I’ve come to see the Cohutta Wilderness as a real gem of backpacking in the North Georgia mountains. The area has a more remote feel, with dirt roads leading in, no cellphone service (rare for this part of the country), and trails that are just well enough maintained to keep them safe. For these reasons, the trails are often less crowded than other areas in North Georgia. This area represents a sharp contrast to the experience of hiking along the Appalachian Trail, where the trail is more like a highway and sharing the trail with other groups is the norm. This is not to say that hiking in the Appalachian Trail area lacks experience and a one of a kind atmosphere or that Cohutta is some sort of Alaska copy, but it is a chance to get to a more secluded area for hiking in a generally crowded section of the United States.
When I started hiking in this area last year, I found little information on the trails. To make it more challenging, most of the information that was available was focused on day hiking and fishing. This meant that some of the more important backpacking related information, such as the availability of water and campsites, was not mentioned in the presented reports.
To remedy this issue and help others find the Cohutta experience that I have had so far, I have started compiling my trail information on the area. In the below linked Google Spreadsheet, I have gathered trail information specific to backpacking, with mentions of campsites, water availability, etc. As I determine the best way to present greater detail, I will add it to this spreadsheet. Directly on this page, I have a basic description of all of the trails that I have completed in the area. At the bottom of the page I will link any trip reports I have on the blog for this area.
Hopefully others will find this information useful in planning their future trips to the area. If there are any thoughts on items I may have misrepresented or missed, feel free to leave a comment and let me know.
Chestnut lead is an entry point to the popular Conasauga river. The trail continues at a gradual downward slope when hiking into the wilderness from the trailhead. The trail is well maintained and easy to follow, making for a good starting point of a trip. There is a small turn off area at the trailhead that can be used for parking. I would estimate that about 5 cars could strategically park there at a single time, but I have never seen more than two, including my own.
This trail is a straight descent/ascent between the road and the Conasauga river. Regardless of the name of the mountain top, there is no bald to provide an overlook at the top, making the hike a bit anti-climactic. I have trouble remembering, but do not think there is any parking available at the trailhead. The peak of the mountain is just over 4k feet, making it the tallest point in the area, which is fun, but other than this, the trail does not hold my interest. For backpacking, there are easier trailheads to reach that allow access to the Conasauga, and most of these provide an easier hike into the main trails.
I have hiked all but the first mile or so, from the Hickory Creek parking area to the intersection of the Conasauga River Trail. This horse trail can provide access to the Conasauga from the more northern (Rice Camp) or western parts of the area. The trail is fairly easy to follow with no real difficulties or impressive landmarks along it. For hikers coming into Cohutta from Western Georgia, this may be the quickest trailhead to reach, taking GA61/2 up and using Mill Creek Road to access the Wilderness Area. Because of road closures between January 1 and mid-March, this could also be the best trailhead for anyone from the Atlanta area, since 3 Forks (East Cowpen), Chestnut Lead and the Betty Gap (Conasauga River) parking areas are all inaccessible.
I have hiked all but the northern most mile, between the confluence of Hickory Creek into the Conasauga and the northern TH. This is one of the three main trails of the Cohutta backpacking experience. The trail follows along the Conasauga river for 13 miles, crossing it frequently. The river crossings vary from rock hopping to thigh deep, and can get to almost chest deep if the river is running at more than a few hundred feet. I have not had a chance to test the fishing, but at several deeper pools, I have seen small fish, hinting that fly fishing could be a possibility. Because of the number of river crossings this trail presents, I found that having some sort of short gaiters (I use Dirty Girl Gaiters) to keep debris out of your shoes will make the experience a whole lot better.
Panther Creek provides the second of the three main backpacking trails in the Cohutta Wilderness. Much of this trail follows the small Panther Creek, which never really presents any challenging crossings that would force you to get your feet wet. In the middle of the trail are the Panther Creek Falls, with the trail going from the top of the falls to the bottom. From the bottom, the fall presents a great photo opportunity. From the top, a hiker can sit and eat lunch, with a fantastic view across Georgia, while the sound of the fall drowns out any distractions. There are even some camping spots near the top for those interested.
This is another horse trail. From the perspective of a backpacker, the main purpose of this trail is to provide access to other trails. From here, one has direct access to the west side of Panther Creek, as well as can access trails that will lead to the Jacks River Falls. Both trailheads provide an actual parking lot with space for plenty of cars, including horse trailers. The northern trailhead even has a nice spot for camping in case you get to the trail very late. One thing to keep in mind, is that this trail was covered with ticks this past summer (2013), so pretty frequent checks are probably in order. I was doing them about every half hour.
Trip Reports and Routes
As I finish trips and document them in reports on this blog, I will link them here for accessibility.