This 6.5-mile section of Hickory Creek Trail begins at its northeastern trailhead located at the end of FS51 and winds itself southwest to the Conasauga River and Bray Field. The trail fords the Conasauga River to reach Bray Field. The trail described here will stop at Bray Field.
The northeastern Hickory Creek Trailhead located at the end of FS51 is also home to the East Cowpen Trail northern terminus and Rice Camp Trailhead. The trail for East Cowpen and Hickory Creek begin at the same spot. The East Cowpen Trail (Old GA2) goes left and to the south and Hickory Creek goes right and to the southwest.
Hickory Creek Trail is unlike the other 4 trails in the Conasauga River Watershed. There are no major changes in elevation or frequent river crossings. It does have its share of water crossings but most are small creeks. And it does have its share of short inclines and declines but nothing like the elevation changes on the ridge trails.
The trail starts off on a wide roadbed which quickly becomes a footpath in warmer weather. It hugs the left side of a slope winding to the southwest and is level until it comes to the Chattahoochee National Forest-Cohutta Wilderness Trail Sign on the right at the 0.9-mile mark. From here the trail begins its pattern of descending, crossing a small creek, and ascending.
From the sign, the trail swings around the slope until it is on the south side and begins descending where a tributary of Hickory Creek comes into view below the trail on the right. The trail crosses above the tributary flowing through a culvert at mile 1.1. The trail continues to the opposite slope hugging its right side above the tributary.
Now the trail swings back hard to the east with the steep slope still on its left. The trail continues to the east climbing to the top of the slope before descending slightly again and to the right crossing over another tributary of Hickory Creek running below it in a culvert at mile 1.3. And like the last crossing, the trail continues to the opposite side again with the steep slope on its left and continues west around the slope while climbing in elevation.
After swinging around the slope to the east it travels south for .5 miles crossing another culvert at mile 1.8 before turning west and traveling around another medium grade slope on its left. After coming around this slope the trail begins winding its way south through the forest 1.1 miles until it descends and crosses Hickory Creek at mile 2.9.
After crossing Hickory Creek the trail continues winding south rising on a slope over 100 feet and just as fast descending back down slightly to another tributary of Hickory Creek crossing it at mile 3.1.
The trail continues winding to the southwest descending into some idyllic coves before crossing the last tributary of Hickory Creek at mile 3.5. After crossing this last tributary of Hickory Creek the trail becomes fairly level and continues on a plateau winding through the forest passing a spring on the right.
After passing the spring the trail continues to the south for another .5 miles crossing the North Fork of Thomas Creek at mile 4.3.
After crossing the North Fork the trail makes a short sharp ascent and then turns left(east) descending slightly crossing a small tributary of North Fork during the wet season and ascending back up with a small slope on its right. From here the trail enters what appears to be a small creek bed and literally it becomes the trail for approximately 1/4 mile before ascending up to the top of a small slope and descending slightly to the right into a pleasing hardwood-pine forest and a campsite next to Thomas Creek at mile 5.2. Warning! The trail can be tricky to find here since it is hidden by brush. You need to cross Thomas Creek at the campsite.
After crossing Thomas Creek the trail begins winding to the southwest on rolling terrain reaching the high point of the trail at mile 5.6. From here the trail descends crossing a final small creek at mile 6.1 before arriving at the Conasauga River and Bray Field at mile 6.5. To reach Bray Field requires fording the river which is easy since the current is calm here. This last section of the trail from Thomas Creek to the Conasauga River is 1.3 miles. It is wide and moderately maintained making for a pleasant hike.
At Bray Field, there are numerous opportunities. Some backpackers set up base camp at Bray Field and will day hike numerous trails throughout the wilderness. The trails immediate and near to Bray Field are Tearbritches(Strenuous), Conasauga River(Upstream or Downstream), Panther Creek(Panther Creek Falls) and the continuation of Hickory Creek Trail.
As described the Hickory Creek Trail must ford the Conasauga River to reach Bray Field. The river may be knee to thigh deep during the wet season but is calm and easy to ford.
Hickory Creek Trail continues west from Bray Field before turning north sharing the same pathway with the Conasauga River Trail for 1.3 miles before it detours from the Conasauga River Trail and continues to the west following Rough Creek for a distance and ending at its western (high elevation) trailhead at the end of FS630 which is 3.2 miles from Bray Field.
The section of Hickory Creek Trail from Bray Field to its FS51 terminus is probably used more as an interior trail than an Out & Back (Even though it is one of the easier Out & Backs due to minimal elevation change). I've encountered several backpackers using the trail to head northeast to its trail terminus and from there continue into the Jacks River Watershed via Rice Camp or Hickory Ridge or stay on top of Cohutta Mountain via East Cowpen.
Cisco, GA Access: From Eton, GA (one-red-light town) go north on Hwy 411 for 8.8 miles to Cisco and GA2. Take a right onto Old Hwy GA2. The road is paved for the first 1.8 miles. At mile 3.1 you will come to the West Cowpen Check Station on your left and the first road intersection. FS17 goes right. Continue straight on FS16.
At mile 7.5 there is another intersection. If you continue left then the road will take you to Iron Mountain and Jacks River Trailheads. Instead turn right on FS51. There is a road sign pointing you in the right direction which is shown immediately below in the image gallery.
After taking a right on FS51 the road literally crosses two small creeks at mile 9.4 and mile 9.5. The crossing is not a problem even for a small car unless there has been significant rain. The way to drive across the ford is slow and steady (don't stop for pic lol). The stream crossing on FS 51 just adds to the wilderness experience.
After crossing the creeks the road continues another 0.6 miles passing the trailhead for Horseshoe Bend on the left. It does not have a road sign.
Continue another 2.1 miles to the end of FS51 where you will find the Rice Camp Trailhead, the northern terminus of East Cowpen Trail, and the northeastern terminus of Hickory Creek Trail.
Total distance from Hwy 411: 12.2 miles. Have Fun!
|Hickory Creek FS51|
|Out & Back:||13.0 m|
|Hiking In:||Easy to Moderate|
|Hiking Out:||Easy to Moderate|
|FS51 Trailhead:||1,821 feet|
|Hickory Creek:||1,703 feet|
|North Fork-Thomas Creek:||1,955 feet|
|Thomas Creek:||2,051 feet|
|Bray Field:||1,920 feet|
|Trail Junction:||Conasauga River, Tearbritches|
|Features:||Conasauga River, Bray Field|
|4 - Trail Interior Junction|