Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway
Brasstown Bald is the highest point in Georgia, rising to a peak elevation of 4,784 feet. The mountain offers a panoramic view of four states and in colder months you can sometimes even see the Atlanta skyline which is more than 85 miles away!
The recreation area and visitor center on the top of the mountain are managed by the Cradle of Forestry in American Interpretive Association. There you will find an observation platform, exhibit hall, picnic areas, hiking trails and a store/gift shop. It is a great place to see a spectacular 360 degree view of the North Georgia mountains and to learn about the history of Brasstown Bald and the surrounding area.
The mountain’s name – Brasstown – is actually an incorrect translation of the Cherokee word Itse’yi (“New Green Place” or “Place of Fresh Green”). English-speaking explorers mistook the word for Untsaiyi’ (“Brass” or “Brass Place”). They called a nearby Cherokee village “Brasstown” and the name stuck.
The Cherokee actually called the mountain Enotah. It held great significance in their culture as the focal point of a Noah’s Ark type story. The legend tells of how a great flood rose over the earth, destroying everyone and everything except for one group that survived by floating on the waters in a giant canoe. As the flood slowly receded, the canoe came to rest on the top of Brasstown Bald. Its occupants emerged to find that all of the animals that they hunted were gone and there was no place to plant crops. Unetlanvhi, literally “The Creator” or God, killed the trees from the top of the mountain so the survivors could plant and survive.
The story details not only the Great Flood, but also explains the “bald” or place atop the mountain where no trees grow.
Another Cherokee legend gives a different explanation for the origin of the bald. That story tells of a hideous flying monster that nested in a cliff high on the mountain. From there it swooped down on surrounding villages, carrying away children and terrorizing the people. Unable to reach the creature’s den, the Cherokee appealed to Unetlanvhi for help. He answered with a lightning bolt that destroyed the monster’s home and blasted the trees from the top of the mountain. The people offered up their thanks for many days after the miraculous event and Unetlanvhi promised that the mountain top would remain clear of trees forever to prevent such a monster from hiding there again.
The Cherokee lived in the area around Brasstown Bald until 1838 when they were forced west to what is now Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears. U.S. and state militia troops rounded them up, confined them in stockades and then started them along the long march via one of three routes. Chief John Ross later estimated that more than 4,000 people died on the way. The Trail of Tears was one of the greatest atrocities ever inflicted on Native Americans by the U.S. government.
Frontier settlers then moved into the Cherokee country. Many lived in small log cabins and scratched a living from the rocky soil. Logging companies eventually moved into the mountains, clearing the virgin timber. Steam-powered trains called logging trams carried the logs down to mills in communities like Helen where they were cut into lumber.
Brasstown Bald is surrounded by the Chattahoochee National Forest. Now encompassing 750,145 acres of mountains, valleys, forests, waterfalls and rivers, the forest is named for the Chattahoochee River which rises from a source spring at Jacks Knob within view of Brasstown Bald. The forest was established by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1936, although some of the lands had been purchased as early as 1911.
Visitors can learn more about the history of the forest and the mountain in the interpretive hall on its summit. Exhibits there explain Cherokee legends about the mountain and display artifacts from its history. You can even meet an animated version of Ranger Arthur Woody – better known as “Ranger Woody” – who led the way in preserving the forest, replanting thousands of acres that had been clear-cut during logging operations and even spending his own money to
bring back native species of animal.
Brasstown Bald is one of the most ecologically sensitive areas in the Chattahoochee National Forest and 12,896 acres there were set aside as the Brasstown Wilderness in 1986. More than 14 miles of trout streams are in the wilderness, which protects a number of rare and endangered species.
The mountain is also a focal point of the Russell-Brasstown National Scenic Byway. The 40.6 mile scenic drive loops past mountain views, Brasstown Bald, waterfalls and more. Please click here for more information. Also be sure to enjoy the free video of the Byway lower on this page.
Brasstown Bald is at the northern end of GA-180 Spur. The cost of admission during normal 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. hours is $5 per person (16+). After hours admission to the recreation area is $3 per person (13+).
A trail leads 6/10 of one mile from the parking lot to the top of the mountain, but be aware that it is the equivalent of walking up a 40-story building! If that’s a bit strenuous for you, shuttles will carry you from the parking lot to the top. The price is included in the entry fee.
Note: Some GPS devices will take you to the wrong place. If you want to use GPS to find Brasstown Bald, enter the intersection of GA-180 and GA-180 Spur (Coordinates: N34.847894, W83.798567). GA-180 Spur is the access road that leads to the entrance.
The charming Bavarian village of Helen is a great base for exploring Brasstown Bald, the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway and the Chattahoochee National Forest. Click here to learn more about Helen, Georgia.
Also of interest nearby is the hiking trail to High Shoals Falls.
Explore more of Brasstown Bald and the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway in this short free video from our sister channel, Two Egg TV:
Learn more about the mountain in this great free video from the Blairsville-Union County Chamber of Commerce: