Please note this as previously published on Browns Guides, but it is no longer available so we added it here in reference to our Swimming Holes post.
Pigeon Mountain and Lookout Mountain form a V, like the thumb and index finger of a person’s left hand held palm down, with Lookout being the index finger and Pigeon Mountain being the thumb. Nestled in the V shape is the Chickamauga Valley’s lovely McLemore Cove, a National Historic District. The northern tip of Pigeon Mountain lies about 3 miles west of LaFayette and stretches southwest for 10 miles, where it joins with Lookout Mountain. The mountain was named for the passenger pigeon, now extinct, which in the 1800s roosted there by the thousands.
In the 1920s and 1930s some 30 families lived on Pigeon Mountain, working small farms and perhaps making moonshine liquor. Their names have stayed behind as part of the landscape, as in Rape Gap, Ellison’s Cave, and Pettijohn’s Cave. The 1930s saw a lowering of the water table on the mountain, causing all the wells to dry up and the families to abandon their homes. The water table has yet to return to its former level.
This is an area with many natural features of exceptional value for wildlife, recreation, and historical, archeological, and educational purposes. For years it has been studied by scientists, who are still finding new and exciting plants, animals, and natural environments. Some 21 rare plants and several rare salamanders are found here. The area was leased by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources in 1969. Since that time, the state has purchased more than 13,000 acres of the mountain. The land is managed as the Crockford-Pigeon Mountain Wildlife Management Area, primarily for wildlife and the protection and enhancement of the mountain’s many natural features.
Hiking, caving, rock climbing, hang gliding, all-terrain bike riding, horseback riding, primitive camping, hunting and fishing are all outdoor activities you will find on Pigeon Mountain.
Pigeon Mountain Caves
Like Lookout Mountain, Pigeon Mountain is laced with caves that wind all through the limestone rock. There are many cave entrances on the mountain, and it is an important location for cavers throughout the Southeast. Ellison’s Cave contains two exceptionally deep pits “Fantastic Pit” at 586 feet and “Incredible Dome Pit” at 440 feet. About 13 miles of Ellison’s Cave have been explored and mapped. In fact, it is like Pigeon Mountain is a vast system of underground caverns and stream channels. Pettijohn’s Cave was first described in 1837. Approximately 6 miles of passageways in this cave have been mapped, and new passages are still being discovered. The cave has seen much more use than Ellison’s and has sustained more damage to its mineral formations.
It should be emphasized also that the underground could be an extremely dangerous area to explore for individuals unfamiliar with the skills required in caving. Caves should be explored only in the company of well-equipped, experienced cavers.
Pigeon Mountain Natural Areas
WATERFALL BRANCH: A small stream containing a scenic waterfall. Several rare plants have been recorded on the east-and-northeast-facing slopes in the vicinity of this stream, including the hairy mock-orange, hedge nettle, Alabama snow-wreath, wild hyacinth, nodding spurge, celandine poppy, and state-protected twinleaf.
BLUE HOLE: This is a large spring located at the base of the eastern slope of Pigeon Mountain. the unusual bluish color of its water, its constant 56-degree Fahrenheit temperature, and the fact that it represents a hydrological discharge of the extensive Ellison’s Cave system make this a significant feature. It is accessible by vehicle. No camping is allowed within 100 feet of the spring.
MCWHORTER, DICKSON AND HARRISBURG GULFS: These gulfs contain the important and rare Pigeon Mountain salamander, a species known from only four sites, all located along the eastern slope of Pigeon Mountain. The green salamander has also been collected from this area. Collecting prohibited except by specific permit.
SAGPONDS. These water-filled depressions formed when underlying limestone strata are dissolved by groundwater and “slumping” occurs. Many of these sagponds were as important groundwater recharge areas, slowly adding water to underground reserves. Several natural sagponds are found atop Pigeon Mountain. Some of these have been valuable to scientists who drilled through deep layers of peat, which accumulates in sagponds, and found ancient pollen samples, which enabled documentation of the vegetation that covered the area during the Ice Age.
There are two hiking trails on Pigeon Mountain: Rocktown Trail and The Pocket Trail. For detailed information on these trails, see Pigeon Mountain Hiking Trails.
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