The Bear Creek hiking trail departs the FR 241 trailhead west of Ellijay. Bear Creek spills and splashes over moss-covered, rounded boulders, tumbling in shallow whitewater pools as it cascades in small waterfalls. Sounds of the rushing creek fill the valley, and the often-moist, dirt forest floor dampens the sounds of hiking boot steps as the hike dives deeper into the valley. Above, predominantly deciduous trees tower in a tall canopy of green during spring and summer – and explode in an array of fall color when temperatures turn crisp in autumn.
The Bear Creek hiking trail begins to rise from the banks of the creek to meet a junction with the Pinhoti Trail at .15 miles. The Pinhoti, a 300 mile-long trail through Georgia and Alabama, rises sharply upward to the left; this hike keeps right to follow the Bear Creek trail along the creek’s banks. (Mountain bikes frequent the Pinhoti and Bear Creek Trails – so stay alert for cyclists on this hike. Yield to bikes by standing to the right of the trail, allowing them to pass safely on the left.)
The trail crosses several shallow side streams before reaching the first major crossing, Little Bear Creek, at .5 miles. Little Bear Creek runs shallow but wide – the creek flowing 20 feet in width. The hike cautiously crosses the creek, being mindful of the mossy boulders’ often slick surface. The trail crosses the 25-foot-wide Bear Creek at .7 miles, another shallow crossing via stepping stones. The trail ascends sharply on the opposite bank, meeting the towering Gennett Poplar tree at .9 miles.
The majestic Gennett Poplar, a giant compared to the surrounding trees, measures over 18 feet in circumference at its base. This tree, among other giants in the Bear Creek valley, were spared from logging by the valley’s landowners. (A massive, widespread deforestation took place in the Southeast during the 19th and early 20th centuries: nearly every tree in Georgia was logged at this time, irresponsibly clearing the southern Appalachian Mountains of their ancient forested beauty. Imagine Georgia’s forests filled with towering trees this size, or larger!)