We arrived in Pine Mountain under a beautiful buttermilk sky with clear blue showing through. The Park office was open, so we purchased a parking permit and a map for the Pine Mountain Trail. The Trail is 23 miles long so the map is very helpful. We drove around a bit to get our bearings, amazed at the mountain views. I’m not sure why I was surprised to find that Pine Mountain was really a mountain!
Based on my friend’s recommendation, we headed for the Wolfden Loop section of the Pine Mountain Trail. On the way there, we stopped at Dowdell Knob to see the FDR statue and a stand of Georgia oak (Quercus georgiana). We found both.
From there we drove to the WJSP TV parking lot to start hiking, crossing into Meriwether County at some point (the park spans two counties). Almost immediately we were in a piney woodland and began seeing large, evergreen devilwood (Osmanthus americanus) shrubs. I searched in vain for some old fruits but never found any, only the beautiful glossy leaves were present. They were the first of many evergreen plants we’d find.
We marched along an easy, flat path and found some low wet areas. Plants here included horse sugar (Symplocos tinctoria), swamp titi (Cyrilla racemiflora), and mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia).
The horse sugar (also known as sweetleaf) was a beautiful mix of green and purple leaves. Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica) and possumhaw (Viburnum nudum) were just losing the last of their leaves, each remaining leaf patterned beautifully in mottled colors.
We came to Dry Falls and stepped through a light stream thanks to the recent rains. It was just the beginning of our steam crossings – they would only get deeper and swifter from here. As we climbed towards Big Rock Falls, it felt like you were in the mountains. Mountain laurel was thick along the trail, gurgling streams were beside it and galax (Galax urceolata) and moss were at ground level.
From there we pressed on to Slippery Rock Falls. Evidence of the recent rains was everywhere – from the high-flowing creeks to the flattened creekbanks and broken branches. It was a long way to the next point marked on the map, Cascade Falls. Here we found another evergreen, a tall sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana). We had seen a few smaller ones earlier.
There were numerous small bridges and even wooden footpaths across perennially wet areas. Clear signs mark the spots on the map. I look forward to going back again one day, perhaps in a different season, to explore more of the trail and the park.