Hike To Toccoa River Swinging Bridge
With the reopening of so many trails and access points I decided to break away from home the last weekend in May for a flash trip to north Georgia. The weather guessers on TV said the chance of rain was low and the temperatures weren’t supposed to be brutal, so I grabbed the tent and camping supplies early on Friday, May 29, 2020 and headed out.
I drove toward Blue Ridge, Georgia with the hope that an early arrival would allow me to claim one of the “first come, first get” campsites. There are only seven. I pulled into the campground at 11 a.m. The place looked packed. Standing at the check-in board, the camp hosts notices my confusion as I search to try to determine if anything is still available. “We have one site open, No. 35. You want it?” Whew.
I quickly set up my tent, paid for my site and pulled out my phone to find a trail. By now you probably know I’m a fan of the AllTrails app. You can search for specific trails, you can search in a city where you’re headed, and it will show you trails near your current location.
After reviewing several I settled on the Benton MacKaye and Duncan Ridge National Recreation Trail: Morganton Highway to Toccoa River Bridge; 6.9 mile moderately trafficked out and back trail. Rated as moderate and mostly used for hiking, running and camping. Plugged the details into my GPS, and I was off.
The trail head is about 10 miles outside of Morganton on Highway 60, known locally as Morganton Highway. When you arrive at the FS road, you’ll find some limited parking right there on Highway 60 where the trail crosses the road. You’ll find the trailhead on your left at the start of the gravel FS road.
From the start this trail is full of elevation gain. I’d been proud of my efforts over the previous month, and the reviews warning me about the first mile didn’t phase me. Heck I’d been doing 5.9 miles every single day. I was ready. I guess it was at about the .3 mile mark when I thought “dang it man, what are you thinking.” I’m not saying you should stay away. I’m just telling you to be prepared. Don’t be in a hurry. You’re headed upward for the first .9 miles of the trek. It’s steady.
Once you get that first mile completed, and you’ve caught your breath again, you’ll find yourself walking a ridge line with peeks of mountains on your left and right. The trees were full of leaves, but I can imagine the views are spectacular in late fall and winter. It’s easy hiking at this point. It was also the first time I had cell service since I was on Morganton Highway 8 miles from the trail head.
At about the 2-mile mark the forest begins to gradually open up. Fewer trees, less underbrush on the ground and the trail widens a good bit. You’re leaving that elevation behind as you make your way down toward the river, a little over halfway to the bridge.
The trail continues to steadily lose elevation from here. The pines are spread out allowing a better view for wildlife. It was mostly squirrels and a few birds, but peaceful and quiet. I did come across a fallen tree that looked like a gator. Well, to me anyway. As a UGA grad I can spot a gator from a long way off.
Eventually the trail arrives at a merge point with the trailhead that comes from the parking area at the end of the FS road. That was the second time I’d seen people during my hike. Not overly crowded, but it was obvious that most folks preferred a short 0.2 mile hike to the river.
I must say I was really surprised how I felt when I finally arrived at the river. I do love the payoff of a hidden waterfall or a boulder field in the middle of the woods. Mother nature designed stuff. But this swinging bridge was something else. I’m not engineer, but I stood there pondering the effort it took to build this structure. Made me proud that funds were dedicated to make it possible. It’s a 270-foot swinging bridge. Longest stretch east of the Mississippi river—right here in Georgia crossing the Toccoa River.
After crossing the bridge I strolled the river bank and found a log in the sun. There were a few campers set up. Four or five people fishing and a few young boys waist deep throwing a football. It was the perfect place to eat that ham and cheese sandwich I made on the trunk of my car back on Highway 60.
Refreshed by the views and half a bottle water, it was time to head back. My legs were tired and I was ready to say I had accomplished this trail. It did cross my mind to ask someone if I could ride their tailgate down that gravel road to my car, but I decided against giving in. Instead I set off for the round two.
I had hit the record button on the AllTrails app when I began my hike. When I arrived back to my vehicle, the stats showed 7.6 miles, 1,240 feet elevation gain and total moving time of 2 hours 41 minutes. Average pace 21:12 minutes per mile. Hey, I felt great about that seeing my first mile took 24:50!
A visit to the bridge should be on your list the next time you find yourself up in the Blue Ridge or Suches area. If you aren’t up for the long hike, take the FS road to the end. It’s a short walk from that point, and it’s worth every step. Pack a picnic. Don’t be in a hurry. Soak up nature. And if you’re like me you might just consider the effort it took to design this marvel of a footbridge that was constructed back in 1977 allowing hikers to cross the river and continue their adventures on the Benton MacKaye and Duncan Ridge National Recreation Trails.
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