The Blue Ridge Mountains rise from the hills of northern Georgia and continue north all the way to Pennsylvania. The southernmost section of the mountain range, sometimes referred to as the Great Smoky Mountains, includes some of the most wild and remote camping opportunities in the eastern United States. Georgia's mountains remain a mostly-undeveloped wilderness, with dozens of primitive campgrounds and hundreds of backcountry campsites.
Deep in the Forest
Chattahoochee National Forest, together with the nearby Oconee National Forest, spans more than 800,000 acres in the mountains of northeast Georgia. Along with hundreds of miles of hiking trails and some of the most striking scenery in the south, Chattahoochee National Forest is home to more than two dozen campgrounds. Most of these campgrounds include only primitive campsites with no hookups and minimal amenities, making them ideal for tent campers who want to avoid the crowds and conveniences of a major campground. Primitive areas like the Andrews Cove and Low Gap campgrounds include chemical or vault toilets, and each campsite has a picnic table, campfire ring and lantern post. Bear-proof food storage lockers are provided in some areas. You can find maps and additional information on each campground, including reservations -- where available -- on the USDA Forest Service website.
A Vast Wilderness
Situated west of the national forest, the Cohutta Wilderness Area straddles the border between Georgia and Tennessee. Encompassing 40,000 acres of dense mountain forest, Cohutta is even more primitive than its neighboring national forest, with no developed facilities of any kind. Access is available only along bumpy Forest Service roads and 87 miles of hiking trails. Designated backcountry campsites are scattered along some of the more popular hiking trails, such as the 15.7-mile Jacks River Trail, and dispersed backcountry camping is permitted throughout most of the wilderness. A few restrictions apply, including the prohibition of campfires, groups larger than 12 people and camping within 50 feet of rivers and 20 feet of trails, except in designated sites. Wilderness.net provides additional information.
Quite possibly the most famous hiking trail in the world, the Appalachian Trail begins on the slope of Georgia's Springer Mountain, near the southwestern edge of Chattahoochee National Forest. From here, the trail follows the spine of the Appalachian Mountains for 2,180 miles, ending at Maine's Mount Katahdin. Georgia is home to the trail's first 79 miles, and hundreds of ambitious hikers begin at Springer Mountain every spring with dreams of making it to Maine. Whether you want to hike the whole trail or just spend a few days in the woods, the Appalachian Trail is prime backpacking territory. Lean-to shelters every 10 to 20 miles and numerous backcountry tent sites provide a place to camp along the trail, and the 2,500- to 4,500-foot elevations provide ample challenges for the hardiest hiker.
Know Before You Go
Primitive camping is just as it sounds: primitive. Cell phone service in the mountains is spotty at best, and you won't have access to electricity or, in many cases, even drinking water. Be sure to bring lots of water with you, as well as the necessary tools to treat or purify water from springs and streams. Backpackers and backcountry campers are responsible for carrying all necessary supplies with them and leaving no trace of their presence. Be aware that you share the wilderness with a variety of wildlife, including black bears, wild boars, copperheads and rattlesnakes. Enter the wilderness with due caution, keep a respectful distance from wildlife at all times, always let someone know where you're going before you leave, and consider camping with a companion, especially if you're unfamiliar with the area.
- USDA Forest Service Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest: Camping & Cabins
- U.S. National Forest Campground Guide: Chattahoochee National Forest Campgrounds
- BlueRidgeMountains.com: Cohutta Wilderness Area
- Wilderness.net: Cohutta Wilderness
- Appalachian Trail Conservancy: Terrain By State: Georgia
- Georgia Trails: Appalachian Trail in Georgia