Hiking in a Haunted Forest: Dawson Forest in North Georgia

We had gorgeous weather here in Georgia this weekend. After lots of cold and cloudy days, it was a relief to have a beautiful, sunny Saturday with temperatures nearing 60. My family and I have taken up the sport of kayaking after a good family friend showed us what great fun it is. We are not river kayakers. That sort of thing can get you killed if you don’t know what you are doing. We generally just paddle around in some of the lakes nearby. We haven’t been kayaking for a couple of months since it has been so cold. It’s still too cold to kayak, with the water in the 40s, but it’s not too cold for hiking. With this in mind, we planned a hike for Saturday afternoon.

I have a great book called “60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Atlanta.” I believe there are other books with this same title for other cities in the U.S. I bought this a few years ago, and we’ve done many hikes in the book. We pulled the book off the shelf Friday night to flip through and choose a hike for Saturday. We wanted to do a hike we hadn’t done before. My husband found a page that I had marked with a highlighter pen. It was the Amicalola River hike. We have been to Amicalola State Park several times to hike up to the falls. This is not the same hike, and the trail is located in Dawson Forest, not in the State Park. The guide book said that this is a really good trail, so we loaded up the van with our kids and a good friend and headed up to Dawsonville.

As far as hikes go, this is not the most scenic of hikes. I think we may have possibly done the hike in the wrong direction. We started at the river and came upon the amazing Edge of the World rapids. It’s an appropriate name because the river goes from relatively smooth to tumbling over some major rocks to create a beautiful wild rapids. I’m sure if you were in a kayak or a canoe, it would look like you were toppling off the edge of the world. The rapids are scenic, but it’s generally best to save the best scenery for last on a hike so that you feel that you walked all that way for something spectacular, but this was our first sight. The rest of the hike is through a forest over rolling terrain. There are some good views of Springer Mountain at this time of year, but I have a feeling in the springtime with the trees leafed out, it would be difficult to see.

There are little signs along the path every so often explaining points of interest, such as an old logging route, a tree with barbed wire growing through it, and a spot that is the closest to some closed down nuclear power plant, with an area of land that is still questionable on the Geiger counter. Supposedly, the trail doesn’t go into this area, but it adds to the excitement of the hike. There is also evidence of the controlled burning that is done in the forest. Many of the trees are charred on the bottoms of them. There was virtually no underbrush. I’m not sure if this is simply because it is winter, or if the latest burn cleared the area out. We also did not see much in the way of wildlife. I did see a wolf spider, and a pack of dogs with some hikers that were training them to be search and rescue dogs.

This brings me to the eerie part of the hike. When I saw the search and rescue dogs in training, it made be think of Meredith Emerson. Meredith Emerson was the hiker from Gwinnett County who was abducted from Blood Mountain on January 1 of this year and later killed by Gary Hilton. Emerson was missing until Hilton, trying to save himself from a death penalty sentence, lead police to Emerson’s decapitated body. Her body was found in Dawson Forest. The biggest lesson from this tragedy is to never hike alone, especially if you are a female.

Could it be the Dawson Forest that we were hiking in? I’m pretty sure that it was. It is a remote area. We saw only two other sets of hikers on the trail on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, although the river area was more populated.

As we were finishing our hike and the sun was starting to go behind the mountain, the temperature dropped significantly and I was very chilled. I’m not sure if my chill was more from the coolness of the air, or of the realization that we were walking in an area where a killer may have hidden his last victim. I believe Meredith Emerson was also murdered in Dawson Forest, tied to a tree by Gary Hilton and bludgeoned to death. Having such a violent and tragic thing happen only a few weeks ago in the forest where we were hiking gave the area a ghostly sensation. It is not a hike I will soon forget.

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