center for a small fee) explains more about the park’s flora, fauna, geology, and geography.
With a grade and x-slope that range from 10 to 25%, the hike is not an easy one. The final ascent of the Black Rock Mountain summit gains 300 feet of elevation in half a mile.
But the reward at the top is a mindblowing view that can stretch up to 80 miles on clear days, with Georgia’s Brasstown Bald and Clingmans Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park visible in the distance.
Black Rock Mountain State Park Cabins
There are 10 Black Rock Mountain State Park Cabins (a.k.a. cottages) for rent, all of them located on a loop at the southern end of the park.
Eight of these are 2-bedroom cabins that can accommodate up to 8 people, while two are 3-bedroom cabins that can hold up to 10 guests.
Only one of these cabins is wheelchair accessible, and only two are dog-friendly cabins. Note that not all of the cabins allow pets, only #5, #8, and #10.
It’s also important to know that only a few of the cabins offer those classic Blue Ridge Mountain views off the back porch. But if you manage to snag #3 (2BR), or #2 or #4 (both 3BR) you’ll have exceptional sunrise scenery with your coffee each morning. Cabin #1 (2BR) offers a partial view.
Otherwise, the cabins are all remarkably spacious and clean, with enough space between them that you never feel crowded. Each offers cable TV, heat and AC, gas fireplace, full kitchen, living room and dining areas, WiFi, BBQ grill, picnic table, and covered porches with rocking chairs.
At an affordable rate of $160 a night for 2BR cabins and $185 a night for 3BR cabins, it’s definitely one of the best places to stay in Clayton GA for the price.
Black Rock Mountain State Park Camping Options
There are loads of different options for camping in Black Rock Mountain State Park.
These include 44 drive-up tent, trailer, and RV campsites; 12 walk-in campsites; 4 backcountry campsites; and a pioneer campground, Camp Tsatu-gi, which can accomodate up to 50 campers.
The drive-up campsites are all located on one big loop on the park’s southeastern side, near the Trading Post and Mellinger Center.
RV campsites range from 20 to 50 feet long, with back-in and pull-through spots available. Each offers electric and cable hook-ups, picnic table, grill, fire ring, sewage dump station, and access to a washer/dryer and restrooms with showers.
The walk-in campsites are tent-only, and located on a trail that leads to the Foxfire Museum.
Backcountry camping at Black Rock Mountain is along the James E. Edmonds Trail, and includes the Fern Cove, Creek Ridge, Laurel Ridge, and Lookoff Mountain sites.
There are also two 50-person picnic shelters. As with the Black Rock Mountain campgrounds, these are available via advance reservation only.
Other park amenities include a gift shop at the Visitor Center (which also carries some grocery items), a playground near the cabins, and numerous picnic areas. –by Bret Love; all photos by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett