Ready for a close encounter with nature?

The Pinhoti Trail will put you smack dab in the middle of towering pines, wild dogwoods and soft meadows glowing with the late afternoon sun. The name itself -- Pinhoti -- means the "Turkey's Home" in Creek Indian, so chances are you'll see, or at least hear, a few fine feathered gobblers when you're on the trail.

A portion of the 300 plus-mile long premier long distance hiking trail (it starts in Gilmer County, Ga and ends near Sylacauga, Ala.) is located right here in Polk County in the Santa Claus Mountain area.

To get to the Santa Claus trailhead, follow Georgia Highway 100 south for 4.2 miles. Turn left on dirt road (Santa Claus Road) and proceed 0.5 miles to trailhead (4.7 miles total). The trailhead offers limited parking.

Contributed photos by Ryan White

This is not the Silver Comet Trail. Pinhoti offers a much more rugged outdoor adventure. The clear cut trails, often paved with Mother Nature's asphalt -- a thick layer of leaves or pine straw -- wind through heavily wooded areas. Expect to cross a few creeks and be awed by amazing views. If you are hiking a long distance, be prepared for road walking, as many parts of the trail share high-traffic roadways.

A portion of the Pinhoti Trail in Georgia is also designated as the Great Eastern Trail. This is a long trail that is under development to link numerous existing trails such as the Pinhoti Trail in Alabama and Georgia, the Cumberland Trail in Tennessee, the Pine Mountain Trail in Kentucky and Virginia, the Allegheny Trail in West Virginia, the Tuscarora Trail in West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, the Standing Stone Trail in Pennsylvania, the Mid State Trail in Pennsylvania, and the Finger Lakes Trail in New York. When complete, the trail will run from a spur of the Florida Trail and the Alabama state line to the North Country National Scenic Trail in New York.

Long portions of the trail are along ridgelines where there is no water. Carry plenty of water when day hiking. When water sources are encountered, consider the water to need either boiling or chemical treatment before it is safe for drinking (many streams are downstream from livestock and agricultural enterprises). Water sources that are available in winter may be dry in summer and fall.

There is no cell phone coverage on several sections of the trail. You are responsible for your own safety. Carry a “survival kit” with you on your hike.

While the trail is generally well marked with either a plastic “turkey foot” blazer or a white paint blaze, it is recommended that you carry a trail map and compass and know how to use them.

For more information on the trail: