"A wilderness...is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain."
- Wilderness Act of 1964
The 37,030 acre Cohutta Wilderness has 94.2 miles of hiking and backpacking trails. There are 15 trails spanning the wilderness ranging from ridgeline trails to trails in the valley crisscrossing rivers. In comparison, the Appalachian Trail in Georgia is 76.4 miles and requires extensive logistical preparations.
The Cohutta Wilderness continues into Tennessee where it becomes the Big Frog Wilderness. The contiguous wilderness encompasses 45,018 acres and 127 hiking miles spanning two states. Elevations range from a high of 4,224 feet atop Big Frog Mountain(Hemp Top Trail) to an elevation of 978 feet at the Alaculsy Valley Trailhead of the Jacks River Trail.
The Cohutta Wilderness is defined by its two watersheds and their namesake rivers that travel across its land. The two watersheds are divided by Cohutta Mountain rising as high as 4149 feet at Cowpen Mountain where Old Hwy 2 traversed the ridge which is now the East Cowpen Trail.
All the rainfall to the west of Cohutta Mountain flows eventually into the Conasauga River. The headwaters of the Conasauga River begin in the wilderness. It is one of the few footpaths in the Southeast that offers a hiker the opportunity to begin at its headwaters. The river gradually becomes bigger as more tributaries flow into it as the trail follows it to the northwest.
All the rainfall to the east of Cohutta Mountain flows eventually into the Jacks River. The headwaters of the Jacks River begins about 7 miles outside the wilderness so once its trail joins the river, it is flowing nicely. The Jacks River is just majestic and its trail spans the wilderness from its Dally Gap Trailhead near Blue Ridge, GA to its northwest trailhead right across the Tennessee state line in the Alaculsy Valley. This one trail has 42 river crossings. And not to be outdone the Conasauga River Trail has a respectable 38 river crossings.
It is mandatory to have a hiking pole on the Conasauga and Jacks River Trail due to all the river crossings. Some of the crossings are over solid rock and a hiking pole is essential in keeping your balance plus it makes the hike much more enjoyable.
The Cohutta Wilderness is also home to 2 of the most spectacular waterfalls in Georgia. The most popular is Jacks River Falls an 80-foot waterfall with smaller rolling falls flowing into it. The whitewater is epic after sustained rainfall.
Panther Creek Falls is located on Panther Creek Trail which is an interior trail in the western part of the wilderness. Its 70-foot waterfall is located in the heart of the wilderness. After sustained rainfall, this puny creek falls turns into a roaring whitewater cascade proven by the image above. The campsite on top of the falls is unrivaled in the State of Georgia for its tranquility and view from Sunset Bluff. If you want a wilderness camping experience then come here.
The Cohutta Wilderness has multiple ridgeline trails such as Hemp Top Trail in the north that offer breathtaking winter views on top of Big Frog Mountain. Near the peak of 4,200 feet, there is the ability to stand on the highest spot east of the Mississippi and look to the left and view deep into Georgia and to the right and view deep into the Tennessee Valley on top of the geographic Blue Ridge and Tennessee Valley Divide.
There was a brush fire in 2016 that burned through the entire Cohutta Wilderness. The biggest previous fire was a 2,100-acre fire in 1981 due to Arson. Fortunately, it was mostly underbrush. Could have been much worse due to the historic drought conditions of 2016. As of Spring 2017, the damage is minimal on the vast majority of the trails.
The Cohutta Wilderness in Georgia is part of the Chattahoochee National Forest which has a combined area of 750,145 acres. There are numerous excellent trails immediately adjacent to the wilderness that are part of the Chattahoochee National Forest. Emery Creek Trail is a river trail in its lower section with two 40 foot waterfalls and becomes a mountain trail in its upper section. Some of these trails continue into Tennessee where they become part of the Cherokee National Forest.
The eastern hemlock(Tsuga canadensis) is found throughout the wilderness. The forest changes in character immediately when you enter a section of them. There are hemlocks over 300 hundred years old and easily towering over 150 feet. Older than the United States. The Cohutta Wilderness is the farthest south this species thrives which requires shade, a cool humid climate, and precipitation over 29 inches - Wikipedia.
As for wildlife in the Cohutta Wilderness, one of its occupants is on this page. Besides the elusive trout in the rivers, the wilderness is home to many deer, turkey, boar, raccoons, bobcats, and yes snakes. The two poisonous ones are the copperhead and the timber rattlesnake. Just be aware of your surroundings.
Quoting R.Yorke Edwards "Once you take the danger out of the wilderness, the wilderness will not be made safe. Rather, the safety will have destroyed the wilderness."
|Forest Service Roads|
|Forest Service Road 18:||Brown|
|Forest Service Road 68:||Yellow|
|Forest Service Road 630:||Blue|
|Forest Service Road 17:||Red|
|Forest Service Road 16:||Black|
|Forest Service Road 51:||Green|
|Forest Service Road 221:||Maroon|
|Forest Service Road 62:||Baby Blue|
|Forest Service Road 64:||Pink|
|Old Hwy 2 in Blue Ridge, GA:||Purple|
|Forest Service Road 22:||Orange|
|Conasauga Road (County Road 64):||Gray|
The color-coded map provides information on the Forest Service Roads that access and border the Cohutta Wilderness. Even though most of the Cohutta Wilderness is geographically in Fannin County, GA its home is in Murray County, GA since most of the access roads are located in the northern part of the county.
Eton, GA (one-red-light town) is less than 5 miles from the wilderness as the crow flies. On this site, the directions to the trailheads begin at Eton, GA.
There are 3 main access roads into the wilderness designated by their post office communities in Murray County, GA. From south to north they are Eton, Crandall, and Cisco, GA.
Forest Service Road 18 (Eton,GA) is the access road for the southern part of the wilderness and the trailheads in the Conasauga River Watershed. The trailheads are Tearbritches, Chestnut Lead, the southeast and higher elevation trailhead for the Conasauga River at Betty Gap, and the East Cowpen and Rough Creek trailheads at Three Forks Mountain. This is also the access road for Emery Creek and the upper elevation Bear Creek trailhead in the Chattahoochee National Forest.
An alternative and faster way to these trailheads if coming from Ellijay, GA is to take Hwy 52 west and take a right on Conasauga Road and continue to the intersection with FS68. Take a right and follow it up the mountain.
Forest Service Road 630 (Crandall,GA) gives access to the central part of the wilderness and is primarily used to access the Hickory Creek Trail: west section trailhead where it ends. This trail is the easiest access point to the Conasauga River. To continue to Lake Conasauga and its campground take a sharp right at the FS630-FS17 intersection and drive up a steep grade with large gravel onto FS17 and continue for 3.3 miles to a T - intersection and take a right. Lake Conasauga is less than a 1/2 mile.
The important Forest Service Road 16 (Cisco,GA) gives access to the northern part of the wilderness and to many of the trailheads in the Jacks River Watershed.
It is always a good idea to check the status of the roads before coming. Here is the link to a current map of road closures and any new information about the status of the roads as it develops www.fs.usda.gov/detailfull/conf/alerts-notices You may also sign up for e-mail updates.
Some trails are open to horses. A map of the Cohutta/Big Frog Wilderness is available for $5, showing trails, topography, parking lots and access roads (purchase of map is strongly recommended). For more information or to purchase a map call the Conasauga River District at 706-695-6736 or visit the Conasauga Ranger District at 3941 Highway 76 Chatsworth, GA 30705.
Each year from January 1st to early March the Chestnut Lead, Tearbritches, Conasauga River at Betty Gap, and the East Cowpen Trailhead at Three Forks Mountain are closed because the Forest Service closes FS17 above FS630 along with FS68 below Potatopatch Mountain due to winter weather.
All of these trails require driving over dirt and gravel roads and depending on the vehicle the average speed may be 15 m.p.h. which means a trail like Beech Bottom will take around an hour to get to the trailhead. If you have a small car no problem. Just drive slower. It is well worth the drive. All the roads have enough space in order for two vehicles to pass.
Since 1990, the Conasauga District Trail Volunteers in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service have helped maintain the trails in the Cohutta Wilderness and the surrounding Chattahoochee National Forest. The Forest Service schedules a volunteer outing one Saturday a month. To find out more about this wonderful organizationwww.teamconasauga.org
Red Line is East Cowpen Trail atop of Cohutta Mountain that divides the Conasauga and Jacks River Watersheds
Trailheads are generally well marked and parking areas are provided.
Sugar Cove Trail is no longer maintained.
The trail miles originate from four sources: the Cohutta And Big Frog Wilderness Georgia - Tennessee US Forest Service Map, my Fitbit, Caltopo, and my 30 years experience in running. The miles on the Forest Service map seem pretty accurate. Just remember a mile in the wilderness always feels longer than a mile on the track for whatever reason.
Hickory Creek is the only trail that seemed significantly different than the official mileage. The trail from its FS630 Trailhead to its merger with the Conasauga River Trail is 1.9 miles. Add 1.3 miles for the shared trail with the Conasauga River Trail to Bray field for a total of 3.2 miles. From its Hickory Creek Trailhead located at FS51 all the way to Bray Field, my measurement was a minimum 6.5 miles. For a total of 9.7 miles in comparison to the official 8.6 miles.
The rest of the trails seem pretty accurate. There may be a small adjustment of a few tenths due to my measurement. Here is the link to the Cohutta Wilderness Trail 3D Map at Caltopo www.caltopo.com//m/20LG
Some of the trails on the laminated Forest Service map are not 100% geographically correct. Rough Ridge is one that stands out. The Forest Service map is based on a USGS 1988 Hemp Top study and has Rough Ridge Trail going much farther east never coming close to Rough Creek. In actuality, the trail follows a tributary to Rough Creek and crosses the creek right to left looking downstream and continues to parallel Rough Creek on its left bank until the Jacks River Trail crosses Rough Creek and junctions with it. The Forest Service Topo map is still an excellent source for the field since you won't get lost using it.
The Caltopo Mapbuilder Topo link above is an excellent source with the ability to view the map in 3D. The accuracy of the map is 100% except for one minor point. The river crossing locations are not accurate and in most instances not shown. This affects the Conasauga River Trail and Jacks River Trail and is understandable since there are 80 river crossings between the two. Beside this minor point, the trails are 100% accurate.
|Conasauga River Watershed|
|Conasauga River Trail:||13.1 miles|
|Chestnut Lead Trail:||2.0 m|
|Tearbritches Trail:||3.5 m|
|Hickory Creek Trail:||9.7 m|
|Panther Creek Trail:||3.5 m|
|East Cowpen Trail:||7.1 miles|
|Jacks River Watershed|
|Jacks River Trail:||16.8 miles|
|- North Section||8.3 m|
|- South Section||8.5 m|
|Beech Bottom Trail:||4.0 m|
|Horseshoe Bend Trail:||3.2 m|
|Rice Camp Trail:||4.0 m|
|Hickory Ridge Trail:||3.6 m|
|Rough Ridge Trail:||7.0 m|
|Penitentiary Branch Trail:||3.6 m|
|Benton MacKaye Trail||4.1 m|
|- Section 10a & 10b|
|North to Big Frog|
|Hemp Top Trail:||10.3 miles|
|- GA Section||5.3 m|
|- TN Section||5.0 m|
|Chattahoochee National Forest|
|Emery Creek Trail:||7.0 miles|
|Sumac Creek Trail:||10.8 m|
|Iron Mountain Trail:||7.3 m|
|Cherokee National Forest|
|Conasauga River Trail #61:||3.0 m|
|Loops in Conasauga River Watershed|
|1. Tearbritches-Conasauga River GA-Chestnut Lead-FS68-Tearbritches Trailhead.||10.5 miles|
|2. Iron Mountain-Conasauga River TN-FS221-FS16-Cottonwood Patch Campground Parking Lot.||11.6 m|
|Loops in Jacks River Watershed|
|1. Rice Camp Trailhead-FS51-Horseshoe Bend-Jacks River North-Rice Camp.||12.0 miles|
|2. East Cowpen-Hickory Ridge-Jacks River-Rice Camp.||12.1 m|
|3. Hemp Top GA-Penitentiary Branch-Jacks River South.||13.0 m|
|1. East Cowpen-Hickory Ridge-Jacks River South-Rough Ridge-East Cowpen.||15.9 miles|
Day Use only in the Beech Bottom/Jacks River Falls area from April 1 through October 31 each year. Year-round campfire and alcohol ban in this closure area. Click here for map of Closure Area. Map is also at the appropriate trailheads.
Hikers and backpackers should leave a detailed trip plan with someone expecting their return since cell service is unpredictable in this mountainous area.