Chattahoochee National Forest

Chattahoochee National Forest contains a part of The Appalachian Mountains known broadly as The North Georgia Mountains. The land spans 750,145 acres, though sometimes the neighboring forest of Oconee is counted along with Chattahoochee, totaling 866,468 acres altogether. 

The Appalachian Mountains—a beautiful part of Chattahoochee National Forest
The Appalachian Mountains are part of what makes Chattahoochee National Forest uniquely beautiful.

Northern Georgia is a temperate deciduous forest ecosystem. While there are some evergreen species here such as pine and cedar, the deciduous oaks and hickories will lose their leaves in the winter. 

In August, the warmest month of the year, Chattahoochee averages a high of 83 degrees and a low of sixty degrees. January sees temperatures as high as 37 degrees and as low as 23 degrees. Spring is a lovely time to see Chattahoochee. Wildflowers are just starting to bloom, deciduous trees are beginning to bud, and average temperatures hover in the fifties, sixties, and seventies. 

Recreation in Chattahoochee National Forest

Hiking Trails and Water Falls

The entire Chattahoochee Forest seems to radiate out from one spectacular central point, Anna Ruby Falls. The paved trail to this set of twin cascades is only 0.4 miles. However, that distance is uphill and may be slippery at times. Thankfully, there are plenty of places to sit and rest along the way. The trail begins at the visitor information center, so there will be someone to answer any questions you may have before going.

This interpretive path takes visitors through lush, green woods alive with trickling creeks and the sounds of thunderous falls in the distance. The steep, rolling hills and mountainsides envelop hikers in the mossy woods, creating an instant sense of peace and solitude.  

All in all, it takes most people around 45 minutes to trek to the falls and back. The waters begin on Trey Mountain as pure, cold snowmelt, then trickle down to Smith Creek, meeting Anna Ruby Falls. From there, the waters flow all the way to the Gulf of Mexico! 

Another trail beginning at the visitor information center is Lion’s Eye Trail. This is a path set up specifically for the visually impaired. It is also wheelchair accessible.  Interpretive signs on this trail are both written in visual lettering and in brail. Handrails guide visitors along until they reach the shores of Smith Creek. The Picnic tables here are also designed for accessibility. 

Water Skiing 

Have you always wanted to try water skiing, but weren’t sure how to go about it? We can help with that! Just contact the on-site rental company, Young Harris Water Sports. This rental service can lend you jet skis, ski boats, pontoons, tritoons, double-decker tritoons, kayaks, and paddleboards. With all these options, it’s hard not to want to try traversing Lake Oconee and the Chattooga River! The USDA has provided this specific list of places that are Best for Waterskiing. All you have to do now is pick your equipment and pick a place to let loose! (You’ll be glad you did, it’s pretty darn fun.)

A person water skiing—people actually travel to Chattahoochee National Forest just for watersports.
Water skiing is actually quite popular in Chattahoochee National Forest.

Chattahoochee Bend State Park

If your travels bring you close to Coweta County, you may want to check out Chattahoochee Bend State Park, located within the greater Chattahoochee National Forest. This park is 2,910 acres of space to play in the rivers and the woods. Fisherfolks come to enjoy the park’s 5 miles of riverfront, while hikers and photographers enjoy the many scenic trails. 

This beautiful park offers spacious, covered picnic shelters to be rented out for large family events. So consider Chattahoochee for your next big bash! The park also features cottages for rent, a gift shop, and a playground. There’s something for everyone!

Wildlife in Chattahoochee Natioanal Forest

Northern Georgia is a densely wooded, biodiverse land of valleys and mountains. The forest houses animals of all sorts, including black bear, rabbit, white-tailed deer, opossum, rattlesnake, bat, eagle, owl, pygmy shrew, and beaver. 

Fish species include all manner of bass, trout, sculpin, shiner, and darter. Birders come to the area to find the tufted titmouse, cardinal, wren, chickadee, vireo, crow, jay, gnatcatcher, and woodpecker. Some potentially dangerous wildlife species in Chattahoochee are the copperhead snake, the timber rattlesnake, and the snapping turtle. 

The Blue Ghost Firefly

The blue ghost firefly (Phausis reticulata) is a somewhat rare species of bioluminescent insect that is only found in the southeastern United States: Georgia, Tennessee, Texas, Arkansas, and North Carolina. They are most prevalent in The Appalachian Mountains, and a healthy population of them exists right in Chattahoochee National Forest! Their ideal habitat is the wet, spongy leaf litter of the forest floor. These eerily beautiful buggers can only be seen glowing for a few weeks every year at the end of spring and beginning of summer. 

During this important time, female fireflies (who can’t actually fly) climb up onto foliage to get themselves a couple of feet or so off the forest floor and, once seated on their perch, begin to glow a faint blue in the darkness so their mates can find them. From there, the male fireflies (who can fly) begin looking for the girls’ little blue lanterns and in turn begin to glow themselves, weaving blue patterns around in the air like blue embers in the night. 

The males and females both glow to find one another and then begin making the next generation of little lightning bugs. People who see these bioluminescent wonders of nature describe them as ethereal, otherworldly, and absolutely beautiful. The funny thing is though, their lights only appearblue to our eyes from a distance! If you get close enough to the blue ghost firefly, the light actually shifts to green! 

Some parks choose to close their trails during the blue ghost’s mating season to keep this sensitive species from being disturbed, so if you do ever have the honor of seeing these lovely, delicate creatures, be respectful and observe the dancing lights from a distance. 

Visit Chattahoochee National Forest

Prepared visitors all have one thing in common: they visit the USDA’s Alerts and Notices page before heading to the forest. Why? This new bulletin contains information pertaining to weather conditions, trail conditions, closures, bans, permits, and so on. It’s all updated regularly, and all directly pertains to visitors, so be sure to take a look! 

As always, be sure to save The National to your reading list so you’ll always have a connection to America’s National Forests.

Have fun, be safe, and leave no trace!  

-by Heaven Morrow

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