Longstreet Highroad Guide to the North Georgia Mountains
The Cohutta Wilderness covers 36,977 acres (about 60 square miles) that spill over the Georgia/Tennessee border and lie within the 95,265-acre Cohutta Wildlife Management Area. It was designated as a wilderness in 1975. Hemp Top was added in 1986, making this the third largest mountain wilderness area in the East.
The Cohuttas share a unique distinction with the Rich Mountains in having round, flat-topped ridges and peaks covered with deep, black soils. In most of the Eastern Blue Ridge, on the other hand, the higher the elevation, the rockier and thinner the soils. This characteristic of the Cohuttas profoundly affects the plant communities. Rich-soil ridges are often carpeted with lush ferns and knee-high herbs. The wilderness is home to a variety of wildlife. Deer and black bears make their home here, as do wild boar and a variety of smaller creatures such as bobcats and squirrels.
T.P.'s Country Store (see Eton Access) and Greg's General Store (see Cisco Access) display the trophies of local hunters and are good places to get a close-up look at some of the kinds of creatures that inhabit the wilderness.
Few of the visitors who enjoy the Cohutta Wilderness realize its history of logging; 70 percent of the area was logged between 1915 and 1930. Three or four logging camps, each with 80 to 100 men, were operated simultaneously in the area. Railroads were built by hand and ran up the Jacks and Conasauga rivers. Trestles built over the river often were washed away by floods. Bunk cars were winched up hillsides. Logs were skidded out with horses, and cable logging was done in the areas inaccessible by horses.
Logging was completed in the Conasauga River drainage in 1928 and started along the Jacks River in 1929. The Depression halted logging for about three years. During that time the loggers worked in the Civilian Conservation Corps building some of the facilities still used in the area. After the Depression, the Beech Creek, Rough Creek, Rock Wall, Poplar Creek, and Penitentiary Creek areas were logged.
The railroads were dismantled and the rails removed in 1937. Remnants of ties and trestles can be found today. Also one can occasionally find dynamite drills in rocks, spikes, cables, steel support rods, horseshoes, and old building foundations. While in operation, the Conasauga River Lumber Company sawed 80,000 board feet a day. It was from this company that the U.S. Forest Service acquired a large portion of the area in 1934 and 1935. Farms have reverted back to forests, roads have been turned into hiking trails, and the area is returning to the way it was when only Native Americans lived here.
The following pages provide an overview of the Cohutta Wilderness, a way to approach the endeavor before beginning a detailed exploration of any one trail. The map provides information on access roads to the wilderness. Also shown are Forest Service roads bordering the area and designated trails which cross it. Trailheads are generally well marked and parking areas are provided. All of the roads that border the wilderness are one-lane dirt, sometimes with a coating of loose gravel. They are wide enough for two cars to pass cautiously. Curves are sharp and hard to see around.
Often rock breaks through the road surface, creating a washboard ride. Although a four-wheel-drive vehicle would be the ideal transportation on these surfaces, most cars in good condition will have little trouble. Some roads are closed depending on weather conditions, so it is recommended that one call the Cohutta Ranger District of the U.S. Forest Service at (706) 695-6737 in advance of a trip to check road conditions.
ELLIJAY ACCESS. [Fig. 13(11)] From the Ellijay Square, travel west on GA 52 for 9.5 miles to FS 18. There is a sign for Lake Conasauga Recreation Area; turn right. After 1.3 miles the pavement ends. At the fork, bear left over a one-lane bridge. At 3.5 miles turn sharply to the right onto FS 68. At 4.5 miles is a level picnic area, and at 5.7 miles is Holly Creek Checking Station. At 6 miles is a three-way junction with FS 64. Stay on FS 68 (to the left). Barnes Creek Picnic Area for day use is at 7.2 miles; a wooden platform extends out over a small waterfall. At 9.5 miles is the intersection marked Potato Patch Mountain on the map.
ETON ACCESS. [Fig. 13(4)] If there is time for exploring only one access point to the Cohutta Wilderness, this should be it. The valley drive and the drive along the creek make this one of the most visually rewarding ways to approach the wilderness. From Chatsworth take US 411 4.2 miles north to Eton. Turn right at the traffic light onto Fourth Avenue (GA 286 ends here). At 1.1 miles, Grassy Mountain intersects from the left. At 1.5 miles, the road forks at T.P.'s Country Store; bear left on the CCC Camp Road. At 5.1 miles, the road passes through a scenic valley with Fort, Beaver, and Tatum mountains in the background. The pavement ends at 6 miles and the road becomes FS 18. At 7 miles is the start of a nice drive along a creek. At 7.2 miles, the view looking upstream through the trees at Holly Creek is a fine sight. At 10 miles is the intersection of FS 18 and FS 68. From this point, refer to the Ellijay Access (above) beginning at 3.5 miles.
CRANDALL ACCESS. [Fig. 13(2), Fig. 14(11)] From Chatsworth take US 411 north 7.5 miles through Eton to Grassy Street; turn right. Cross railroad tracks and turn right. Take the first left at .1 mile (Mill Creek Road, FS 630). There is a sign for Lake Conasauga. The paved road ends at .5 mile. At 6.7 miles is Hickey Gap. At 8.9 miles is intersection with FS 17.
CISCO ACCESS. [Fig. 13(1), Fig. 14(1)] From Chatsworth take US 411 north 13.2 miles to Cisco community and intersection with Old Highway 2 (also known as FS 16). At .7 mile pass County Road 169 on the right. The pavement ends at 1 mile. Take the right fork at the Y intersection at 1.6 miles. (County Road 210 bears left.) At 3.2 miles, FS 17 comes in from the right, FS 16 goes left. Follow FS 16 just across the Tennessee state line to the northwestern trailhead of the Jacks River Trail. (Note that FS 51 branches to the right just after crossing the river. Stay left on FS 16.)
BLUE RIDGE ACCESS. [Fig. 13(8), Fig. 14(16)] From the intersection of US 76 and GA 5 just north of Blue Ridge, travel north 7 miles on GA 5 to Old Highway 2 and turn left. At 6.9 miles are Fightingtown Creek and McKinney Crossing. At 9 miles the pavement ends. At 10.5 miles, after a long climb up the mountain, look for the sign "Cohutta Wildlife Management Area, Watson Gap." Bear left on FS 64. Dyer Gap is 17.6 miles to the left on FS 64. Continue on FS 64. Where FS 64-A forks to the left, stay on FS 64 to the right. At 18.3 miles, cross the south fork of the Jacks River. At 18.4 miles, FS 64-B intersects on the left. At 20.2 miles, the Mountain Town Creek trailhead is on the left. At 22.9 miles are the Three Forks and East Cowpen [Fig. 14(15)] trailheads.
With 95 miles of trails, the Cohutta Wilderness is a hiker's dream come true. After heavy rains, both the Jacks and Conasauga rivers can become raging torrents, virtually impossible to cross safely. Those planning a hike to the Cohutta Wilderness should watch weather forecasts carefully. Use a walking stick or staff to help cross rivers, and if water is raging, do not even try. In bad weather a trip may get extended. Be prepared for this possibility with extra food. Make sure people know the route of the hike and expected time of return. Even in low water, plan on getting wet. For example, the Conasauga River Trail between Betty Gap and FS 17 has 38 river crossings. Hiking boots will quickly become soggy foot weights. Many experienced hikers on the Conasauga and Jacks River Trails wear old tennis shoes and simply resign themselves to having wet feet. Bring dry shoes for camp.
Camping is permitted anywhere except in the trails and at trailheads. The trick is to find a spot flat enough. Fires are permitted using dead and down wood only. No permits are required. Please obey wilderness regulations posted on bulletin boards at trailheads. Horses are prohibited on certain trails. These trails are also posted on bulletin boards.
Text mileages that follow are from Tim Homan's book, The Hiking Trails of North Georgia. Homan's figures are regarded as accurate, since he walked and rewalked the trails using a measuring wheel.
Wilderness maps are available from the U.S. Forest Service District Office in Chatsworth or from patrolling Forest Service officers.
CONASAUGA RIVER TRAIL. [Fig. 14(14)] 13.1 miles. Marked by yellow blazes, a moderately difficult hiking trail that fords the river 38 times. Large Eastern hemlock trees are a feature of this trail, which is the roadbed of an old railroad. Bray Field is a popular, but sometimes crowded, camping area.
TEARBRITCHES TRAIL. [Fig. 14(13)] 3.2 miles. A moderately difficult to strenuous, orange-blazed trail, which climbs Bald Mountain (over 4,000 feet elevation) and then descends steeply to Bray Fieldthe junction for the Conasauga River and Hickory Creek trails and nearby Panther Creek Trail.
CHESTNUT LEAD TRAIL. [Fig. 14(18)] .14 mile. An easy to moderately difficult, blue-blazed trail which provides a good look at skeletons of giant chestnut trees that thrived in this forest before the chestnut blight.
PANTHER CREEK TRAIL. [Fig. 14(12)] 3.4 miles. A moderately difficult to strenuous, blue-blazed trail, very popular and scenic, passing a high waterfall. This trail has some very rugged, rocky sections.
HICKORY CREEK TRAIL. [Fig. 14(9)] 8.6 miles. An easy to moderately difficult, white-blazed trail, used as access to the Conasauga River, which can be reached from either trailhead. From the western trailhead, the Conasauga is a little more than 1.5 miles.
EAST COWPEN TRAIL. [Fig. 14(15)] 7 miles. This moderately difficult to strenuous trail is a good, high-elevation trail, which follows the former route of Old Highway 2, on which erosion control was done before it was closed. Though not necessarily a good destination trail, it can provide relatively quick access to other trails.
JACKS RIVER TRAIL. [Fig. 14(3)] 16.7 miles. This moderately difficult, orange-blazed trail is the roadbed of an old railroad. It is the longest and wettest trail in the Cohutta Wilderness, crossing the river 42 times. It is often crowded at the falls. The least-used portion of the trail is from Alaculsy to Jacks River Falls. In the middle of Horseshoe Bend are several beautiful spots to camp.
SUGAR COVE TRAIL. [Fig. 14(10)] 2.2 miles. A moderately difficult to strenuous, white-blazed, interior trail to Jacks River. Trail descends through a hardwood cove.
PENITENTIARY BRANCH TRAIL. [Fig. 14(8)] 3.6 miles. An easy to moderately difficult interior trail with its start on Hemp Top Trail. It ends at Jacks River.
ROUGH RIDGE TRAIL. [Fig. 14(7)] 7 miles. A moderately difficult to strenuous, blue- or white-blazed trail, providing access to Jacks River. Ridge trail that descends to a hardwood cove and then becomes very steep and sometimes rocky as it continues to descend to the river.
HICKORY RIDGE TRAIL. [Fig. 14(6)] 3.6 miles. A moderately difficult to strenuous, yellow-blazed, interior trail to Jacks River and Jacks River Falls.
BEECH BOTTOM TRAIL. [Fig. 14(2)] 4 miles. An easy to moderately difficult, heavily used, access trail to Jacks River and Jacks River Falls.
RICE CAMP TRAIL. [Fig. 14(5)] 3.9 miles. An easy to moderately difficult, yellow-blazed access trail to Jacks River with several stream crossings.
HEMP TOP TRAIL. [Fig. 14(4)] 6.2 miles. A moderately difficult to strenuous, white-blazed, lesser-used trail that continues into the Big Frog Wilderness in Tennessee. The trail climbs up Big Frog Mountain.
WINDY GAP CYCLE TRAIL. [Fig. 13(5)] 5 miles. Designed for experienced trail bikers. Take US 411 north from Chatsworth for 4 miles. Turn right (east) at the traffic light in Eton and go about 5 miles. Turn left on FS 218 (Muskrat Road) and travel 2 miles to the trailhead. The northern portion is unsuitable for three- and four-wheelers. They must use Milma Creek to Tibbs ORV Trail.
MILMA CREEK ORV TRAIL. [Fig. 13(6)] 3.4 miles. Suitable for all-terrain vehicles. Connects Windy Gap Cycle Trail and Tibbs Trail. Access is by Windy Gap Cycle Trail. See directions above.
TIBBS ORV TRAIL. [Fig. 13(7)] 5 miles. Suitable for all-terrain vehicles. Note that this trail is closed by a gate at both ends. Access through Windy Gap Cycle Trail and Milma Creek ORV Trail. See directions above.
ROCKY FLATS ORV TRAIL. [Fig. 13(5)] 5 miles. Suitable for four-wheel-drive vehicles. Trail is 3 miles east of Crandall off Mill Creek Road (FS 630) on the right.
TATUM LEAD ORV TRAIL. [Fig. 13(9)] 7 miles. Both ends of trail are on private property. Trail begins 2.5 miles south of Tatum Lead Road and GA 52 (10 miles east of Chatsworth, .95 mile past Cohutta Lodge). Cross this 2.5 miles of private property in vehicle, and park on marked portion of trail. The trail dead-ends with no outlet.
ROCK CREEK ATV LOOP TRAIL. [Fig. 13(10)] 4.7 miles. Reached from GA 52 off the Tatum Lead ORV Trail, or take FS 3 past Peeples Lake. The trail is about .25 mile south of the low water bridge on Rock Creek. Suitable for all-terrain vehicles and cycles.
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