Almost 70 square miles of North Georgia wilderness is surrounded by a drive many refer to as the Cohutta Loop. For the outdoor enthusiast, this is heaven. The drive provides access to the largest wilderness area east of the Mississippi, abounds with walking trails and wildlife, and features occasional campgrounds as it follows the perimeter of the wilderness.
Our journey begins in the southeastern corner of Tennessee, near the northeastern corner of the wilderness. Highway 251 west from State Road 68 takes us across the Ocoee River to Tumbling Creek. To the right is Tumbling Creek Campground. To the left is the start of the Cohutta loop. Here the narrow road rises along Tumbling Creek. A single lane with turnouts, traffic on this portion of the road is rarely a problem. Downed trees and other debris are. Although the Forest Service does a remarkable job keeping the road clear, it is not uncommon to have large trees fall and close the road for days at a time. One recent occurrence of a downed tree closed this portion of the road on a July 4th weekend. The road meets a crossroad that to the west follows a ridge to Hemp Top. Straight ahead lies the continuation of Forest Service Road 22.
Primitive camping is allowed throughout the wilderness, except directly on trails. There are a number of federal fee-based campgrounds along the Cohutta Loop, and they are well maintained, however, facilities are extremely limited. We recommend only experienced campers plan on using these sites.
The road continues to climb along a ridge until it meets old Highway 2 from Colwell. Now the road widens and two cars can normally pass without a problem. Highway 2 faithfully follows one of the first routes across the mountains. Cherokee would use this route through the mountains and significant Native American communities developed over much of this land. Land acquired by settlers in this area during the sixth land lottery (1832) was not greatly desired and much of it was quickly sold to mountain folk from further north at rock-bottom prices. Undeveloped at the turn of the century, lumber companies consolidated the purchases and systematically stripped the land of the lumber resources, build roads and rails to get to the trees. Even today it is not uncommon to realize you are walking on a rail grade or spot the remnants of a trestle across a river. The overforesting would continue, with a brief halt for the Depression, until 1937.
This marks the high point of the drive, and indicates a slow return to civilization. We continue to follow the loop to the Crandall "exit" and head south towards home along Highway 411.
After heavy rains a four-wheel drive may be required to traverse the road. Check with the local Forest Service office for detailed information. A map of the Chattahoochee National Forest is available from the Forest Service for a modest fee, and most state and federal parks in North Georgia sell the map at their gift shops.
To do along the way:
A number of hiking trails including the Beech Bottom and Jack's River Trail.
How to get there
Copper Hill, McCaysville - Take Highway 68 North to State Road 251, which dead-ends at Tumbling Creek Road. Turn left. This is the start of the Cohutta Loop.
From Colwell - Stay on Old Highway 2. At the Cohutta Wilderness sign, follow the road to the left.
From Blue Ridge - Take Highway 52(U.S. 76) to Forest Service Road 68 and follow Lake Conasauga signs.
From Chatsworth - head north on 411 to Eton. Make a right at the traffic light and follow signs to Lake Conesauga.
From Crandall - Turn right on Grassy Mountain Road. Cross railroad tracks and turn left at Lake Conesauga sign. The road winds as it climbs to the Cohutta Loop.
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