Bell Mountain, Georgia: Everything you Need To Know
Have you ever seen a place that seems wrong.. but also kind of right? That basically sums up Bell Mountain in Georgia.. plus a few miles of spectacular views!! As enthusiastic supporters of leave no trace policies and practices, it’s hard for us to imagine that spray painting was ever allowed in such a gorgeous spot. It’s also hard to think that we could see the beauty in a place with so much graffiti..? Even so, there’s no denying that Bell Mountain is one of the most stunning sites in North Georgia.
In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about Bell Mountain. Directions on how to get there, how this mountain came to be protected and what to expect once you take the potentially perilous journey to the top. (We’re kidding! It’s not that bad! You’ll just have to pay attention!)
The History Of Bell Mountain
A little history of Bell Mountain is so important to understand the beauty of this place.
Georiga itself became a state in 1788. Starting in 1805 and continuing through 1833, land-lotteries took place that sold its land to farmers and in some cases larger ‘corporations’. It was during this time that the North Georgia mountains also experienced a gold rush!
Most people have been taught that ‘The Gold Rush’ was when people traveled West to California from 1848-1855. It’s almost unheard of that Georgia had its own little gold rush!!
Georgia’s gold rush started in Caroll County in 1829. In Carroll County (Northern Georgia), finding land became almost impossible, and the surrounding counties started to become more populated.
Set against the backdrop of the Appalachian Mountains, you can imagine what a sight it must have been in the 1800s. To think you’re going to find gold, all the while seeing such incredible views for miles in the dusty blue hills of the Appalachians!
Bell Mountain’s Land
The land surrounding Bell Mountain was first drawn in a land-lottery in 1832 – three years after the North Georgia gold rush started. By this time the town of Hiawassee was starting to form as well, and the land continued to pass from one owner to the next. Bell Mountain was first written about as being a site worth stopping for in 1883.
“Bell Mountain is a solid mass of the most beautiful crystal rock of all shades and colors. It is often taken for marble…. We lingered for hours upon this wonderful peak of the Blue Ridge, drinking in the view and we were loath to leave it…. We will conclude this letter however, by advising all of our readers to visit Bell Rock Mountain, if they want to see what we consider the greatest curiosity in Georgia or the South.”t.L. Gantt – Newspaper editor from athens, georgia – Year: 1833
If you have a moment, you really should read the whole letter. It’s a whimsical throwback to a simpler time when humor was written in a beautiful poetic form. Jokes are made about what was considered ‘a mile’ by every different mountaineer. As the authors journeyed through the county, no one’s mile was quite the same when giving directions.
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T.L. Gantt also details the suspicions of the mountain people who made the North Georgia mountains home. He has to assure them he isn’t a tax collector when asking for directions! The letter as a whole warmed our bones on the cold cloudy morning we visited Bell Mountain. Read the letter here.
The viewing Area Today
In 2016 – the Hal Herrin Estate donated the 18 acres that makeup Bell Mountain (and accompanying road), to Towns County. It became known as the Bell Mountain Park and Historic Site, and the observation deck was dedicated to Hal Herrin.
The county added the parking area and the second set of viewing platforms which go to the actual summit of the mountain. (The observation deck that’s directly off the parking area is not at the peak of the mountain!)
How To Get To Bell Mountain
It might seem like most of the off-the-beaten-path destinations are in the middle of nowhere. While you might be right – visiting Bell Mountain was pleasantly surprising in that it was so close to a town.
Having a town close by makes it so much easier to orient yourself through the mountains. (Especially in areas where cell service is limited – and while driving through the Appalachian Mountains, you can guarantee you’ll have spotty service.)
Bell Mountain sits almost directly on the Georgia, North Carolina border. Only eleven minutes from the charming lake town of Hiawassee in Georgia – the directions are easy to follow:
- Start on US-76 E going South from Hiawassee
- Take a left (right after the Hiawassee Mayors Boat Launch, and then Public Boat Ramp Access to Lake Chatuge) onto Shake Rag Road.
- About 0.7 miles in you’ll come to a split in the road. Stay left to continue to Bell Mountain
- Drive 1.6 miles to the top or about 1.5 miles to the first parking lot.
The Drive To The Top
The drive up the hill of Bell Mountain is what some might call ‘sketchy’. Not for the people or the area – but simply because the roads are very narrow! If you’ve never driven on mountain roads or you’re a timid driver – we highly recommend having someone help you. Just remember that this journey is most certainly worth it!
You’ll pass homes and rolling hills that slope gently away from the mountain reminding you that you’re nowhere near the top before you get to your first turn. After you take our first left turn – the roads become a bit more unsettling. The roads start to feel like you’re going at about a 30-degree angle, but don’t worry! You will be fine!
When you’re close to the top, you’ll see the first parking lot. There are ominously foreboding signs that say ‘drive on the footpath at your own risk’ and many chose to stop and park here. You can drive that last 300 feet to the top or walk. We drove and our Ford Fusion Hybrid didn’t like it but we made it just fine!
There is a pretty big parking lot up top, and you’ll have plenty of space to turn around and drive back down.
Address: 900 Bell Mountain Park Rd. Hiawassee GA 30546
Hours: Monday through Sunday 6 AM – 11 PM
What To Expect When You Get There
We’d like to mention first and foremost that if you drive your car all the way to the top – the epic scenery from Bell Mountain is handicap accessible! The flat parking lot combined with a lower viewing deck makes it easy for someone in a wheelchair or walker. (If you’re taking an elderly parent or grandparent they may still need a little help navigating any small incline!)
- The parking lot level viewing deck of Bell Mountain only has views of the West side of the mountain. Even though you’re not getting the full 360-degree experience, we would argue that you’re not missing out on much.
The big thing to prepare yourself for is the intense amount of graffiti. It’s on quite literally.. everything.
After the top of the mountain had basically already been destroyed by trying to mine white quartz.. people made something beautiful out of a place where so much was damaged.
The shock factor at seeing the top of a mountain look like this is jarring at first. (Especially more so if you’re an avid hiker!) Typically we see graffiti and condemn it when it’s out in nature. Once you get past your initial shock, there’s something beautiful about this place that we just couldn’t quite put our finger on.
The Upper Viewing Decks
The upper decks are accessible by multiple winding staircases. 300 steps are required to reach the top.
While we don’t think you need a full hiking day bag to get here, you will want to take some water. Regardless of whether it’s hot or not, the elevation of Bell Mountain is 3,424 feet. That means that you and the bald eagles are both struggling to breathe!! (Just kidding about the bald eagles – but you can go bald-eagle watching them from all viewing areas!)
P.S. Remember that Georgia is in the South and very hot and humid – so you need to make sure you drink a ton of water. And if it’s closer to winter – remember that even though you’re in the South – you’ll be freezing up on top of the mountain. Make sure you pack layers.
After you reach the crest of the mountain – there are two separate viewing decks. One facing North and one facing South of the mountain with a tree in the middle. This was our favorite part – climbing up to the very top and walking around. You almost feel like you can reach out and touch the clouds, and yet you’re still so far above everything!
It’s also incredibly quiet and peaceful. If you need a place to think – this is your spot! Also highly recommend going here if you’re on your way out of town as a relaxing way to end your vacation. (As we all know – sometimes you need a vacation from your vacation before heading back to real life. Visiting Bell Mountain is about as close as you’ll come if you’re short on time!)
The View From Bell Mountain
Whether you stop at the parking area observation point or you get to the top, the views are incredible! From the Hal Herrin Observation deck, you’ll get unobstructed views of Chatuge Lake to the west. When you climb to the top, you can still see Chatuge Lake, but you’ll also see the Appalachian Mountains to the east.
The Bell Mountain Controversy Today
As we mentioned at the beginning of this article – there is a ton of graffiti on the mountains. Whatever your personal views are, the controversy surrounding the addition of the decks and the continued graffiti is a hot-button subject. To respect the locals and their town, please make sure to follow the rules!
By the rules.. we mean the clearly posted signs that explicitly state where you’re not allowed to spray paint. Yes.. you are actively allowed to spray paint in some areas, but the rest is under video surveillance. Specifically, the managers of the site don’t want the railings, stairs, and plaques painted.
We aren’t fans of promoting spray painting, so we didn’t do it and we’re not encouraging you to either! Just know that if you go and spray paint – you do so at your own risk!
What To Do Around Bell Mountain
When you’re done with or perhaps before you visit Bell Mountain, take some time to explore the quaint mountain town of Hiawassee!! As we mentioned before, the lake you see from Bell Mountain is Chatuge Lake. As one of the most beautiful lakes in the South, take a day to explore the lake!
You can also explore waterfalls like the 300-foot tall High Shoals Falls, or visit a local brewery! Here are a few must-try restaurants in the area:
- The Oaks Lakeside Kitchen – Located in the Ridges Resort
- Sundance Grill – For amazing breakfast options all through the afternoon! Great if you’re getting up to see sunrise at Bell Mountain.
- Hiawassee Brew – If you’re looking for that perfect hangout with bar games, live music and delicious brews – Hiawassee Brew is your spot! (Also only a few moments from Shake Rag Road where you have to turn left to go up to Bell Mountain.)
Where To Stay
With the best part of Hiawassee being its local feel – make sure to stay somewhere local and support the town! A few local favorites are:
- The Ridges Resort on Lake Chatuge – A high end luxury stay.
- The Retreat at Hiwassee River – For a more rustic cabin feel.
- Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds Campground – River view campground.
If you’re going during lake season, make sure you book in advance! Hiawassee is a popular getaway in North Georgia that books up fast!!
The Best Time To Visit Bell Mountain
We were told by two different groups of people to see Bell Mountain on our trip. First by a sweet elderly couple behind us in line at a restaurant, and the second by another group of hikers out of Atlanta. Both groups said that in order to get the best views – go on a semi-cloudy morning.
You’ll also want to remember that the best time to go, in our opinion, is sunrise. If you go at sunset – driving down the unfamiliar road that leads back to Hiawassee may be difficult in the dark!! (Especially since the road is still the same incline as when you drove up!!)
Whether you decide to brave sunset, or if you decide to go at sunrise, you’ll be rewarded with a twinkly glow of Hiawassee at twilight! The other incredible sight to see at either sunrise or sunset is the glow of the sky rising or setting behind the mountains.
- Watch The Weather: You’ll also need to be mindful of the weather. In inclement weather, the gate to the top may be closed. Not to mention that driving here during any kind of icy conditions would be very difficult!
If you’re going during daylight hours, you’ll be rewarded with unobstructed views of Chatuge Lake to the west or the Appalachian Mountains to the east.
A Note For Photographers
If you’re trying to get to Bell Mountain when there are clouds – almost every morning there is some sort of cloud cover over the valley. If you want to photograph the mountain at sunset – make sure you’re tripod has an anchor point.
- We love this Peak Tripod for hanging our bags on! (It also works well with our Peak camera clip to hook your camera onto your backpack! Being hands-free makes it easier to climb all 300 stairs!!)
Get our guide to Hiking Daypack Essentials here!
The wind on top of the mountain from the most unobstructed views will knock your tripod over if you’re not careful! You’ll also want to go on a weekday or early morning for the most private experience! Nothing like having a million people in your photos right?
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Until next time friends,