A mountain biker puts biking shoes on outside his tent

Cohutta Wilderness Camping Guide

Escape the Atlanta heat with a weekend camping trip to the Cohutta Wilderness.

Hemlock branches chatter as a breeze riffles the upper canopy. You hear a splash as a rainbow trout breaks a stream’s surface. A mountain bike whizzes through the dappled undergrowth. A horse whinnies in the distance. But aside from that, there’s not a sound. Just you and the stillness of the North Georgia woods.

Welcome to the Cohutta Wilderness. At about 37,000 acres, it’s one of Georgia’s biggest uninterrupted swaths of public land and a camper’s paradise. Here you’ll find rolling hills, 4,000-foot peaks, endless ridgelines, deep forest, and dozens of cold mountain creeks. For centuries, this area was a critical source of fish and game for the Yuchi and Cherokee peoples. Today, the land is managed by the U.S. Forest Service as part of the Cherokee National Forest. 

Whether you’re looking for a remote, dispersed-camping experience or family-friendly campground with all the amenities, the Cohutta has you and your crew covered.

How To Find the Best Camping in the Cohutta Wilderness

There are many different ways to access the sprawling Cohutta Wilderness, and plenty to do once you’re there. The best campsite for you will depend on your adventure priorities. 

For family-friendly campsites…

The Lake Conasauga Campground is among the easiest to get to and the most amenity-rich in the Cohutta Wilderness region. Swimming beaches and hiking trails make this an easy spot to bring the whole family and keep everyone occupied for a weekend (or longer). To get there, head north to Crandall, Ga. Take Mill Creek Road and West Cow Pen Road east then south to get to the lake. 

If you’re looking for a hike to do with smaller kiddos, try the 0.9-mile Hickey Gap Trail, which includes an impressive natural waterfall.

For campsites with good fishing…

Two main rivers cross the Cohutta Wilderness: the Conasauga and the Jacks. Both are known for their thriving populations of brown and rainbow trout, in addition to bass, bream, and catfish. Angling is generally easier on the Conasauga River where you’ll find a few great campgrounds (and far fewer private property boundaries to worry about). 

If you’re hoping to launch a paddlecraft or fish from the lakeshore, try the Lake Conasauga campground (see above). To camp closer to the Conasauga’s headwaters, go further north along U.S. Route 411 to Cisco, Ga. Target the Cottonwood Patch Campground near the Tennessee border for relative solitude and good trail access. 

Brindle chihuahua laying in a hammock in the Cohutta Wilderness mountains in North Georgia

For campgrounds near mountain biking trails… 

There are nearly 30 miles of mountain bike-accessible trails just south of the Cohutta Wilderness, most of which are located within the Cohutta Wildlife Management Area. You’ll find a tight network of intermediate-level trails near Cohutta Springs, and some seriously rugged enduro rides farther south. 

For a more luxurious, bike-focused camping experience, aim for the Mulberry Gap Mountain Bike Getaway—the departure point for a bucket-list gravel-riding classic. Or, if you’re after a more rugged wilderness vibe, try the nearby Bear Creek Campground, which is operated by the U.S. Forest Service. Both are accessible from Ellijay, Ga., and are about a 90-minute drive from Kennesaw.

For dispersed camping and backpacking…

With more than 90 miles of trails—including a significant chunk of the famed Benton MacKaye Trail—the Cohutta Wilderness is a haven for day-hikers and backpackers alike. And because dispersed camping is allowed through much of the Cohutta, it’s easy to plan adventures of all sizes here.

For access to some of the best multi-day backpacking loops, head to the eastern side of the wilderness. To get there, take Interstate 575 north to Ellijay, then drive about 30 minutes northeast to reach the 3 Forks Trailhead, which provides access to the East Cowpen and Rough Ridge trails. Or, go 30 minutes farther north to reach Dally Gap, which opens onto the Benton MacKaye Trail. 

Red Tape

There are currently no permits or fees required to access the Cohutta Wilderness. Camping is prohibited at the trailhead parking lots and within certain protected areas, so check online before planning your trip. Be sure to obey all posted regulations (including trail closures and wildfire bans) and pack out all your trash. 

Winter Closures: The Tearbritches, Chestnut Lead, Betty Gap, and Three Forks trailheads are closed during the winter (usually Jan. 1 through early March). The trails themselves are still open for use provided you park elsewhere.  

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.