Exploring Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest

One of the biggest things that the Chattachoochee-Oconee National Forest has going for it is proximity. Being less that 2 hours from the fringes of the 8th largest metro area in the US (Atlanta), lots of people can access this are for a day or a weekend. That makes it a popular getaway option for millions of people.

We’ve spent time in and around Chattahoochee-Oconoee National Forest, and you can consider us fans. The hiking, camping, and kayaking are all outstanding, and it is an area that is fun to visit in all four seasons. It makes for a great daytrip or long weekend, or if you want to tackle a section of the Appalachian Trail, you can spent quite a bit of time passing through.


The Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest was designated as such in 1936, but was an important part of North American life long before. The Chattahoochee Nationalchattahoochee forest Forest, one of the two national forests that make up the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests, is named after the Chattahoochee River. The river’s headwaters are located in the North Georgia Mountains, and it was named by English settlers who took the name from the Native Americans living in the area.


The Forest is composed of an eastern and western forest, both with their own personality. The western forest contains Johns Mountain, Little Sand Mountain, and Taylor Ridge. The combined total area of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests is 867,265 acres, of which the Chattahoochee National Forest comprises 751,069 acres and the Oconee National Forest comprises 116,196 acres. The county with the largest portion of the eastern forest is Rabun County, Georgia, which has 148,684 acres within its boundaries.


The Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests are home to over 2,200 miles of rivers and streams, including about 1,367 miles of trout streams, which makes for excellent fly fishing. The Chattahoochee River and the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River are natural attractions within the forest boundaries.

Civil War Importance

For Civil War buffs, this area can combine some time in the outdoors with a pretty cool history lesson. During the Civil War, the Chattahoochee National Forest played a crucial role in the war effort. The forest was used as a source of timber for the Confederate Army, and the Union Army used the area as a base for their operations. Today, visitors can explore the many historic sites and battlefields that are scattered throughout the forest.

If you like combining some history with some outdoor activity, this area might be a great place for you to visit.

Hiking the Chattahoochee Oconee

Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest is a great area to hike. This part of the country has challenging terrain, but not like the Rockies in that you can explore almost all of it if you are in good shape and have the right equipment. The Rockies out West can be much more technical.hiking chattahoochee forest

With over 123 trails to choose from, visitors can enjoy scenic views of waterfalls, mountains, and forests. Here are five trails that, based on experience, we think are worth checking out. We errored on the easier side, to make sure they are accessible to as many people as possible.

Mount Yonah Trail

Length: 4.1 miles
Difficulty: Moderate to hard

The Mount Yonah Trail is a challenging climb that rewards hikers with stunning views of the surrounding area. The trail is 6.6 km (4.1 miles) long with an elevation gain of 443 m. It features several steep sections, but the breathtaking views at the top make it all worth it. Even though it is not terribly long, it is strenuous so you will want to pace yourself. After the hike, visitors can enjoy a craft beer or visit the local winery at the base.

Dukes Creek Trail

Length: 2.3 miles
Difficulty: Easy

If you need something that older people, young kids, and everyone in the family can tackle, this might be the one. The Dukes Creek Trail is an easy hike that is great for the whole family. The trail is 3.7 km (2.3 miles) long and follows an old roadbed, with wooden boardwalks and stairs occasionally along the way. Hikers can hear the occasional sounds of the waterfalls as they make their way down to the bottom of the ravine. The first sizable falls are viewed from the trail.

Anna Ruby Falls Trail

Length: .4 miles
Difficulty: Moderate

This one is less of a hike, and more of a walk to a fun site. It is less than half a mile long, so more of a stopover than a destination hike. The Anna Ruby Falls Trail is a paved path that runs along a stream, offering information plaques about the surrounding area. The trail is only accessible from 9 AM to 5 PM, every day of the week. The falls are located on Tray Mountain, Georgia’s sixth-highest peak, and Curtis Creek drops.

Rabun Bald via Beegum Gap

Length: 3.1 miles
Difficulty: Moderate

The Rabun Bald via Beegum Gap trail is a beautiful but challenging climb to reach the top. The trail is 5.0 km (3.1 miles) long and offers breathtaking views up top. At the top, there is an observation tower that provides panoramic views, as well as several offshoot trails that offer additional stunning views.

Long Branch Loop Trail

Length: 2.2 miles
Difficulty: Easy

The Long Branch Loop Trail is a well-maintained and peaceful route that is great for the whole family. The trail is wide and shady, making it perfect for escaping the summer heat. Visitors are advised that the road up to the parking lot may be eroded, so high-clearance vehicles are suggested.

The AT

The Appalachian Trail also passes through Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest, offering hikers a chance to experience one of the most iconic trails in the United States. This section of the Appalachian Trail stretches from Woody Gap to Ramrock Mountain. It’s a relatively easy hike that lies to the west of Woody Gap. Along the trail, hikers can find several campsites where they can rest and enjoy the picturesque views. However, the top of the trail only offers stunning views to the south.

For through hikers, it is about 90 miles on the Trail from Chattahoochee-Oconee to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. This area up through Shenandoah is our favorite part of the AT.

Camping at Chattahoochee-Oconee

We’ve camped in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest a few times. There are plenty of options both in and around the forest, depending on what kind of camping you want.camping chattahoochee forest

There are a number of developed campsites with designated spaces inside the Forest. You will usually want to book these ahead (on the recreation.gov website) just to be sure you have a space reserved. Our go-to is the Morganton Point campsite, a nice overall spot with easy access to Lake Blue Ridge. You can camp here, and most other developed campsites within the Forest, with either an RV or a tent.

For those who prefer a more primitive camping experience, dispersed camping is allowed in most places within the forest boundary. Dispersed camping is less developed than in developed campgrounds, with few or no facilities. Visitors will need to pack in and pack out their own supplies, including everything from your tent to your camp kitchen. It’s a great way to get outside if you want to disconnect.

There are also several campsites within a stones throw but outside the Forest.

Getting on the Water at Chattahoochee-Oconee

Paddling is a favorite activity around the Chattahoochee River basin. From calm flatwater lakes to challenging Class V rapids, there is something for everyone. We would suggest the following spots to check out if your primary goal is to get on the water.

Lake Sinclair

A beautiful lake that is perfect paddling for beginners. Paddlers can enjoy a calm paddle around the lake while taking in the stunning scenery. The lake is also great for swimming and fishing. Oconee Outfitters in Milledgeville offers full-day or half-day trip rental options for kayaks and bikes, as well as transportation services.kayaking chattahoochee forest

Oconee River

The Oconee River in Milledgeville has two sections that are perfect for different types of kayakers. The upper section has Class II rapids and stretches from the Sinclair Dam to the Milledgeville Greenway. The lower section, starting at the Oconee River Greenway and ending at the State Boat ramp, is ideal for families with young children or beginners. There are no rapids in this section, but plenty of sandbars to explore.

Toccoa River Canoe Trail

The Toccoa River Canoe Trail is a 13.8-mile river trail that begins at the Deep Hole Recreation Area and ends at Sandy Bottoms. This beginner-level trail is perfect for those who want to experience a few rapids and take in beautiful views. Blue Ridge Mountain Kayaking and Rolling Thunder River Company offer kayak rentals for this trail.

Altamaha River

Kayaking on the Altamaha River is a must-do for any paddler. The Altamaha Water Trail is 138 miles long and has 29 access points along the way. The trail is perfect for all experience levels, including beginners and families with young children. Three Rivers Outdoors offers kayak rentals and tours of the Altamaha River.

Augusta Canal

The Augusta Canal is a Class I trail that offers kayakers a chance to observe several of the remaining 19th-century historic sites along the way. The first level of the Augusta Canal is 7.5 miles of moving flatwater with some current, perfect for beginners. Savannah Rapids Kayak Rental, Cole Watkins Tours, and Outdoor Augusta Riverside offer kayak rentals and tours of the Augusta Canal.

When to Visit?

Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests are a great place to visit year-round. The best time to visit depends on what activities you plan to do and your personal preferences.

Summer is the busiest season in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests. The weather is warm and humid, with average afternoon high temperatures in the lower 90s. If you plan to hike, swim, or go camping, summer is the perfect time to visit. Keep in mind that the trails can be crowded, and campsites fill up quickly, so it’s best to make reservations in advance.

Fall is our favorite — but we say that about many places. It is a great time to visit if you want to see the beautiful autumn foliage. The weather is mild, and the leaves start changing color in late September and early October. Hiking during this time of year is particularly enjoyable, with cooler temperatures and fewer crowds.

Winter is a much quieter time to visit the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests. The weather is more variable, with stretches of mild weather alternating with cold spells. Winter high temperatures average in the mid-50s to lower 60s, and lows average in the mid-30s. For someone willing to throw on some thermal gear and doesn’t mind a cold morning, this can be a great time to visit and have the Forest all to yourself. Keep in mind the days are much shorter, though.

Spring is a beautiful time to visit the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests. The weather is mild, and the wildflowers are in bloom. However, spring is also the wettest season, with March being the wettest month. If you plan to hike during this time of year, be prepared for some muddy trails.

Leave a Comment