Nature in the Cohutta Wilderness

Cohutta Wilderness

Commune with the natural world in the wilds of Georgia.

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A Word to the Wise… 

These roads may be closed, so before you depart call the USFS at 706-695-6736 for latest road conditions. See the USFS web site at www.fs.fed.us/conf/. The law of the forest is “leave no trace.” Please pack in all you will need and pack out all your trash. 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.

In Fannin County the Cohuttas rise in the west and the Blue Ridge to the south and east. The Cherokee Indians considered the Cohuttas to be the "poles of the shed," holding up the sky in this, their "Enchanted Land." Although there were no Cherokee villages within the Cohutta wilderness, Cherokees hunted the area extensively and played their own version of field hockey on the ballfields at Little Bald Mountain, today’s group camping area. The Cohutta Wildlife Management Area (WMA) encompasses 95,000 acres, 40,000 of which are within Fannin County. The Cohutta Wilderness is the largest wilderness area east of the Mississippi River, a rare and beautiful place seen by few people. The area is inhabited by black bears and wild boars, along with smaller animals like bobcats, coons and squirrels. The changing seasons bring blooms to rhododendron, mountain laurel and a profusion of wildflowers. This is a 3 hour trip through the forest without stops, but you will want to stop and enjoy the view, take a hike and picnic at beautiful Lake Conasauga.

Your vehicle needs to be in good mechanical condition with adequate fuel. Low clearance cars are generally a bad idea on these rough roads. Get a USFS Chattahoochee Forest and Cohutta Wilderness map. You may want to carry some food and drink. You will average only about 15 to 20 miles per hour on the steeper or more winding gravel Forest Service Roads. You will start from the intersection of GA Hwy 5 and the Appalachian Hwy (515) at McDonald’s and will return to the same spot. Set your odometer to zero. 

Mile 1.5 

Mercier Orchards

On the left is a 300-acre orchard which produces 25 varieties of apples, as well as sweet cherries, strawberries, blueberries, peaches and farm wines. It is Southern Living Magazine’s “favorite apple orchard,” and has the best fried apple pies in the south, guaranteed.

Mile 3.8 

Turn left onto S.R. 2. 

Mile 6.9 

McKinney Crossing 

On Fightingtown Creek. Old house on the left is well over 100 years old. Notice the old stacked stone chimney. The McKinney family ran a grist mill and had a general store across the street. Early settlements or “hollers” typically had a church, small store, school, one or more family homesteads and a post office attached to a residence. 
N 34°53.768'   W084°24.843'

Mile 7.8 

Mt. Moriah Baptist Church

On the left is one of over 100 small churches which served isolated congregations in rural settlements throughout the area. The church has been operating since 1858, but the current building was built in the 1970’s.

Mile 9.7 

Watson’s Store 

The store, on the left, is typical of the hundreds of small general merchandise stores scattered throughout the area to serve small farming communities. A store has been on this site for 150 years. 
N 34°53.824'  W084°27.291

Mile 12.7 

End of pavement - Begin mountain upgrade and gravel roads. From now on, you will have hardwood forest on both sides of the road. The most common species are black, red and white oaks, hickory, poplar, ash, sourwood and dogwood. Ahead, (13.2 miles) notice the sheer rock outcrop on the right, showing the composition of the mountains. The rocks of north Georgia are some of the oldest in the world, being estimated as between 680 and 800 million years old.
N 34°53.804'  W084°30.070'

Mile 14.0 

Watson Gap

Altitude 2,700 feet. Here the road divides, left to Lake Conasauga, right to the Ocoee River in Tennessee. Take U.S. Forest Service Road 64 toward Conasauga.
N 34°54.412'  W084°30.742'

Mile 17.2 

Dyer Gap 

Altitude 2,840. The Dyer family was a pioneer family before the area became a national forest, and they still maintain the family cemetery. Keep right at the intersection at Dyer Gap. Ahead, the diamond blaze marks identify a portion of the Benton MacKaye Trail. 
N 34°52.176'  W084°30.868'

Mile 17.9 

South Fork Trail

The trail is on your right, a 3 mile USFS Hiking Trail north to Watson Gap.

Mile 18.0 

Jacks River Fields 

This spot is on your left, marking the headwaters of the Jacks River, one of the most pristine trout streams in the Georgia mountains. Facilities include picnic tables, fee camping, and a horse park for trailers in this pretty spot.
N 34°51.813'  W084°31.208'

Mile 19.8 

Mountaintown Creek Trail 

A 5.6 mile trail south to Hills Lake Road.
N 34°52.273'  W084°32.363'

Mile 22.4 

Three Forks Mountain

On this mountaintop, you will find a Forest Service bulletin board, parking area and the East Cowpen Trail, a 7 mile hike along an abandoned roadbed, the former route of Old Hwy 2. Continue your drive left on USFS 64 toward Lake Conasauga.
N 34°52.877'  W084°33.945'

Mile 23

Mountaintown Creek Overlook 

Altitude 3,484, the overlook offers a spectacular view. 
N 34°52.387'  W084°33.994'

Mile 25.2

Betty Gap 

This trailhead for the Conasauga River Trail was named for a widow who sold meals and lodging to travelers. Many visitors to the Cohuttas are unaware that the area was heavily logged between 1915 and 1930. The Conasauga River Trail is a 13 mile easy to moderate trail which follows the Conasauga River, also one of the most beautiful rivers in the mountains. (Take care while hiking the trail, 38 river fords on the trail.)
N34°51.294'  W084°34.853'

Mile 26.6

Junction - Continue straight ahead to Lake Conasauga.
N 34°50.495'  W084°35.656'

Mile 28.6 

Chestnut Lead Trail 

A 1.8 mile easy-moderate trail, on the right. Look for spring wildflowers and old-growth hemlocks.
N 34°51.261'  W084°36.906'

Mile 30.1

Ballfield Group Camping Area 

Once the playing field for the Cherokee Indians in their own version of “field hockey.”

Mile 31

Lake Conasauga Recreation Area 

Beautiful area for camping, picnics, short hikes & swimming. Lake Conasauga, the highest lake in Georgia. 
N 34°51.649'  W084°36.157’

Return to Civilization

Restart your odometer to zero and leave the recreation area the same way you entered.

Mile 4.3 Turn right on USFS 68

Mile 5.8 Vista Point: A magnificent panoramic view

Mile 6.5 Barnes Creek Falls (Recreation Area)

Mile 7.6 Take the left fork at Holly Creek Gap, USFS 90

Mile 8.3 Leaving the Cohutta Wildlife Management Area

Mile 9.2 Begin pavement

Mile 14.6 Dead end; turn left onto GA Hwy 52 to Ellijay

Mile 19.7 Ellijay Square; continue on Hwy 52

Mile 30.7 Intersection with Appalachian Hwy 515; turn left

Mile 36.9 Original starting point

You can download a copy pf this guide in its original PDF format here.