Largest wilderness east of the Mississippi.
With more than 40,000 acres in Georgia and Tennessee (where its known as Big Frog Wilderness Area), the Cohuttas comprise the largest wilderness east of the Mississippi. The Cohutta Mountains are part of the oldest known mountains in the world. They run from Fannin County northeast to the Tennessee-North Carolina border, where they are known as the Smoky Mountains, and once bordered a prehistoric ocean. It is from these mountains that the Cohutta Wilderness Area gets its name. As settlers moved west they avoided these mountains because of difficult access and scant level ground for farming. Only a few hardy Scot-Irish settlers scratched out a meager existence in this section of Appalachia.
Around 1900, the Cohuttas became one of the last areas of Georgia to be forested. Logging continued in these areas until World War II when the federal government took over management of the land. In 1976, 36,000 acres were deemed wilderness. Since that time more wilderness area has been added.
A federal designation resulting from the Wilderness Act of 1964, Wilderness Areas are set aside from Forest Service Management and allowed to return to a natural state. Activities such as logging are prohibited. Within the Cohutta Mountains are peaks that rise to 4,200 feet and more than a hundred miles of hiking trails. Within the Wilderness Area itself are 13 trails that total more than 87 miles of unusual remote hiking. Other than on the popular Jacks River Trail, it is possible to hike in this area for days during the Spring and Fall and not see other backpackers.
Two rivers (Conasauga and Jacks) flow through the Cohuttas, forming the major valleys on the east and west sides of the Wilderness Areas. In the river valleys the flora is prolific. It is not uncommon to see a wide array of plant life, thickly covering any land that gets available sunlight. As the trails climb the mountains the plants lessen, mostly because the trees block the sun.
The Fannin Chamber of Commerce Scenic Drive #2 is a drive through the Cohuttas from Hwy 2 in Fannin County to Lake Conasauga in Gilmer County. For a copy of the driving tour, see Cohutta Driving Tour.
A Word to the Wise …
Be prepared for wilderness. Some roads are rough. Please pack in all you will need and pack out all your trash. The rule of the forest is “Leave No Trace.” If you build a fire, never leave it unattended. Use good judgment when hiking, particularly around waterfalls where rocks are often wet, moss covered and slippery. If hiking during hunting season, wear a brightly colored vest. The most effective way to prevent mishaps is to adequately prepare for the trip. Knowledge of the area, weather, terrain, limitations of your body, plus common sense can help to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip.