|Trail Length: 5.7 miles||Type of trail: Loop|
|County: Bartow County, GA||Our rating: Moderate|
|Features: visitors center, lake, fishing, bathrooms||Your rating:|
|Usage: Light||Added on: October 18, 2014|
|Last hiked: December 00, 0000||Updated on: October 19, 2014|
|About these ratings|
Hiking trails in Bartow County, GA
Red Top Mountain State Park lies on a peninsula of land that was slated to be part of I-75, but local residents strongly objected to the destruction of this beautiful area, so the state and federal governments rerouted I-75 to the west and preserved the state park. The name Red Top comes from the presence of iron in the Georgia clay. Today, in addition to 12 miles of hiking trails including the Iron Mine Trail, the 1,562 acre park contains a lodge and conference center, camping and RV sites, a beach (in season), boating dock, picnicking and group shelters.
Homestead Trail begins in front of the visitor’s center, coming off on the left as you approach the building. A few steps down the path a trailhead kiosk provides information about the park and some of the animals you may see on the journey. The pathway quickly passes a ranger residence and side trail to a group shelter, both on the left hand side of the path as it continues to drop into a valley through a good deal of southern pine beetle damage. Just short of 0.4 miles the Sweet Gum Trail comes off to the right at a marked intersection.
Between the visitor’s center and the road to the lodge the Sweet Gum Trail and Homestead Trail run parallel, normally separated by a valley, but for 200 feet here they share the path. The Sweet Gum Trail bears right at a sign that simply says “Lodge.” Once the Sweet Gum Trail leaves, the Homestead Trail makes a U-turn, rises at an easy-to-moderate pace, and then makes a second U-turn. As the treadway follows the curve of the hill around to the left it begins to sport an orange blaze and is interpreted. Just past a boardwalk over a wet area, the footpath makes an easy climb to Lodge Road, which it crosses. Just after the road a second lodge trail comes off to the right as the Homestead Trail descends to the start of the loop.
The loop can be hiked in either direction, but we chose to walk it counter-clockwise because a small hiker sign had an arrow pointing that way. Skirting a valley on the right, the treadway passes the lodge’s waste water treatment plant, which is on the right-hand side of the path. Watch for an area of impressive sweet gum trees near the plant. The sweet gum tree was important to the Cherokee that inhabited the area before the settlers moved in. They used the hardened resin of the tree as a “chewing gum,” and they boiled the fruits and leaves to make a tea with medicinal properties. They would also mix the gum with beef tallow to create a salve for wounds.
A tributary of the Etowah River forms on the right as the trail makes an easy descent. The valley begins to widen and the number of rock outcroppings increase, but the trail curves left and heads away from the creek. As the path turns right it crosses a bridge, then returns to the tributary which now has taken on the appearance of a dry lake bottom. When Lake Allatoona is full, this should be a shallow arm.
As you continue around the side of the mountain to the left Lake Allatoona comes into full view at 1.4 miles. Proposed in the 1930’s, construction of Lake Allatoona began in 1941, only to be delayed by World War II. Built as a watershed lake, Allatoona is designed to hold back the waters of the Etowah River that flooded the city of Rome, Georgia on a regular basis. During the fall and winter, when rainfall is at its lowest, the lake is partially drained. Spring rains fill the lake instead of the relatively flat land of the Etowah River Valley. In 1947, only months before the dam was complete, the Etowah flooded for the last time.
Coming out on the first peninsula at 1.6 miles the Homestead Trail curves easily to the left. Returning to a cove the pathway crosses a rivulet on a wooden bridge and then returns down another finger of the lake. This is a pattern that will be repeated throughout the lake portion of the hike. About halfway through the second peninsula there are a number of rock outcroppings and the number and size of nearby boulders increases. A few feet past the 2.0 mile marker a trail on the right drops down a moderate slope to the lakeshore. After this side trail, the main trail turns into a cove, makes another u-turn and returning to the lake.
Now making an extended run alongside but above the lake the trail curves easily to the left and begins to climb away from the lake. At 2.7 miles a blue-blazed trail comes off the Homestead Trail on the right, running towards the lake. This is the final access point to the lake on the pathway. Running inland the trail begins an easy-to-moderate up and down pattern, normally climbing 50 or so feet before falling about the same amount. As the trail climbs to 3.5 miles a blue-blazed trail comes off to the left. A few steps later the Homestead Trail curves right and begins to descend into a valley. The treadway also becomes somewhat rocky for the first time. As it begins climbing, the Homestead Trail winds to the left, rising and straightening as it nears the top of the mountain.
Watch on the left and you will see the trail you had been walking on below. From this point the trail makes an easy return to the start of the loop. Turn right and continue down the trail to the second intersection with the Sweet Gum Trail at 4.9 miles. The Homestead Trail curves to the right as the Sweet Gum Trail goes straight before bearing to the bearing to the left, then it parallels the Homestead Trail on the other side of a valley. At 5.2 miles the Sweet Gum Trail reaches a four-way intersection. Turn left onto the Visitors Center loop. This easy return trail is a slightly longer return route to the Red Top Mountain Visitors Center parking lot. After it curves around to an overlook the trail continues a moderate climb through a boulder field to Red Top Mountain Road. Turn right and return to the trailhead parking lot.