Exploring the Rugged Bell Mountain in North Georgia

This past weekend, I went camping in the North Georgia mountains near Hiawassee, GA. Along the way, I decided to stop by a nearby attraction: Bell Mountain. 

Bell Mountain is a beautiful, ragged peak that has a storied history. Here is the description of the mountain by T. Larry Gantt in “Through the Mountains" on August 14, 1883:

This precipice is of beautiful quartz rock, reflecting in the sun all the rays of the rainbow. From the valley below the mountain appears to lean over, threatening to topple from its foundation. Houses are built immediately beneath its eaves, and can be plainly seen by persons on the summit. But in exploring this pinnacle you must be very cautious, for as we before said, you are on a very sharp and narrow ridge and a false step would seal your doom. There is a path underneath the cliff that leads into a cave in the rock called the “Devil’s Workshop,” but it is a very dangerous place to reach, as you must clamber on a narrow shelf upon hands and knees, with not a bush to cling to. In places this shelf is but a few inches wide, and inclines over the precipice alluded to above. We went part of the way and turned back, as the view will not repay one for the danger. There are other curiosities on the summit, however, equally as great. We say one place where a large quartz boulder had lodged across a passage between the rocks, forming a large room, protected on every side from rain and wind. There are several “fat-man’s squeezes,” of all sizes and shapes. But the most wonderful curiosity is a large pillar of white quartz, that stands upon the brink of a precipice, its spire towering upward. No sculptor could have hewn a more symmetrical shaft. This pillar rests upon two small pedestals and it seems that the slightest pressure would send it crashing into the valley below. But its foundation is firm, for twenty men, we are told have worked at it with prizes without throwing the stone from its balance. Bell Mountain is a solid mass of the most beautiful crystal rock of all shades and colors. It is often taken for marble. We brought away specimens showing the various shades. We lingered for hours upon this wonderful peak of the Blue Ridge, drinking in the view and 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.

More recently, in 1963, three men from nearby Murphy, North Carolina decided they could mine the top of Bell Mountain for minerals. Because of their ignorance, however, they failed in their quest and after only a short time there left a huge gaping hole on the top of the 3,400 foot knob that you can now see from miles away. The mountain has maintained this physical scar for over fifty years. 

After this mining disaster, the mountain was purchased by local resident Hal Herrin in an effort to preserve it from future abuse. The Hal Herrin Estate graciously donated the 18 acre Bell Mountain Summit to Towns County and on February 18, 2016 was formally named Bell Mountain Park and Historical Site and the observation deck erected was named and dedicated as the Hal Herrin Scenic Overlook. The scenic overlook is located at 3,424 feet above sea level. 

The location of Bell Mountain is 220 Shake Rag Rd, Hiawassee, GA 30546. To get there, take Shake Rag Road from US Highway 76 in Hiawassee for about two and a quarter miles. There is a parking lot at the top of the road. Actually, there are two parking lots: one is at the very top and there is another one 300 feet below (with warning signs that the last parking lot is up a steep incline!). Overall, the long and winding road to the top is worth it. The majority of the Shake Rag Road is very narrow and so I would NOT recommend going up this road to Bell Mountain in an RV or camper van; trucks, SUVs, and sedans are fine, though. The price of admission at the top: free.

Once you get to the top-most parking lot, it's a short walk up the stairs to see panoramic views of Lake Chatuge and the surrounding valleys.

Bell Mountain is covered in spray paint, from people's names or initials and their visit to the mountain, to more blatant graffiti. There are signs that any spray painting is prohibited and that violators would be prosecuted. However, I noticed people's initials and names from 2018, so it is apparent that people are not heeding the warnings, sadly.

A few photos I captured from the top of Bell Mountain are below.

I hgihly recommend checking out Bell Mountain if you're exploring the North Georgia area, especially near Hiawassee.