Yonah Mountain

Yonah Mountain
From 2010-06-27 Yonah Mountain
Now I know most of us have gone to Helen a time or two, I’m no exception. And I think that most of my readers know my predilection for walking up mountains. And for the duration of this journal there has been one mountain passed by every time on that trip to Helen: Its familiar wave like swoosh at the top with a granite smile. It stood there for almost 8 years virtually off limits to us. I am, of course, speaking of Yonah Mountain about 1 hour and 45 minutes North of Atlanta.
Yonah Mountain View
The reason for the lack of access was that although the mountain is owned by the U.S. Military, there was no public access. The folks who owned the property around the mountain made no accommodations for people who wanted to hike the mountain, due to misbehavior by users. Apparently, the land is federal property, so local authorities have no jurisdiction there, so it became a sort of lawless place filled with juvenile and sometimes illegal hijinks. So prior to October of last year you had to complete a three mile walk along paved roads just to get to the base of the mountain. Fortunately, some outdoorsy Georgia Do-Gooders (The Land for Public Trust, The Southeastern Climbers Association, & The Access Fund) were able to raise money and buy a tract of land that connects public road to the mountain, and thus the Yonah Mountain Trailhead was born late last year.
The Granite Face of Yonah Mountain

I’ve seen the hike marked as short as 2.1 miles up the mountain to as long as 3.3 miles. Worst case, I figured, it would be 2.5 to three hours (considering the round trip). I kind of saved this one for a time when one of my favorite fellow travellers, my brother, was in town, so it would be as new to me as to him. So we ventured up the last weekend of June this year. The trailhead is fairly easy to find taking 75 North out of Cleveland, turning right on Tom Bell Road (across from the West Family Diner), taking an immediate left on Chambers road, and then a left on the 2nd gravel road. There is ample parking and even some primitive facilities.
View from the midpoint

I was told the trail was moderate to strenuous in difficulty which I would agree with, primarily due to the elevation gain of about 1400 feet over the two or so miles. The reason for the discrepancy in distance is that there are several places you could walk different ways to see different things. The mountain is sort of a mecca for rock climbers and bouldering enthusiasts. As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what the government uses it for, the mountaineering phase of Ranger Training (so if you are headed up it is useful to make sure they are not there as the mountain will be legitimately closed at those times - Forest Ranger Service 706.754.6221). There were only a few stretches that I would consider very steep and difficult. And there is another outhouse type structure at about the midpoint up the mountain. Before you get to that point, there is a nice open field with good views of the land below and a great vantage point for the rocky face of Yonah Mountain.
View from atop the granite face of Yonah

Now normally, I would have a bunch of really cool photos at the top of the mountain. But in all honestly, I never made it all the way up, but only about 90% of the way there. I wasn’t done in by the physicality of the journey, but by the weather. Even though, the weather service said that there was only a 30% chance of scattered showers, a severe thunderstorm hit the mountain just as we reached the top of the granite face. Now this is a very rustic mountain with no safety features and there have been deaths recorded as recently as 2008. There will be a short video at the bottom of this post. Now, I would never recommend climbing a mountain in a storm, but if you climb a couple of hundred times you are bound to get caught in one sometime. I’ve been stuck a dozen or so times myself and I always think the same thing: “If I survive this, this is so awesome.” We saw clouds swirl beneath us, covering everything in sight, and then disappear in a flash as a strong wind entered the picture. It was life threatening and life affirming. Since I am writing this, “it was so awesome.” It also made photography a bit difficult, and the photos won’t do it justice.
and then the rains came in

I write this now knowing full well I will get back there this year because it is the single most important new trail in our area and I am really excited to relay the news. Great views, good physicality, and just about everything I look for in a trail. If you go, be careful, and remember the 8 years without access to Yonah Mountain: Be gentle to the surroundings and polite to the mountain’s neighbors.

Trail Essentials
Approximate Time: 1-2 hours
Approximate Distance: approx. 5 miles round trip
Trail Surface: Rocks, Compact Soil,
Features: Vista Views, Rocks, the odd rock climber or rapeller.

Overall Rating: A

Scenic Quality: A-
Athleticism: A
Solitude: B+ (but that will probably change for the worse)
Value: A
Parking: Free
Hours of Operation: Daylight Hours
Facilities: Trailhead, Halfway up the mountain (Outhouse variety)
Maps: None
County: White County


  1. AnonymousJuly 30, 2010

    I went here a few times with my family about 25(?) years ago. My dad enjoyed rock-climbing and we scampered along with him. I loved the view from the top of this mountain. Once, we saw a hang-glider take off from the top and land in the pasture below. One of my favorite memories is of lying on the sun-warmed granite and watching the sunset. I'm glad to see it accessible again. Thanks for the photos!

    Kathy E.

  2. Reason the access Old Yonah Rd closed. It is a private one lane gravel residence's drive and service path to the fire tower. Many rowdy partyers and vandals in motor vehicles rudely disturbed property dwellers living there quietly. Some proactive homeowners built gates to stop the disrespectful drunks from tearing across their front yards in 4 wheelers and jeeps. Now, only the US Army and Forest Service Rangers have permission to use that small road with motor vehicles to the summit.



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