About 20 miles north of Dahlonega, on a lightly traveled mountain road, is Lake Winfield Scott Recreation Area. A small facility with few amenities, located not far from the more popular and impressive Vogel State Park, this area is largely overlooked by visitors to the mountains.
What it does offer is access to some of the nicest hiking trails in Georgia. The Appalachian Trail passes near the park, and a series of trails connect with it.
These trails are maintained by volunteers from the Georgia AT Club, and they do a great job. The trails were litter free, but the volunteers we spoke with said that they find very little trash; they think that the people who use these trails respect the forest and treat it properly. What they do is cut back brush that crowds the trail, remove fallen trees, and make repairs to the trail. They deserve our thanks for what they do.
Three trails - the Jarrard Gap Trail, The Slaughter Gap Trail and the AT - form a 6 mile loop that offers an enjoyable walk through lush forest without putting too much of a strain on you. A side trip to the top of Blood Mountain adds 2 miles to the hike.
The trails begin across from the boat ramp on the lake. A short access trail leads to a footbridge, then turns left to a dirt road. The Slaughter Gap Trail is directly across the road, and the Jarrard Gap Trail begins a short distance up the road to the right. The Slaughter Gap Trail looked inviting so we started there.
he forest quickly envelopes you as you start down the trail. It had rained the day before, and everything was lush, cool and green. The sun filtered through the canopy of trees, adding light but not heat. Closer to the ground, small trees, laurel, rhododendron, ferns and other ground plants surround you with green.
The trail is not difficult, even when it moves uphill, and the 2.2 miles to Slaughter Gap go by quickly. Here the trail connects with the AT and you have a choice - to the right the trail continues the loop; straight ahead it leads to Blood Mountain, one of the highest peaks in the state, and views of the surrounding mountains. The climb to the top is not difficult, gaining 600' in elevation. At the top is a stone shelter built in the 1930’s and used by backpackers hiking the trail. A short distance past the shelter is a wide open area with views in all directions.
The walk to Blood Mountain is worth it if you have the time and energy. It adds two miles to your hike roundtrip, but it is only 1.5 miles from your car if you park at Neels Gap on US 19/129, if you want to see it another day.
Back at Slaughter Gap, you have the choice of completing the loop or returning the way you came. Either way, the rest of the hike is level or downhill. It is 2.3 miles to Jarrard Gap on the AT, and another 1.2 from there to the lake. As with the earlier part of the hike, the trail stays in the cover of the forest. On a day when the temperature in Atlanta was in the mid-90’s, it felt like the low 70’s on the trail.
There is plenty of water for the dogs to drink on the Slaughter Gap Trail, but the AT and Jarrard Gap trail is dry. Carry enough water for you and your dog, and a plastic bowl for him to drink from.
At Jarrard Gap, turn right on a gravel road for a short distance; the Jarrard Gap Trail is on the left. If you don’t pay attention you can miss the trail, like we did. The road goes downhill, and by the time we realized our mistake, we were in no mood to climb back uphill to the trail. Since the road takes you back to the park a short distance from the car, we just stayed on it.
To get to Lake Winfield Scott, take GA 400 to Dahlonega, then go north on US 19/GA 60 to Stonepile Gap, where they split. Take GA 60 five miles to GA 180, turn right on GA 180 for about 4 miles to the entrance on the right.