Cohutta Wilderness: hiking, backpacking & adventure guide
Georgia’s Cohutta Wilderness is filled with lush forests, cascading waterfalls, crystal-clear rivers and some of the most remote hiking trails in the state. Hike, camp and backpack our favorite trails in the Cohuttas and explore some of the most pristine wilderness in the South.
Deep in the mountains of North Georgia lies a rugged, untamed wilderness. Thundering waterfalls cascade over rocky cliffs into pools of crystal clear water. Forest filled with shady, moss-covered creek banks, fern, rhododendron and towering hardwoods stretch mile after never-ending mile. And fresh, sweet mountain air carries the cool of spring well into the summer months; a welcome relief in Georgia’s typically hot and humid summertime weather. The Cohutta Wilderness is one of our all time favorite destinations for hiking and backpacking in Georgia.
The wilderness offers some extraordinary backcountry hiking and backpacking, and it’s packed with outdoor adventure opportunities. It’s the largest wilderness area east of the Mississippi River, encompassing more than 36,000 acres. It’s been untouched and untamed for decades, and its deepest sections are some of Georgia’s most remote.
Bisected by two rivers, the Conasauga River and Jacks River, the Cohutta Wilderness is home to stunning waterfalls, clear, rushing streams and over 70 species of fish. Its hiking trails wind and dip through lush forest and dozens of stream crossings across emerald-hued, mossy stream banks. Camp sites are tucked throughout the wilderness, making it a popular destination for primitive camping and backpacking.
The trails through this gorgeous slice of wilderness are a fantastic adventure for experienced hikers. But before attempting a trek through this remote, challenging area, novice hikers should master some of the more beginner-friendly hikes nearby. And where ever you hike, please leave no trace to preserve the beauty of the wilderness.
Cohutta Wilderness: our favorite hikes
Hike the quickest (and easiest) access to Jacks River Falls, one of Georgia’s most beautiful waterfalls. The Beech Bottom Trail bypasses most of the major river crossings on the Jacks River Trail, but still crosses several small tributaries before reaching the tumbling, rocky falls.
Score some of the best views in the Cohutta Wilderness! Hike the Grassy Mountain Tower Trail from the shores of Lake Conasauga, the highest-elevation lake in Georgia. The trail climbs through a scenic forest and visits a beaver dam on a grassy marsh before summiting Grassy Mountain, the site of a historic fire lookout tower.
Hike the Lower Conasauga River Trail from Betty Gap to explore the river’s southern half. The hike descends into the river’s valley, splashing through multiple river crossings and along emerald green moss and fern covered stream banks. Not ready to end the fun? Continue on the Upper Conasauga River Trail for an epic 25 mile roundtrip adventure.
Splash through more than 20 major river crossings (in each direction) on the northern section of the Conasauga River Trail, one the most challenging of the hikes in the Cohutta Wilderness. The river runs swift, deep and slick on its northern stretch, making this an extremely difficult, but extremely beautiful, hike.
Hike the Emery Creek Trail to two gorgeous waterfalls. The trail fords its namesake creek 20 times on a splashy, 6.2 mile hike. (It’s not technically in the Cohutta Wilderness, but close – and is a great primer before hiking the more challenging Cohutta river hikes on the Conasauga and Jacks.)
Cohutta Wilderness: hiking safety
The peaceful serenity, rugged beauty and remote location of the Cohutta Wilderness is what draws most people to the area. But this remoteness poses challenges of its own. When planning an adventure in the Cohuttas be sure to pack wisely and hike safely.
Since most of the wilderness has zero cell service, travel with a group, and let someone know where you’re hiking and when you expect to return. The remote location of many of the trails are far from any roads or civilized areas. Pack extra food and water for the trip, in case weather or injury prevent a quick return to the trailhead. And always hike with a first aid kit, bug spray and sunscreen. Check the weather forecast before hitting the trail. Unexpected rainstorms can cause river levels to rise quickly, and might strand hikers in the wilderness. Stream crossings can be difficult, swift currents and slippery rocks can be challenging and trails can be hard to spot across the river, so be vigilant and aware of your surroundings. It’s rough and it’s remote, but it sure is beautiful.