One of the places we highly recommend you see while on your visit to us for Ocoee whitewater rafting is a mountain peak called “Buck Bald”. It’s about a forty minute drive from our rafting outpost, but is well worth your time. The views from the top are spectacular. You get a 360-degree panoramic vista of the majestic peaks of Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee all from one mountain top.
Buck Bald is one of many “Bald” mountains in the Southern mountain region. The “Balds” are generally covered by native grasses or small shrubs. The reason some mountains are bald is somewhat of a mystery. Some speculation is that they were Native American ceremonial sites that had been cleared and used for so many years that trees no longer grew. Elk, deer and other large herbivores may have grazed the Balds keeping tree growth to a minimum. There are also documented cases of early settlers using the Balds for cattle grazing, which extended the life of the grassy areas. Or…maybe alien spacecraft landing sites??? Bottom line is that no one knows why some mountains are bald while others are covered in trees, but we are glad to have the views!
To reach Buck Bald from our Ocoee River Outpost, you turn left out of our driveway going east on Highway 64. In two miles, at Ducktown, take Highway 68 north from the major intersection. (Set you odometer here) At about 9 miles you take a left to stay on Highway 68, the right is Highway 123. (There is an Interstate 75 sign pointing left as well.) After the turn, you will cross the Upper Hiwassee River bridge in about 4 miles (odo. mile 13) and then Highway 68 takes a left curve by the Hiwassee and then starts maneuvering around the west side of Buck Bald mountain. In another five miles (odo. mile 18), you will see a sign for the Monroe County line. Take the next right (.1 mile) which is a rough paved road for a half mile and then a Forest Service gravel road and head for the top. After about two miles (odo. 20) and toward the top of the mountain, take a left turn onto another gravel road which leads about .8 miles to the mountain top. There is a parking lot and steps up to the grassy area.
You almost feel as if you were in the clouds from the top of Buck Bald. To the north and east are the Nantahala and Yellow Creek mountains of North Carolina. To the South are the North Georgia mountains around Blairsville, Blue Ridge and Ellijay. In the west is Tennessee’s Big Frog and Little Frog wilderness areas along with Chilhowee Mountain and the Hiwassee and Ocoee River breaks; gaps where the rivers cut through the mountain chains. It is truly a site you don’t want to miss.
Buck Bald is a great place for a picnic or just to lay on a blanket under the big sky. There is a picnic table on top and a stone marker spelling “C-15” in large letters. This was to mark the Fire tower which the Forest Service maintained for many years because they could see any fires that broke out for many miles.
One of my favorite memories was the sunrise on the first day of the new millennium. My wife and I had decided to watch the first sunrise of 2000 from the top of Buck Bald. We arrived in the dark to find a couple of cars already parked. We could hear a little mumbling so we placed ourselves some ways apart to not disturb the other party. Just before the first rays peaked over the eastern mountain a melodic drum started soon followed by sacred chanting. A group of about eight Native Americans had come to honor the first sunrise. It was an unbelievable experience that I will never forget.
*Note: If you would like to hike to the top of the mountain there is a sign for the Benton MacKaye trail on Hwy 68 about a mile before you reach the Monroe County line. You can park your car in the small lot there and hike up. Trail intersects the Forest Service road toward the top and you proceed straight ahead up the dirt road to the top. (roughly two miles to the top 4 miles round trip)
We’ve also linked a map of the area https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/cherokee/recarea/?recid=35050