But if you’re interested in state parks primarily for camping, hiking, or history, Fort Mountain State Park deserves to be right up there at the top of your “must-see” list.
The Georgia Gold Rush and the Treaty of New Echota forced them to leave on the Trail of Tears in the 1830s.
Fort Mountain State Park was created in 1936, named for the mysterious 855-foot rock wall archaeologists estimate was built at the mountain’s summit sometime between 500 and 1500 CE.
Much of the park’s infrastructure (including stone stairs, a stone fire tower, and several buildings) were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, which was launched by FDR to create jobs in the wake of the Great Depression.
Visiting the park has become one of the most beloved things to do in North Georgia, with over 60 miles of recreational trails and iconic overlooks of the Cohutta Mountains.
Read on for our in-depth guide to Fort Mountain State Park camping, hiking trails, and other activities, which includes stunning photos taken just as the autumn colors in North Georgia began to pop.
Fort Mountain State Park GA Info
ADDRESS: 181 Fort Mountain State Park Rd, Chatsworth GA 30705
OFFICE HOURS: 7:00AM – 10:00PM daily
ENTRY FEES: $5 per day or $50 for an annual park pass
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: Georgia Dept of Natural Resources
RESERVATIONS: Reserve Online or call 1-800-864-7275
DRIVING DIRECTIONS FROM ATLANTA
From metro Atlanta, take I-75N to exit 293 for US-411 toward Chatsworth. Keep right at the fork, follow signs for Chatsworth and merge onto US-411 N.
In 38.6 miles, turn right onto GA-2/GA-52 E/E Fort St and follow it for 7.2 miles. You’ll see the entrance to Fort Mountain State Park on your left.
DRIVING DIRECTIONS FROM ELLIJAY
From Downtown Ellijay, head northeast on N Church St toward N Main St/Old Hwy 5, then take a right. In 0.2 miles, turn left onto Tabor St, then a quick right onto GA-2/GA-52 W/Dalton St.
Continue to follow GA-2/GA-52 W for approximately 17 miles, and you’ll see the entrance to Fort Mountain State Park on your right.
Fort Mountain State Park Hiking Trails
Gahuti Trail (Moderate/Strenuous 8.7-mile loop)
The longest of the hiking trails at Fort Mountain State Park, the Gahuti trail takes you around the edge of the park, just below the summits of two picturesque North Georgia mountains (Cohutta and Fort Mountain).
The forest here is breathtaking when the fall colors begin to pop. And the wide-open landscapes of the Cool Springs Overlook and other scenic viewpoints along the trail are spectacular at any time of year.
There’s lots of elevation changes and massive boulders as the trail cuts through deep valleys, eventually crossing Goldmine Branch Creek and descending alongside its small, multi-tiered waterfalls.
You can extend this hike by two miles by detouring to take the Stone Wall, Overlook & Tower Trail. If you want to do an overnight hike, there are 4 backcountry campsites available by permit only.
Upper Cabin Combination (Moderate 1.6-mile loop)
If you’re looking for a more moderate hike, this 1.6-mile trail begins near the upper Fort Mountain State Park cabins, heading down to follow a brief section of the Lake Loop.
Heading eastbound beside the gorgeous lake, you’ll see a short connecting trail on the right that leads you down to Goldmine Creek.
As the creek’s name implies, this area was a hotspot for mining during the Georgia gold rush. Though the area’s not as well-known for gold as Dahlonega, you can still see some of the old mining pits along the trail today.
The creek trail ends at the Gahuti Trail, which you briefly follow north to return to the upper cabins.
READ MORE: The 15 Best Cabin Rentals in Ellijay GA
Lake Loop (Easy 1.2-mile loop)
If you love lakes as much as we do, you’ll love exploring the beautiful centerpiece of Fort Mountain State Park.
The easy 1.2-mile Lake Loop is open to bikers and hikers and can be accessed from numerous areas, taking you around Fort Mountain Lake.
With just 75 feet of elevation gain, this is easily the most accessible trail in the park, taking you past the campgrounds, cottages, beach, and picnic areas.
The path is wide and well-maintained, but can get a bit muddy in places after recent rains.
CCC Fire Tower Combination (Moderate 1-mile loop)
The moderate 1-mile Stone Tower Loop is arguably our favorite of the Fort Mountain State Park hiking trails, because it takes in three of the park’s most fascinating features.
It starts with an uphill hike on the West Overlook Trail, which leads to a rocky outcrop offering sweeping panoramas of the vast Cohutta Wilderness. In my opinion it ranks alongside those at Black Rock Mountain State Park among the best North Georgia overlooks.
Then you’ll head east and climb the stairs leading to a 4-story stone tower, which was built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps as a forest fire overlook. Used until the early ’60s, it was beautifully restored in 2014-2015. Look for the heart-shaped stone on the east side, which one of the builders included for his wife.
On your way back down the Stone Tower Trail, you’ll use stone steps that were built by the CCC. You’ll also past the remnants of a mysterious 885-foot stone wall built between 500 and 1500 AD.
Nobody knows who built the serpentine wall. Some say it was a prehistoric tribe, some say it was the Cherokee people, while Appalachian folklore suggests it was an alien race known as “the Moon-Eyed People.”
Big Rock Nature Trail (Moderate 0.75-mile loop)
Starting from a ridgeline near the Fort Mountain Lake dam, the relatively moderate Big Rock Nature Trail heads down into a mountain hollow.
Note that while this trail is short, it can get rocky and slippery in some places, with 114 feet of elevation gain as you come back up along the creek.
Still, it is a beautiful path that passes alongside several small cascades and waterfalls.
And it’s a great trail if you want to see North GA wildflowers blooming in spring.
CABINS & CAMPING AT FORT MOUNTAIN STATE PARK
Fort Mountain Cabins
Fort Mountain State Park offers 15 spacious rental cabins, ten of which are 2 BR/2 BA and sleep up to 8 people, and five which are 3 BR/2 BA and sleep up to 10 people.
Three of these are pet-friendly cabins (#5, 6 & 11), while two are ADA-accessible (#1 & 5).
All of these “premier cottages” include full kitchens with appliances and dishes, heat/AC, fireplace, porch, picnic table, BBG grill, and a fire ring.
Prices start at just $175 a night ($1,225 a week), but they typically fluctuate in peak season. For weekend and holiday stays it’s best to book far in advance.
Fort Mountain State Park Camping
There are two campgrounds at Fort Mountain State Park offering a total of 70 different tent, trailer & RV campsites, including back-in and pull-through sites for vehicles up to 50 feet long.
Each of these campsites include electric and water hookups, a picnic table, fire ring, and access to the comfort station. All sites are pet-friendly, and two are ADA-accessible.
There are also 6 Platform Campsites, 4 tent-only Walk-In Campsites, and 4 Backcountry Campsites located along the Gahuti Trail.
These also have 3 Pioneer Campsites that can be reserved for up to 30 people, but it’s best to call the park before making a reservation to inquire about their capacity limits.
READ MORE: The 10 Best Campgrounds in North Georgia
Other Things to do at Fort Mountain State Park
Mountain Biking & Horseback Riding Trails
In addition to a half-dozen trails that are primarily used for hiking, Fort Mountain State Park also features 25+ miles of multi-use trails, which can also be used for mountain biking and/or horseback riding.
There are also a variety of horse trails running through the park, with lengths varying from 3 to 16 miles. Contact the stables at 706-429-5075 or at [email protected] for more info.
As you can see from the photos above, the 17-acre Fort Mountain Lake ranks among the prettiest lakes in the mountains of North Georgia.
The park offers myriad ways to explore it, offering seasonal rentals of canoes, kayaks, paddleboards, aquacycles, and pedal boats.
Fishing is also allowed on the lake (with valid GA fishing license required for ages 16 and up), and there’s a small swimming beach and a mini-golf course as well.
There are 7 picnic shelters in the park available for rental, several of which are located right by the lake.
Six of them can hold up to 30 people, while one can hold up to 40, and all include electricity, water, covered picnic tables, and a BBQ grill.
Picnic shelters must be reserved in advance. The 30-person shelters start at $30 per day, while the 40-person shelter starts at $55 per day.
Cool Springs Overlook
Although most of the best Fort Mountain overlooks are found along the park’s excellent hiking trails, the Cool Springs Overlook requires virtually no walking at all.
Simply park in the Gahuti Trailhead parking lot, and a short stroll will lead you to the extraordinary vision featured at the top of this story.
It’s truly a magnificent view, particularly in the autumn months, with the Holly Creek Valley below and the dynamic peaks of the Cohutta Mountains all around. –by Bret Love; all photos by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett unless otherwise noted