Keown Falls & Johns Mountain are located in Northwest Georgia as part of the Chattahoochee National Forest. From Atlanta, it’s an hour or so north on Interstate 75, near Villanow, Georgia. The weather was just a tad on the chilly side at first, which we came to appreciate once we were underway.
The Keown Falls trailhead is typical for Georgia park trails (approach road, gravel lot, parking drop box) except for three rather nice features; a clean, if very basic, restroom, an open A-Frame rain shelter and a well-marked, stone-lined approach trail. There is a water pump of drinkable water here as well. Its obvious from the first that Keown Falls has its share of local regulars but I was pleased that the impact (with one notable exception) was only moderate.
A note about most Georgia mountain falls first though. Most appear to be highly seasonable, runs dry many times and often they are only light cascades at their best. Still, I was very pleased with the general atmosphere and visual appeal of the site. The first leg of the trail is about 1 mile, ending at the Keown Falls overlook deck. I’d say this is a light hike suitable for anyone in regular health and supervised children. It is not handicap accessible, however. We met a few folks on this leg, all of whom were friendly and informative. From the deck area, hikers may choose the lower trail which loops back to the beginning of Keown Trail or the upper trail which crosses the Johns Mountain and Tihoti (sp?) trails within sight of the overlook deck. We decided to shoot for the “Ridge & Valley” overlook farther on and took the Johns Mountain Trail.
The Johns Mountain Trail from Keown is fairly inclined, employing a few switchbacks at the steepest parts until you reach the ridgeline itself. After this point, the incline is minimal but the trail is a bit feral (autumn leaf litter and scrub growth) and you’ll have to keep your eyes open for the white blazes which blend nicely with the white lichen. However, as long as you remain on the ridge itself, I imagine it’s rather difficult to get truly lost (Paul assures me otherwise).
Shortly before you reach the Ridge & Valley Overlook the vegetation starts to thin and you’ll get the occasional peek of farms and fields on your left. You’ll also pass an odd shed and antenna tower. The trail opens to the Ridge and Valley observation deck; all told about 3 miles from the Keown Falls overlook. Since this deck is also reachable by a small road, we were not surprised to see a few sightseers here as well. Once again, the folks here were friendly and information and we learned that a segment of the Tihoti (sp?) Trail that passed by the deck looped back to the Keown Falls overlook we had come from. We decided to take this back rather than retrace our steps.
This section of the Tihoti Trail is very different from the Keown and Johns Mountain trails. Its wide and very well defined, maybe overly so for my tastes. It?s a deceptively steep descent and combined with soft soil, leaf litter and the occasionally obscured rock or root, we found it necessary to watch our footing. Its a little less scenic than the Johns Mountain Trail and a much shorter route back to Keown Falls, perhaps 1.5-2.0 miles. Once we returned to the Keown Falls overlook, we decided to take the lower loop trail for the final leg for variety.
This return loop goes beneath the Keown Falls and passes two smaller but attractive bluffs as well. Much to my displeasure, the second of these has been heavily defaced by graffiti with local clay. The urge to return with brushes did come to mind. After this one unpleasant sight, the trail gets down to business of descending and quickly at that. After about 1 mile we found ourselves at the trailhead. We dumped our excess water, disposed of our trash (and any the small amount we encountered along the way).
All in all, I was very pleased with this choice of dayhikes. It was close enough to be convenient and long enough to be engaging. I’d definitely recommend it in whole or segment to the light/moderate day hiker, particularly folks just starting out or getting back into shape.
- Hip pack. Nothing fancy, but to me a backpack seemed excessive (though I did envy Paul for having every conceivable possibility within arm’s reach).
- Water, two 32-ounce bottles and a camelback. Though I had plenty left over, it?s worth noting that the only unfiltered filling point on our route was at the Keown Falls trailhead.
- Clothing. Fleece pull over, it was chilly but general exertion made this unnecessary. Khaki pants, breathable shirt, well-worn pair of timberlands
- Lunch. Simple and light; fruit, bagel, cheese and moose goo (I’ll explain that another time)
- Miscellaneous. Extra pair of socks, insect repellant (of which, there were none), watch, compass, multi-tool, washcloth, very basic first aid and sunglasses.