SAWNEE MOUNTAIN HIKING TRAIL GUIDE
If the Devil had known about Sawnee Mountain when he went down to Georgia, he might have given up his journey and gone for a hike instead.
Any trip through the Southeast practically necessitates a hike to the Sawnee Mountain Preserve, best known for its Indian Seats trail. It’s a vigorous trip with a great view, and the relatively short distance means you’ll be done within a few hours.
Soak up the local history of Georgia while you’re in the area, and make sure this park is something you check off your list while you’re in the neighborhood.
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Just over a half hour north of Atlanta, the Sawnee Mountain Preserve is the perfect destination for day trippers, families, and hiker of all ages and abilities. It’s a short drive from Atlanta (about 40 miles) and not far from US-19 through Cumming, Georgia.
The preserve has over 11 miles of trails to hike, and the Indian Seats Trail takes up about 4½ of those miles. It’s a lollipop loop, albeit one with a short handle and a trail route that reminds me of a dinosaur.
The Indian Seats Trail can be heavily trafficked and quite busy, but the view from the top is worth the potential crowd. And who knows, you just might meet a new friend while you’re up there.
Sawnee Mountain isn’t an especially demanding hike but it does have some steep switchbacks and over 400 feet of elevation change in a little over its 4 mile duration. Hikers of every fitness category have successfully finished this hike, so don’t be hesitant about bringing the kids along.
However, make sure you understand you can’t bring dogs anywhere onto the preserve!
The area encompassing the preserve was once inhabited by the Cherokee. They existed peacefully with the white settlers who began moving into the area. The mountain and preserve gets its name from a Cherokee man who helped early settlers acclimate to the area and make it their home.
In the 1830’s gold was discovered in Georgia, and the removal of the native peoples came soon after. For the history buffs out there, Cumming, Georgia is not the location of the Trail of Tears location Fort Cumming.
The surrounding area has suffered urbanization and deforestation, but the lands of the preserve itself have been protected for future generations.
You’ll find the entrance for the preserve in the town of Cumming, Georgia. The park offers over 900 acres of protected space, and a long list of activities is sure to offer something for everyone. And, of course, the Indian Seats Trail is an awesome hike to tackle while you’re in the preserve.
Because all hikes are located in the preserve, visitors must abide by the hours of operation. The park is open daily, but its hours are affected seasonally. From November to February the park is open from 6AM to 7PM. From March to October it is open from 6AM to 9:30PM.
Although many folks are at there to hike the Indian Seats Trail, the Sawnee Mountain Preserve offers picnic tables, an outdoor amphitheater, and an assortment of activities for visitors. Tree and rock climbing opportunities are available, and a guided tour through the preserve led by a naturalist helps guests and hikers further understand the biodiversity of the park.
Your goal is to reach the visitor center. From GA-19, take exit 17 and turn right onto GA-306. Continue for about .3 miles and turn right onto State Barn Road. Drive for .5 miles and make a sharp right onto GA-9 North, driving for .4 miles.
Make a left onto Spot Road and drive for about 2.5 miles, then turn left at Twin Lakes Road and into the visitor center parking lot.
Every period of the year has something to offer at the preserve. Sunsets are excellent from the peak of Sawnee Mountain (it faces northwest) and the preserve’s extended summer hours help make sure you can witness a few nice sunsets.
During leaf season the park becomes exceptionally photogenic. Hikes to the peak provide exceptional views of the surrounding forests, and if you catch a sunset at this time of year it’s gonna blow your mind.
The only thing to consider about when to visit is the hours the park is open. There’s no time of year that’s better than another, but during the winter months the park observes shorter operating hours. It’s easy to fit in a full day of activities and not feel chased out the gates!
Most trailheads are found at or nearby the visitor center making navigation a breeze. Trail maps are available the visitor center for any questions you have when on the trail.
The route to reach the summit of Sawnee Mountain begins behind the visitor center at the preserve.
It’s an easy walk to find the trail called the Indian Seats Trail. Here you’ll hang a left, but don’t forget to pace yourself! This section of the trail begins climbing immediately skyward. Feel free to take your time and catch a break as needed.
Trail runners will be delighted to find this immediate ascent; no messing around here on Sawnee Mountain, these trails get right to business.
A short distance past the one-mile mark of the trail you’ll find the entrance to an old gold mine. Before you get excited to start gold panning, understand that the mine is locked and off-limits. This mine access is a very real and permanent reminder of the history of the region.
At 1.9 miles into the hike you’ll find yourself standing (or sitting) at the Indian Seats. These are natural depressions made in the stone and serve as a perfect resting point, lunch spot, or place to reflect and take it all in.
According to legend that’s just what the Cherokee would do on these mountains. The sitting areas were for meditation and ceremony, yet another reminder of the long history this region has experienced.
In the distance you can see the Blue Ridge Mountains to the north. As you soak in the view in the company of some knotty and lonely pines, I dare you not to start humming along to John Denver’s “Country Roads”.
Five bucks says you can’t do it.
When you’re ready to soldier on, continue on the trail. The footpath will lazily swing around the mountain base and pass over a few humps on the mountain before turning north and sending you back on your way to the visitor center.
Because it’s a pretty straight-forward and popular trail you won’t need excessive hiking gear. Still, it’s better to have something and not need it than to need it and not have it, so bring along the following basic equipment:
A guidebook on this and other Georgia hikes can be invaluable when planning a trip, or when you’re just looking for something to do on your weekend.
The Sawnee Preserve Visitor Center website offers plenty of additional information on exactly what programs are offered and has a full listing of summer classes.Camping nearby? Give the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests a try. They’re about an hour and a half from the Sawnee Mountain Preserve, but are excellent locations for dispersed camping.
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Matt was reared by the bear and the bobcat and the coyote of rural Pennsylvania. For the moment he lives in Philadelphia and is a gardener and freelance writer by trade. Matt's free time is devoted to traipsing through forests, angling in creeks, and hunting for rare plants and mushrooms. He's got a soft spot for reading Steinbeck while in the outdoors and is quickly becoming a die-hard hammock camper. Matt is fueled almost entirely by beer and hot sauce.
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