Cherokee National Forest

Cherokee National Forest

Tennessee, North Carolina

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Southern Region

1,204,847 acres (655,598 federal/ 549,249 other)

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/cherokee

Overview

The southern Appalachian Mountains have some of the highest biodiversity in the United States, with more than 20,000 species of plants and animals.  In the heart of this region, Cherokee National Forest is located north and south of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in eastern Tennessee.  Abundant rainfall and steep terrain make whitewater rafting a popular activity, especially on the Ocoee National Wild and Scenic River.

Highlights

Cherohala Skyway, Hiwassee River, Bald River Falls, Ocoee Scenic Byway, Boyd Gap Observation Site, Turtletown Creek Falls Scenic Area, Ocoee Whitewater Center, Coker Creek Scenic Area, Dudley Falls Picnic Area, Watauga Lake, Rock Creek Gorge Scenic Area, Laurel Fork Falls, Bald Mountain Ridge Scenic Area, Unaka Mountains Scenic Area, Doe River Gorge Scenic Area, Backbone Rock, Rogers Ridge Scenic Area, Conasauga River Blue Hole, Gee Creek Falls, Roan High Knob, Falls Branch Falls, Tanasi Trail System, John Muir National Recreation Trail, Margarette Falls Trail, Warrior’s Passage National Recreation Trail, Appalachian National Scenic Trail

Must-Do Activity

Cherokee National Forest is celebrated for its numerous waterfalls, two highlights being 60-foot-tall Margarette Falls and 65-foot Benton Falls, both accessible by short hikes.  If you visit during the fall foliage season, popular driving routes include the 26-mile Ocoee Scenic Byway and 43-mile Cherohala Skyway that climbs over 4,500 feet in elevation into North Carolina’s Nantahala National Forest.  We were intrigued by reading about the Conasauga River Blue Hole, where visitors can snorkel with fish and turtles in the shallows and deep pools. 

Best Trail

On the north side of Ocoee Lake, the Clemmer Trailhead is located right along Highway 30, a quarter mile off Highway 64.  From here one trail follows picturesque Rock Creek Gorge, which is known for its waterfalls.  Mountain bikers can follow several other trails and connect into the trail system around Benton Falls and McCamy Lake in the Chilhowee Recreation Area.  Altogether, the National Forest boasts 700 miles of trail, including a famous stretch of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail through the Roan Highlands.

Watchable Wildlife

Large mammals found in Cherokee National Forest include white-tailed deer, raccoons, skunks, opossums, river otters, beavers, squirrels, bobcats, red foxes, gray foxes, coyotes, and black bears.  In addition to songbirds common to eastern forests, watch the skies for turkey vultures, peregrine falcons, bald eagles, and a variety of hawks.  This area is known for its high diversity of salamanders, including hellbenders and Jordan’s salamanders.  This region also has many reptiles, like eastern box turtles, common snapping turtles, southeastern five-lined skinks, timber rattlesnakes, northern copperheads, and rat snakes (like the one we saw on the Benton Falls Trail). The many streams and rivers support rainbow, brook, and brown trout, while lakes have largemouth bass, bluegills, and crappies.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The whitewater rapids are less intense on the Hiwassee River, which is also followed by Highway 30, the 21-mile long John Muir National Recreation Trail, and a portion of the 300-mile Benton MacKaye Trail. 

Peak Season

Summer and fall

Fees

There is a $3 day-use fee at the Chilhowee Recreation Area and there are likely fees to park elsewhere in this massive National Forest. 

Road Conditions

The scenic byways we drove were all paved, but we found the gravel road up to Chilhowee Recreation Area to be rough and steep, though still easy enough for any passenger car.

Camping

There are countless campgrounds in Cherokee National Forest, but Chilhowee Campground near McKamy Lake seemed nice and provided access to an extensive trail system.

Wilderness Areas

Bald River Gorge Wilderness

Big Frog Wilderness (also in Chattahoochee National Forest)

Big Laurel Branch Wilderness

Citico Creek Wilderness

Cohutta Wilderness (also in Chattahoochee National Forest)

Gee Creek Wilderness

Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness (also in Nantahala National Forest)

Little Frog Mountain Wilderness

Pond Mountain Wilderness

Sampson Mountain Wilderness

Unaka Mountain Wilderness

Related Sites

Andrew Johnson National Historic Site (Tennessee)

Manhattan Project National Historical Park (Tennessee-New Mexico-Washington)

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park (Georgia)

Nearest National Park

Great Smoky Mountains

Conifer Tree Species

eastern hemlock, eastern white pine, loblolly pine, shortleaf pine, Table Mountain pine, pitch pine

Flowering Tree Species

tulip-poplar, sassafras, flowering dogwood, mountain laurel, pawpaw, American beech, white basswood, sweet buckeye, sugar maple, red maple, mountain maple, moosewood maple, yellowwood, yellow birch, cucumber magnolia, black cherry, sourwood, pale hickory, mockernut hickory, rock chestnut oak, scarlet oak, black oak, white oak, southern red oak, Catawba rhododendron, yellow birch, sweet bay magnolia, white ash, mountain-ash, mountain-laurel

Explore More – The National Forest’s Ocoee Whitewater Center hosted events during the Summer Olympics in what year?

Learn more about Cherokee and the 154 other National Forests in our new guidebook Out in the Woods

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Chequamegon National Forest

Chequamegon National Forest

Wisconsin

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Northeastern Region

1,049,540 acres (868,392 federal/ 181,148 other)

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/cnnf

Overview

Chequamegon National Forest gets its name from Lake Superior’s Chequamegon Bay, which is derived from the Ojibwe word for the bay’s prominent sand bar on the east side of Wisconsin’s Bayfield Peninsula.  Managed as Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest since 1998, the more western Chequamegon National Forest contains a 61-mile stretch of the North Country National Scenic Trail and 49 miles of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail that winds through Wisconsin.  On the Bayfield Peninsula is Moquah Pine Barrens National Natural Landmark, first set aside by the Forest Service in 1935 to study its red pine savannah and upland jack pine barrens.  The Moquah Pine Barrens is notable for its summer wildflower bloom and fall berry picking.

Highlights

Great Divide Scenic Byway, Drummond Woods, Valhalla Recreation Area, South Fork of Flambeau River, Mondeaux Dam Recreation Area, Moquah Barrens National Natural Landmark, Clam Lake, Schumland Wetland Area, Chequamegon Water Flowage, Tucker Lake Hemlocks Natural Area, Morgan Falls, St. Peter’s Dome, West Torch Ski Trail, Mukwonago Ski Trail, Camba Mountain Bike Trail, Mt. Valhalla, Caro Forest Trail, West Twin Lake Trail, Aldo Leopold Commemorative Trail, North Country National Scenic Trail, Ice Age National Scenic Trail

Must-Do Activity

St. Peter’s Dome and Morgan Falls Recreation Area (fee) is the most developed site in Chequamegon National Forest.  A wide, level trail with new bridges leads 0.75 miles one-way to Morgan Falls, which tumbles 70 feet down a narrow rock crevice.  The trail splits and becomes steeper as it ascends to St. Peter’s Dome, a rock outcropping that offers views north to Chequamegon Bay and the Apostle Islands.  To visit both spots is a 3.8-mile roundtrip hike with an elevation gain of 500 feet.  Make sure you have good directions before you go because the drive to the trailhead has unsigned turns on unpaved back roads. 

Best Trail

In the southern portion of the National Forest, the Aldo Leopold Commemorative Trail is a 1.2-mile out-and-back hike that follows a glacial esker above a wetland near the Mondeaux Flowage.  The path is lined with wooden boards with quotes from the famous ecologist who wrote his seminal book A Sand County Almanac (see our Top 10 Books about Trees and Forests) at his Wisconsin farm. 

Watchable Wildlife

Gray wolves and elk have been reintroduced to Chequamegon National Forest, in addition to native moose, black bears, red foxes, raccoons, rabbits, beavers, river otters, and (of course in Wisconsin) badgers.  Common loons with their distinctive calls are the most iconic bird of the North Woods, with other notable species being barred owls, bald eagles, common ravens, turkeys, ruffed grouse, and boreal chickadees.  Fishing is a big deal in this part of the world and Hayward, Wisconsin is home to the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame (where you can stand in the mouth of a giant muskie sculpture).  Major gamefish include lake trout, rainbow trout, small and largemouth bass, crappie, walleye, northern pike, and muskellunge (muskie). 

Instagram-worthy Photo

It might require a bit of creative climbing to get a good photo of Morgan Falls, located only 1.5 miles roundtrip from the trailhead (fee).

Peak Season

Summer and fall

Fees

There is a $5 day-use fee to park at the trailhead for St. Peter’s Dome and Morgan Falls Recreation Area.

Road Conditions

The road through the Moquah Barrens is paved, and even the sand-surfaced roads were all in good shape during our visits.

Camping

There are developed campgrounds throughout the National Forest and nearby Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, but we have always dispersed camped off the back roads on the Bayfield Peninsula, including a pleasant night spent on the Moquah Barrens.

Wilderness Areas

Porcupine Lake Wilderness

Rainbow Lake Wilderness

Related Sites

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (Wisconsin)

St. Croix National Scenic Riverway (Wisconsin-Minnesota)

Keweenaw National Historical Park (Michigan)

Nearest National Park

Isle Royale

Conifer Tree Species

jack pine, red pine, eastern white pine, balsam fir, black spruce, white spruce, northern white-cedar, tamarack, balsam fir, eastern hemlock

Flowering Tree Species

sugar maple, red maple, mountain maple, black ash, white ash, basswood, yellow birch, paper birch, river birch, northern red oak, white oak, black oak, American beech, quaking aspen, bigtooth aspen, balsam poplar, white ash, beaked hazelnut, tag alder

Explore More – The 636-acre Moquah Barrens Research Natural Area was established in 1935 and named a Wisconsin State Natural Area in 1970, but when was it designated a National Natural Landmark?

Learn more about Chequamegon and the 154 other National Forests in our new guidebook Out in the Woods

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Top 10 Non-Fiction Books on Trees and Forests

When we compiled our last Top 10 list on National Forest non-fiction books in honor of our new publication, we realized there were many great books on forests that did not fit that category.  So we created this list of the best books we have read about specific tree species and forests.  Some of the selections are history, some biology, some biography, and some ecology (or a mix of all four).  Click here to see all of our Top 10 lists, including quite a few other book lists. 

10. Beyond the Aspen Grove (1970) by Ann Zwinger

Quaking aspen trees are special, not just because they grow huge clonal stands or turn beautiful colors in the autumn

9. Oak: The Frame of Civilization (2005) by William Bryant Logan

From Eurasia to North America, the many species of oak trees have been essential to humankind

8. The Bristlecone Book: A Natural History of the World’s Oldest Trees (2007) by Ronald M. Lanner

An in-depth look at the oldest single-stem trees on the planet—Great Basin bristlecone pines

7. The Tree: A Natural History of What Trees Are, How They Live, and Why They Matter (2005) by Colin Tudge

A great introduction to dendrology full of fun facts and figures

6. Tales from the Underground: A Natural History Of Subterranean Life  (2001) by David W. Wolfe

The visible parts of forests would never grow without the activity of trillions of microorganisms in the soil

5. American Canopy: Trees, Forests, and the Making of a Nation (2012) by Eric Rutkow

The history of forests in the U.S., including the huge impact of chestnut blight and Dutch elm disease

4. The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate (2016) by Peter Wohlleben

Unable to move, trees use pheromones and other means for intraspecific and interspecific communication; the author also published Forest Walking in 2022

3. The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed (2005) by John Vaillant

Basically about a mutant Sitka spruce tree that was killed, this well-written story is hard to put down

2. The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring (2007) by Richard Preston

Mostly set in Redwood National Park, this book focuses on the people who research the tallest trees in the world

…and finally our #1 non-fiction book on trees and forests:

1. A Sand County Almanac (1949) by Aldo Leopold

The greatest ecologist of the twentieth century, Aldo Leopold worked in Gila National Forest as a young man where the events of the seminal essay “Thinking Like a Mountain” took place

Honorable Mentions

Lives of the Trees: An Uncommon History (2010) by Diane Wells

A beautifully illustrated sampling of information on common trees from around the world

Tree: A Life Story (2004) by David Suzuki and Wayne Grady

The life cycle of a single tree, beautifully narrated and illustrated

What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses (2012) by Daniel Chamovitz

An excellent summation of decades of little-known research on plants of all sizes

The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature (2012) by David George Haskell

A detailed look at the activity in a small patch of old-growth forest in Tennessee

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Ed Jenkins National Recreation Area

Ed Jenkins National Recreation Area

Georgia

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Chattahoochee National Forest

23,330 acres

Overview

Your first question is probably, “Who is Ed Jenkins?”  Edgar Lanier Jenkins (1933-2012) was a politician who served as one of Georgia’s U.S. Congressional representatives from 1977 to 1993.  This spot was initially proposed as Springer Mountain National Recreation Area, but was renamed when established in 1991.  If Springer Mountain sounds familiar, that is because it is the southern terminus of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail that runs 2,185 miles to Katahdin in Maine through numerous National Forests (as well as Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah National Parks).  A memorable part of Bill Bryson’s book A Walk in the Woods takes place in Ed Jenkins National Recreation Area.

Highlights

Benton MacKaye Trail, Owen Vista, Appalachian National Scenic Trail southern terminus

Must-Do Activity

The southern terminus of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail was at Mt. Oglethorpe until 1958, when it was moved 14 miles northeast due to increased development.  Thru-hikers can access the bronze plaque and trail register at the top of Springer Mountain by hiking 8.5 miles from Amicolola Falls State Park.  An easier option is to start from potholed Forest Service Road 42 and ascend 0.9 miles south to the summit.  Some thru-hikers choose to spend the night in the open-front trail shelter near the top, but many simply turn around to head back north.

Best Trail

Similar to summiting Katahdin at the northern terminus of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, thru-hikers have to hike to the end of the trail, and then turn around.  For day hikers, a nice option is to add the eastern part of the Benton MacKaye Trail to make a 4.7-mile loop that passes Owen Vista.

Instagram-worthy Photo

It was quite foggy when we visited, so we did not get any great vistas, but you have to photograph the bronze plaque marking the southern terminus of the famed Appalachian National Scenic Trail.

Peak Season

Spring

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Forest Service Road 42 that accesses the trailhead is dirt and full of potholes, but it is doable in a passenger vehicle. 

Camping

Some thru-hikers choose to spend the night in the open-front trail shelter near the summit of Springer Mountain.  If you have a car, we recommend you drive west in Chattahoochee National Forest to the free Hickey Gap Campground (which made our Top 10 Campgrounds in National Forests list).

Related Sites

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park (Georgia)

Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park (Georgia)

Appalachian National Scenic Trail (Maine to Georgia)

Nearest National Park

Great Smoky Mountains

Explore More – How many National Forests does the 2,185-mile Appalachian National Scenic Trail cross?

Chattahoochee National Forest

Chattahoochee National Forest

Georgia

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Southern Region

1,516,006 acres (750,145 federal/ 765,861 other)

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/conf

Overview

In mountainous northern Georgia, Chattahoochee National Forest stretches 200 miles east to west, bordering North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee.  In addition to the highest point in Georgia (4,784-foot Brasstown Bald), the National Forest includes the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River and one side of the Chattooga National Wild and Scenic River.  West of the North Georgia Mountains, the Ridge and Valley Scenic Byway traverses the disjunct portion of the National Forest encompassing Johns Mountain, Little Sand Mountain, and Taylor Ridge.

Highlights

Ed Jenkins National Recreation Area, Ridge and Valley Scenic Byway, Keown Falls, Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway, Brasstown Bald, High Shoal Falls Scenic Area, Lake Conasauga Recreation Area, Anna Ruby Falls, Sosebee Cove Scenic Area, Timpson Falls, Popcorn Overlook, Track Rock Gap Petroglyph Site, DeSoto Falls Scenic Area, Angel Falls, Raven Cliff Trail, Helton Creek Falls Trail, Duncan Ridge National Recreation Trail, Appalachian National Scenic Trail

Must-Do Activity

One of the National Forest’s most popular spots, 150-foot-tall Anna Ruby Falls is accessed by a short trail northeast of Helen, Georgia on State Route 356.  Large tulip-poplar and yellow buckeye trees grow in 175-acre Sosebee Cove Scenic Area, even though it is a second growth forest.  We will have a separate blog post on Ed Jenkins National Recreation Area, which surrounds Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the 2,185-mile long Appalachian National Scenic Trail.

Best Trail

Chattahoochee National Forest started when the Forest Service purchased 31,000 acres from the Gennett family in 1911 for $7 per acre.  Visitors can still see their namesake Gennett Poplar (a tulip-poplar tree more than five feet in diameter) by hiking 1.8 miles out-and-back with two stream crossings on the Bear Creek Trail.  The rows of holes in the old tree’s trunk were made by yellow-bellied sapsuckers, a type of woodpecker.  The trail continues and connects with the Pinhoti Trail to form a 6.6 to 9-mile long loop.

Watchable Wildlife

In addition to the plentiful white-tailed deer, other large mammals found in Chattahoochee National Forest include black bears, coyotes, bobcats, red foxes, squirrels, beavers, and river otters.  There are a wide variety of songbirds, waterfowl, and raptors, as well as wild turkeys.  One insect species of note is the blue ghost firefly, which produces a distinctive blue phosphorescence.  Panther Creek is among the approximately 2,000 miles of rivers and streams popular for fishing.

Instagram-worthy Photo

There is a small waterfall at Barnes Creek Picnic Area, which was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s.

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Most of the major routes in Chattahoochee National Forest are paved.  Forest Service Road 42 that accesses the Springer Mountain Trailhead is unpaved and full of potholes, but it is doable in a passenger vehicle (as are the dirt roads to Hickey Gap Campground and Bear Creek Trail). 

Camping

The riverside Hickey Gap Campground is so nice that it made it into our list of the Top 10 Campgrounds in National Forests; the best part is: it is free.  We once overnighted at the Locust Stake ORV Area Trailhead north of Atlanta, which was fine until someone decided to ride their motocross bike at 2 a.m.

Wilderness Areas

Big Frog Wilderness (also in Cherokee NF)

Blood Mountain Wilderness

Brasstown Wilderness

Cohutta Wilderness (also in Cherokee National Forest)

Ellicott Rock Wilderness (also in Nantahala and Sumter National Forests)

Mark Trail Wilderness

Raven Cliffs Wilderness

Rich Mountain Wilderness

Southern Nantahala Wilderness (also in Nantahala National Forest)

Tray Mountain Wilderness

Related Sites

Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area (Georgia)

Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park (Georgia)

Ed Jenkins National Recreation Area (Georgia)

Nearest National Park

Great Smoky Mountains

Conifer Tree Species

eastern hemlock, loblolly pine, shortleaf pine, Table Mountain pine, pitch pine

Flowering Tree Species

flowering dogwood, mountain laurel, pawpaw, American beech, white basswood, red maple, mountain maple, moosewood maple, tulip-poplar, sweet buckeye, yellowwood, yellow birch, cucumber magnolia, black cherry, sourwood, pale hickory, mockernut hickory, rock chestnut oak, scarlet oak, black oak, Catawba rhododendron, yellow birch, sweet bay magnolia, mountain-ash, ninebark

Explore More – How many acres are within the Cohutta Wilderness, the largest designated Wilderness east of the Mississippi River?

Learn more about Chattahoochee and the 154 other National Forests in our new guidebook Out in the Woods

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.