Hike a difficult 12-mile adventure on the Conasauga River Trail, following and fording a tumbling river from this trail’s northern trailhead. It’s a wet, river-filled adventure in Georgia’s remote, beautiful Cohutta Wilderness.

georgia hiking trails: 6 or more miles 12 miles
(round trip)
? Your mileage may vary! Accuracy of your GPS device, weather conditions, and stops along your route will affect your own recorded distance.
georgia hiking trails: difficultmost
difficult
?Our difficulty estimate, based on distance, terrain, elevation change, & ease of wayfinding. May vary daily due to weather, trail reroutes, downed trees, etc.
georgia hiking trails: Okay for Trail-savvy dogs Challenging
for some dogs
?Leashed dogs are allowed on this trail, but it might be a challenging hike for your canine hiking buddy. Check out our favorite dog-friendly trails in Georgia for a great hike with your pup.

LOCATION:Cohutta Wilderness near Chatsworth, Georgia

GEAR & WEAR: our hiking gear list and our locally-made Atlanta Trails shirts & hats

OFFICIAL MAP: Nat Geo 777 Trails Illustrated Map

RATED: 5/5 (3 reviews)

First: this trail’s upper section is a challenging hike. The trail’s northern half requires 20 major river crossings each way, where the river flows deep and in fast-moving currents. Downriver from the Conasauga River’s tamer southern half, the river’s flow on the trail’s northern half is significantly deeper, faster and potentially dangerous, especially after a recent rain.

That said, this hike treks through exceptionally beautiful, pristine, seldom-traveled forest in remote stretches of the Cohutta Wilderness. It’s a fantastic summer hike: with 40 roundtrip river crossings, you’re guaranteed to get wet, and the river’s crystal-clear water stays shockingly chilly, even in the heat of summer. Multiple campsites along the trail make for a great backpacking adventure (especially when combined with the Conasauga River Trail’s southern half, making a 12.6-mile one-way or a 25.2-mile roundtrip).

Conasauga River Trail: top hikes in Georgia's remote and beautiful Cohutta Wilderness

This challenging 12-mile adventure begins at the trail’s northern trailhead near the Georgia-Tennessee border, trekking south and following the Conasauga upriver. The hike descends sharply from the trailhead to reach the banks of the Conasauga River before commencing the first of many river fords as the trail alternately follows and then dives through the river. It’s a difficult but fun hike that requires patience and experience: many river crossings are unmarked, there are no bridges, trail blazes are scarce and in a wilderness this vast and remote, it’s easy to get turned around. A handheld GPS, compass and a topo trail map of the Cohutta Wilderness are highly recommended. Hike, and master, the other river trails in the Cohutta Wilderness, like the Jacks River Trail, lower Conasauga River Trail and the Emery Creek Trail, before attempting this hike.

Bottom line: hike safely, pack well, and in the case of rising river levels after a rain, anticipate spending an unanticipated night (or nights) in the wilderness. Don’t attempt to cross the river if safety is a concern. And don’t forget to have fun: this trail is a water-filled and stunningly beautiful adventure.

Hike a difficult 12-mile adventure on the Conasauga River Trail, following and fording a tumbling river from this trail's northern trailhead. It's a wet, river-filled adventure in Georgia's remote, beautiful Cohutta Wilderness. #hiking #camping #backpacking #northgeorgia #atlanta #georgia #travel #outdoors #adventure
Get more adventure inspiration.

Our latest local trail info. Hiking and running tips. Road-trip-worthy adventures in the South. And 10% off our new locally-made shirts, hats, hoodies and goods.

Upper Conasauga River Trail: the hike

The adventure begins at the trail’s northern trailhead off the graveled FS-17B, deep in the northern stretches of the Cohutta Wilderness (view maps and driving directions, and as always, follow posted regulations at the signed trailhead). The hike follows an old road bed north before quickly turning right at .1 mile, following the Conasauga River Trail eastbound into a lush, green forest. The trail descends through a creek valley filled with fern and rhododendron, catching the first sound (and an occasional cool breeze) from the river at .7 mile. The trail continues its descent, reaching the Conasauga River at 1.15 miles and making the first of many river crossings.

The river’s flow varies from mild to wild on the hike, alternating between calm, glassy stretches between grass-filled banks and tumbling, whitewater-filled waterfalls in the riverbed’s more rugged areas. Each trail crossing requires a bit of planning and consideration: spotting the trail on the river’s opposite bank can be tricky, and finding the simplest, most shallow and safest route on each crossing requires some surveying of the river’s flow. And the riverbed’s rocks are often slippery.

Conasauga River Trail: hike through forty river crossings in a beautiful, remote North Georgia wilderness

The trail crosses a creek at 1.4 miles, passing a campsite. Tall, angular rock outcrops border the trail as it follows the terraced, former route of a logging railway. The trail makes its second Conasauga River crossing at 1.6 miles, just downstream of a large, stacked-stone wall – a former bridge for the rail line.

The trail makes its third and fourth river crossings at 1.7 and 1.8 miles, following a pebble-lined dry creek bed after crossing four before darting back into the forest. (Some careful trail scouting is usually required here: the trail can be especially hard to spot in this stretch.) The trail rises above the river through a stretch of rhododendron-filled forest (watch for blooms in early summer) before making its fifth and sixth (often difficult) river crossings. The river spills, tumbles and thunders over whitewater and waterfalls at 2.5 miles as the trail treks past chiseled rock outcrops and passes several campsites.

After its seventh crossing at 2.9 miles, the Conasauga River Trail treks an extended length on land, crossing a small stream. The river crossings resume at 3.7 miles as the trail dives through crossings 8 through 12, a quick series of five crossings in under .4 mile. The trail begins a steady but relatively gentle elevation climb, trailing beside a boulder-filled side channel before making a quick succession of four river crossings (numbers 13-16) along a meandering stretch of the river. At 5.2 miles, a tributary, Thomas Creek, tumbles into the Conasauga in a series of small, cascading waterfalls.

Conasauga River Trail: top hikes in North Georgia's Cohutta Wilderness

Continuing its meandering, southbound journey, the trail fords the river at 5.4 miles, making its 18th crossing, before hiking through a deep-cut ravine. The hike crosses the river again at 5.9 miles, upstream of a tumbling waterfall, the trail’s 19th river ford. The trail makes its final, 20th ford through the river’s boulder-studded bed at 6 miles, reaching a campsite. Near the campsite, the Hickory Creek Trail veers to the southwest. The Conasauga River Trail veers to the southeast, hiking an additional 6.6 miles to the trail’s southern trailhead at Betty Gap.



The return

This hike turns northbound, retracing its outbound steps to return to the trail’s northern trailhead. The return trek is primarily downhill as the hike carefully crosses the Conasauga River through an additional 20 fords, following the river downstream. After fording the final crossing at 10.9 miles, the trail veers from the river’s banks, making a nearly unrelenting climb to the trailhead. The hike reaches the trailhead at 12 miles, completing the adventure.

Because this area is so remote, challenging, and the trails are sometimes sporadically blazed or not marked at all, always tell someone where you’re going and pack an official paper map and wayfinding essentials, such as a GPS and compass (and know how to use them if you’re lost). Always pack emergency essentials. And it’s always best to avoid trails along the rivers and creeks in the weeks following a heavy rain.

(What is Wilderness, and why is it important? Read more in our guide to Wilderness areas in the South.)


 
Leave No Trace: Atlanta Trails, Asheville Trails and Trailful are official Leave No Trace partners

Please Remember

Always leave no trace, tell someone where you're going, pack safety and wayfinding essentials, don't rely on a mobile phone to find your way, and follow these trail etiquette tips.

Conasauga River Trail - Upper Half Map, Directions & Details

Trails and routes may change – so please refer to official trail maps for the latest route.

Trail Rating

RATED: 5/5 (3 reviews)

Love the trail?

This trail is maintained thanks to the hard work of countless volunteers and donations from supporters of the Chattahoochee National Forest. Please support them by making a donation or joining a volunteer day. Let's work together to keep these fantastic trails maintained and open for use!

Updates

Did you have trouble accessing the trail, or notice some recent trail updates or storm damage? We'd love to know! Contact us here, and thanks for helping us keep this site updated!

Driving Directions



Parking

Free parking is available at the USFS trailhead. The northern Conasauga River trailhead is accessed via gravel Forest Service roads.


GPS Coordinates

34.938667, -84.658500     //     N34 56.320 W84 39.510

Elevation Profile

Conasauga River Trail - Upper Section Elevation Profile
 
Eric Champlin
Author

Eric Champlin is a writer and photographer who loves to hike, run, backpack, kayak and cycle the southeast. He’s the editor and founder of Atlanta Trails, Asheville Trails, and Trailful, digital magazines that highlight the South’s best outdoor adventures and top Southern-worthy outdoor gear. His mission? To inspire others to get fit outdoors and explore the South’s incredible scenic beauty.