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The Big Frog Mountain Wilderness Area offers roughly 35 miles of backcountry trails, which provide outstanding opportunities for hiking, backpacking, solitude, primitive camping, as well as some excellent fishing prospects.
The most popular trails in the Wilderness are those that lead to the summit of Big Frog Mountain, including the Big Frog, Licklog Ridge and Wolf Ridge trails.
Cohutta / Big Frog Mountain Wilderness
Just east of Chattanooga, along the Tennessee-Georgia border, resides some of the oldest known mountains in the world. Today, protecting these ancient peaks is the Cohutta and Big Frog Mountain Wilderness Areas. The majority of the Big Frog Wilderness lies within Tennessee, while the largest portion of the Cohutta Wilderness resides in Georgia.
The Big Frog/Cohutta combination, with adjacent primitive areas, creates the largest tract of Wilderness on USFS lands in the eastern United States.
The district also contains the westernmost land higher than 4,000 feet in elevation in the eastern United States. In fact, there is no higher point west of Big Frog Mountain until reaching Big Bend in Texas or the Black Hills of South Dakota.
The Big Frog Mountain Wilderness
Big Frog was designated as a Wilderness Area in 1984 and currently consists of 8,082 acres. This beautiful remote area offers mountain vistas, waterfalls and clear mountain streams, and is a sanctuary for black bears.
The highest elevation in the Wilderness Area is the 4,224-foot Big Frog Mountain on the Tennessee side. Although not a high mountain in comparison to its eastern neighbors in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Big Frog still dominates the Wilderness because it stands alone.
Hiking in Big Frog Mountain
All trails within the wilderness are rated as moderately difficult. The trails listed below are in Forest Service number order. Mileage figures are one way distances.
Benton MacKaye FS #2 Long distance trail that extends for nearly 300 miles through the southern Appalachian Mountains. The trail runs from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Davenport Gap on the northern edge of the Great Smoky Mountains. For roughly 13 miles it passes through the eastern end of both the Big Frog and Cohutta Wilderness areas.
Conasauga River Trail #61 (5.1 miles) Trail follows a ridgeline for 2 miles before descending to the beautiful Conasauga River. From here the trail follows along an old railroad bed and continues deep into the Cohutta Wilderness area.
Chestnut Gap Trail #63 (1.9 miles) Also known as the Chestnut Mountain Trail, this path climbs a ridge that offers hikers several scenic vantage points before ending at the Wolf Ridge Trail junction.
Big Frog Trail / Benton MacKaye #64 (5.5 miles) Leads to panoramic views at the top of Big Frog Mountain. The trail gains about 2000 feet of elevation.
Licklog Ridge #65 (5.9 miles) Leads to panoramic views at the top of Big Frog Mountain. Although the trail gains roughly 2500 feet, the ascents are gradual.
Wolf Ridge Trail #66 (4.5 miles) Hike offers outstanding mountain views. Wolf Ridge is the shortest and most difficult trail to the top of Big Frog Mountain. It gains roughly 2,500 feet.
Grassy Gap #67 (3.5 miles) Also known as Barkleggin Trail, this hike offers seclusion as it meanders through the wilderness. The trail ends at the intersection of the Yellow Stand Lead and Big Frog trails.
Big Creek Trail #68 (5.6 miles) Popular camping area along trail.
Fork Ridge / Benton MacKaye #69 (1.9 miles) Connector trail between the Rough Creek and Big Frog trails.
Rough Creek / Benton MacKaye #70 (2.9 miles) Connector trail for the Big Frog, Licklog and the East Fork Ridge trails.
Yellow Stand Lead #73 (2.9 miles) Hikers will enjoy several mountain views along this hike, as well as a few good fishing holes.
Hemp Top #145 (0.8 miles) The Hemp Top Trail begins off the Licklog Ridge Trail and leads southeast to Double Spring Gap before proceeding into Georgia.
West Fork / Benton MacKaye #303 (3.9 miles) Wildflowers are abundant on this trail during the spring. There are several stream crossings that hikers should be aware of.
The Cohutta Wilderness Area
The Cohutta Wilderness area was owned, railroaded, and intensively logged by private timber companies up until the 1920ís before the U.S. Government bought these lands and began restoration and stewardship work to protect the watersheds and bring back a healthy forest. In 1975 Congress passed legislation that added Cohutta to the National Wilderness Preservation System. At 36,977 acres, Cohutta is the largest National Forest Wilderness in the southeast, and with more than 60,000 visitors each year, is the largest, most heavily used wilderness in the Southern Appalachians.
The headwaters of the Conasauga River are located within the Wilderness where the river starts as small cold stream from a spring at around 3,600 feet and flows northward into Tennessee. During periods of heavy rain, the Conasauga and Jacks Rivers, two of the state's most prolific trout streams, drop through rocky gorges and flash flood the Wilderness.
The name Cohutta is derived from the Cherokee word cohutta, which possibly means "frog". The word could also mean "a shed roof supported on poles".
Hiking in Cohutta Wilderness
With 95 miles of trails, the Cohutta Wilderness is a hiker's paradise. Popular trails follow either the Conasauga or Jacks River, and at least a dozen others provide access to the Wilderness. Many of the trails require wading through waterways. The 15.7-mile Jacks River Trail, for instance, passes through water at least 42 times.
After heavy rains, both the Jacks and Conasauga rivers can become raging torrents, virtually impossible to cross safely. Those planning a hike to the Cohutta Wilderness should watch weather forecasts carefully. Use a walking stick or staff to help cross rivers, and if water is raging, do not even try.
Even in low water hikers should plan on getting wet. For example, the Conasauga River Trail between Betty Gap and FS 17 has 38 river crossings. Hiking boots will quickly become soggy foot weights. Many experienced hikers on the Conasauga and Jacks River Trails wear old tennis shoes and simply resign themselves to having wet feet. Bring dry shoes for camp.
Beech Bottom Trail (4 miles) An easy to moderately difficult access trail to Jacks River and Jacks River Falls. Itís also the only trail leading to the Jacks River Falls without fording the river. As a result, the Beech Bottom Trail is the most popular and heavily used trail in the Cohutta Wilderness.
Chestnut Lead Trail (.14 mile) An easy to moderately difficult trail which provides a good look at the remains of the giant chestnut trees that thrived in this forest before the chestnut blight.
Conasauga River Trail (13.1 miles) Marked by yellow blazes, this is a moderately difficult hiking trail that fords the river 38 times. Large Eastern hemlock trees are a feature of this trail which utilizes an old railroad bed. Bray Field, an old logging camp, is now a popular and sometimes crowded camping area along the trail near the Hickory Creek Trail junction.
East Cowpen Trail (7 miles) This moderately difficult to strenuous trail is a good, high-elevation trail that follows the former route of Old Highway 2. Though not necessarily a good destination trail, it does provide relatively quick access to other trails.
Hemp Top Trail (6.2 miles) A moderately difficult to strenuous trail that continues into the Big Frog Wilderness in Tennessee. This lesser-used trail can be used to climb up Big Frog Mountain. Look for the white blazes.
Hickory Creek Trail (8.6 miles) An easy to moderately difficult trail offering access to the Conasauga River, which can be reached from either end of the trail. From the western trailhead, the Conasauga is a little more than 1.5 miles away. Look for the white blazes.
Hickory Ridge Trail (3.6 miles) A moderately difficult to strenuous hike to Jacks River and Jacks River Falls. Look for the yellow blazes.
Jacks River Trail 16.7 miles. This moderately difficult trail runs along an old railroad bed. Crossing the river 42 times, itís the longest and wettest trail in the Cohutta Wilderness, and is often crowded at the falls. The least-used portion of the trail is from Alaculsy to Jacks River Falls. In the middle of Horseshoe Bend are several beautiful spots to camp. Look for the orange blazes.
Panther Creek Trail (3.4 miles) Although moderately difficult to strenuous, with some very rugged and rocky sections, this is still a very popular and scenic trail that passes a high waterfall. Look for the blue blazes.
Penitentiary Branch Trail (3.6 miles) An easy to moderately difficult trail that starts on Hemp Top Trail and ends at Jacks River.
Rice Camp Trail (3.9 miles) An easy to moderately difficult hike to Jacks River. Includes several stream crossings. Look for the yellow blazes.
Rough Ridge Trail (7 miles) A moderately difficult to strenuous hike. The blue- or white-blazed trail provides access to Jacks River.
Sugar Cove Trail (2.2 miles) A moderately difficult to strenuous trail to Jacks River. Trail descends through a hardwood cove. Look for the white blazes.
Tearbritches Trail (3.2 miles) A moderately difficult to strenuous trail that climbs Bald Mountain (4,005 feet) and then descends steeply to Bray Field at the junction for the Conasauga River and Hickory Creek trails and nearby Panther Creek Trail. Look for the orange blazes.
Trails Illustrated Map Includes both Cohutta and Big Frog Wilderness Areas.