Growing up near Pine Mountain, GA we would sometimes spend an afternoon at F.D. Roosevelt State Park. There weren’t any official trails then, so I imagine we didn’t get too far off the beaten path, but I do remember the freezing water in the Liberty Bell Pool, the fun playground adjacent where we might have a picnic lunch, and the old grill at Dowdell’s Knob that clung to the top of the mountain. At five years old, 1,395′ is WAY up there! Later years, the park would host Christmas Caroling and offer hot cocoa at the amphitheater and a warm toasty fire in the nearby lodge which now houses the Park Visitor Center.
Back in the 80′ and 90’s a group of volunteers built and continue to maintain approximately 40 miles of trails. A few years ago, my mom met her goal of hiking all of the trail sections and loops – a pretty neat feat given her dislike of heights and sudden drop-offs! The main 23-mile trail is a basically a ridge hike with seven loops dropping down into gaps and through some historical sites. The trails are very well maintained with great signage and color-coded blazes, but very few are for beginners – as most of the terrain is rocky and there are some pretty steep sections. But there are sections that everyone can enjoy.
Recently, I decided to tackle Dowdell’s Knob Loop, a 4.3 mile section at the peak. It was a spur of the moment thing while I was in town for other reasons so I didn’t have a hiking buddy with me, or barely any of my usual hiking supplies. Luckily, because my car is my closet, I was able to cobble together a day pack with enough of the essentials to make me feel good about the hike that day. I checked in at the trail head to let someone know where I was and what I was up to, and also signed the trail head register. I’d stopped by the visitor center for a map and make sure the trail was open and in good condition (sometimes controlled burns or recent weather can cause a trail to be temporarily closed).
At 10 am on a brisk May morning, I set off from the upper trail head. Now, for those that aren’t awake yet, or just aren’t that concerned, the UPPER trail head implies two things: 1. There are two trailheads. 2. One of them is at a higher elevation than the other. The hike is a loop. Starting at the top also means ending at the top! I won’t give you a step by step account of the hike (click here for a great trail description by Atlanta Trails) but will point out some highlights so you can enjoy it your way!
The entire 4.3 miles was worth every ache in my feet and hips the next day, but if you’ve only got a short time or you have younger children with you then I would recommend starting at the top at the trailhead shelter. This 400′ connecting trail leads to the main blue-blazed Pine Mountain Trail. Turning west at the junction will take you past the 1953 B-25 Crash Site bearing a memorial plaque. Continuing for about a quarter-mile, you will reach Elephant Rock and just past that the trail starts getting rougher as you enter the area hit by the 2011 tornadoes. If you turn around here, the entire out-and-back will be about 1.2 miles and offer interesting scenery, history, geology and moderately easy terrain without too much elevation change.
Continuing on, as I did, and you’ll descend from the rocky peak into the forested valley floor, crossing streams and eventually finding a waterfall before you start the long uphill stretch taking you the last mile back to the trailhead. I’d purposefully chosen to start and end the hike at the top because of the beautiful view I would have while enjoying my post-hike snacks. Ending a 4.3 mile hike at your car with nowhere to sit and catch your breath is just no fun!
It took me a little longer than I’d hoped, but I made sure to stop along the way and just look. Look up from the trail, Look beyond the trees, Look into the creek, Look behind me (because the view is always different when you turn around, right?), and just take in the smells and sounds. Ok, I may have also been trying to catch my breath. This was my first hike in some time, and i was coming off jet-lag and an upper respiratory infection. The weather was perfect, an unusual 50 degree morning with full sunshine. The coolness kept the bugs at bay, which was a nice treat in May. This hike may require hefty applications of bug repellent in summer months!
It’s interesting, and sometimes even fun, to revisit places that we frequented as a child. Sure, they change over time and so do we, so while we can’t go back and enjoy them exactly as we did when we were young, we can appreciate them in new ways. What places did you enjoy as a child that you’d like to revisit now and experience them anew?