Located in the southern mountainous regions of Union County’s Blue Ridge Mountain Range, and forming a scenic drive loop is the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway.
In my personal opinion this is a four star, 40.6-mile, 360-degree view of what the wilderness lands of central North Georgia’s Chattahoochee National Forest has to offer in all its glory. Tall mountains with endless vistas, rushing creeks and waterways, an abundance of waterfalls, miles and miles of hiking trails including the southern most section of the Appalachian Trail. You’ll find camping, biking, fly-fishing, picnicking, natural wildlife, and wildflowers, residing in a land of majestic beauty.
The Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway takes in more natural wonders per mile than most scenic routes in North Georgia. This route will take visitors from the depths of the valleys to the heights of the tallest most accessible mountains in Georgia. Though beautiful to behold, the steep climbs and descents along the routes paved 2-lane and often 3-lane roadways can be a little intimidating to some inexperienced mountain drivers. Yet it’s a paradise roadway to others that are familiar with the curves and up and downs of mountain driving.
For those with less mountain driving skills, its advised to take your time, pull over when you can do so safely, so that you can see the sights, or just let the traffic behind you pass you by. When going down steep slopes its sometime advisable to take the transmission gear shift out of over-drive, and place it into drive or second gear to avoid excessive brake usage. Also, don’t let your vehicle exceed the speed limit to avoid constant braking. A couple of trips over the mountain and you’ll soon be a local pro-driver of skill, or at least a lot more experienced.
This 40.6-mile scenic drive follows four roadways creating a loop. These four roadways include, Richard Russell Road (GA 348), ALT GA 75, GA 17/75, and GA 180, plus the access roadway to the top of Brasstown Bald along GA Spur 180.
To begin your journey from Blairsville in Union County, go south along US 19/129 to Wolf Pen Gap Road (GA180), and turn left. Go about a mile to Richard Russell Road (GA 348) and turn right. Set your odometer to zero and begin your Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway experience. Please drive safely and have a great time.
The first Highlander Mobi GPS spot will both start and end the loop scenic byway. Points of interest will be marked by GPS for drivers and navigators convenience.
Due to occasional satellite failure, lack of technology or heavy clouding, plus mountaintop or deep valley blockage to signal towers, this Highlander mobile App will include mile setting for points of interest, including brief information regarding each point of interest. There’s additional information regarding many of these locations under ‘Points of Interest’ also located in this Blue Ridge Highlander-Union County Mobile App.
0.0 mile - Richard Russell Road at GA/180: Starting point for the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway.
9.2 mile - Logan Turnpike: The old Logan Turnpike is located in the Tesnatee Gap. The old turnpike existed before the day of motorized vehicles. Horse drawn wagons would climb up the steep southern mountain slope of the Blue Ridge Mountain Range in order to access the upper mountain interior of Union County thru the Tesnatee Gap. Located in the Gap is the trailhead for Logan Turnpike Trail. The trail winds down the southern slope to the piedmont below. Access is also available at the Gap for a section of the Appalachian Trail.
|9.7 mile - Hog Pen Gap Overlook: This overlook is by far the second finest overlook view of the rugged southern Union County’s Blue Ridge Mountains. The number one finest view is from atop Brasstown Bald, the highest mountain summit visible along the eastern horizon. Brasstown Bald will be the last point of interest on the scenic driving tour.|
|9.8 mile - Hog Pen Gap, Appalachian Trail andamp; Whitely Gap Trail: The Appalachian Trail crosses the high mountain gap here offering access to the Appalachian Trail on either side of the roadway. An information kiosk sits next to the northbound trail as well as an inscribed boulder reading ‘Appalachian Trail Hog Pen Gap.’ On the opposite of the roadway the southbound Appalachian Trail leads a short distance to Wildcat Mountai on the Whitley Gap Trail. This trail is about a mile long and leads up to Wildcat Mountain. An additional 1/2-mile along the trail leads up to Adam’s Bald.|
|10.0 mile - First Yonah Mtn., Foothills andamp; Piedmont Overlook: Just below Hog Pen Gap is a spectacular overlook and parking area. The view also looks upon the Dahlonega Gold Belt, a definite photo opportunity.
10.7 mile - Second Yonah Mtn. Foothills andamp; Piedmont Overlook: This overlook is only a short distance from the previous overlook offering nearly the same view.
12.6 mile - Eastern Overlook: This hidden overlook looks into a section of the Blue Ridge Mountain Range interior. I ran into a bear here once and another momma bear and cub around dusk. Unfortunately there’s no signage here and many of these overlooks have been growing over some.
14.2 mile - Raven Cliffs Falls Trail road access: This highly popular easy to moderate in difficulty trail is 2 1/2-miles long. Dodd’s Creek flows along the trail creating several modest waterfalls before reaching a massive vertical cliff face of about 90-feet. A split in the cliff face is where the creek exited the cliff forming Raven Cliff Falls. A right turn onto Forest Service Road 244 will take you a short walk to the Raven Cliffs Falls Trail parking area. This side trip will throw your odometer trip miles off if chosen.
|14.2 mile - Lower Duke’s Creek Falls Trail road access: The Forest Service Road 244 will take you a short walk to the Raven Cliffs Falls Trail parking area, where Duke’s Creek Falls Trail is located. The trail to the falls is about a mile long leading to the bottom of the 250-foot tall waterfall. This side trip will throw your odometer trip miles off if chosen.
15.1 mile - Upper Duke’s Creek Falls Overlook: The short hike to the waterfall’s overlook observation deck is located along the right side of the parking area with a great view of the 250-foot tall waterfall located along a distant ridge. The parking area also has a restroom. From the restroom area there’s an overlook onto Mount Yonah and the Dahlonega Gold Belt below.
16.8 mile - Richard Russell Road at GA ALT 75: Turn left at this junction heading east, you’ve reached the lower outer slope along the Blue Ridge Mountain Range.
19.1 mile - GA/ALT/75 at GA75/17: A left turn will keep you on the scenic drive, where as a right turn will take you into the town of Helen. If you’re using an odometer, a side trip to Helen will throw off the mileage count. This northbound route along the scenic drive begins a slow climb towards the gap on Tray Mountain.
|20.5 mile - Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway Kiosk: This kiosk with a map and informational display is located north of the town of Helen, where many of the driving tours begin. Across the roadway is Spoilcane Creek.|
|21.1 mile - Andrews Cove Recreation Area: Located next to the roadway in a heavily wooded area with a stream running thru the cove, a nice place to stop and take a break. Picnic tables are available as well as a trail, restrooms and campsites.|
|28.6 mile - Tray Mountain Gap andamp; Appalachian Trail: This high mountain gap offers a nice picnic area with tables, plus a kiosk displaying a map and helpful information. The Appalachian Trail crosses the gap here and there’s a historic plaque mounted on a boulder commemorating the historic and renowned Appalachian Trail.|
|29.4 mile - Historical Plaque at GA 75/17 and GA 180: The driving tour now turns left onto GA 180 heading west. At the junction on the right side of the roadway, is a historical marker depicting an ancient Native America tale that is quite interesting to read before accessing the top of Brasstown Bald, the scenic driving tour’s next and last point of interest.|
34.8 mile - Brasstown Bald Wilderness Area: At the entrance to Brasstown Bald, GA spur 180 will take the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway to the very top of North Georgia highest mountain. It’s the most climatic point of interest along the journey, offering an unobstructed 360-degree view of Georgia’s Blue Ridge Mountains and neighboring mountain states. This spur road is paved and fairly steep, approximately 2 to 3-miles long. There are incredible views along the roadway.
40.1 mile - GA/180 at Richard Russell Road, End of the Tour: This is the byways end of the trail and a spectacular driving experience.
For an equally great scenic driving tour continue on to another neighboring Highlander favorite driving tour, the Woody Gap to Neel’s Gap Scenic Driving Tour. These 2-loop tours combined, create a figure 8, and are approximately the same length.