The great mountain range of the Eastern U.S., the Appalachians, rolls in waves of green across 18 states. The southern extent is North Georgia, where ridges and valleys spread out across the landscape as far as the eye can see. The Chattahoochee National Forest encompasses many of the mountains here, providing both a haven for nature and playground for recreation. Outdoor lovers from all over the Southeast use the Chattahoochee region as their go-to for hiking, mountain biking, waterfalls, and wildlife. What's more, adventurers from all over the world travel here to begin (or finish) the Appalachian Trail at Springer Mountain.
There is far more than can be done in one trip, but a long weekend can cover some of the highlights. Here are our suggestions to experience some of the best trails, mountaintops, and waterfalls of the Chattahoochee National Forest in three days. The itinerary is laid out as a clockwise loop out of Atlanta, but it can be completed just as well in reverse or modified to come from a different direction.
Begin by exploring one of the most iconic hiking destinations in the country. Springer Mountain, Georgia, is famous for being the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. You don't have to be a thru-hiker to taste this part of the experience. Hike the Springer Mountain Loop to see great views from the mountain's slopes and find the summit register at the top.
Mountain bikers may prefer to explore one or both of two great trail systems in the area. The Aska Trails are some of the best in the region, with diverse terrain including steep climbs, rocky ridgelines, and swooping downhill. The Jake and Bull Mountain Trails offer even more total mileage and a variety of difficulties.
To end the day, head east and stay at Dockery Lake Campground, which is on a lakeshore nestled among the mountains. Rest up and gear up for another full day of adventure.
Start the day with a leisurely stroll to pretty cascades at Helton Creek Falls, and stretch your legs to prepare for a longer hike. Nearby are the sweeping slopes of Blood Mountain, the summit of which can be conquered with a 6-mile loop through a wilderness area and on part of the Appalachian Trail. For a less committing hike, you can ascend some of the elevation on the Bear Hair Gap Trail beginning in Vogel State Park.
If you have the energy for another short hike, drive to Brasstown Bald, which is well worth it for the views and bragging rights of standing on the highest point in Georgia. A curvy road takes you most of the way up the mountain, and a paved path climbs the final 500 feet to the summit. A large observation deck provides panoramas in all directions, perfect for watching the sunset over Georgia.
Camping is available in Vogel State Park or in the national forest at nearby Lake Winfield Scott Campground. For camping near Brasstown Bald, go to Andrews Cove Campground, a location that sets you up nicely for the next day's destinations.
If you love waterfalls, hold your breath because the best are yet to come. Start the day with a pleasant hike in the forest to two unique waterfalls on High Shoals Creek. From there, travel south and enter Unicoi State Park to find Anna Ruby Falls, a stunning set of twin waterfalls. They are tucked away in the national forest but easily accessed on a paved path from the state park.
Neither of these waterfall hikes are especially challenging, so if you want to end with a bang on your tour of North Georgia, head to Yonah Mountain. A short but very steep climb earns clifftop views and a backcountry campsite at the summit--perfect for watching the sunset and crashing out for the night.